Our pornified society, obsessed as it is with consumer sexuality, coupled with a trendy parody of meaningful social justice, has become accustomed to talking about the commodification of sex, and in particular prostitution, in the most terrifyingly abstract terms. The consumer, by the very virtue of having the economic means to consume and so follow marketable trends, while peddling half-baked notions of Libertarianism, opines on the freedom of women to choose to be prostituted as though freedom has any real significance or meaning to impoverished prostituted women. Indeed there are women with the economic freedom to choose otherwise, and who choose sex work voluntarily, but it was not these high class escorts and courtesans to whom Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, referred when he questioned why “poor women” should be denied the option of “voluntary sex work.” Roth, a graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University, with absolutely no personal experience of poverty, arrogantly assumes the poor, especially poor women, have a choice in anything. Poverty by its definition is a state of subjugation to the demands of others, and nowhere is this subjugation more profoundly lived as it is in the lives of poor women forced to prostitute themselves due to desperation and economic necessity.

Poverty is always a relationship to power. More precisely, poverty is the experience of a power imbalance where the poor are powerless in relation to those with wealth and power who always make decisions on behalf of the poor. The decision then of poor women to prostitute themselves was never and could never be a real decision. As poor, and therefore powerless, people they are simply following the formula of society laid down for them by the powerful. Poor prostituted women do not prostitute themselves by choice even if they otherwise would; they prostitute themselves because of a lack of choice. They become prostitutes because they have to, and under no circumstances can this be considered voluntary or free choice. Roth claims we all want to end poverty, yet he says this from how much of a salary? No less than $345,000, and on such a gargantuan wage packet we can safely say that Kenneth Roth has never had to perform fellatio on a potentially violent punter, he has never had to be penetrated vaginally or anally without protection by the penis of a potentially diseased stranger, and he has never had to be humiliated and raped for as little as $5. This man, Kenneth Roth, and his like speak about Human Rights. We have to wonder if they know anything about human dignity and worth.

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