The word prostitution is derived from the Latin word prōstituere, which means to be ‘exposed publicly, offered for sale.’ This implies that a person is set on display to the public eye, like an object in a shop window, with the purpose of being examined and sold to whoever is prepared to pay the price. The word quite accurately describes what those in prostitution face. In prostitution, it is not just one’s body that is for sale: it is the person’s entire dignity for sale.
Talita meets women who have been caught in human trafficking, but also women in prostitution who have not been transported within or between countries, but who have equally been treated as objects. Other people have, on the grounds that they can pay for it, felt entitled to treat these individuals in prostitution as they please. They have bought access to another person’s body to satisfy their own needs.
Although it is legal to sell sex in Sweden, the so-called ‘Nordic Model’ introduced in 1999 made it illegal to buy sex (read more about the Nordic model below). This is a result of the fact that after many years of research (1), we have realized that the person who suffers in prostitution is the person who sells their body (most often women) and she thereby requires all the support she can get to leave the sex trade. The purchaser however (most often a man), uses the woman as an object, which is unacceptable in an equal society.
But who is the girl who sells her body?
She is the young mother from a southern European country, left by her husband, with a debt of 300 000 SEK that was his – a debt she know pays off in her home country by selling herself in Sweden one week of every month. The alternative would be even worse—to lose her house and risk losing custody of her three small children.
She is the girl who sits in the rain and cries, who has a cramp and can barely breathe because her grandfather raped her again and again since she was nine years old, and who sold her to his friends since she was 13. Now, 18 years old, she hurts herself by meeting men who want to buy her. Not because she wants to. She tries to bury the pain and anxiety welling up within as day turns to night—a desperate attempt to anticipate the inevitable and regain control.
She is the woman who cannot stop cleaning, whose body full of soars after hundreds of hours in the shower and useless attempt to scrub away the memories of all the strangers’ hands who have touched her on the outside and inside. Sold by a man who claimed to love her, who took advantage of the fact that she was not aware of her own worth.
She is the girl who did not have the energy to live any longer and on a late winter night, hopped from a balcony in a suburb from Stockholm—but she survived. The girl who does not dare to go to the swimming hall alone in fear of being bullied by young boys on the street, boys who heard rumours that she sells herself downtown Friday nights. What they don’t know is that she has lived with a bottomless self-loathing since the first time her foster father raped her at five years old. She lays her “whore-clothes” (what she calls them) out on the balcony to avoid “dirtying” the apartment.
There is a strong link between how well someone knows their worth as an individual and what they subject themselves to. While we do not claim that no one has ever chosen a life of prostitution, during our fifteen years working in this field we have never come across a person who, after even briefly getting to know us, has told us that they are happy in prostitution. On the contrary, it often turns out that the women, in order to cope, unconsciously dissociate—split themselves from their experiences, or in the worst case, divide themselves as a person into different parts.
We fight for the equal worth of all people, and therefore refuse to accept that there are people who take advantage of the fact that some do not know their own worth.
- Arne Borg, Folke Elwien, Michael Fruhling, Lars Grönwall, Rita Liljeström, Sven-Axel Månsson, Anders Nelin, Hanna Olsson och Tage Sjöberg, Prostitution. Beskrivning. Analys. Förslag till åtgärder, Liber Förlag 1981/ Stig Larsson, Könshandels - om prostituerades villkor, Skeab Förlag 1983 / Sven-Axel Månsson, Könshandelns främjare och profitörer. Om förhållandet mellan hallick och prostituerad, Doxa 1981 / Sven-Axel Månsson och Ulla Karin Hedin, Vägen ut - om kvinnors uppbrott ur prostitutionen, Carlsson Bokförlag 1998