Ruff talks prostitution and the sex trade

Kirsten Wessel, Staff Writer

On March 28, the Women’s & Gender Studies department offered its first of three presentations in the 2016 Student Lecture Series. The talk, titled “Prostitution and the Sex Trade,” was given by Lindsey Ruff ’16.

Polly Englot ’16 said that she had long been aware of Ruff’s knowledge from their collaboration in the University’s Speak UP program.

Ruff did “an excellent job of presenting all sides of the arguments, as well as making an effort to highlight often-ignored voices,” Englot said. “I’m so glad that the Women’s and Gender Studies department is hosting this series of student speakers. I think it’s an awesome way for knowledgeable students like her to share what they know with a broader community, and it was also really interesting.”

The talk began with a series of open-ended questions such as “What is a sexual act?” and “Can sex truly be consensual?” Ruff defined prostitution as an instance in which a sexual act is committed in exchange for any item of value. She questioned this definition by applying it to other professions like manual labor, modeling, and stripping—all of which fit the same definition.

Ruff continued the presentation by focusing on the policies of the United States, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands regarding prostitution and human sex trafficking. She also considered the positions of a number of different stakeholders, including NGOs, police officers, politicians, nonprofits, sex workers, and sex purchasers.

The liberal policies of the Netherlands aim to prevent and combat the consequences of prostitution and trafficking by legalizing, regulating, and controlling it. In this way, victims of the trade feel less ashamed and are more willing to reach out for support and aid. Though international organizations like Amnesty International support the Netherlands’ model, the success of this system is widely disputed.

To some in the Netherlands, prostitution and trafficking are side effects of each other and a number of other political and social issues. One unnamed sex worker was quoted in the presentation saying, “Prostitution is not a social problem. The way we are socialized to view prostitutes is a problem.”

One former worker that Ruff interviewed traveled throughout the world as a sex worker and confirmed that the system in the Netherlands was the safest, since she stands in a window in the Red-Light District, chooses the interested individuals she likes, and discusses her terms behind closed doors.

This system in the Netherlands is vastly different from those of Sweden and Denmark. In Sweden, all sellers and buyers of sex are seen as criminals. While Denmark is technically the same as Sweden in its classifications of prostitution and trafficking, its monitoring and penalization of those acts are less enforced. It is often the case that workers are caught by authorities and discovered to be immigrants; at this time, they are simply deported. One worker that Ruff talked to thought that Denmark should be stricter since sex workers almost always enter the workforce under unfortunate circumstances and are often led to believe that they have no other choice.

Englot said that Ruff covered all of the intersectional factors important to her argument.

“For example, she discussed how different disadvantaged groups, like migrants, are more likely to experience violent interactions as sex workers; she highlighted the experiences of and specific dangers for trans workers, and even acknowledged the limits of her research and knowledge in that area; and she even connected sex work to broader societal factors like patriarchy and rape culture,” Englot said.

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