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65 Responses

  1. Katie
    Katie August 18, 2008 at 6:36 pm |

    Awesome. I look forward to your posts!

  2. Sara Anderson
    Sara Anderson August 18, 2008 at 6:59 pm |

    “I believe keeping any aspect of sex work, which involves adults, illegal is dangerous to the people involved in it.”

    I’m reading this as complete opposition to regulation.

  3. feministjen
    feministjen August 18, 2008 at 7:07 pm |

    as someone who considers herself radical feminist and anti-sex industry, i just wanted to say i agree with everything you’ve said. i’ve always thought attacking the womyn involved with the industry, or involved in harm-reduction work for those in the industry was the antithesis of “feminism”, and entirely missing the point.

    the point being no woman should ever be forced, physically, economically, or otherwise into the sex industry (or any other work, but sex is a specific battleground because of the intimately gendered place it has in society and the meanings it is given).

    and another point, to me, being that men have been force-fed a disgusting view of womyn and sexuality which permeates the sex-industry.

    at any rate, harm-reduction and different education/socialization of men and womyn about sexuality and gender is what makes sense to me. not marginalizing and punishing sex workers, and those fighting for the rights of sex workers.

    feminist love,
    jen

  4. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes August 18, 2008 at 7:27 pm |

    Sara – I can’t think of any industry that is completely unregulated, we have all sorts of laws relating to health and safety of workers, for example. I think a decriminalised sex industry would be no different.

  5. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 18, 2008 at 7:33 pm |

    I’m reading this as complete opposition to regulation.

    Good to see you’re keeping your mind open and not resorting to ridiculous assumptions.

  6. alicepaul
    alicepaul August 18, 2008 at 7:44 pm |

    Ren –

    Awesome points. One thing: As someone who does sex work from time to time, I certainly don’t want to be arrested for it, but I also really, REALLY wouldn’t want the government (or whoever the potential “regulators” are) to be able to mandate medical procedures or anything else on my body. That’s not acceptable to me. Free gyno exams/STD tests: good. FORCED gyno exams/STD tests: no way.

    How do we make sure that legalization/decriminalization doesn’t involve state control over sex worker’s bodies? (All in the name of “protecting” the johns from the dirty whores?)

  7. Kaija
    Kaija August 18, 2008 at 7:50 pm |

    I like the fact that this topic is going to be addressed, and in a succession of parts, because it really is more than just one issue or one group of people at stake. Ren, I like your list of beliefs and they align very much with mine. I think that sex work, like any other deeply divisive cultural issue is very complex and needs to be treated as such. Polarization into good/bad, coercive/free choice, etc. does not capture all of the nuances that must be considered. I look forward to this series and the comments I am sure it will generate!

  8. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 18, 2008 at 7:50 pm |

    Alicepaul, many workers have to undergo drug and/or medical tests as a condition of employment, would STD tests be that different?

  9. alicepaul
    alicepaul August 18, 2008 at 8:02 pm |

    black paw – I am generally opposed to drug tests for other workers as well.

    STD tests & gyno exams can be, especially for survivors, painful, traumatic, triggering, etc.

    The situation if frustrating me me, because I feel like either way, sex worker’s bodies – particularly those made more vulnerable by certain race/class status – are under the control of somebody else (pimps, cops, the state, etc) and I don’t support that. I also find the idea that the dumb whores need someone to tell them how to use condoms/take care of themselves is a bit patronizing.

  10. SunlessNick
    SunlessNick August 18, 2008 at 8:07 pm |

    Well stated, Ren. And I’m looking forward to what you say, as my own understanding of – and hence views on – the sex industry are rather foggy.

  11. alicepaul
    alicepaul August 18, 2008 at 8:24 pm |

    aack, should be “the situation IS frustrating TO me…”

  12. Peter
    Peter August 18, 2008 at 8:42 pm |

    Ren, can I ask you if there is a real-world example of legal prostitution, which has been effective and successful in reducing exploitation of women, and reduced the number of women prostituted into forced sex work?

    I’m not asking to be a smart ass. I’m just asking out of ignorance. I think talking about it in a theoretical sense is fine, but the pragmatic side of me would like to see real world examples, that empower women while limiting the exploitative side of the business. So, are things better in the Netherlands, where prostitution is legal?

  13. Chel
    Chel August 18, 2008 at 8:55 pm |

    I believe there is a great need to address the underlying causes which lead to forced or unwilling sex work, including drug addiction, class and racial bias, poverty, lack of education and job training, adequate living conditions and child care, and access to other opportunities.

    The main underlying cause of forced or unwilling sex work is patriarchy.

  14. Marle
    Marle August 18, 2008 at 8:57 pm |

    Count me against forced health checks (forced by either government or pimps/brothels/etc). As Alicepaul said, it can be painful and/or triggering, and I don’t think it helps the prostitutes at all. It helps the johns. If we wanted to help prostitutes, we’d require the johns to be tested, too. But just testing the prostitutes means that once a week (or however often they are – I believe in Nevada it’s once a week) a prostitute gets to worry she might get fired.

    I don’t think there’s any regulations that are really good for prostitutes. I think government should focus on: 1) not jailing prostitutes for being prostitutes, and 2) prosecuting people who rape/beat/kill prostitutes. But most countries have been bad enough at those two that I really don’t think they should start getting creative about other things they can do w/r/t prostitution.

  15. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 18, 2008 at 9:00 pm |

    alicepaul, I’d view it more as a health and safety issue, certainly there’s requirements for workers in food industries that I wouldn’t want to see removed, though their are some regulations that seem ridiculous and obtrusive and should be changed.

    But it doesn’t have to be about control of bodies, Industries get regulated, both for the protection of the public and the workers involved, its a trade off.

    BTW, Gyno exams would certainly seem over the top.

  16. McStar
    McStar August 18, 2008 at 9:03 pm |

    Great opening post, Ren. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I’m really keen to get involved with sex workers’ rights activism myself. Just found out there’s a SWOP in the town I’m moving to soon & hoping they might take me on as a part-time volunteer (so teach me some useful stuff please! heh)

  17. octogalore
    octogalore August 18, 2008 at 9:11 pm |

    “I believe there is a great need to address the underlying causes which lead to forced or unwilling sex work, including drug addiction, class and racial bias, poverty, lack of education and job training, adequate living conditions and child care, and access to other opportunities.”

    Could not agree more. Chel’s backing this all off to “patriarchy” is a vast oversimplification that takes your analysis backwards instead of engaging with it. In fact, like many invocations of “patriarchy,” doing so here is a way of evading any opportunity to play a productive role here by characterizing this as inevitable.

    Ren, are there organizations out there which focus on counseling or training of unhappy sex workers vis a vis other opportunities? Do you feel this should be part of a larger poverty rights movement, or that there should be organizations set up to focus on sex workers’ unique needs?

  18. McStar
    McStar August 18, 2008 at 9:12 pm |

    OK I’ll bite… (probably briefly and incoherently though, it’s 2am on my side of the atlantic & i’m sleepy)

    “The main underlying cause of forced or unwilling sex work is patriarchy”

    I think it’s very difficult to predict / hypothesise what a non-patriarchal society would be like. It’s certainly possible that a non-patriarchal society would not include any prostituted people, I’d even say it’s likely. But I don’t think one can assume that would be the case, and we certainly can’t prove it. I do have admiration for people who put their feminist energies into the eventual bringing down of patriarchy, but it’s also vital to me as a feminist to deal with issues facing women in the here and now. Working towards ending patriarchy (however that is done – I’m not entirely sure to be honest) is not going to help prostituted people RIGHT NOW get out of sex work, whereas the work of organisations like SWOP, and people like Ren, is inarguably making a difference.

  19. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 18, 2008 at 9:13 pm |

    The main underlying cause of forced or unwilling sex work is patriarchy.

    As a statement its so broad and undefined as to be not terribly useful. And I disagree, patriarchy as a term is far to binary, overly broad application to every problem is grossly inaccurate. I’d say the underlying cause of unwilling sex work has far more to do with the intersection class, poverty and race.

  20. alicepaul
    alicepaul August 18, 2008 at 9:14 pm |

    Black paw – you view it as a health & safety issue, I view it as a privacy & bodily autonomy issue.

    And seriously condescending – as a girl I used to work with once remarked, “like we aren’t going to take care of our pussies on our own.” Mandatory testing feels very controlling to me, especially knowing how marginalized & vulnerable much of the sex worker population is.

    Keep your laws – and your hands, and your speculum, and your needles – off my body.

    Marle, agreed!

  21. feministjen
    feministjen August 18, 2008 at 9:22 pm |

    Chel and Ren,

    I think you’re both saying the same thing. To say only “patriarchy” is to be too vague.

    You have to get into specifics, as Ren did: what parts of a system that values men over women affect sex workers? As Ren already said:
    Health care, child care, lawyers, condoms, std tests, job training, etc.

    These things affect all women, but sex workers specifically because the work they do is considered a variety of things: dirty, immoral, pitiable, sick, depraved, etc. etc.

    So my understanding (speaking as someone outside the community) is that this blocks their access to all of these things even more. The stigma, and the way our particular construction of gender and sexuality, colors the lives of sex workers, and their ability to move freely in the world.

    feminist love,
    jen

  22. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 18, 2008 at 9:25 pm |

    I’ll tell you what bothers me about terms like “The Patriarchy” – its become dogma, its used as a catchall in situations were its application is not warranted and as an excuse to avoid grey areas. It’s a code word like Fundamentalist Christians and “the gay conspiracy”.

    And I wonder if that’s what put some people off the word or idea of feminism, because some feminists seem awfully similar to fundamentalists – dogmatic, black/white dichotomies and overly moralistic and ideological and the expense of the very people they claim to represent. And nowhere does this seem to turn up more than in relation to the sex industry.

  23. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 18, 2008 at 9:32 pm |

    alicepaul – sounds nice in theory, but in practice some people are not going to take proper precautions, and even if everyone does, precautions are not 100% effective.

    And its not just pussies but dicks as well, a not insubstantial part of the sex worker industry is male.

    If it people were just risking their own health then you’d have a better case, that’s a personal decision and personal responsibility, but its also a risk to clients and whoever else they come in contact with, hence the public good comes into play.

    Don’t make perfect the enemy of good enough – if the industry is to be decriminalised, it will only happened if a certain amount of regulation comes along with it.

  24. Stacy
    Stacy August 18, 2008 at 10:18 pm |

    Can you let me know what you think of the San Francisco de-criminalization of prostitution? The local paper seemed strongly opposed.
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/17/INRE129JV7.DTL&hw=sex+worker&sn=001&sc=1000

  25. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 18, 2008 at 10:33 pm |

    Stacy, without examining the legislation and IANAL anway, but that article smakes of FUD to me, a lot of assertions without much to back them up.

    Yet the San Francisco ballot measure completely ignores the prostitution of children. The measure simply states, “Law enforcement agencies shall not allocate any resources for the investigation and prosecution of prostitutes for prostitution.” Astonishingly, there’s no exemption that encourages police to enforce the law for minors.

    Does not follow. Not prosecuting prostitutes does not imply not prosecutiong those who abuse them.

    Also she seems more concerned it would encourage those horrible sex workers to come to SF – just imagine that! they want to be safe.

    I’d be interested in hearing from SF Sex Workers groups themselves.

    SWOP-USA

  26. Peter
    Peter August 18, 2008 at 10:48 pm |

    Peter, that really depends on who you ask it seems. I’ve heard a lot of talk (in positive ways) about New Zealand, actually. And, I will say right now, a HUGE problem with evaluating and model (legalization, decrim, criminalization of the men only, keeping it illegal) is that it is hard often to actually get the actual sex workers/ prostituted people, a good sampling of them…to talk. Paranoid folk, those in the biz can be.

    That makes sense. Gracias.

    See, I had the impression that even in countries with liberalized views on legalized prostitution, they still have huge problems with trafficked women from eastern europe and the former soviet republics. But, that’s just my impression. So, I’m not clear on how effective legalized prostitution in europe has mitigated trafficking in women. I’m guessing that even in the Netherlands and Germany, there are huge amounts of trafficked women and children. But, I could be wrong.

    I don’t know a damn thing about New Zealand, maybe trafficking isn’t a problem there. But, I hear ya – it’s probably a hard problem to quantify for the reasons you stated.

  27. Peter
    Peter August 18, 2008 at 11:04 pm |

    Yeah, that’s probably true Ren. Maybe trafficking is an issue that’s completely independent of legal versus illegal prostitution.

    I know out here in california, there’s tons of trafficked women from china coerced into the sex trade. That crap is always in the newspaper. There’s always a bust going on. It’s probably true all over the U.S., even though sex work is allegedly criminalized here.

  28. Sb
    Sb August 18, 2008 at 11:24 pm |

    Peter: “I don’t know a damn thing about New Zealand, maybe trafficking isn’t a problem there. But, I hear ya – it’s probably a hard problem to quantify for the reasons you stated.”

    If you want to know more here is the Official NZ goverment site with reports etc.

    http://www.justice.govt.nz/prostitution-law-review-committee/

  29. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 18, 2008 at 11:46 pm |

    The Health and Safety section of the report is particularly interesting.

  30. lankydancer
    lankydancer August 19, 2008 at 1:20 am |

    Awesome overview Ren (it kinda reads like a mission statement, if that’s not too corporate-y a word for you)!

    My partner came across this article today and showed me it, and I immediately thought of you. I think it’s a neat example of taking a balanced approach to the debate over decriminalization and other issues surrounding sex work that gives voice to both sides (though the por-decriminalization side gets a bit more airtime–the Tyee is a leftie paper, after all). I couldn’t help noticing, though, that the pro-decriminalization side was the only one with actual sexworkers for spokespeople. Food for though, that is.

    [sorry for the slight derail)

  31. lankydancer
    lankydancer August 19, 2008 at 1:21 am |

    gah! That’s “pro-decriminalization”

  32. Iamcuriousblue
    Iamcuriousblue August 19, 2008 at 5:32 am |

    “Can you let me know what you think of the San Francisco de-criminalization of prostitution? The local paper seemed strongly opposed.”

    Just an interjection here about San Francisco, etc – Debra J Saunders is not very representative of San Francisco or Bay Area politics, nor even the editorial slant of the SF Chronicle. She’s a conservative columnist not just for the Chronicle, but sites like Townhall.com and the like. She’s also a Republican lobbyist in Sacramento. SF has a few big-name right-wing journalists, notably Michelle Malkin and Michael Savage, but as they don’t reflect local politics very well at all. “Feinsten Democrats” would be the conservative wing in these parts.

    The decrim measure is fighting an uphill battle, though – much of the SF political establishment (notably mayor Gavin Newsom and DA Kamilla Harris) are against it (though some of the more progressive Supervisors and political organizations here have lent their support), and Berkeley rejected a similar measure a few years ago.

  33. QoT
    QoT August 19, 2008 at 5:55 am |

    *pulls out pompoms* GO KIWI! Seriously, though, @alicepaul: the health “regulation” in the NZ sex industry does not require mandatory medical checks for workers, but does have rules for the provision of free condoms and dams by brothels, the use thereof by workers, and the correct sterilisation/cleaning of facilities and toys, which seems about perfect as far as I’m concerned (though having only been peripherally involved in the industry myself).

    I think with regards to trafficking, a key reason for it being much less of an issue here than in, say, Sweden, is the fact that we’re totally ocean-locked, so it’s a heck of a lot more difficult to smuggle unwilling people over the border, and we have an incredibly active Prostitutes’ Collective, which has been around since long before legalisation.

  34. blackpaw
    blackpaw August 19, 2008 at 8:15 am |

    That sounds reasonable and practical QoT.

    To clarify, I don’t think *mandatory* health checks are a good idea – they’re offensive and probably would be counter productive. Encouraging and making provisions thereof sounds better.

  35. ninjanurse
    ninjanurse August 19, 2008 at 8:16 am |

    check out Prof. Donna Hughes and her ‘Dignity’ listserve. she is involved in Rhode Island anti-trafficking efforts. she is very opposed to harm reduction, which is why I am not with the coalition against trafficking anymore. we spent a year trying to remedy the trafficking of illegal immigrants with and got a law passed. now they want more laws. the federal Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act is being upgraded to the Wilberforce Act. I am mistrustful of the whole thing.

  36. Peridot (a sex worker)
    Peridot (a sex worker) August 19, 2008 at 10:03 am |

    I can’t imagine that a feminist of any stripe could disagree with Ren’s list.

    I don’t think that sex workers are victims who need to be rescued. Chasing traffickers and writing anti-trafficking laws is a waste of time. Instead people should be more concerned about getting to the root of why prostitution exists in the first place, and work to improve social conditions for women in general. Also I don’t think the sex industry is the causes of sexism, but only a glaring symptom of what already exists in the minds of men. Banning porn and prostitution only adds to their allure.

    However, I do believe that prostitution is exploitative not by nature, but just because of the unjust PATRIARCHY (yes, I’m using the word) we live under. Particularly for those with the disadvantages Ren mentioned.

    But I still think sex work should be decriminalized, even though I hate the idea of brothels and strip clubs and escort agencies that take half the sex workers’ money and don’t really look out for sex workers’ best interests. Case in point: Check out Amanda Brooks’ experience at Bella’s brothel in Nevada. In my case, I’ve worked for escort agencies that cared very little for my well-being. I’d much rather have independent sex work decriminalized. Hopefully that will happen here in San Francisco soon, fingers crossed.

  37. Dauphine
    Dauphine August 19, 2008 at 11:30 am |

    “I don’t think that sex workers are victims who need to be rescued. Chasing traffickers and writing anti-trafficking laws is a waste of time.”

    Huh?? Willing sex workers might not be victims but the women and girls who are made sex slaves by traffickers certainly are. How can it be a waste of time to go after the people who profit from their slavery?

  38. Tlady
    Tlady August 19, 2008 at 12:45 pm |

    Decriminalize prostitution and white slavery will get worse. The Netherlands is a prime example of this, legalizing prostitution has made trafficking worse.
    http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/netherl.htm
    Also you might want to consider the woman in Germany who had her unemployment benefits cut because she refused to take a perfectly good job as a prostitute
    http://www.deanesmay.com/posts/1107620644.shtml

  39. Tlady
    Tlady August 19, 2008 at 12:53 pm |

    I meant to add that the Germany story might Not be true we’re not sure but does make you consider some of the consequences of legalizing prostitution

  40. Natalia
    Natalia August 19, 2008 at 1:00 pm |

    Trafficking is a major, terrifying industry. Unfortunately, people choose to fight it in the strangest ways sometimes. They make no distinction between a willing sex-worker and a trafficked sex-slave. Obviously, a lot of people’s needs overlap, but these are not the same phenomena.

    Of course, I MUST mention that sometimes the trafficked sex-slaves themselves refuse help. I did an interview with a Ukrainian anti-trafficking activist a few years back, and she said that one of the most heartbreaking aspects of her job is seeing people who are so demoralized that they simply wish to fade away. She said that this is especially common among slaves whose captors have gotten them hooked on drugs. Also, if the slave believes that her family back home will judge her severely, she may not care about getting home at all. The best you can do in that situation is offer counseling and pray for the best. But sometimes people turn their backs on life. Or else they’ll leave the shelter and disappear in the street. Some make it, some don’t…

    Here’s the thing about trafficking – victims are usually desperate for a better life. Many of them don’t WANT to go back home, because home is a bad place for them to begin with, or else they feel they no longer have one. This phenomenon is terrifying on many levels, and it is influenced by a variety of factors. And each story is unique.

    This is why anti-trafficking work is so delicate, for lack of a better word.

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  42. Lisa Harney
    Lisa Harney August 19, 2008 at 4:32 pm |

    Decriminalize prostitution and white slavery will get worse. The Netherlands is a prime example of this, legalizing prostitution has made trafficking worse.

    Isn’t it also possible that the mild penalties for trafficking play into this? Or that resources devoted (or not devoted) to stopping trafficking makes a difference?

  43. Sb
    Sb August 19, 2008 at 5:25 pm |

    “The Netherlands is a prime example of this, legalizing prostitution has made trafficking worse.”

    There is a considerable body of evidence that shows that that statement is incorrect.

    Basically western Europe has a trafficking problem with people from eastern Europe however 90% of that trafficking has nothing to do with the sex trade but things like building work/farming/domestic service etc. Only 10% of the traffic is to do with adult sex work.

    People who make the statement above either don’t understand this or more likely don’t want to understand this

    Sb

  44. Alexa
    Alexa August 19, 2008 at 9:01 pm |

    Decriminalize prostitution and white slavery will get worse. The Netherlands is a prime example of this, legalizing prostitution has made trafficking worse.

    To kind of echo Sb’s point, you cannot draw direct comparisons between what happens in that part of the world with what would happen here because of the disparities in the way our respective societies function. The NZ experience is a much more appropriate comparative example.

  45. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 19, 2008 at 9:03 pm |

    Also the Nevada brothels are an example of decriminalisation done wrong – the brothel owners (casino money) have all the power and rights, not the workers.

  46. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 20, 2008 at 3:17 am |

    Tlady : Also you might want to consider the woman in Germany who had her unemployment benefits cut because she refused to take a perfectly good job as a prostitute


    Fud, Urban Myth, complete rubbish, doesn’t pass the sniff test:Snopes

  47. Blackpaw
    Blackpaw August 20, 2008 at 3:09 am |

    I could say that the difference between commercial and non-commercial is public vs private and that commercial workers encounter a wider range of people.

    But having seen the feedback here, particularly from those actually in the industry such as yourself that requirements for health checks are unnecessary and unethical I find have to agree with you and others (such as alicepaul). Far better to encourage and make it easier for sexworkers to access that health care as needed. My apologies to any I may have offended with my earlier position.

  48. Faith
    Faith August 20, 2008 at 7:40 am |

    “Basically western Europe has a trafficking problem with people from eastern Europe however 90% of that trafficking has nothing to do with the sex trade but things like building work/farming/domestic service etc. Only 10% of the traffic is to do with adult sex work.”

    Can you provide any sort of evidence to support this? Given that so many trafficking victims are never found, or their captors caught and convicted, I have difficulty believing anyone has any real idea what percentage of trafficking victims are being turned into sex slaves.

  49. Natalia
    Natalia August 20, 2008 at 1:02 pm |

    Faith, there’s an LA Times piece that cites some estimates on this. I wish I still had the link to the original data, but I seem to have misplaced it. Will look.

  50. Faith
    Faith August 20, 2008 at 1:08 pm |

    “Faith, there’s an LA Times piece that cites some estimates on this. I wish I still had the link to the original data, but I seem to have misplaced it. Will look.”

    Okey dokey. Thanks.

  51. Sb
    Sb August 20, 2008 at 3:04 pm |

    Faith: ” Can you provide any sort of evidence to support this? ”

    The best way to look for this information is to look on the European government websites for their reports. The European commission is a good place to start.

    Be careful with your search terms don’t use phrases like” sex trafficking” as you will not get the nonsex reports if you do that you need to use terms like THB (Trafficked Human Beings).

    Just remember this if two young women coming to work in a Brothel in London get turned back at the airport it makes the papers (sometimes) if 60 men coming to work in the south wales fishing get intercepted it never makes the papers. If those 60 men die while being trafficked it might make the papers!

    In other words nonsex trafficked people tend to have to die or they never make the papers hence they tend to be invisible is it is the sex trafficked people who get the newspaper space.

    Sb

  52. I agree « Chicks Dig Me
    I agree « Chicks Dig Me August 20, 2008 at 10:46 pm |

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  53. Wow! Post on sex work that is a must-read « Tilting at Windmills

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  54. Thursday Blogwhoring « random babble…

    […] who are kicking ass and taking names, Ren is guest blogging at Feministe right now.  She is covering a wide range of Sex Workers rights info, and stirring the pot in a much needed way in the process.  Have a good read, or […]

  55. Lauren Larken
    Lauren Larken September 7, 2008 at 11:03 pm |

    Hi There,

    I wanted to let you know that at http://www.OnTheIssuesMagazine.com the current free edition features the Feminist Debate over Prostitution.

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