Are you a potential prostitute?

Well, are you?  Not sure?  Well – now you can check.  Some nice kind people have set up a website where people can report “potential prostitutes”.    No I’m not linking, but it ain’t hard to find.

The premise of the site is that people feel “threatened” by online prostitutes.  And that they must “protect themselves online” by reporting a “potential prostitute” to this site.  Visitors are encouraged to anonymously “submit an offender”so that their photograph, names, locations and telephone number could be listed.  At the time of writing there were approximate 40, 000 women listed on this site.

The site claims to be providing a public service to members of the local community who have encountered a “potential prostitute” and want to “teach them a lesson” before their actions “escalate”.  Escalate to what exactly is unclear.

Despite being deeply critical of the sex industry in its entirety, even if every single woman on that list is indeed one who has accepted payment to provide another with sexual services, this is sheer harassment.  The vast majority of women become involved in the sex industry because they are in a bad place in their lives – either emotionally or financially – and the idea of being labelled “an offender” and listed on hostile site to be “taught a lesson is disgraceful.

But this is not what the website owners claim, they claim that these are “potential prostitutes”.  Women who might be prepared to provide sexual gratification for money.  By listing these women, they create a list of women who in someone’s opinion, might be willing to be provide sexual gratification for money should the opportunity arise, providing their telephone numbers, just in case people might want to find out.    Anyone at all can upload a woman’s details to this site and it will immediately be listed.  It is a gift to abusive men who wish to harass any woman they choose giving out her details and her phone number to be listed as an “offender” to be “taught a lesson”, by listing her name, contact details and photograph onto a site which – on the basis of no information what so ever will label her “an offender” and “a threat” as well as imply that she is willing to provide sexual gratification for money.

Should someone come across their name on this site, they can have it removed – for a fee, of course.

For a “one time payment of $99.95” which “potential prostitutes” are reassured is discrete, they can have details erased from the site.  That in itself belying the site’s claims to be a “community service”.  If the site owners were indeed so concerned about the threat posed by these “potential prostitutes” surely a payment of £100 wouldn’t negate that threat.

But this isn’t really about the threat of “potential prostitutes” at all, although it is about teaching them a lesson.  The lesson being as a woman they are vulnerable to being sexually exploited for money, that a shameful label can be applied to them publicly on an official looking site and that they must pay for the privilege of not being so labelled.

For after all, who is a “potential prostitute”.  If we look at the histories of those who enter prostitution there are some common themes which run.  A history of child sexual abuse, a history of domestic violence and/or sexual violence, financial problems and a lack of family stability also feature.  All these groups are much more likely to enter prostitution than those who have faced no such difficulties.

But actually, even more fundamentally, the most common thing linking those who enter prostitution is that they are, in the main, women.  Prostitution exists as an industry for male sexual gratification, and this is a warning shot to all women, particularly those who piss off a misogynist enough to have them enter their details on this site that really, fundamentally, they are there to be used, its just a question of haggling over price.

The idea for the site appears to have been prompted by a sting operation led by Polk County police department in the States.  As part of a sting operation, they arrested 60 people the majority of whom where female in an attempt to stop prostitution in their area.  There is no suggestion that any of the women arrested were attempting to purchase sexual gratification, only that they were willing to provide it.  Polk County Sherriff department followed the horrific example set by the Hellenic Police Force who put the names, photographs and details of those they had arrested in a prostitution sting up on a public website – although they at least also arrested and publically named those attempting to purchase sexual services as well as the pimps who were making money out of the women.

The television coverage of this sting operation, featured on the site, was purient and vile.

Focusing in on the arrest of a previously sexually abused and homeless 15 year old girl who had agreed to provide sexual gratification for money, the coverage gratutiously focuses in on the fact that she brought her baby with her – leaving him in the car with a man that she had also brought with her, as the police officer waved around a photograph of the baby as justification, ignoring that another child was in such dire cirumstances that they were willing to provide sexual gratification for the money they need for them both to survive. The men who were arrested in this operation got scant mention. The focus – both of the television crew and the police was very much on the women.

As long as providing sexual gratification for money is considered shameful, while those who take advantage of women in difficult circumstances for their own sexual pleasure are tolerated, these kinds of scams will go on.  All of us are “potential prostitutes” – given difficult circumstances, an urgent need for money and the opportunity to obtain it, prostitution is  a route that can be taken.  It is only the very safe that can look down on those who sell sexual gratification.  Women are far more at risk of being exploited in this manner because of the assumptions that women are there for male sexual gratification and where women are not prepared to provide this gratification for free, payment is required.

This site shames women, utilising the narratives provided by the state police department, then demands payment to remove an allegation that they may be willing to be sexually exploited for money while providing their details for anyone who wishes to so exploit them.

Who here is the real threat?



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