Turn Off the Red Light: Challenging modern day slavery

“It felt like a prison, no time for lunch and I was on call 24/7… There was no choice about which men you saw and some men wanted sex without condoms. If you refused to have anal sex you had to pay a penalty or the ‘security’ men would beat you up.” This is part of a testimony from Isobel, contained in the Immigrant Council of Ireland’s 2009 report on sex trafficking in Ireland, found on turnofftheredlight.ie , a campaign against prostitution and sex trafficking supported by a number of trade unions as well as women and immigrant groups.

The indescribable horror faced by (in the vast majority of cases) women who are forced, either by direct coercion or by poverty into selling their bodies, is illustrated by the harrowing testimony of Isobel and by other survivors that Turn Off the Red Light Campaign so crucially gives voice to. The ad’ campaign with the morose face of a girl and caption “14 the age Anna was first exploited in prostitution” is particularly effective in challenging dangerous media-driven myth that prostitution and the commercialisation of sex that flows from the objectification of women’s bodies is or can be a normal part of society. Reality equals  –  sex trafficking is modern-day slavery. Reality equals – prostitution is ugly. It’s violent. It damages and destroys the bodies and psyches of the most marginalised and impoverished women and girls.

The austerity and inequality that define capitalism in this era, combined with an ideology that dehumanises and objectifies women leading to unequal gender power relations, has facilitated a massive rise in the global sex trade. With indoor prostitution now the growing norm, as well as standing for the decriminalising of prostitutes, the Left must consider the proposals of Turn Off the Red Light to criminalise the buying of sex.

In the past, when on-street prostitution was the norm, this could have endangered the prostitutes, isolating them more as the buyers avoided police raids. With indoor, online “ordered” prostitution now the norm, this is perhaps less significant a consideration. It’s certainly essential to fight to ensure that all women trafficked here get asylum to negate deportation being a barrier to escape. All legal reforms should be fought for, including seriously fought for by the trade unions. But no meaningful progress is possible under capitalist crisis. Sex trafficking is a global problem – austerity in Greece has massively increased prostitution. An international anti-capitalist struggle can and must put the total ending of prostitution at the heart of a socialist vision.