DECODING PIMP LANGUAGE :
INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA MOTT
photo : Rebecca at the ©BBC
S : On your blog, you write often about what you call « pimp language ». Pimp language is the discourse found everywhere—in the media, in ordinary conversations etc—which normalizes and legitimates prostitution. One of the ways to do that is to create new words to whitewash the bleak realities of prostitution –in particular, prostitution is systematically rebranded as « sex work ». You say abolitionnists should never use this expression « sex work ». What is at stake in this rebranding, and why is it so important not to use this expression ?
RM : This expression should not be used because it was invented by the sex industry to make people believe they were Left wing and feminists. There is no such thing as « sex work », because it’s not sex—and it’s not work. It’s not sex because prostituted persons don’t have any access to safety and equality, prostitution is a highly dangerous activity, so it can’t be just sex for them. And it’s not work for the same reason, because there are no jobs that I know of in which you are likely to be murdered on a regular basis.
We should also look at the way the sex trade has used feminist language to make itself look really radical and that it’s on the side of women. But trying to appropriate feminist ideas from the 70s is just a cynical act, it’s just a way to make more money ; what they really want is to open the market for women and younger people, they want these people to believe the language they speak. They also use the language of labour to make it look like it’s an ordinary job, that average jobs are just as dangerous. At a meeting that I attended, one of the « sex workers » kept saying that it was just an ordinary job—and it was really hard not to laugh—it’s ridiculous rubbish. I felt like saying : in how many jobs are you likely to be tortured ? In how many jobs is murder quite normal ? Anybody can think of any other job where that happens ? In other jobs –mining or fishing—, when people are killed, it’s usually an accident or it’s a human error and there is a huge inquiry about it. It’s not just something people consider normal, and when there is a mining disaster, there is not just an inquiry but people say : « we have to do something to make it safer, we have do do something so the manager takes responsability for what happened ». There is none of that in prostitution, what you get is that women disappear, they don’t have any rights and it’s normal. In prostitution, you don’t have « worker’s rights ».
S : The sex industry says that the laws against prostitution passed in some countries (Nordic model) have driven prostitution underground. What do you think of this statement and does the concept of « clandestine prostitution » makes sense to you ?
RM : No, it doesn’t. I don’t think that prostitution ever goes clandestine or underground—because the sex trade is always after a profit, so it must be easy for men to find prostitutes. If punters can find them, so can everybody else, including law enforcement. What the sex trade is trying to do, is push the sex trade indoors as much as possible, so nobody will see and care about what happens behind closed doors. Because they have this assumption that most people turn a blind eye to what happens indoors. And when people say that prostitutes go underground or are cast aside, they are just turning away from actually looking at what‘s happenng in prostitution. So they are actually fulfilling what the sex trade profiteers say will happen if you put it indoors. It’s like saying it doesn’t matter and it’s none of our business.
S : It’s so obvious that there is no such thing as clandestine prostitution, because if the punters can’t find the prostitutes, there is no business and no prostitution …And the sex industry says on one hand that indoor prostitution is safer, and on the other hand, it says that legislating against prostitution will have negative consequences because it will drive prostitution indoors. There seems to be a major contradiction here. What do you think of their argument : « indoor prostitution is safer ? » Why do they express this strong preference for indoor prostitution ?
RM : The main reason is that you can make much more profit from indoor prostitution than street prostitution, so it’s a logical choice for them : they’d like prostitution to be indoor as much as possible. But they will portray it as a safety issue, as if they care about the welfare of the prostituted. This is complete and utter rubbish. They don’t even see prostitutes as human beings so they don’t care about our safety. All they care about is making it safer and more private for punters. They actually want a space where anything can go, there won’t be any interference from outside, and it’s up to them (and to the prostitutes) to deal with whatever happens inside. Indoor prostitution is quite a logical preference because it gives them much more control, in addition to much more money.
S : When they are indoors, the prostitutes cannot escape the control of the pimps even for one minute : there are cameras everywhere, guards, etc. So indoor prostitution definitely increases the pimp’s control…
The happy hooker is one of the oldest, most enduring prostitution myths. It was the theme of the movie « Pretty Woman » but it’s much older than the movie. Who is the happy hooker, and why are (seemingly) happy hookers so frequently called on to appear in tv shows, movies etc ? What message are they supposed to pass, what role do they play in this pimp language ?
RM : As you say, the happy hooker has been around as long as prostitution itself but of course there has been an evolution in this myth. I think it began when women were put into temples and called « temple whores », ‘’temple prostitutes ». These women were seen as completely different from other women : they don’t feel pain, they don’t have a past, they don’t have any human emotions, it’s almost like they were immortal, non human. Now, a lot of these women seen as happy hookers have this image, it’s like they are almost like robots. They dont’ feel pain, they don’t have a past, they have no future, they are just prostitutes—and that’s all they are. They are just seen in that moment when they appear happy.
The model happy hookers tends to be focused on escorting and the girlfriend experience. According to this very ancient myth, these women can be sexual objects but also appear like they have control, like they have power. In reality, all these women are is a commodity and they are thrown away as easily as any other type of prostitute. It’s a very useful myth : it says that the prostitutes control men, that they are just doing it for the money, and that they have quite a cold attitude to men. And that’s a way of making male violence invisible, because it’s blaming the women for whatever happens : she is manipulating men, rather than them being violent to her. It’s about : « we will make male violence as invisible as we can ». They also want you to believe that escorting is a huge moneymaker and that you can keep most of money. Also, it defines the prostitute either as the happy hooker or as the helpless victim, and there is no middle ground, you are either one or the other.
It’s a very simplistic myth, but it has terrible consequences because it leaves women unable to express the violence they put up with—in escorting specially : they feel that nobody will believe them because of this myth that says they are lucky to be in escorting and they should be happy whatever happens. And so they tend to internalize everything.
S : And the movie « Pretty woman » played a big role in reinforcing this myth… You mention that many happy hookers are phoney. I was thinking of this story that I read in the British press, about this escort called « Belle du jour » and some journalists said she did very little escorting. Can you elaborate on that ?
RM : A lot of women who are going public about being « sex workers » are likely to be madams and profiteers from the sex trade. Or dominatrixes, and being a dominatrix is very different from being prostituted.
S : For one thing, there is no intimate physical contact …
RM : The sex trade lobby tends to put out happy hookers only, and even if they are genuine prostitutes, they are also used by the sex trade as a propaganda thing—and then thrown away. There is complete disregard for their mental welfare and their safety ; they are put out so people can say : « oh, prostitution is not that bad » . If these women disagree, or if they want to talk about something different, they are just thrown away and replaced by somebody else.
But it’s true that a lot of women who speak out about prostitution are not actual prostitutes. Wether they are pretending to be prostitutes to write articles and books or are actual madams who actually profiteer, they all say : « it’s no that bad, it’s just work, you shouldn’t complain about it ». When there is a panel of « sex workers », I tend to be skeptical about that, and wonder where they are coming from. These women who throw so many prostitued women under the lorry, I find hard to believe they were actually prostitutes. I have met a lot of exited women who have a lot of anger, a lot of bitterness and can be quite nasty some time but they don’t usually do that to other prostitutes, they don’t throw them away.
Also most exited women never forget they are lucky to be alive, lucky that they are not just another statistic. They never forget that lots of prostitutes do not survive : many are dead—and they never forget that.
S : What do you think of this typical argument of pimp language : « women engaging in prostitution are exerting their free choice ». Who has choice in prostitution ?
RM : It’s a complete reversal of the truth. Statistically, most prostitutes have no choice whatsoever, and even if they think they have choice, if you look to their whole life, you’d find something that shows that they didn’t have choice–whether it’s poverty, whether it’s child abuse, wether it’s being led on by people who say it’s not that bad. There are many varied reasons why people enter prostitution but none of them can be put down as free choice. It’s very rare that somebody wakes up one morning, who had a very good childhood and a very secure life, and think : « I will be a prostitute ». It’s not something that a happy child would even think about, it wouldn’t enter their mind because it wouldn’t be relevant to a happy child. When people talk about choice for these women, it’s like a sleight of hand, they say : « look at this hand, look at the women » and they make everything else disappear. And the thing they make disappear is that the only people who have full choice are the punters –and the people who profiteer from prostitution. No man has to buy a woman ever, it’s not part of evolution, it’s not part of any religion, every man who buys a prostitute can also make the choice not to buy a prostitute. They can walk out of it any time, they can NOT do it.
When men go to Amsterdam, they do not have to go to the Red light district, nothing forces them to go to there. It’s like men are hepless victims to a force when they are doing it. They are not, they are completely in control, it doesn’t matter whether they are drunk or whether they are very young, they still have control. It’s quite a conscious thing to buy a prostitute, even your are buying it on your computer, it’s conscious, you don’t just walk down a street and pay a woman money, it doesn’t happen like that, it takes time, you have to think about it, you have to conduct some negociation. It makes me really angry that people think of it as accidental…
S : It’s not accidental because men drive around, they shop around, they circle the place before choosing a prostitute, they hesistate, they compare before making a decision, and it can take them quite a bit of time…
RM : Of course they do. Most men, they think about it way before, it’s prepared, it’s planned.
S : I have read that some men even save money for that…
RM : And it’s the same with the guys who profiteer. Nobody wakes up one morning and think : « I will be a pimp ». They make a plan to be a pimp, they make a plan to become manager of a brothel, you don’t become manager of a brothel overnight. You become the manager of a brothel because you have a kind of heartless attitude to life. It does not make sense to say that women have choice but that men are are almost like victims. It’s like Alice Through the looking Glass : everything is well made out, and then they say : « well this is how it is… If we say « black is white », then it is ». That’s what I always say to abolitionists : « you have to go by your guts to know what’s true. » The prostitute has very litle choice and the man has a lot of choice. Most people would recognize that, when put in simple language. If it’s such a free choice, why would men pay them money ?
S : And there is this other justification of choice : « prostituted women have choice because they can spot violent men and avoid them ». Is it really possible to spot violent men ?
RM : Well, no. Most men who are violent are very good at hiding this violence, very good at appearing completely normal. Actually, it’s the same with most violent people in the world, they don’t look as being violent, you would not be able to spot a violent person if you were walking down the street. Violent people don’t have a label on their head saying : « I am going to beat you up, I am going to rape you, I am going to murder you », they look like everybody else…
S : When a murderer or a rapist is arrested , his neighbors and his friends usually say : « who would have thought, he was a good neighbour, a quiet person… »
RM : Most punters are very good at appearing normal, they have a skill for that. And also, violence is very quick, and violent men will disguise their real self until they feel they are in a situation where nobody can see them. I had a regular punter, I saw him for months, and he was never violent for months. He was not the nicest man in the world but he just seemed like a normal punter to me. Then one night he decided he’d torture me for 6 hours. I had no way of scanning him, I didn’t know what he would do to me until 30 seconds before he started. And by the time you see it, it is usually too late. You are either in a situation where you can do absolutely nothing about it, or you are surrounded by people who don’t give a damn. Most punters do it in a situation where people around them don’t care, or if there is nobody around.
Also, if you are in a brothel, you are surrounded by people who see punter violence as normal. And the pimps work very hard at making sure that prostitutes are isolated from people who would care. Even if the woman can scan it, what is she going to do about it ? What can she do practically about it ? Most self defense is completely useless. Often the punter is not alone, he is surrounded by other punters who are going to protect him. And she is the one who is going to be blamed for not being intelligent enough to deal with it if violence happens. One of the things that the sex trade say to these women, which is one of the most hurtful thing one can say, is that we were not strong enough to cope …
S : Not professional enough ?
RM : I feel you can compare it to domestic violence. With domestic violence, we have learned that most men who abuse their partners can go for months and years looking quite normal, because they are not violent to other people and act quite normal most of the time. And that happens in prostitution as well : a lot of men who are violent with prostitutes are not violent with non prostituted people. And lot of men who are violent with prostitutes don’t see it as real violence because they consider that real violence would be only with non prostituted women. That’s disgusting but in prostitution, violence is what you pay for.
S : The sex industry says that the main problem for prostituted women is the stigma cast on prostitutes by society and that if this stigma was erased, the situation of prostitutes would be much improved. Do you think the so-called stigma is really the biggest problem for prostituted women ?
RM : No I don’t, and I don’t really believe in stigma anyway, it’s another concept invented by the sex trade to keep women in prostitution from looking for help or from trying to find out how things really are. If they can spread the myth that people outside the sex trade hate prostitutes, that they don’t understand prostitutes, that they see them as lower beings, then it means that women who are beginning to think : « it’s not right, I don’t like it anymore » will not try going outside to get help because they’ll think : « they would just condamn me ». The sex trade really benefits from this idea that there is a stigma because it keeps women trapped. And it also feeds the self hate that you have to have to be in prostitution. It feeds it because it tells that everybody outside thinks of prostitutes as awful women. It’s something that they speak about very strongly, because this notion of stigma keeps the status quo going for the sex trade.
It tells this awful lie that everybody outside prostitution has this negative opinion, but actually, the reality is that most people outside prostitution don’t know that much about it–and when they find out, they are often shocked and they do care about it. And of course, they are also people who don’t care one way or another about it. The idea that people outside the sex trade all hate prostitutes is complete rubbish. Oviously, there are people that do but they are not the majority, quite a few people actually do care about what happens to prostitutes. When you are in prostitution, you hear sometimes : « it’s only people who have been prostitutes that can understand, or people in the sex trade, or your family who care about you ». That’s not true, and it’s never been true—ever. It’s something they want you to believe, and when you are a prostitute, it’s very easy to believe it because you are not able to place that in any kind of context.
S : The sex industry accuses exited women and abolitionnists of « whorephobia ». What do you think of this accusation ?
RM : It’s another made up word, another one of these many words invented by the sex trade. But it’s a lie because it portrays the abolitionists as if they hate prostitutes, if they don’t care about them and are against prostitution for purely moralistic reasons. It’s just another complety upside down way of looking at things. It’s the sex trade that see prostitutes are just human goods to be used and thrown away, whereas abolitionists are on the contrary people that see prostitutes as full human beings. It’s the sex trade profiteers who are the ones who see prostitutes as subhuman. When they use this word « whorephobia » , it’s a very clever way of silencing exited women because if we are really what they say, it means that we have a lot of self hate that is making us hate anybody who is or was a prostitute. If we support abolition or the Nordic model, we are even accused of murdering other prostitutes ! And it’s a joke because THEY are killing prostitutes everyday. And it’s a very clever way of silencing exited women because most of them, however strong they appear, have a lot of hidden self hate within them, and if they can play on that, they can silence us very effectively. So most exited women find it very hard to ask for help because they believe that no one out there can help you. This accusation of « whorephobia » is laughable in a way but very dangerous.
S : Since you are talking about silencing exited women, can you describe other strategies that the sex trade use to silence them and discredit their testimonies on prostitution ?
RM : Another strategy is that they work very hard on finding out who you were close to, who are your family members and they like to show us that they know the names of these people, they know where they live. This is frightening for women who have been prostitutes because we know that they are quite capable of violence, we know that they stalk people and that they would not give a damn about killing us .
Also, when people talk about being attacked by the sex trade, there is a big difference between the way they deal with exited women and abolitionists. When they attack abolitionists, It can be quite vicious and nasty but there is not this underlying subtext: « you shoul be dead ». Because when the sex profiteers talk to exited women, there is this real anger about the fact that we are still alive–and that we remember. And this is why they are so angry at exited women in the first place : they believe that , for the sex trade to function efficiently, there shouldn’t be anybody who remembers the conditions of it : they should be either killed or mentally damaged and unable or unwilling to talk about it. And that’s why the sex trade sees exited women as really dangerous : they remember, they are liable to tell people, and the sex trade don’t want any witnesses of what is happening inside prostitution. When you are threatened by the sex lobby as an exited woman, it’s more than just personal, it’s a real feeling they want to wipe people out, they really think there should be no exited prostitutes left, they should just be replaced by other prostitutes. To me, it’s just like a genocide happening over and over again, but it’s a genocide that nobody looks at…
S : Because it’s a drop by drop genocide ?
RM : Also because it’s something that prostitutes have been unable to speak about. The fact that a genocide is happening is hard to believe if you don’t have a record of it. We knew about Cambodia because we saw pictures, we heard people who survived. We don’t know about a genocide if there are hardly any survivors, and if there were no people there to make the record.
S : Also one argument that the sex trade use to discredit exited women is that exited women are too emotionnally damaged to make sense about prostitution, too crazy and unreliable…
RM : Another thing they say is : « that must have been somewhere illegal that you were working » and that does not really matter : I don’t care if it’s legal or illegal, it’s violent just the same, violence is the bottomline of prostitution. They don’t want witnesses, so they’ll discredit my mental welfare.
I don’t want that negative label because it helps them ; if it did not help them, I’d probably want it, because prostitution affects mental health to an extreme. But I dont want them to say : « oh, she is a weak person, she just can’t cope with it ». You can’t survive prostitution and be mentally well, it’s impossible.
S : Let’s talk about the johns. You talk about the « pity card » used when discussing them : they are presented as sad and lonely men, too old or too shy to have sexual access to women. Or men with disabilities (women with disabilitis are never mentioned) whose physical limitations preclude any sexual contact. What do you think of this description of the johns ?
RM : It’s another trick of the sex trade, the vast majority of johns are just ordinary men, and they wouldn’t stand out at all : they come from the middle class, upper class or working class, they are young or old, there is no way that you can spot a john in the street. Also, the idea that someone who is sad and lonely has to buy women is ridiculous. It’s part of human nature to be sad and lonely, I am sorry : just get over yourself ! Also it’s like there is not such thing as masturbation, it’s such a poor excuse for being part of an industry that destroys so many people…
S : And lots of these men have partners…
RM : Yes, punters come from everywhere and most of them tend to have relationships. And the ones that don’t, it doesn’t mean they are lonely. A lot of men who don’t have relationships are not neccessarily sad and lonely but they still use prostitutes. Every excuse in the world is used for men using prostitutes, even the most ridiculous. And when they talk about the men with disabilities, it’s so derogatory to the majority of the disabled, because it’s like saying that the disabled can’t have sex without paying for it.
Nobody has a right to have sex, it’s not a human right, obviously most people want to have sex, but that’s not a right, that’s a want. You don’t have the right to have sex, specially if it means abusing another human being. There is no excuse for buying sex, there is nothing that somebody can say that makes it excusable. There is always another way, and in the end, we have to say : « we are sorry but you can’t because it’s wrong ». Actually, I know a lot of people in disabled rights groups, specially in England, and they are apalled by this idea. They get really angry at this idea that the disabled, in order to have sex, need to abuse another group of people. They find that really shocking and they say : « look, if we want sex, we will find a way to have sex—our way. » But to be labelled as a group who would prey on another group to get sex, they find it really apalling –and they make a lot of sense about it. It’s another one of the countless excuses for punters invented by the sex trade, and they all say : « the poor men ! ». They want them to look like victims, like they are forced to do it, that there is no alternative. Bullsh#t ! I just don’t believe that anybody has the right to buy another human being for sex, there will never be any kind of a good reason for it.
S : You say there is a direct relation between punters and porn. Can you explain why porn and prostitution are intimately related for punters ?
RM : Most punters tend to consume porn a lot, and even if they don’t, they know about it, because it’s everywhere anyway. Most punters, when they hire a prostitute, they have porn ideas of what they want her to do. And when you are in indoor prostitution, there is always porn on the television. Also, you see a lot of prostitutes in porn, it’s completely interconnected that way. The sex trade pretend to the outside world that porn and prostitution are separated but they know it’s connected. And they know that the punters will come in with the expectation that the prostitute will do anything that’s in porn.
Also the sex trade tends to move women around, so most of the women who have been in the sex trade for several years have done more than one type of thing. I have done a bit of porn, I have done escorting, I have done girlfriend experience, I have done behind the pub type stuff–you are just moved around. There isn’t any line between porn and prostitution in the sex trade, it’s only when they are in public that they talk about these lines. In reality, there are not any, it’s completely untangible, most of the women inside porn were probably in prostitution before, or vice versa… It’s very rare that there is someone in porn who hasn’t an experience of other aspects of the sex trade…
S : Some men say they are nice punters and treat prostituted women with respect and humanity. What do you think of these nice punters ?
RM : It’s not true, It’s pure propaganda. There can’t be such thing as nice punters because, as I said, nobody has the right to buy sex. If you make the choice to buy sex, then you are committing an act of violence in itself. It doesn’t matter if all you do is to sit at the end of the bed and talk about your hard life, or even if you don’t do anything sexual or physical to the prostitute. It’s still about a person not having human rights while you are in that room. The only good punter is the one that makes the choice not to go and not to be a punter. If you buy another human being, then you are making the choice to be part of an industry that is destroying and killing women everyday. You are not just an individual when you do that, you are part of a whole industry. It’s completely disingenuous to talk about good punters, it’s like a game of sleight of hand, it’s about not looking at what’s happening to the prostitutes and say : « oh these poor little punters, I feel sorry for them ». Let’s not feel sorry for them –that will be a real revolution when people don’t feel sorry for the punters, and I’d love to wake up into that world.