In addition to its long-standing problem with drugs, Argentina is now plagued by ongoing violence and a sex traffic industry that preys on women and girls. Cases of abduction consistently make their way in the news, prompting wide vigilance in communities throughout the country. Women's organizations are taking note.
Prostitution is legal in Argentina, but brothels are illegal. This forces the industry into the public domain. Sex workers and clients rendezvous on the streets, train stations, bus terminals, parks and, inevitably, near schools, hospitals and churches. The work conditions make the women particularly vulnerable to crime and assault.
Many people complain that prostitutes are creating a negative social image in Argentina because everyone can see them interact with clients. To change this, some propose that the government legalize brothels. I am uncertain whether this is the best solution, since brothels would only hide a social problem.
A woman's freedom ought to include the opportunity to perform work that does not reduce her to a sexual provider. Prostitution seems so ingrained in the satisfaction of men that by nature it places women in a subservient role. This system reinforces inequality between men and women, and creates an unbalanced society.
When a client pays a sex worker for her services, he expects her to perform specific tasks. During the duration of her performance, the client effectively owns the worker. In a typical working day, the woman is passed from client to client in a system of serial ownership.
Some might say that the ownership condition is no different from the one present in a corporate office, where a secretary works a full day performing clerical duties for money. There is a key difference, however: The office worker is not required to perform sexual acts or remove her clothes, and is safe from exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.
Incidentally, the term “sex work” is misleading because it is not a dignified activity that allows women to support themselves without fearing illness, death or assault. In fact, one has to wonder: How many of these women working the streets can access adequate medical care?
The fact that prostitution regularly subjugates sex workers to a condition of physical slavery is enough cause to reevaluate its practice in Argentina. And let us not forget the clients: Men who seek prostitutes do so compelled by desire and power. This type of motivation reveals psychological dependence coupled with economic control.
For all these reasons, I am against prostitution and the legalization of brothels. Any profession that undermines self-worth and places people at risk needs radical revision. Brothel regulation, as some feminists propose for Argentina, only accepts the markings of a patriarchal system that encourages men to exploit women.
Vanessa Rivera prepared this text with assistance from e-feminist staff.