Women in Leadership: An Evening with Catharine MacKinnon

24 Nov

Women in Leadership: An Evening with Catharine MacKinnon

Emmaline Campbell
GALS President

On November 14, the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality hosted Catharine MacKinnon for an on campus lecture. Ms. MacKinnon is renowned for her work internationally on sex trafficking and pornography. Her speech, entitled “Trafficking, Prostitution, and Inequality,” addressed the debate about whether prostitution can be good for women. Her answer to this question is an emphatic “no.”

Ms. MacKinnon argues that prostitution is a denial of human rights, a cycle of sexual abuse, and the ultimate oppression of women.

Prostitutes are overwhelmingly poor, and typically are members of disadvantaged classes. Prostitutes usually begin at a young age, sometimes as young as 10. Prostitutes tend to have been sexually abused during their childhood.

Ms. MacKinnon argues that none of these factors lend towards the argument that anyone can become a prostitute, and that prostitutes are knowingly giving consent. Gender, social class, and sexual abuse history define prostitution. It is a fact of circumstance, not a conscious employment choice.

There is a class structure within the sex trade, and it does not benefit the prostitutes: it benefits the pimps, who often keep women working through threats and violence. A recent study found that 89% of prostitutes want to leave the industry, but are unable to.

Prostitution carries serious health risks.  In Calcutta, prostitutes typically serve 20-30 men per day. The women risk a higher chance for prostitutes to contract a sexually transmitted disease.

Prostitutes are much more likely to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (ptsd) than the general population. The disorder is a response to an amount of trauma that exceeds what a person is capable of tolerating.

For these reasons, Ms. MacKinnon argues we must seek to end prostitution. She does not, however, believe that criminalization of prostitution is the best answer. Instead, Ms. MacKinnon advocates for the Swedish Model, which she and Andrea Dworkin helped to develop. The Swedish Model is as follows:

–       Decriminalizing prostitution for the prostitutes.
–       Criminalizing buyers of prostitution
–       Criminalizing third party profiteers of prostitution.

All in all, Ms. MacKinnon presents a very compelling argument for prostitution as a violation of human rights and dignity. I’ll be interested to see how other countries’ views on prostitution continue to evolve.Emmaline Campbell is the President of GALS.


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