Thursday, 7 June 2012

Why is Sex Still a Crime?

Today’s guest blog is by Susanna Quinn whose debut novel Glass Geisha’s is published today.  Glass Geisha’s is the tale of Steph who comes to Japan to work as a bar hostess but finds herself involved in something much deeper and darker.

Let me take you into Tokyo’s red-light district, where women are waiting to massage you with their naked bodies.  Walk amid prostitutes in school uniforms and nurse outfits, and wander into fake subway stations where men pay to ‘molest’ women.  Buy a cup of coffee from a waitress wearing no knickers, and then pay her for sex at the back of the cafe.

What else will you find, amid all this weird and wonderful sex for sale?  Crime.  Not just petty theft or vandalism, but hard, violent crime.  Drug wars, violent robbery and murder.

Gangsters run Tokyo’s sex district and make money from the girls – just as they do in every other big city all over the world.  They sell the girls drugs, beat them when they misbehave and make sure it’s near impossible for them to go back to a normal life.

Sex and crime have always gone together – in books and in real life.  Where there is sex for sale, there is violence, theft and murder.  Moreover, all of these things fascinate us.
Here is what I don’t understand.  Sex is supposed to be a pleasant, relaxing act, so why is selling it often connected with the very worst sorts of criminals?  I’m talking about people who will, without remorse, shoot someone in the head and throw their body in front of a subway train.

The prostitutes I met in Tokyo were often drug addicts, and almost always had violent, gangster boyfriends who beat them.  Why did they associate with the very worst sorts of criminals, when their only crime was making men happy for half an hour, and charging for the privilege?

Is it because, deep down, we still think sex is dirty and wrong?  The girls who sell sex feel so bad about themselves, they believe they’re as bad as men who murder and torture others?  Sure, selling sex is against the law in most places.  But so is banking fraud.  That doesn’t mean it has to be associated with violent crime.

I didn’t start out to write a crime novel, and in fact, Glass Geishas doesn’t have a detective or a conventional crime plot.  I worked in the Tokyo sex district as a hostess for many years, and had so many frightening and exciting experiences; I felt they’d be a good basis for a frightening and exciting book.

Let me quickly explain what a hostess is.  A hostess is a sort of modern-day geisha, and western hostesses are in high demand.  They pour men’s drinks, offer flirtatious conversation and sing karaoke.  That’s it – supposedly.  But hostess clubs are almost always in sex districts and, truth be told, some hostesses do end up having sex with their customers.

I wanted to write about a British girl working as a hostess in the Tokyo sex district, and after wrangling with many different storylines, they all came back to one thing.  Crime.  That’s what I saw in the sex district, and I always wanted to write the truth.

While I worked in Japan as a hostess, I was offered a lot of money to have sex with men.  Around £10,000 for an hour, to be precise.  That offer forced me to think about my own attitudes to selling sex, and what on earth my problem was.  After all, why was it different to singing karaoke with someone you didn’t like, or having a boring conversation about digital cameras for three hours?  I could earn three month’s wages in half an hour – so why couldn’t I go through with it?

The answer was societal disapproval.  If I had sex with someone for money, I’d always be carrying a sort of ‘shame’ that I’d done something most people saw as really wrong.

But why?  Where’s the shame?  Is it any different from giving someone a massage, or bathing someone who can’t bath themselves?  In terms of the impact it has on people, prostitution isn’t half as bad as being a loan shark or a millionaire tax dodger.  Who does it hurt?

One of the worst things you could ever say about a woman is that she had sex with someone for money.  Selling sex is apparently so awful that you can be sent to prison for it.  But it wasn’t prison that bothered me.  It was the fact that for my whole life I’d be tarnished by society – seen as a certain sort of girl.

Japan actually has quite a laid-back attitude to sex.  It’s not seen as dirty or embarrassing.  It’s generally accepted that people will have their fetishes, which may involve – say – schoolgirls or molesting women on subway trains, and as long as no one is hurt we should live and let live.

However, girls working in the sex industry are still frowned upon.  Nice girls don’t work in the mizu shobai (the water trade – the Japanese term for the nightclub industry).  Just like the rest of the world, there are the girls you marry, and the girls you don’t.  Selling sex for money makes you a girl no one would ever marry.

When I worked in Japan, I saw ‘nice’ girls make the transition from hostess to prostitute.  They did it because after years of working in the Tokyo night scene, they were alcoholics or addicted to coke and saw no other way of earning a living.

Once they made the cross over, they became part of the criminal underworld – a world where it’s always nighttime, and money seems to grow on the fluorescent-lit buildings that climb into dark, polluted skies.  One minute you have a million yen in your pocket, the next you’ve spent it all on champagne, cocaine and designer labels and you feel worthless again.

Life is cheap, and people don’t live long.  I never met a girl who chose to be part of this world – they were always sucked or dragged into it.  Sleep with someone for money once, and society sees you as cheap and worthless forever.  When the world sees you as worthless, it doesn’t take long to think of yourself that way, and that’s the ultimate trap.

Why is selling sex still a crime?  I truly have no idea.  What I do know is that our attitude to prostitutes – the fact we think of them as slightly less than human – ruins lives, and perhaps that’s the biggest crime of all.

Glass Geishas is published as a paperback original and eBook by Hodder & Stoughton on the 7th June 2012, £7.99

More information about Susanna Quinn can be found at her website

1 comment:

e a m harris said...

One of the surprising things is that this attitude towards sex-for-money seems to exist in every culture. However, in many cultures there are women, often called courtesans, who do much the same thing but are highly regarded. What makes them different?