As another young woman auctions her virginity, we know that selling sex can ruin lives

Questions need to be asked about how female sexuality is valued in society

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The Independent Online

Although the recent story of a woman offering to auction her virginity is nothing new, it is still likely to incite strong reactions.

All the hallmarks of a popular story are there. The woman in question, under the name Elizabeth Raine,  appears to have the world at her feet.  She is youthful, attractive, well-educated and currently a medical student. Perhaps this position of privilege is driving this story. It is not hard to imagine a woman from an alternative background and to wonder whether the story would lose its hook. Would a young woman without the same education, privilege and opportunities receive the same interest?

At Beyond the Streets, a charity working to end sexual exploitation, we have experience of working with many women who have sold sex in a variety of situations, and there is a common theme. We have been told numerous stories of how prostitution has ruined their lives. Ms Raine is confident that she will not regret her experience, though, and confidently states on her website, “What I believe I can say is how I will not feel, which is violated, degraded, or of lesser value.”

Experience shows, however, that this is unlikely to be true, as the voices of women we know say that they would make different decisions in hindsight. The levels of violence experienced by women selling sex are often under-reported. The range of harms experienced includes verbal and physical abuse, insults, a punch, rape and murder. Often viewed by many as a ‘hazard of the job’, the harm gets airbrushed out of portrayals of sex workers when in reality many tell us how they feel ‘violated, degraded and of lesser value’ as a result of selling sex.

Perhaps the most disturbing part, which lies at the heart of this story, is the notion that virginity is a consumer product for men who are wealthy and privileged enough to pay for it. At a time when much is being written about growing inequalities within society, this idea must make us stop and think.  Many of the women we work with had their virginity taken as a child (we would call it child rape) and they were then passed around and sold. Now adults, they live with this childhood abuse and the consequences of what was taken from them.

Whilst being aware that this piece could sound moralistic or judgemental, questions need to be asked about the space that we are creating for girls and women, questions regarding the value that their sexualised self holds within our communities. It may turn out that this latest story is merely a hoax or Ms Raine may not go through with it, but the idea that virginity is just another valuable product is an indication that we have lost our way as society.

Josephine Knowles is Co-Director of Beyond the Streets, a charity working to end sexual exploitation.