Complicity of Violence with Malice: A Brief Article On Prostitution And What The Prostitution Laws Do

Aslı Zengin

The laws that separate the sex workers into two categories as registered and non-registered also produces space for different kinds of violence.

This article examines the legal regulations on prostitution, the practices of the state and, based on the everyday lives of the sex workers, the relationship of registered and un-registered sex workers with the state, along with the violence embedded in such relationships. These relationships formed by absolute and modern power techniques, provides us with the understanding of the state, rather than a uniter and abstract structure, as a form that changes according to the context, to the relationships it develops with different subjects and becoming an embodiment of the ordinary through the institutional actors it relates.Especially by looking at the relationships among the police, the deputies working at the brothels, and the sex workers, this article aims to examine how the objectification through violence establishes a masculine sexuality.
We are all aware of similar marginalization forms of the social outlook, pressures, representations, and practices without differentiating the sex workers as registered/un-registered. But the laws that divide the women as registered and un-registered, creates differences in the ways the state actors form relationships based on violence with these women. Thus we need to discuss two spheres of prostitution organized by this law: the brothel and the street.

“Confinements” of the state

The women’s lives in the brothels, how the control over their bodies are taken away from them and what forms of violence they are forced into have not been told and they have been carefully silenced. But the campaign organized by Ayşe Tükrükçü and Saliha Ermez during the 2006 general elections, have created public visibility about what’s has been going on behind the doors in the brothels. Especially Ayşe Tükrükçü’s statements and her recently written biography have been a crucial testimony to how both the laws and violence feed on each other and force the women into exceptional lives.

“Public woman” is an identity given to the registered women by the state through various institutional practices. By being registered, the women are placed in the brothels that have specific set of life forms and they are isolated from the social world. With this confinement the visibility of the violence lived behind the walls is minimized.

Once the women are placed into the brothels, their mobility is bound to regulations. For example, they can go outside the brothels only for limited time periods, their entry and exits are recorded and they are forced to work from early in the morning till late night shifts. The comments of a retired sex worker represent the degrees of violence clearly:

“I said, once a month or once a week I should have a day off. Well, I am not a stone! Everyday start at nine, work till midnight. Stone would even be tired; stone would even break, become rusty. Never sit! You are on your feet from nine in the morning until twelve at night. My feet swell like this, like a drum, two meters. The employer doesn’t let you, forbidden! I am telling you, it’s like being a slave. I menstruate; they even make you work when you menstruate! I told the state to at least give the days off when we menstruate. The blood is dripping off my clothes, off my legs, they make you work like that. Then come and say “my state”!.. You load the donkey like this, whip the donkey, the donkey is having hard time to go. I mean I was the donkey… My groins became callous. I realized that I have bones only after I retired.”

The women I talked to repeatedly noted that there is no place for them to articulate the difficulties or the violence. Combating Prostitution Commission which is responsible of the order of the brothels asks the women whether they have any concerns during their regular visits, however during these questionings the deputies restrain the women. The deputies are the people who are responsible of the workings of the brothels and organize the women’s lives inside. They are registered at the ethics office and they are the main actors who establish the relationships between the state and the brothel bosses. At the same time they are the most significant perpetrators of the violence lived in the brothels. Thus it is almost impossible for the women to discuss the difficulties they experience with the commission at the presence of these deputies. Any complaints that the women might have with regards to the deputies would come back to them as an insult, beating or threats. Sometimes the deputies are taken out during the consultations for the women to have more space to talk. However, this doesn’t really help the women to express their distress since it is widely talked among the women that the police officers employed by the ethics office have close relationships with the brothel bosses and some of these being monetary. For this reason, the women think it might bring more harm than help to complain about the brothels.

The deputies have managed to turn the fear they instill on women into a profit making economy for them. Besides the large sums they collect from the women for utility bills and tax, they also confiscate the tips that the clients leave for the women. The women invent various ways to keep the tips for themselves. In example, they hide the money under their wigs or they let their hairdressers keep the money in return for a certain share. Though the deputies know that the women hide their tips, so from time to time they search their clothes or turn their rooms upside down to take away the tips. We learn more extreme cases about these methods and the violence in the brothels from a retired sex worker:

“The deputies are greedy enough to have the cleaning ladies wear plastic bags in their hands and search inside the women’s vagina.”

When we think of all these lived experiences, we see that the lives of women are established mainly by violence, sometimes in its nude form and sometimes through the functional regulations of the state.

Some of the sex workers noted that when they first started this work they thought that the state would assume the role of a protective father and thus they preferred to work in the brothels instead of the streets. However, the history of tyranny in their bodies has transformed all these expectations into a huge feeling of disappointment and deceived. It is to the extent that the brothels are known as persecution homes among the un-registered sex workers. For the un-registered sex workers, the struggle they give against being registered at the brothels forms the centre of their lives.
Cruelty of the Streets

The relationship that the sex workers establish with the police includes both struggle and collaboration. As opposed to the brothels, the only actor in power to organize the registration of prostitution and keep track of it is the police. Thus the laws provide the police with a wide monopoly of power. According to the prostitution regulations, if a woman would do sex work, she would have to do this under the control of the state.

The unregistered sex workers I interviewed noted that in the past recent years there has been no new registration to Istanbul brothels, however they still intensely worry about being caught by the police and closed into a brothel. This situation is causing a continuous chase and run, forcing the women change the places they work frequently. Thus, mapping of prostitution on the streets is formed through the dynamics of chase-run. Just to escape from the police, the women are forced to move to isolated places and they are exposed to various forms of violence that cannot be witnessed. Most of the time such violence is not punished since the only public actor they can complain to is the police whom they have been hiding from.

On the other hand, the police in their relationship with the sex workers manipulate the legal regulations for different purposes. In reality, the chase between the police and the women is often about bribe and development of certain close relationship networks. According to the stories that another sex worker told, although the police forces the women into the patrol car to take to the station, most the time they are released if they pay money or offer sexual favors. Thus the economy that the police establish through the sex workers’ bodies is not only monetary, but also includes the dimension of sexuality.

Another power that the police hold through the legal regulations is the threat and pressure they put on the hotel and bar managers that allow prostitution for both the registered and the unregistered women. By threatening both sides, the police gains a share from the money earned through the sex workers’ bodies. Other than that there are also cases where the police collaborate with the pimps. Just to control the women the pimps work with the police and trap the women. In example, the police can force the women to work with the pimps they collaborate with. If the women reject this, they threaten them with taking them to the station, having them locked up in jail or starting the procedures to register them to be placed in brothels. As long as the women work for the pimps, the police make money out of this. Thus another form of economy where the money made through women’s bodies is shared both by the police and the pimps.

The laws that separate the women as registered and unregistered cause the spaces to be created for different forms of violence. The women in these different categories encounter different forms of violence. Different forms of power imposed on the women shape the violence forms that are the basis of women’s lives. It would be impossible to establish politics to understand the issues of sex workers and prostitution without recognizing such power held by the state and its laws.

The law that the article refers to is often established for the state to regulate prostitution in Turkey and directs to Regulation against the Spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases through Prostitution and the Provisions Regulating Prostitutes and Public houses.


From Amargi- Issue 12

Share Button