OBJECT campaigns fervently against the prostitution industry. Another of our 5 Key Issues is ‘Surrogacy’, the harms of which are perhaps less well publicised. Surrogacy involves the renting of a woman’s womb and the buying/selling of babies. We OBJECT.
If you stand against the exploitation of women in prostitution, you should also OBJECT to the similar practice of ‘surrogacy’ (womb-renting and baby trade).
Here are 10 ways surrogacy is like prostitution:
#1 Objectification of Women’s Bodies
Women’s bodies are commodified in both the prostitution and the surrogacy industry; they are considered objects available for purchase, use and abuse.
In prostitution, the ‘product’ for sale is men’s sexual pleasure– men pay to rape prostituted women in order to gain sexual satisfaction and/or a sense of power and superiority, without considering the prospect of pregnancy.
With surrogacy, the ‘product’ is a baby. A ‘happy family’ can be purchased without the ‘buyer(s)’ having to engage in sexual intercourse and conceive. The ‘surrogate’ woman’s body is also rented for the duration of the pregnancy, used as a vessel to carry and give birth to a child (in truth, her child, although she is encouraged to detach herself from this fact) – the baby is then taken away by the ‘buyers’.
#2 Dissociation: Splitting of Mind and Body
The women exploited as prostitutes and ‘surrogate’ mothers use dissociation as a coping mechanism. This technique involves mentally separating the mind and body. The aim is to provide some protection to the psyche while abuse is inflicted upon the body. After the abuse has ended, it can be difficult for survivors to re-establish a healthy connection between mind and body, and to avoid dissociating spontaneously and/or in response to certain ‘triggering’ situations.
Prostituted women testify to using dissociation as a survival strategy to cope with their abuse:
“In order to endure prostitution, you have to split your awareness away from your body, to dissociate. The problem is that you cannot just slip back into it later. The body remains without contact to your soul, your psyche.”
– Huschke Mau (2017)
“It is well-documented that humans have the capacity to psychologically numb themselves in circumstances which they find threatening or traumatic. As Dr M Scott Peck wrote (in his fascinating study of human evil, People of the Lie): ‘In a situation in which our emotional feelings are overwhelmingly painful or unpleasant, we have the capacity to anaesthetise ourselves.’
Before even that first day was out, I was already actively engaged in the process of shutting out the reality of what I was experiencing. Beyond that, I now perceive that before I had even arrived on Benburb street, I was already engaged in the process of shutting out the reality of what I was about to do. I put a different shape on it, a different face on it; a face which was acceptable to me.”
– Rachel Moran, survivor of prostitution (2013, p. 51)
The form of dissociation practiced by women used in ‘surrogacy’ is less clear-cut. The ‘surrogate’ mother must view her body as a ‘carrier’ of somebody else’s child – even though the child grows within her, is nurtured by her, given birth by her and cut from her body. The ‘surrogate’ must dissociate – separate her sense of ‘self’ from the events of physical reality – to endure, and to attempt to justify to herself, the traumatic separation of mother and newborn child.
“Like the prostitute who says “my body is not myself,” the surrogate says “the child is not mine.””
– Kajsa Ekis Ekman (2013, p. 172)
Dissociation is used as partial protection from trauma. In prostitution, the trauma is that of being raped and sexually abused by men; in the case of a ‘surrogate’ mother, the primary trauma is the theft of her baby immediately after birth.
#3 Poor Women are Exploited
Some of the women most likely to be used in prostitution and surrogacy are those who are driven to do so by poverty. They are also less able to establish the finances required to escape their predicament.
Wealthy people from developed countries are willing to pay a substantial amount for a baby if, for example, they are infertile and unable to conceive naturally.
This has lead to ‘surrogacy businesses’ thriving in third-world countries, where poverty-stricken women are exploited. Some of these countries have now banned or placed restrictions on the practice, due to the blatancy of the abuse. India banned foreign ‘buyers’ from purchasing babies in 2015 (Srivastava, 2017). It is now seeking to ban commercial surrogacy altogether.
“Until 2015, anyone from anywhere could fly to India, spend about $35,000 and leave with a baby. The industry was barely regulated until reports from human rights agencies started to circulate about how surrogates were being treated. Some surrogates were ignorant of what the process entailed, ill-informed of their rights, and, in some cases, weren’t being paid at all.”
In 2015, Thailand also banned foreigners from using resident women as so-called ‘gestational carriers’. This followed a number of contentious cases, including an Australian couple (one of whom had convictions for sexual offences against children) who had apparently abandoned a baby born with Down’s Syndrome – in fact, the baby’s mother (the ‘gestational carrier’) had decided to keep her baby (ABC, 2016; Srivastava, 2017). The ‘buyer’s’ had wanted to take him, but they had to flee the country due to civil unrest; they were still able to steal away the baby’s twin sister. The judge stated that, “this case serves to highlight the dilemmas that arise when the reproductive capacities of women are turned into saleable commodities” (ABC, 2016).
The baby trade is now on the rise in the Ukraine and other countries where commercial ‘surrogacy’ is still legal (Roache, 2018).
#4 Men Profit
Both prostitution and ‘surrogacy’ have been developed into global, lucrative industries. It is mainly men – the ‘business owners’ a.k.a. pimps – who profit financially. This means the exploited women can’t even break out of poverty, despite the amount people may be willing to pay for a baby or to rape/sexually abuse a woman.
“The sex is unwanted but we need the money, so men can exploit this imbalance of power and our economic need for their own sexual greed, and pimps can capitalise on the transaction further exploiting us for their financial greed so they can get rich while we only survive.”
– Woman prostituted in New Zealand, quoted in Williams (2016)
Prostituted women are often held in debt bondage to pimps. Some are forced to rent their own rooms in brothels and charged fines for leaving the building after curfew.
Similarly, surrogacy agencies squeeze extra profit out of ‘surrogate’ mothers by forcing them to share cramped accommodation (Alina, a ‘surrogate’ mother in Ukraine, had to share a bed with another woman in a flat of four (Roache, 2018)) and fining the women if they break any rules (Alina and other ‘surrogates’ would be fined if they were out of the flat after 4pm (ibid.)).
“If we weren’t home after 4pm, we could be fined 100 euros. We were also threatened with a fine if any of us openly criticised the company, or directly communicated with the biological parents.”
– Alina, ‘surrogate’ mother quoted in Roache (2018)
The Center for Bioethics and Culture has just produced a documentary called Big Fertility, which exposes the similarities between the ‘surrogacy’ industry and the tobacco industry – in both, the harms and dangers are concealed in the pursuance of profit. Big Fertility tells the story of Kelly Martinez, a woman who almost died during a ‘surrogate’ pregnancy and was threatened with financial ruin.
As with the tobacco industry, profit trumps harm; the industry is allowed to continue to flourish due to the financial investment of the upper echelons. Prostitution and surrogacy specifically target women, the lower sex class, and are therefore even less likely to be opposed by those in power.
#5 Publicised as Glamorous
The horrific abuse involved in sexual slavery, reproductive slavery and the baby trade requires a good cover story in order to subdue public concern. For that reason, the harms are not mentioned, or are blamed entirely on women’s own ‘choices’.
A palatable image of prostitution is portrayed to the public. The ‘happy hooker’ myth is propagated in mainstream media, suggesting that prostitutes are savvy entrepreneurs and that they ‘choose’ this lifestyle – that it is fun and liberating. The rape and abuse is simply glossed over.
TV shows such as “The Secret Diary of a Call Girl” display prostitution as part of a playful, party lifestyle, obscuring the reality of life in the sexual slave trade.
Similarly, ‘surrogacy’ is advertised as a way of helping people gain the children they desire – without highlighting who the children are stolen from, or the damage that causes. Surrogacy agencies put forward the ‘plight’ of infertile couples, suffering because they are unable to conceive. The ‘surrogate’ mothers are said to be providing a public service – or perhaps even answering an altruistic calling.
When potential ‘buyers’ browse a ‘surrogacy’ agency’s website, they are presented with a sanitised view of ‘surrogacy’ and reassured that this is an ethical solution to their ‘problem’. ‘Myths’ are ‘debunked’ to assuage their fears that they might be doing something wrong, by purchasing a baby. Photos on the website show couples sitting around having a quick take-out coffee with the ‘surrogate’ mother – she is just an acquaintance for a few months and will then be out of the picture, lest she cause any inconvenience.
Photos such as this (n.b. this is a stock image for illustratory purposes and isn’t from a ‘surrogacy’ website) are often displayed on websites promoting ‘surrogacy’. What has become of the baby’s birth mother? Does she ever get to see her child? How will this baby feel when she grows up and learns that she was purchased from her mother?
The agency website I am viewing incidentally mentions that the amount paid to ‘surrogate’ mothers varies depending on “the demand for a woman of her ethnic background.” The ‘buyers’ are reassured that all their demands will be met and are entirely justifiable.
‘Surrogacy’ agencies not only exploit poor women, but also rely on exploiting ‘altruism’. Women are told that by becoming a ‘surrogate’ they’re doing something good and generous, helping those in ‘need’ of a baby. They aren’t informed to consider the potential health risks and the emotional trauma that will occur when the baby is taken.
#6 The Right To Use Women
Any discussion of rights insofar as it involves prostitution tends to revolve around upholding the right of men to buy ‘sex’ (i.e. to buy women’s bodies to sexually abuse and rape).
In leaked documents, Amnesty International declares that “sexual activity” is a “human need:
This footnote shows that Amnesty International believes men have a right to purchase women for sexual use/abuse. Access to a woman’s body is considered a man’s “fundamental human need” (Amnesty International, n.d., p. 5).
The case of disabled men is often brought forth as ‘justification’ for the prostitution industry:
“A number of academics in the UK and elsewhere have expressed concern about the abolitionist model impacting on the ‘human rights’ of disabled men. In a paper published in the journal Disability and Society, the Canadian authors argue that so-called ‘sex work’ is an important avenue through which disabled people can explore sexual fulfilment, and that the criminalisation of paying for sex would adversely affect disabled people and their right to access sexual pleasure. Again, the use of [sex]-neutral language here is interesting.”
– Julie Bindel (2017, p. 149) referring to Fritsch et al. (2016)
In the same way that men do not have an inalienable right to ‘sex’, people do not have the right to ‘obtain’ children just because they are unable to naturally conceive and give birth to their own. Yet this is the ‘justification’ that is used:
“This very specific desire [to have children] has thus been transformed into a human right. Robertson calls this “the right of a couple to raise a child” and “a married couple’s right to procreative autonomy,” which he calls a “fundamental right” (1992, pp. 52–53). If the demand goes unmet, according to his logic, we have a denial of basic human rights on our hands.
Surrogacy is presented as the only solution to the problem, as an article in the newspaper Sydsvenskan formulates it: “[F]or homosexual men, surrogacy may be the only way to have a child” (Gunnarsson, 2009). A general longing for children has suddenly been narrowed to mean that surrogacy is an absolute necessity—end of discussion.”
– Kajsa Ekis Ekman (2013, p. 152)
The Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10 (part of a document which promotes men’s sexual ‘rights’ in international human rights law) includes a section on “The Right to Found a Family.” It encourages the practice of ‘surrogacy’ as a means of fulfilling this ‘right’:
The “Right to Found a Family” is included, alongside other men’s sexual ‘rights’, in the Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10 (2017 ). Surrogacy is specifically referred to in this section (as pointed out by Sheila Jeffreys (2018) in her speech on the Yogyakarta Principles at Venice Allen’s event, “Inconvenient Women,” part of the “We Need To Talk About The GRA” tour) .
The rights of the abused women are not considered, nor the rights of the babies who are sold.
Both prostitution and surrogacy uphold the idea that women (or at least, some women) are sub-humans that can be used to grant the so-called ‘rights’ (i.e. desires) of others.
#7 Reinforces Sex Roles (‘Gender’)
The idea that women exist to serve others, particularly men, is called ‘gender’. Prostitution and surrogacy both uphold ‘gender’ ideology – the notion of sex roles (‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’) that men and women must conform to respectively. The feminine ‘gender’ of women is prescribed to be servile, submissive, selfless and altruistic.
Prostitution is the embodiment of the ‘male sex right’ – the notion that men have a right to use women (as mentioned above in point 6) for sexual gratification. This is part of their ‘gender’ as the dominant sex class. Women must submit to this treatment in order to preserve the hierarchy of ‘gender’.
Surrogacy agencies recruit women not only through the desperation of poverty, but also via the exploitation of altruism. Women are socialised to believe that their purpose is to be helpful and to serve others – the idea of giving a child to an unfortunate couple, who cannot have their own, appeals as an act of altruism. Women are also encouraged to have low self esteem and to seek their worth in the approval of others – and obviously, the approval of a man is considered to be worth more than the approval of a woman.
“I have been a caretaker most of my life. I became pregnant easily and I felt empathy for women who couldn’t get pregnant and become mothers. For me, being a surrogate was about helping. It was not about money. Perhaps I thought I could “fix” her pain. Giving her a child did not fix her but it sure wrecked me.”
– Heather, quoted by the Center For Biotethics and Culture (2014)
“Why do these women sacrifice themselves, put up with everything that pregnancy entails: pain, childbirth and hormones for nine months—just for a smile on the faces of a mystery couple? The official explanation in the surrogate world is that it is simply female nature.”
– Kajsa Ekis Ekman (2013, p. 182)
#8 Physical Harm
Prostitution is inherently violent (Nordic Model Now!). Men pay exclusively to rape and sexually abuse prostituted women. Prostituted women are also at a high risk of being physically assaulted by pimps and punters, or being murdered by them.
Surrogacy also involves the physical use and violation of a woman’s body. The woman suffers the usual risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth – this may be exacerbated by poor access to medical care. Alina, a ‘surrogate’ mother in Ukraine, reported that the surrogacy agency only provided the cheapest, most basic care (Roache, 2018):
“We were treated like cattle and mocked by doctors,” Alina said. “There was no hot water, we washed with plastic bottles over the toilet with water that was preheated in a kettle. I wanted to be transferred to a different hospital, but the staff threatened to not pay me at all if I complained to Anca [the ‘intended mother’].”
– Alina, quoted in Roache (2018)
After the birth, Alina suffered potentially life-threatening complications (a retained placenta):
“Three days after giving birth Alina said she started bleeding heavily and was rushed to the intensive care unit, where doctors shouted at her: “We’re fed up with all your problems.” ”
The physical risks of ‘surrogacy’ are often not made clear to ‘surrogate’ women, or else the women feel forced to ‘risk it’ due to poverty and a lack of alternative options.
In both prostitution and surrogacy, women are sometimes forced to have abortions. This is not only physically arduous, but has an emotional and psychological impact.
“Over the years I had pimps and customers who hit me, punched me, kicked me, beat me, slashed me with a razor. I had forced unprotected sex and got pregnant three times and had two abortions at [a clinic]. Afterward, I was back out on the street again. I have so many scars all over my body and so many injuries and so many illnesses. I have hepatitis C and stomach and back pain and a lot of psychological issues. I tried to commit suicide several times.”
– Kayla, survivor of prostitution; quoted in Lederer & Wetzel (2014)
Many surrogates are pressured into having an abortion if the ‘intended parents’ do not want the child. When IVF is used for embryo implantation, it is quite common for the ‘surrogate’ to become pregnant with twins or triplets – in which case the ‘intended parents’ may want the pregnancy ‘reducing’. An abortion may also be demanded if the foetus is detected to have health abnormalities.
A 2018 report entitled Our Baby, Her Choices: The Need For Enforcement of Gestational Surrogacy Contracts argues that courts should be able to enforce abortion upon ‘surrogate’ mothers:
“Even in [US] states where surrogate contracts are legal, courts have refused to order specific performance to enforce abortion or reduction provisions. However, courts should not shy away from this. This Note proposes a federal statute mandating that gestational surrogate contracts be enforced thus protecting the rights of intended parents.”
#9 Psychological Harm
Alongside physical injuries, prostitution and surrogacy also inflict great psychological damage on the women involved. Psychological effects may remain long after the abuse has taken place. These include problems with dissociation (as mentioned in point 2), depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress.
“The psychological harms that result from the continual disassociation of mind and body needed to survive prostitution, and the routine dehumanization integral to the practice, commonly bear all the characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder (Farley, 2003, 2004).”
– Sheila Jeffreys (2009, p. 187)
The severe psychological impact on prostituted women is unsurprising considered the rape and abuse they must endure.
Women exploited in the ‘surrogacy’ industry undergo the usual psychological strains of pregnancy, alongside the adoption of a dissociative mind-set in order to convince themselves that the baby is not theirs.
“I would never encourage someone to be a surrogate or a sperm (or egg) donor. The emotional consequences are life altering and life long.”
– Heather, quoted by the Center For Bioethics and Culture (2014)
‘Surrogate’ mothers suffer trauma, grief and loss from the theft of their baby immediately after birth.
“I never saw the baby after it was born. I told the doctor that I would like to see it, at least once. But she said, ‘No, it will make you feel guilty.’ For the first month, I cried a lot but my husband kept reminding me that ‘it’s not our baby, it belongs to others, we did this for money’.”
– Anandi Chelappan, quoted in Pandey (2016)
The baby also experiences this trauma, the effects of which may stay with them for life.
“Many doctors and psychologists now understand that bonding doesn’t begin at birth, but is a continuum of physiological, psychological, and spiritual events which begin in utero and continue throughout the postnatal bonding period. When this natural evolution is interrupted by a postnatal separation from the biological mother, the resultant experience of abandonment and loss is indelibly imprinted upon the unconscious minds of these children, causing that which I call the “primal wound.” ”
– Verrier, N. (1993)
#10 Barrier To Women’s Liberation; Harms ALL Women
Prostitution and surrogacy not only harm the individual women used and abused in the industries. They have a detrimental effect on the status of women in society as a whole. They are fundamental to the idea of ‘gender’, which stipulates that men are of a superior class to women, by virtue of their biological sex. This idea enables people to ‘justify’ the use of women as objects for sexual or reproductive ‘services’, since this is simply their ‘natural’ role; second-class citizens are obliged to submit to servicing the desires of the upper classes.
Girls growing up in a society which allows such practices are indoctrinated with the belief that they are of the ‘gender’ which must provide services, with their body acting as a commodity. This way of thinking encourages dissociation, mental distress and dysphoria.
A recent UK survey found that the self-reported happiness level of young women and girls has declined sharply over recent years (Weale, 2018). This is unsurprising in a culture in which girls grow up to learn that our society considers them to be objects – available to be bought, sold, used and abused – and that ‘gender’ (the hierarchical system of sex roles) orders that they must submit to this role.
This misogynistic toothpaste advert was in a ‘welcome pack’ given out to female students starting at Sussex University earlier this month . It displays women as sex objects, receptacles for men’s semen. Yet women are meant to take this as a ‘joke’ and are disparaged for having ‘no sense of humour’ if they object to degrading adverts like this.
No wonder more and more young women and girls make the misguided attempt at escaping their designated sex role (‘gender’), by mutilating their bodies via medically sanctioned ‘treatment’ known as ‘gender transitioning’ (Grew, 2018) – girls are indoctrinated by ‘transgender’ ideology into believing that they can somehow change biological sex. Even if this were possible, only the individual would be able to escape. The only way to truly escape is to change society for all women.
“If the commodification of women is to be accepted then all women fall under that potential remit. If a woman accepts prostitution in society, then she accepts this personal indenture, whether she knows it or not.”
– Rachel Moran (2013b)
Patriarchal practices which enforce sex roles (‘gender’), such as the sexual and reproductive slavery of women – commercialised or otherwise- cannot exist in a free and equal society.
This is why we OBJECT to both prostitution and surrogacy; these industries commodify women’s bodies and help to maintain our oppression.
Written by Hannah Harrison
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