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Saying Yes, To No

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

Nivedita Chatterjee, Indian Institute of Social Welfare & Business Management, Kolkata

Destiny Reflection is grateful to host students and interns, who as part of their work placement have provided their reflections on the issue of sex trafficking. The following blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Destiny Reflection, but are considered an educational tool to promote discussion on sex trafficking and exploitation.

With the release of the 2016 film, “PINK”, the dialogue- “No means No”, gained huge popularity. The movie went on to join the 100-crore club in box-office, and was awarded National Film Award for ‘Best Film Award on Other Social Issues’.

The acclamation of that one dialogue can easily be predicted by the continuity in the use of the phrase even today. Although the dialogue and the entire film, stirred some pots as it questioned the stereotypical norms of the society and emphasised on the importance of consent; but the acknowledgement of the message behind the phrase in relevant contexts is still questionable.

The concept of “consent” is old- the patriarchal society has often been found to not give liberty to women to live their lives in their own terms, but the number of occasions where women’s agreement has been given due importance are few. The most common idea that comes to our mind when we think of consent is usually associated with forms of sexual behaviour.

Women across the world have often been victims to types of sexual conduct for which they have not given their approval. With time, the rate of reporting of such cases of harassment and rapes have increased in our country and actions are now also being taken against such crimes. However, the way the idea of consent is perceived in the Commercial Sex Industry is different when compared to the rest of the world.

It is taken for granted that women who are sex workers have always agreed for the work they do. There are several reasons as to why a person decides to take up sex working as a profession, one of them being poverty. It is extremely tricky to find out if a person has actually consented for it or not; individuals are often forced to give their approval to working in this profession because they are at lack of choices to find any other alternate source of livelihood.

People find it extremely dumbfounding and irrational that a woman serving in the sex industry can ever deny to participate in sexual activities. Regular clients are often found to have preference towards one worker, and any women outside of the preferred one is turned down instantly. The malkin of the brothel in the fear of losing a customer is then found forcing the worker to serve the client even when she does not approve to do so.

It is equally astonishing for a section of the society to believe that a sex worker can ever be harassed or raped. In such cases, people find the victim’s narrative as unbelievable since most people are prejudiced to believe that ‘Consent’ and ‘Sex Working’ are not mutually inclusive. This is even applicable in cases of Marital Rapes-it is taken for granted that a married woman has given her unspoken consent towards engaging in sexual activities with her husband.

At times when women move out of the sex industry and find alternate source of livelihood for them, it cannot be guaranteed if they have been successful in rescuing themselves from the drudgery. Despite their physical mobility from brothel to some other dwelling, society’s gaze towards them hardly changes. This gaze has been a product of years of stigmatization, stereotypical customs, patriarchal traditions that has been constantly validated by a chunk of society and has been passed on from one generation to the next as if it were a prized possession.

Despite living in the 21st century of the timeline when steadily the perceptions of people are ongoing positive changes and the society is advancing towards a more hopeful future, can we expect that someday these stigmas would fade away completely? Can we expect the centuries old prejudices to end one day? Will a dawn ever be evidence to “consent” being practised as much as it is talked about now?

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