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Predators and their prey

Point of View with Barbara Sumner Burstyn

Predators and their prey

In the ‘if it weren’t so tragic it might be funny’ file, David Lane the secretary for the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards has once again stumbled into the limelight.

Instead of trying to get previously censor-approved movies banned, this time Mr Lane is unhappy with prostitutes. Appearing before a select committee considering a bill to decriminalize prostitution Mr Lane described prostitutes as predators. He suggested there was a weakness in men, which many psychologists describe as an addiction. By targeting these men, said Lane, prostitutes play the role of predators, drawing funds from men who are leaving their families destitute.

Well duh, of course prostitutes are predators and have course they play on this particular weakness in men. But while the predator theory might have been a eureka moment for Lane, calling a visit to a prostitute an addiction is really doing himself and his organization a disservice.

You’d have thought in the narrow world of black and white definitions occupied by arbiters of morality that illicit sex would be considered a moral weakness and as such, open to the exercise of will power. But clearly moral weakness is out of fashion right now, even for the members of the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards. Instead they’ve joined the growing body of belief that any anti-social behaviour relating to a lack of will power - from over-eating to ‘paedophilia’ is now a disease. In other words an illness. So paying for sex becomes something a man has - like cancer or herpes - rather than something he does.

The very concept of addiction as a disease is an American prohibition era idea. Formulated by Dr. Benjamin Rush in reaction to a rigid moral model of alcoholism as immoral, sinful and in need of repentance, he began describing alcohol-related medical problems as a disease and developed the notion of biological predisposition.

His premise of addiction was developed further in the 1960’s to include other substances like cocaine and heroin. But while the theory of addiction as a disease has prevailed among some professionals for over thirty years, the etiology of addiction is not fully understood or even agreed on. While scientists have yet to come up with a cure for it many physicians, philosophers, legal theorists and policy makers believe addiction is no more than learned behaviour, something ingrained through habit.

One of the more challenging writers and addiction experts to confront the prevailing concept of addiction as a disease is American author Dr. Stanton Peele. He believes that every tenet of the disease view of addiction has been refuted in research and field observation. ‘The disease theory of addiction’, he says, ‘is just that -- a theory’. Yet, he goes on to say, the addiction concept has extended to behaviors like gambling, overeating and compulsive sexual activity, thus medicalizing these behaviors as well, further expanding the disease concept of addiction.

Take out the theory of disease and your left with what researchers call ‘learned habitual harmful behavior that produces maladaptive changes over time often resulting in negative and tragic consequences’. In other words something that is host centered. Something you do to yourself. Not something a women in leopard print tights standing on a dark corner does to you.

By classifying having a quickie (and I’m reliably advised they almost always are) with a prostitute an addiction and therefore by association a disease Lane is taking away male responsibility for self control and placing it with the women. Suddenly it’s the sex workers who must guard the moral uprightness of their clients. In Mr Lane’s world it is these women who must carry the weight of the world, ensuring the wives and families of their otherwise respectable clients are well feed and clothed, even perhaps as their own families go short.

Excuse me. But what a cop out.

No matter how unfashionable it may sound, an ‘addiction’ to sex with a prostitute is actually a failure of will power. Ask any average male and they’ll tell you that every day is filled with temptation. Every bared midriff and accentuated breast is a lure. Men are hardwired that way. But it’s not the attraction that’s at issue here. It’s what you do about it. Visiting prostitutes is a self-perpetuating way of life. For a man with other responsibilities and limited resources it’s nothing more than weak, self-deceiving, selfish and self-destructive. With not so much as a substance to accuse, I suggest the men who are, as Mr Lane says, having their funds continually drawn by prostitutes, leaving their families destitute, should accuse themselves for their wasteful consumption and need for immediate gratification.

But then if visiting a prostitute really is an illness afterall, perhaps Mr Lane might more profitably use his time setting up a fund to assist in the treatment of the addicted and let the women get on with their work.

Failing that he could go live in Nigeria where all the predators are buried up to their necks in sand waiting to be stoned, and the men walk the streets in complete safety.

© Barbara Sumner Burstyn, November 02

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