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Elizabeth Raine and Belle Knox: Why Sex Work Is Not the New Suffrage?

05/12/2014 08:23 pm ET | Updated Jul 12, 2014

The oldest profession in the world is alive and well. Although most sex workers historically have not had a public voice, the voice representing sex workers today may be questionable at best. Young, educated women engaged in sex work, such as Duke porn star Belle Knox, recently have found a soapbox and are claiming that sex work can be empowering. The most recent instance of a young, educated woman claiming to sell sex to challenge patriarchal norms is Elizabeth Raine, a 28-year-old medical student who is auctioning her virginity online. Like Knox, money was the initial motive for her sex work, but now Raine claims that her virginity auction is an effort to highlight the sexual inequalities women face. Due to their privileged social positions and flawed reasoning, Knox's and Raine's efforts to use sex work as a platform against women's inequality are rather perpetuating women's inequality.

While most individuals often perceive sex workers to be poor and uneducated, efforts by socioeconomically privileged women like Knox and Raine to make money through selling sex indicate that the commodification of women's bodies extends across socioeconomic groups. The overwhelming majority of sex workers, however, are not students selling sex to make a large sum of cash nor are they selling their virginity like Raine. Rather than exercising agency over their bodies through selling sex, most sex workers are also forced to engage in sexual acts. As educated women, Knox and Raine are choosing to engage in sex work. They say who. They say when. They say how much.

Raine, like Belle Knox, also mistakenly associates women engaging in activities, specifically selling sex, that objectify women and perpetuate sexual inequality as providing women with sexual agency. For Raine, selling her virginity may theoretically be liberating and provide her with control over her own body, but sex work largely does not facilitate control over women's bodies. Prostitution, the act Raine plans to engage in, is a transaction in which a man, both the john and/or the pimp, has control over the act being performed. Raine, however, is in the driver's seat for her virginity auction and has set strict parameters for the man to whom she will sell her virginity. Moreover unlike most sex workers, Raine's sex work will be a single occurrence.

Despite claiming that her auction aims to separate female sexuality from societal interpretations of female morality, Raine's auction actually perpetuates myths surrounding virginity, specifically that women's virginity should be valued. While Raine's valuation of her virginity is monetary rather than social, Raine is placing a value on her virginity and regulating its sale through engaging in an auction and setting rules for consummating the act. Raine's foray into the virginity market also raises interesting questions regarding how much sex, more specifically virginity, should cost. As a commodity, virginity is very difficult to price and does not have an established market value. At present, the bid to touch Raine for the very first time is $800,000. While Raine is not the first individual to make a foray into the virginity market, the rules of engagement are far from clear. For example,if the man has buyer's remorse, is there a satisfaction clause or a money-back guarantee? Alternatively, If a buyer pays $800,000 for round one, how much would a man pay for round two? Raine's efforts to price her virginity rather than liberating women relegate women to a position as an object to be bought and sold on the open market like a Maserati, which for a man purchasing 12 hours with Raine might be a better long-term investment.

Raine's efforts are not only questionable, but also may be illegal. While Raine has gone to great lengths to evade prosecution for prostitution, her efforts to sell her virginity, could be prosecutable in the United States. While Raine will not be charged with prostitution because she intends to consummate the act in Australia, she could be charged with solicitation. Solicitation requires that an individual induces someone to commit a crime and that the individual being induced to commit the crime intends to do so, even if the crime is never committed. Given that Raine is inducing her bidders to commit an illegal act from the United States and individuals are bidding on the site thereby proving their intent, Raine could theoretically be charged with solicitation by a prosecutor in the jurisdiction where she lives. Unfortunately, I don't think the money she gets in her auction can buy her a get out of jail free card.

Women's sexual liberation and equality are not going to be achieved through sex work. Although justifying their actions using feminist arguments and ideologies, Raine and Knox are not sister suffragettes. As a result of their position and misguided claims regarding women's sexuality, Raine and Knox certainly cannot be considered representative of sex workers generally and are inappropriate candidates to be the public voice of sex workers. Moreover, the ladies doth protest too much, methinks. Raine and Knox are presumably only using feminist arguments to justify making money the old-fashioned way.