Let’s talk about sex (work), baby, let’s talk about sex and work! If I’m being h with y’all, I think sex work is amazing. It’s the oldest profession in the game, pretty much everyone likes to indulge in it in some way (porn, anyone?), and it’s an industry that largely employs women and allows them to profit off of their sexuality. J’adore.
Just to clarify, when I say sex work, I am referring to the various jobs within the sex industry. This includes strippers, escorts, adult film actors, webcam models, street workers, and anyone who sells sexual services. It’s an umbrella term that covers more than you may realize. If you’ve ever sold photos of your feet or a pair of panties, congrats, that was a sex work gig. Also, hell yeah, babe, get that money.
Some sex work is legal, like stripping, and some is not, like selling sex. Sex work that is illegal arguably receives more judgment and shaming than legal sex work — people have an annoying tendency to blindly equate legality with morality — but all in all, it’s safe to say sex workers experience a lot of stigma for the work that they do.
Call me radical, but I think shaming someone for profiting off of their dope sexuality and literally just doing their job is, in technical terms, really fucking stupid.
My face when someone says sex workers should “get a real job.”
Don’t Be a Captain Save-a-Hoe
But what really grinds my gears is when people speak out against sex work under the veil of wanting to protect sex workers. Let’s start with the law: selling sex is illegal, and cops will likely tell you this is to protect people, mostly women, from entering a field that uses them, puts them in danger, and forces them to shamefully sell their bodies to survive. (Sidenote: sex work isn’t selling your body, it’s selling a service/experience. You go home with your body at the end of the day, as it is intrinsically yours and nobody can buy it.)
Sure, some people do sex work because they feel they have no other option (not all!), but last I checked throwing someone in jail and giving them a record did not help them thrive.
Also, many people do jobs they hate in order to survive, but the fact that sex workers are made to feel worse about what they do is only exacerbated by the narrative of “sex work is bad, sad, and dirty” that society keeps pushing. And this narrative is held up by the fact that a lot of sex work is illegal, because if it’s against the law, it must be “bad,” right?
And a lot of sex workers like their jobs. A job is a job and it can be hard and exhausting, but many, many sex workers do sex work because they want to. Stop being Captain Save-a-Hoe by trying to “stick up” for women who don’t need your saving.
And if you’re thinking, “but sex work exploits women!!!!” my argument to you would be that it’s not sex work that exploits women, it’s capitalism that exploits the working class, and the sex industry is no exception. If a woman doesn’t want to use her sexuality as part of her job, she certainly shouldn’t have to. In a capitalist society, many of us are forced to work jobs we don’t want to in order to survive. But on the other hand, if a woman *does* want to monopolize on her sexuality and make a living selling sexual services, then she should be able to without fear of the law, police brutality, and societal ostracizing. Sex workers deserve the freedom to do their jobs in peace, just like an other worker. So, how could this be done? Decriminalization, baby.
if you think sex work is exploitative just wait til you hear about capitalism
— Irene Fagan Merrow (@_irenemerrow) January 29, 2020
Sex Work and Sex Trafficking Are Not the Same
The decriminalization of sex work is what it sounds like: removing criminal penalties for sex work, mainly the trade of sexual services. This doesn’t mean it would be legal, it just means people wouldn’t be charged with a crime for doing it. This, of course, would not apply to sex trafficking. Sex work and sex trafficking are two separate things and should be treated as such. Sex trafficking should obviously be punishable by law.
Sex trafficking is when victims are forced into selling sex and is obviously nonconsensual. Sex work is when a consenting adult sells a sexual service to another consenting adult. See the difference? Treating two separate things in the same way is not effective, and conflating the two is actually dangerous.
For example, FOSTA, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, and SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act were implemented to stop sex traffickers from being able to conduct their business online. However, the laws also make it illegal for consenting sex workers to conduct their business online. A lot of sex workers used to use resources like the website Backpage, where they could pre-screen their clients and make sure they were safe. Online hubs also helped sex workers communicate with each other, so they could warn each other about bad clients or verify good clients for each other. FOSTA-SESTA took this away, so sex workers have been forced back onto the street, often going into work situations blind and at risk. Treating consensual sex work like sex trafficking victimizes sex workers, it doesn’t protect them.
Cops Are Not Our Friends
The criminalization of sex work is supposedly meant to protect sex workers, but it actually leads to a lot of harm. I’m going to let you in on a lil’ secret: the police are not sex workers’ friends.
Go ahead and clutch your pearls, but it’s true.
Sex workers are often harassed by cops, and far too often experience violence at the hands of them. According to the Human Rights Watch, police officers abuse their power in situations with sex workers by holding the penalties over their heads when they harass, abuse, and sometimes rape them. Some will even coerce them into giving free sexual services in exchange for no arrest. You know, like sexual assault.
Human Rights Watch also found research across various countries that showed criminalization makes sex workers unsafe because attackers acknowledge they are unlikely to go to the police, so they can get away with abusing them. Sex workers don’t want to go to police because they are afraid of getting penalized for their work, and also are afraid of being abused by the police. Plus, sex workers are often forced to conduct their work in unsafe locations, as they are trying to avoid being seen or caught by law enforcement, and this makes them much more vulnerable to violence. As it turns out, making sex work punishable by law puts sex workers in danger, rather than protect them from it. The law fails to provide for a marginalized group of society again, truly who could have seen this coming?!
There are also health issues when it comes to criminalization. Some sex workers fear using condoms because they can be used as evidence that the illegal work is being done. In some strip clubs, dancers aren’t allowed to carry purses because they don’t want them to have condoms on them. Some clubs even check the strippers’ purses for condoms before a shift, and make them throw them out if they find any. Cops treat street sex workers in the same way; they stop them, search them, find condoms and question them about them, and sometimes make them throw them away.
The “idea” here is that if the workers don’t have the condoms, they won’t engage in the sex work. Obviously that is not true, they will just do it without the condoms. Criminalization isn’t stopping the work from happening, it’s just making hard for sex workers to do their jobs safely.
The Nordic Model Doesn’t Work, Babe
The decriminalization of sex work would allow sex workers to do their jobs more safely, as they wouldn’t have to fear penalty of the law when it comes to where they conduct their work and if they feel the need to report being abused. It would also keep the cops from abusing their power over them. Some people advocate for the Equality Model — also known as the Nordic Model — which only criminalizes the buyer. This is nice in theory, but as made clear before, the cops are not sex workers’ friends. Having them involved doesn’t help. This model has been tried in Scandinavian countries and hasn’t been proven to benefit sex workers. In fact, it often gives cops an excuse to harass sex workers, and identify undocumented sex workers and deport them. Additionally, it makes negotiating with a client very difficult, since they are risking criminalization and the worker is not.
At the end of the day, consenting adults should be able to have sex with other consenting adults on their terms. It’s called bodily autonomy, Karen, look it up. The patriarchy is terrified of women realizing the power in their sexuality, and that’s probably why it enforces laws to stop them from profiting off of that. You don’t have to want to engage in sex work, but maybe don’t judge others who do just because some of it is illegal and society has deemed it immoral. Society is famously wrong, and we as humans all deserve to be respected, no matter how we decide to survive. Support women, support sex workers, support decriminalization. Just a thought!
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