Some see sex work not as a simple commercial transaction, but as paid abuse, occurring in a world where women are less respected and less valued than their male counterparts. The exchange of sex “for consideration” somehow reduces every woman into a commodity, to nothing more than a collection of parts to be used and then discarded, our value measured by our fuckability and nothing more.
My value does not depend on my having sex for money. In the same way, when I have sex for money, it does not change, or diminish my worth.
Sex workers sell our time, our labour. We do not “sell our bodies”. Apart from the obvious physical services, we also comfort the mourning, talk with the lonely, and embrace those who haven’t felt the touch of another human in years. It’s profoundly dissuasive and extremely objectifying to suggest that sex workers are selling their bodies.
It’s also dangerous. When we buy something we think we can do with it whatever we want. When we purchase a service we must respect the rules of the transaction and the person with whom we do business until that transaction is completed. Any person who chooses to not comply with the rules of the transaction is not within his rights. He is not a client, he is a criminal. To ignore the clear difference between clients and criminals only makes it easier for the criminal to pass as a client. It makes it easier to see sex workers as victims, seeing only non consensual encounters instead of consent.
When we see stories of violence against sex workers, we often don’t hear about sexual assault. The assumptions are either that sex workers are immune to sexual assault, or that they were asking for it simply for being a sex worker. As if by accepting payment for sex, limitless consent is implicit.
This perspective obscures the fact that sex workers often become more susceptible to sexual violence through cultural, legal and economic oppression. However, due to criminalization and stigmatization, sex workers can often not report the violence they are experiencing.
When sex work is done in an environment where the sex worker has power, they are better able to negotiate safer sex and protect their boundaries. When a sex worker has less power, she has less control and less genuine consent concerning the sexual interaction.
Legislation that forces sex workers and / or their clients into the shadows or to fear legal repercussions deprives sex workers of power. Many of these laws are based on the claim that no sex worker has actually chosen their toil. Such an argument is not only based on a false narrative, it also dictates that sex work is a special case: that sex work should not exist because some work simply should not be sold.
The criminalization of an entire industry because of isolated bad examples removes choice from free-will participants and justifies the behaviour of abusers. This suggests that the feminist position is not based on stopping misogyny.
If feminists do not fight for my right to use my body the way I want, they have dramatically deviated from their declared mission.
Rescue organizations depend to a large extent on the claims of survivors of the industry who have been exposed to or suffered abuse as children, who have been addicted to illegal drugs or alcohol, have psychological problems or have endured mistreatment in the workplace at the hands of clients or “managers” and are now abolitionists. The dependence on such statements is very problematic.
Target any industry and there will be examples of bad practices, abused workers, and unsafe conditions. This does not make trafficking or coercion not important, but it does not make its presence in the sex industry a special case. There is no shortage of industry in need of better oversight. But in no other industry with bad practices do we ever talk of abolition.
As outrageous as it is, every industry is full of abused women. Why? Because the number of women who have suffered abuse is obscene — one in five Canadian women experience some form of abuse from an intimate partner. One in three Canadians experienced child abuse. Manitoba ranks as the highest at 40%, followed by BC at over 35%. Women in all sectors are often victims of abuse, mental health problems, addictions, or a combination. This is a byproduct of gender inequality and a host of other problems that lead to complicated and sometimes tragic backstories.
Many only know the sex industry from information provided by either the media or by those who benefit off the sensationalization of victims. Such views are not based on the experience of most sex workers, but on a small proportion of women who have left the sex industry. The data set garnered from interviews with former sex workers can only be distorted: those who have left a job probably have horror stories. These stories are not invalid, but we must remember that former sex workers do not speak for all sex workers. Each experience is an individual experience.
To assume that those who choose to enter sex work of their own volition have the same experiences as the victims of human trafficking or coercion is very narrow-minded. It’s akin to comparing the children enslaved in Africa mining blood-diamonds earning less than a dollar a week, to the men and women in the Canadian North mining diamonds for Diavik, who’s salaries start at $CAD 95K a year.
While sex workers and the victims of trafficking technically both fall under the same red umbrella, they simply aren’t the same thing. Trafficking in the sex trade needs to stop, and the victimized women and children need easy access to available programs and services. Instead of attempting to “rescue” those of us happy and comfortable in our choices, these organizations need to refocus on those who are actually victimized.
I surmise that one of the reasons that those who have chosen sex work of their own free will are targeted for these rehabilitation programs is that we are a lot easier to find. Victims of trafficking do not usually have websites, active profiles on social media, or post on the various escort forums. They rarely stay for long in the same place, moved around by their enslavers to avoid detection. They are advertised under different names, with different photos. Attempting to rescue a trafficking victim is a lot more effort than verbally attacking sex workers on social media. And a lot more dangerous.
And a lot less likely to be successful. Less successful rescues would surely mean a decrease in funding.
I challenge you to ask yourself who you think you are to deny anyone something that should be a basic human right, the right to be a fulfilled, sexual being.
Who are you to say that a man who is completely bedridden due to having muscular dystrophy is not allowed to ever experience another intimately?
Who are you to deny the veteran who served in Bosnia a chance, however brief, for respite from the unspeakable horrors that play in a never ending loop every time he closes his eyes?
Who are you to deny the man paralyzed in a logging accident the chance to feel like a man for a little while, and not an invalid?
Who are you to deny anyone the feeling of being whole, or loved, or cared for, or special? Who are you to sentence anyone to a life without human contact?
The standard response to these questions is that that person should just go and get a girlfriend. The more cynical tend to suggest mail-order-brides, without even realizing the hypocrisy. Check your privilege, we all know that there are people out there that, for reasons pertaining to their physical appearance, emotional state, physical or mental health situation, “just” getting a girlfriend isn’t in the cards.
You have to realize that the “stereotypical” client is by in large the minority, so why are you abandoning the most marginalized and the most vulnerable in the name of your skewed morals?
When a man abuses, assaults, robs, rapes, blackmails or threatens a sex worker, they need to be held accountable for their actions in the same manner as if they had abused, assaulted, robbed, raped, blackmailed or threatened any other member of society.
To do this, we need police to take us seriously when we make a report. We need to feel comfortable making those reports. We need to not be made to feel less than human by medical staff when we seek medical attention. We need to be treated the same as everyone else. The way for this to happen is that the public needs to be educated about our reality, correct the rampant misinformation and explain that the sensationalized characters they see on TV and in the news are just that, sensationalized characters.
And yes, we do need support to help women get out of prostitution, but only if they so choose. Having a job where you have the ability to work whenever you want, to travel on a whim, stay up late and sleep in, and get pedicures and manicures every week, all while having this massive earning potential makes the $15 an hour working at the Subway, or 711, or cleaning hotel rooms look pretty unappealing.
Sex workers develop a unique skill set. Branding, marketing, web development, accounting, crisis management, organization, and adaptability are just a few of the things one needs to master as a sex worker, especially since the law makes it illegal for us to hire anyone to do these things for us. Our interpersonal skills are unparalleled. Our intuition is unrivalled, it’s paramount to our safety. Unfortunately, these skills aren’t exactly something one can put down on a resume. Not without proper professional training to back them up, anyway.
Promoting a culture where sex workers feel confident that they will be taken seriously should they need to call law enforcement, decriminalizing sex workers ability to work together, allowing them to hire a professional security company instead of being relegated to petty thugs, and removing the stigma that forces sex work underground, which inhibits our ability to properly screen clients will prevent many problems endured from working in the sex trade.
I’m not a man hater, I don’t want to paint them all with the same brush, but every problem that stems from this is male-related and dominated.
Almost every problem arising from sex work stems from the stigma arising from the propagation of misinformation, the criminalization of clients which forces sex work into the shadows, and discrimination by service professionals, such as police, medical staff, and mental health workers, as well as by the public. Being seen as less than human, being treated as if you are filthy and sick, and being shown you have no value by society in a thousand different ways would be where most of the problems come from.
Of all the testimonies I have read online pertaining to the way sex workers left the industry, as well as the experiences of several friends who have left the industry, I can’t recall a single one that had anything to do with actual sex work. Speaking strictly of those who entered the sex industry by choice, most either just felt it was time to move on, due to their age, health or relationship status, or they had reached a certain goal they had set for themselves in the beginning, such as paying off their mortgage, or finishing university.
For those forced into sex work, leaving the industry is something completely different. It’s an escape from a horrible situation of which they had no control.
It’s being set free.