Why are sex worker rights important to you?
Obviously a good amount of it is self-interest. My job is hard enough without the stigma and criminalization, and I know I deserve better. But I’m not the one hit the hardest by whorephobia. I’m white, cis, from a middle-class background, work indoors, and don’t do full-service. I’m not the one usually targeted by police and rescue orgs and serial killers. Sex work, as an underground economy, attracts a lot of the most vulnerable from every marginalized group, and I am very much here for them as well.
What legislation do you think would be best to ensure sex workers have all the same rights as all other citizens?
I’m not particularly in favor of any legislation at this point. I think sex work should be fully decriminalized. If the state does need to be involved, it should regulate sex work via civil ordinances rather than criminal law. I used to be in favor of hate crimes legislation that protects sex workers, but the more I learn about the prison industrial complex in the U.S., the more wary I am of giving the state more opportunities to disproportionately incarcerate poor people of color.
Experiences of selling sex, like mine, that are not positive are often used by those seeking to end prostitution in their argument for the Swedish model. I believe they show why decriminalisation is needed. What are your thoughts on this?
I understand that it’s easy for many sex workers to be reactionary and push back against partial criminalization (e.g. the Swedish model) by countering the assertion that they’re victims who hate their jobs. I’m sure it’s incredibly frustrating to hear you hate your job when you don’t, and I’d never tell anyone not to speak their truth. But making it about feelings allows the conversation to be derailed. How workers feel about our jobs is irrelevant to the basic human right to safe working conditions, and it’s been proven that partial criminalization is anathema to safety. The “give me rights, because I love my job” argument is nonsensical within this framework.
It’s also alienating workers who don’t like their (our? I still struggle with how I feel about my job) work, who need rights most urgently. When a sex worker is independent and in control of how she works, it’s easier for her to love her job. However, if she’s a full-service street worker trying to negotiate under criminalization or a pro sub working for a house with a no-blacklist policy or a stripper dancing in a club with outrageous fines or a porn performer shooting for a company that doesn’t pay fair wages, it’s harder for her to stand up and say “I love my job!” But workers like that are crucial to the sex worker movement; they show everyone where we need to focus our energy. They (we?) also provide the strongest testimonies for workers’ rights.
Do you think because those experiences are used by those seeking to abolish prostitution, people who have had or do have a negative experience are not heard as often in sex worker rights discourse?
This is sort of a chicken-and-egg question. Is it negative experiences being used by Antis that prevents sex worker advocates from embracing those same experiences, or is it that sex worker advocates didn’t embrace those negative experiences and so pushed the women who had them to side with the Antis? I don’t know, and I’m not sure it matters at this point. What matters is that sex workers with negative experiences are indeed more openly welcomed by Antis, even though they’re only valued in a tokenizing way. The mainstream sex workers’ rights movement needs to make more of an effort embrace those experiences, to show that ALL workers are welcome. I do think there are significant strides being made to that extent, but a lot of it is still lip service.
To people who believe the Swedish model will help those with negative experiences in the sex trade, what would you say?
You can argue all day over whether the sex industry is harmful to women as a whole and workers in particular, but you can’t argue with the studies that show the Swedish model allows violence against sex workers to continue. You also can’t argue the fact that, were it to succeed, sex workers would simply find themselves unemployed. So clients may be ‘punished’, but the workers will be punished as well. If you want to help those in the sex trades who don’t want to be there, provide more options. Provide alternatives. Don’t just take this one option away.
Recommended websites/further reading:
I’ve written more about how Antis can help sex workers here: http://titsandsass.com/what-antis-can-do-to-help-part-two-aiding-those-leaving-the-industry.
I also recommend people explore the websites of the organizations who are members of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects. Often times, Antis will presume to speak for women in the Global South, but these women are speaking for themselves, and they’re asking for decriminalization: http://www.nswp.org/members.
Finally, for everyone interested in the data behind the claim that the Swedish model harms sex workers, check out: http://sexworkresearch.wordpress.com. It’s a great resource that’s curated by sex workers and allies with backgrounds in sociology.