Could you share how you became involved in the sex worker rights movement and why it’s so important to you?
It honestly was Twitter for me. I was a sex worker, but like most isolated by the nature of the work. Whilst I knew the law as it applied to me I was unaware there were people campaigning to change the laws, or that other countries had different systems, many of which were a lot worse than the UK. I started talking to and reading other sex workers writings, and attended a few events. Realising that I was not alone was such a huge moment for me.
The isolation of sex workers, and the way it feeds into our various oppressions, increases stigma, makes it less likely for crimes to be reported, and in my opinion is a cause of stress and ill health and is something I feel very strongly about, and have written about.
Another thing that concerns me greatly is that wherever sex work is criminalized, either the de facto criminalization of Sweden or the outright of the US, it primarily hits the most vulnerable, trans women, women of colour, drug users, the young. For me sex worker activism is simply an extension of my social justice activism; it is impossible to campaign on issues such as trans* rights or racism without seeing how sex workers are multiply oppressed.
What does your activism involve?
Currently for reasons of security, it is only online. Sadly, I have been targeted more than once by people who don’t like what I am saying.
You are also concerned with sex trafficking. What do you think needs to happen so the two movements are more aligned – if you agree it would be beneficial that they are?
I think firstly the conflation that is made by people like Nick Kristof between all sex work and trafficking has to be challenged at every opportunity, as must the ability of law enforcement agencies to make money from trafficking, along with NGOs and charities. Currently they are all encouraged to define sex work as trafficked, especially if they are WoC or migrants as they can then demand bigger budgets. Thus, we have arrived at the situation where if I pay for another sex worker’s train ticket I am guilty of trafficking.
This matters for two main reasons:
1. Victims of trafficking in other areas are ignored. Domestic labour is a huge hidden area where women are trafficked, particularly from Asia and a number of cases have made the news in the UK. However, because all the focus is on sex trafficking, police and other authorities have neither the training nor desire to combat this area. We have currently children in jail who have been trafficked to grow drugs from Vietnam and their plight attracts little attention.
2. Those who are raped and who are then defined as trafficked/sex workers or even worse child prostitutes are tarred with the stigma of whorephobia. Someone who is raped is treated worse, often arrested or imprisoned because another person has made money off their rape. This is a huge injustice, and only happens because society is so whorephobic that victims are no longer deemed innocent because of their association, even against their will, with sex work.
Why do you feel it’s important for the sex worker rights movement and the anti-human trafficking movement to work together?
Because we both want the same thing, the idea we have different aims is one created by those opposed to sex work. New Zealand shows that when sex work is decriminalised it takes away any market for criminals who would traffic people. It is also the case that sex workers and clients are those best placed to inform the authorities of people they believe might be trafficked. We should all be working together with the authorities to root out those who exploit and abuse.
What legal improvements or changes would ensure sex worker rights and help abolish sex trafficking and sexual exploitation? Can the two groups be ensured their human rights and the protection of the law simultaneously?
Yes, basically the introduction of the New Zealand model, very simply it works: sex workers are safer, more able to contact the police and it has meant there have been no cases of trafficking since 2010. Contrast this with Sweden.
For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?
The first and most important thing I think would be to read and listen critically; most of the people who want to criminalise sex work have other agendas, either Christian right or radical feminist. You would not listen to someone who had never cooked telling you how to bake a cake, but when it comes to sex work people with nothing but opinions are given a voice over those with direct experience.
Sometimes sex workers are also survivors of trafficking, a complex situation that seems to be ignored by many, but people need to look for and accept this complexity, not dismiss it.
Those who are able to, whenever sex workers are having a rally for their rights attend. We live with the threat of being outed, one of the greatest things people can do is stand alongside us.
What are your plans for the future?
Make it through a month without someone threatening to out, sue, rape, or otherwise harm me.
Recommended websites/further reading:
And another piece that I just think needs to be read and understood more… Why capitalism hates consensual sex work
- Tara Burns, Survivor of Labour Trafficking in the Sex Industry, Sex Worker and Sex Workers’ Rights Activist, Discusses the Advantages of the Sex Workers’ Rights and Anti-Sex Trafficking Movements Working Together
- Pye Jakobsson, Sex Workers’ Rights Activist from Sweden, Discusses the Advantages of the Sex Workers’ Rights and Anti-Sex Trafficking Movements Working Together
- Meg Munoz, Former Sex Worker, Trafficking Survivor, Ally and Rights Advocate, Discusses the Advantages of the Sex Workers’ Rights and Anti-Sex Trafficking Movements Working Together
- Jes Richardson, Sex Trafficking Survivor, Former Sex Worker and Anti-Sex Trafficking & Sex Workers’ Rights Activist, Discusses the Advantages of the Sex Workers’ Rights and Anti-Sex Trafficking Movements Working Together