Let’s Argue About Prostitution

Pretty-Baby_1Sex work produces some unexpected fringe benefits. For instance, according to this article in Hazlitt about a proposed bill restricting classified ads for escorts in Canada, it supports print media at a time when little else will, and as well as other industries.

sex work ads contribute crucially to the health of print media. And the less secretive publishers are about this relationship, the better they seem to do: the Grid is dead, but NOW—despite a defiantly untrendy design—is holding strong. … There is no question that online advertising has transformed the sex industry, but in fact, ads for sexual services are far from endangered, and appear in print publications as diverse as the Toronto Sun and the New York Review of Books (which runs them alongside personals ads). …

Sex work supports economies beyond publishing. It’s likely that businesses in the hotel, transportation, and tourism spheres will be hurt by the bill, too. “The sex industry is huge, especially when you consider that it’s not just sex workers, but everyone involved with them—clients, drivers, porn consumers, sex bloggers… the list goes on and on,” says Carolyn, an agency escort in downtown Toronto (her name has been changed on request, to protect her anonymity). “Our clubs bring in tourists, our lived experiences sell books and magazines, and sex workers buy food and clothes and cars and houses just like everyone else. But we don’t talk about that. We’d rather have this illusion that sex workers are different from non-sex workers, and that what we do isn’t real work.”

“It’s hard to admit that sex work isn’t just happening in certain zones or neighbourhoods, and that any normal person you see around could be a sex worker,” she continues. “I think if people were to realize that, it would be much harder to criminalize and dismiss us.”

Although I’m glad it can do some good, I do feel kind of conflicted about prostitution. On one hand, I believe women should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies, including charging customers for limited access to them, as they see fit. Men too, of course, but men usually have, and certainly historically have had, more choices. My issue with sex work is with the way women and girls have been treated through history and the way they have been, and still are in many cases, forced into exploitative situations.

On the other hand, I don’t want to live in a purely capitalist free-for-all where female bodies are a commodity like paper towels or lobster and are valued or devalued according to the whims of the market.

The realities of life being what they are, I think America should decriminalize sex work and aim to make it as safe as possible. (And Canada shouldn’t be trying to criminalize classified ads.) The workers should be able to unionize, to seek redress from the courts if they’re wronged, to insist upon protections and conditions. Where do you fall on this issue?

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8 Comments / Post A Comment

Runawaytwin (#2,693)

I don’t believe in the legalization of prostitution for only one reason- and it is not morality.

A woman of reduced income should not have to consider her body as a means to make ends meet. If prostitution were legal (and accepted) we would have people complaining of women on welfare who could simply get a job by selling herself. (and thereby not need welfare). I would not want big business, congressmen or anyone else pressuring women into the sex trade as a legitimate (and the only) means to feed their family. Of course many are still pressured illegally but for me that is a separate issue.

Ah. I am sure I am not explaining myself well but there it is.

nell (#4,295)

@Runawaytwin Not sure it would ever come to this, but this is a very good point. Rich white congressmen certainly think they know exactly what’s best for struggling single moms.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@Runawaytwin I heard a story (and maybe this is apocryphal) about a woman in Germany who had her application for welfare benefits denied because she could theoretically find work as a prostitute.

@Runawaytwin That’s an interesting point that I would hope we could legislate around… I mean seriously if Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to pay for Plan B by citing moral/religious convictions than a human being, regardless of gender, should not be required to go into sex work for the same reason.

I will always be for legalization because so many people are still currently choosing to go into sex work right now any way without the protection, regulation and right to unionize that they deserve.

A fringe benefit, secondary to the protection and rights issue, would be the tax revenue on sex work (see also: the $11 million in tax revenue generated from Colorado’s first four months of marijuana legalization.)

Poubelle (#2,186)

@Runawaytwin This is a very legitimate fear. Poor women (especially poor women of color) get enough crap as it is.

EM (#1,012)

I think there are solid opinions on either side of the issue, but hopefully everyone agrees that since there already are so many people (mostly women) in sex work, society should strive to make that work as safe as possible. And trying to make sex work invisible and shove it to the margins makes it extremely unsafe, and contributes to the rates of violence against sex workers. And when sex work is illegal (or activities around it, as is the case in Canada where it’s ~technically~ legal), that makes it even more dangerous.

sea ermine (#122)

Generally I avoid talking about this because there’s already a pretty heavy focus globally on what non sex workers think about sex work and what people not involved in the industry (and not directly affected by it) feel should be done, which often comes with the implication that sex workers aren’t intelligent enough to be listened to when talking about their own experiences.

However, I do think it’s important to point out that criminalizing sex work not only doesn’t reduce it, but does expose sex workers to massive amounts of police violence.

Beyond that I thought I’d share the link to Tits and Sass which is a website produced by and for sex workers that has information on the issue from the people who are most affected by it, and most likely to know what solutions and practices are best and safest for people in the industry.

I also want to share a link to SWOP-NYC. SWOP (which has locations in other cities) is one of the few sex worker outreach programs in the US run by sex workers.
For that reason they have trouble getting funding, as many people would rather give grants to ‘rescue’ organizations run by non sex workers, because they appeal more to people who want to feel like a savior more than they want to help make sex workers lives safer (see Project Rose for one example.

sea ermine (#122)

@sea ermine I also want to point out that sex workers are selling a service, not their bodies and it’s dehumanizing and misleading to suggest otherwise.

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