The Radical Notion That Sex Workers Deserve Respect

The Radical Notion That Sex Workers Deserve Respect


For far too long, the sex industry and its sex workers have been a taboo matter. It is a subject that so many people feel uncomfortable to discuss, yet prostitution is a profession found in almost every culture around the world. Why, if it is such a global occurrence, do we as a society treat sex workers as second-class citizens? Furthermore, why are the people that work in this industry the ones being demoralised when men are the largest demographic paying for sex? Quite simply it’s because we, as a society, still view sex as a commodity created for the consumption and enjoyment of men. So, why is prostitution criminalised in so many places around the world? And why is it taboo? Why is calling someone a whore or saying that they look like a prostitute a common insult? These are all questions that have played on my mind for a while. I realise that I am throwing a lot of questions at you. Take your time to consider them. Obviously, I don’t think my article is going to create change in our society. Rather, I want to help my friends, family and you the reader to reconsider the way they view sex workers. After all, they are people, too. They deserve our respect firstly because they are human, but also because it is by no means a stress and danger-free profession.


I want to discuss the issue of how sex workers are shunned for working in this profession, but not the people who are paying for sex. Personally, I believe this issue to be a significant factor in why our society is not more progressive on this subject as we feel sex workers are the problem. For lots of these people, working in the sex industry is not something they wish to be doing. For others, this is exactly the career they want. Regardless of this, society views sex workers as the issue but not the people paying for sex. Now, if you are so against the sex industry and feel that these people are disgusting and undeserving of your respect, logic dictates that you simply do not pay for sex. It’s really that easy. Yet, despite the widespread disdain for these workers, there still exists a very large demand for paid sex. Women make up the majority of the workers (88% in the UK), and, as a consequence, they face the largest brunt of the discrimination. On top of this, 41% of the sex workers are foreign-born, a percentage that rises to 80% in London. Have you ever noticed that men are very quick to call a woman a whore or a slut for having sex, but are praised for all the women that they have sex with? If women are not allowed to have sex with more than one person without being called a slut, then whom are these men supposed to be sleeping with? Why are men who sleep around players, but the women who do it are considered sluts? I don’t have all the answers, and my view on this subject is personal and limited, but I believe the problem lies in how we view sex as a culture.


Sexual intercourse is discussed among boys from a young age. They are free to openly talk about masturbation; they can access porn online while underage, and they are unnecessarily exposed to naked women in advertisements. On the other hand, young girls are expected not to discuss sex, as it is deemed distasteful, and this idea is enforced due to a fear of being slut-shamed. This exposure and availability of sex creates the idea of entitlement within young boys that stay with them throughout their lives. Then, when they come to the age to have sex, they want sex to be as accessible to them as porn is. As a result, sex is viewed as a commodity that should be available to them as soon as they want it. You might think that the solution to this would be to introduce new laws to make the penalty for prostitution stricter, but this is an industry that has existed for hundreds and hundreds of years and is likely not to go anywhere any time soon. Furthermore, by introducing a more severe penalty, it just makes it more difficult for these sex workers to earn a liveable wage safely.


Instead, there are two different ways that could improve the working conditions of these people. The first is partially employed in the United Kingdom and is the decriminalisation of selling sex. This means that paying for sex remains illegal but selling sex does not. One of the benefits of this is that sex workers do not have to be afraid to come forward if they are being coerced into selling sex. Furthermore, the fear of being prosecuted is removed if they wish to report sexual harassment or rape. The major downside to this though is that sex workers are still taken advantage of by people who are pandering them off to make money (commonly know as pimping).


The other option is the total decriminalisation of prostitution. Although controversial, I believe it remains the best alternative to ensuring the greatest possible conditions for sex workers and providing them with sufficient rights. This means adopting a similar style to The Netherlands, where all sex work is performed through businesses and the rights of the employees are respected and agreed upon prior to any interactions with customers.

First of all, legalising prostitution and making it a legitimate industry would ensure that sex workers are provided with a guaranteed income. The benefits of this are that they do not have to worry about making ends meet if they are certain about where their next pay cheque is coming from. Additionally, the money that they earn would be taxed, meaning that everyone benefits as a whole as the tax revenue can be used to help fund social welfare programs or services to help provide contraception for safe sex, for example. I’d argue that by making it a recognised profession, it removes the stigma around sex work. Instead of viewing sex workers as people who are criminals, they would, over time, be regarded as workers that contribute to society.


Next, by having prostitution operate through businesses means that the people who are selling the sex are routinely checked for STI’s. The clear advantage of this is that it would hopefully mitigate the spread of sexual infections and provide these workers with a clear conscience concerning their health. Also, routine medical checks could help fight against the violence that sex workers often face as any concerns surrounding abuse would be reported. On top of health, working conditions are improved when prostitution is decriminalised, as these workers in this industry would no longer be expected to work outside in the cold, pay for their own contraception, work such unsociable hours, or work in fear of sexual violence.


Through creating legal brothels, the market for purchasing sex is reserved solely for businesses registered in this sector and removes most of the demand from those involved in human trafficking. If these businesses are regulated and frequently inspected, the rates of those who are trafficked for sex would hopefully decrease. These inspections would involve a background check on the people working in these businesses in an attempt to reduce the number of people who are forced into the sex industry, including those who are underage. Some reports have found that human trafficking rates have increased in places where sex work was decriminalised. However, it is unclear if this is a side effect due to decriminalisation making people feel more comfortable to come forward and report human trafficking crimes.


One obvious problem I find with the total decriminalisation of prostitution is how it creates the impression that we as a society accept sex as a commodity and view it as something that should be easily accessible. I’m torn when it comes to taking a side as I do agree that it is not okay to send this message. On the other hand, pressure, particularly on women, is already large enough within the sex industry so is it not our job to ensure that this pressure is alleviated and their rights respected?


How can you help?


We as individuals can help sex workers by trying our best not to devalue the work and effort that they put in. This means not using derogatory terms like calling people a whore for the way they look, or the sex they have. It extends to not saying things such as “ugh, I’m going to drop out of university and become a hooker” because their work is not easy, and for some people in the industry, it isn’t empowering or enjoyable but a necessity in order to feed themselves. On top of this, you should open up the discussion about sex work, talk to your friends about their opinions on sex work and try and help them understand that the value of a person is not dependant on their profession and that they are still deserving of your respect if they have sex with multiple people.



“Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?” World Development, 41 (1), 2013, pp. 67-82


"Sex Work in Europe: A mapping of the prostitution scene in 25 European countries". Tampep. 2009.