#BreakingtheStereotype: We Need to Support Sex Workers

 

Although our society is becoming more progressive, most people still see sex work as a controversial or taboo subject. Many modern women’s movements refuse to support sex workers because they believe the industry is harmful or objectifying. However, in reality, it’s the refusal to shed light on the sex work industry that’s placing women in a dangerous situation. 

I specifically mention women because approximately 80 percent of sex workers are female, according to a report by Fondation Scelles. However, it’s important to note that sex workers can be women, men or gender non-conforming individuals.

Sex workers are defined by the World Health Organization as "women, men and transgendered people who receive money or goods in the exchange for sexual services, and who consciously define those activities as income generating even if they do not consider sex work as their occupation". When we talk about sex work, many people only think of street workers. However, the definition also includes dancers, escorts, phone operators or those who work through an online platform.

Regardless of their specific title, all sex workers face a variety of issues in their occupation. Due to the nature of their work and their clientele, sex workers are at an increased risk of being sexually assaulted and harassed. By refusing to spread awareness, many of these incidents can go unnoticed. 

Moreover, due to the stigma around the industry, sex workers may blame themselves for assault. The stereotype that sex workers are "disgusting," "dirty" or even "asking for it" is incredibly toxic and encourages victim blaming. The underground nature of the industry also means that it's difficult for sex workers to protect themselves against these types of attacks because they feel they can’t report perpetrators to law enforcement.

Stigmatizing sex workers also promotes slut shaming. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, slut shaming is criticizing people (most often females) for expressing their sexuality in a way that society deems unacceptable. There’s an obvious double standard here, as well, since sex workers are the ones being shamed, while the people paying for sex don’t face the same criticisms.

Another harmful stereotype is that all sex workers have been forced into the industry. When talking about sex work, many people assume that an individual cannot participate in sex work voluntarily. That’s not the case, as many enter the industry by choice. Some people find sex work empowering or use it as a way to embrace their sexuality. Others may see sex work as just another way to make ends meet.

This stereotype also brings up an important issue concerning women’s rights, as the assumption that women cannot choose to enter the sex industry discredits a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about her body.

While it’s important to respect people who have chosen to become sex workers, it’s equally important for us to recognize the suffering of those who have been forced into it. Assuming that all sex workers are forced into the industry invalidates and generalizes the experiences of those who actually have been coerced into it. Thus, in order to support both sides, we need to make a distinction between the two and not assume that all sex workers are of one group or the other.

While the circumstances for each group are different, one thing remains the same: the need to respect and raise awareness for their experiences. Although it may still be a controversial subject in the eyes of society, the refusal to engage in dialogue about the issues that plague sex workers puts people in danger. Not only that, but support for sex workers ultimately promotes awareness about other issues that affect women of all professions, such as a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. The stigma around sex work popularizes a culture of victim blaming and slut shaming. Therefore, proper education, as well as conversation, about sex work is the first step to breaking the toxic stereotypes that plague, not only sex workers themselves, but women of all occupations.