Sex Workers' Rights and Their Place In Feminism

When people hear the words ‘sex workers’ they think prostitution, pimps, and sex trafficking. This is not what sex work is, but a negative connotation that helps the criminalization of sex workers. Sex work is “any type of labor where the explicit goal is to produce a sexual or erotic response in the client” (Neesha Powell, 2018). Sex work is not only participating in sex for money, (but does still include) it is everywhere from burlesque dancers, strippers/ entertainers, selling sexual content via videos or pictures online, to phone sex. Sex work is a choice by the women, man, or person to have control over their own body, and deciding to use its sex appeal as a form of income. Sex workers value consent, their consent to utilize their body under their own circumstances and the consent between them and the client. Often times consent is taken advantage of or forgotten which leads to a high risk of death and violence towards sex workers. The government views sex work as a criminal act so most sex workers aren’t protected.

There have been three waves of feminism since the 1900s. The most current wave was the feminist wave that introduced intersectionality. Through intersectionality, all women/ people were included. Intersectionality is about the inclusivity of all people no matter their race, sexuality, sexual orientation, and right to sex work. “At its core, feminism is about supporting women's choices and control over their bodies. If feminism supports women's reproductive choices, and their choice to have sex (or not) with whomever they choose, an exchange of money should have no bearing on this” (Kerry Porth, 2018). There are some feminists out there that side with the government in thinking that the acceptance of sex work puts feminism back generations and devalues women's bodies. Lauren Rosewarne from the University of Melbourne states, “For me, it’s a matter of consent, of bodily autonomy. If feminists aren’t fighting for my right to use my body how I choose, then they’ve dramatically detoured from their mission” (Lauren Rosewarne, 2017). Women have been fighting for a right to their bodies for generations now. First, it was the right to take contraceptive pills, then the right to an abortion, now it’s the right to be able to use their body as they want and have the choice to use their sex appeal for an income if one chooses to. Sex workers seek money and clientele like any other job, except in this case they have to fight for their right to do so. They aren’t presented with the same rights as other workplaces are. They seek to feel safe in what they do and feel legitimized for their choice in profession (Murphy, 2015).

Violence against sex workers is a huge epidemic that is not being handled seriously for the fact that sex workers aren’t taken seriously. Society has been known to blame the victim for the violence that was forced upon them. Slut-shaming has been a vast reason as to why violence against sex workers is disregarded. Since they are forced to live outside the law, sex workers are less than likely to report sexual or physical abuse. They are more likely than anyone else to experience issues of rape or domestic violence. There is a big difference between consensual adult sex workers and trafficked individuals. 

Sex workers are killed every day and many murders go unreported due to the unprotected laws. Numerous rapes occur and are unreported because officials don’t find significance in reporting these circumstances. Sex workers have a right just as any other human does and enacting laws to protect them is the humane thing to do. Officials question when rape takes place because “that’s their job,” but no one seems to remember the issue of consent. Consent is the biggest principal for a sex worker. They usually agree with their clients on the price beforehand and what can and cannot happen. A form of communication occurs before the encounter: when those terms are violated and consent has been broken that’s when violence has been taken place. “Every sex worker has boundaries they operate within and communicate to their client. If a client deliberately tries to or succeeds in going past the boundaries that were set by the provider, that is assault” (Briq House/Neesha Powell, 2018). Many clients, men in particular, can become upset with the sex worker and perform acts of violence which then are left unreported because of the criminalization of sex work. If sex work was deemed legal, it would not only benefit sex workers but society. Sex workers would be able to come out about violent acts taken place which would help other women out there from being attacked by these prosecutors. 

 

In April of 2018 FOSTA and SESTA became laws that were made to help fight sex trafficking online by taking away personal ads and not allowing nudity (Carrie Weisman, 2018). Although these acts partly helped with their main focus, they mainly harmed sex workers by making their jobs that much harder and riskier. The internet and being online has been the safest and most effective way for sex workers to find and communicate with clients. Because they have access to being online it has helped them get off the streets to search for clientele. When sex workers are left to find work on the street, mainly at night, this puts them at even higher risk for violence. Through the internet, they have a safe way to communicate with clients without putting them at risk of being beaten or killed. They also have the opportunity to communicate with the client on rules and boundaries which sometimes do not happen when on the street.  With the right to online access sex workers are able to protect other sex workers with a source called “Bad Date Lists.” A bad date list is a way for other sex workers to communicate with each other about violent clients they’ve dealt with and informing other sex workers to steer clear of certain people to protect themselves (Carrie Weisman, 2018). Taking away another right from sex workers, the internet, leaves them vulnerable and even more endangered. 

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Even more marginalized groups are sex workers of color and the LGBTQ community. Black trans women are at the highest risk for violence. Adding sex work to the mix makes them at greater risk to be killed, beaten, or raped. With an online platform, they are able to protect themselves slightly better by not having to wander the streets being harassed (Carrie Weisman, 2018). Sex workers are detached from society by not receiving housing or health benefits. People of color and LGBTQ folks are oftentimes detached from society as well. They face police brutality, housing, healthcare, and much more. To be of both minority groups only makes their jobs and lives that much harder. As we support sex workers in this new wave of feminism we must not forget to include the LGBTQ community and people of color. They face more backlash than just their choice of profession. As we fight for sex worker safety we need to be inclusive of all kinds of sex workers out there.

 

Society has a long way to go in the process of fully supporting and protecting sex workers. But the government isn’t the only one who can make an impact on helping the community, each individual can participate in supporting and disposing of the bad reputation that surrounds sex workers. Each person can impact by doing away with the microaggressions towards sex workers. Joking about sex workers and using terms like “whore” only help society's aggression towards them (Lauren Rosewarne, 2017). Slut-shaming is an active way of participating in the problem. Once one starts thinking of sex workers as workers and values their work instead of thinking of it as “dirty” or “ whoreish” progress can slowly start occurring. If a friend or someone you see online is devaluing or making fun of sex work one should take it upon themselves to decide to stop the stigma and voice the problem. Respecting sex workers as you would respect your local barista or CEO is significant in changing society's beliefs. Participating in rallies and organizations that strive to create rights for sex workers is an important way to get involved. December 17 has become a national day to bring attention to the violence surrounding sex work (Dimmie, 2016). As it should be remembered every day, this day is a reason for one to show active participation in helping end the stigma and create a safer world for sex workers to live in. Even if one doesn’t necessarily like sex work, one still needs to show support and respect towards sex workers.