5 Things I Learned About Sex Work

During Vanderbilt Feminists’ Intersectionality Week, they hosted an event called Pretty Woman: Sugar Babies and the Labels of Sex Work. At this event, members of Vandy Fems led a presentation and discussion about intersectionality in sex work. Here are a few things I learned:

1. There’s a lack of visibility of disabled sex workers.

Oftentimes, people think about disabled people as completely non-sexual. However, disabled people participate in sex work as both customers and sex workers.

2. Race plays an important role in the criminalization of sex work.

Most people associate high end sex work (e.g. sugar babies or escorts) with whiteness. Because of this logic, it can limit and decriminalize people of color sex workers. In the presentation, the speakers gave the example of women of color often being forced into degrading roles in porn that perpetuate negative stereotypes of WOC. These racialized and gendered stereotypes fetishize women of color, and often make them more vulnerable to sexual violence and policing. According to INCITE!, women of color, especially trans women, are disproportionately targeted and profiled by police.

3. Class and/or racial identity plays into people’s access to public sympathy.

While sex workers are often subject to public ridicule and condemnation, white, middle class women generally gain public sympathy more easily than other marginalized groups of women, especially when it comes to cases of sexual violence.

4. There are pros and cons of the decriminalization of sex work.

The legalization of sex work would introduce regulations for sex workers, leading to an increased quality of public health and increased protections for sex workers. After Rhode Island decriminalized “indoor prostitution” in 2003, the rates of gonorrhea and sexual violence among sex workers decreased dramatically. There was a similar effect in the Netherlands.

However, the decriminalization and the introduction of regulations would leave official records of sex workers’ presence and participation in sex work. This could especially negatively affect undocumented sex workers.

5. FOSTA-SESTA will harm sex workers.

A bill that has recently passed both houses of Congress, FOSTA-SESTA, would crack down on websites that promote sex trafficking. Over the past several years, sex workers have used the Internet to conduct business, which has led to increased safety for sex workers. Because of that, this bill will negatively affect them.