Do you remember Tinker Toys? I do. We had a lot of building toys when I was growing up, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Legos. And every once in a while, they’d get mixed up in our hasty “Oh crap, Mom’s coming!” panic-driven clean up, and the next time you’d go play with Tinker Toys all the colored plastic pieces and fake notched logs would tumble out. Because you’d done it wrong in the first place.
A recent “sex trafficking” bill in Hawaii, heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee this last week, does the same thing that many such bills do: it conflates human trafficking and sexual slavery with legitimate sex work by adult practitioners in a consensual setting.
Most recent anti-sex work legislation gets it wrong. When sex work, human trafficking and child enslavement are all thrown into the same box, legislation becomes messy, confusing, and ineffective.
Rights, Not Rescue
An open letter to policy and law makers from the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Seattle addresses this confusion:
Sexual exploitation that involves underage persons or adults subjected to force, fraud, or coercion is a serious violation of human rights; but sex work by individuals who are choosing to sell sexual services and which does not include these elements is not inherently exploitative, and it is not trafficking.
It further points out that policies which confuse “sex trafficking” with adult sex work and policies intended to “end demand” by criminally charging sex work clients (often with felonies) are often based on faulty research that is openly biased.
Adult sex workers do not need to be rescued from their chosen profession. Many people are in the industry because it is a good living, because they are good at it, because they have an affinity for it, and some because they enjoy it.
Amnesty International calls for making sex work legal, as does the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, International Labour Organization, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations and Anti-Slavery International. Such organizations recognize that there is a difference between sex work and slavery. They advocate decriminalization as a way of “refocussing of laws to tackle acts of exploitation, abuse and trafficking – rather than catch-all offences that only criminalize and endanger sex workers.”
In other words, stop mixing the Lincoln Logs in with the Tinker Toys, and start building something that matters.