This opinion piece poses an interesting response to the people arguing for legalizing sex work– of which, I am one.
I would argue that there is a difference between choosing sex work from a place of shame and desperation and choosing sex work from a place of knowing that it’s a good match for one’s interests and skill set.
Prostitution does not inherently commodify women’s or men’s bodies more than professional athletics, or acting, or hell, professional mime. It commodifies their compassion and hearts and conversation skills no more than therapy or teaching. It is no more soul-destroying than being a lawyer — far less in some cases.
I’ve meet a number of sex workers — and have two dear friends in sex work. They are not victims or survivors (of anything more hostile than the occasional bad police work). They don’t lack self esteem — they’re empowered feminists who are proud of what they do.
One of them has a client who is a paraplegic who doesn’t leave the house. Another has clients who are shy or don’t have the social skills to approach people for sex, but still have sexual desires. Some clients are in town for business, or are just too busy to bother with all the complications that come with having a girlfriend or boyfriend.
I’ve known people who are clients too. There are those who visit sex workers to learn new skills, to have a physical-only relationship with a person after their spouse or partner has become ill. Some people are clear that they want sex, not a relationship.
What is wrong with that?
The author of the New York Post article also uses a slippery slope approach to argue that once sex work is made legal, everyone will want to do it. There’ll be human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together…mass hysteria! (Thank you, Peter Venkman in my head.) The fear is that economically desperate and unemployed women will receive pressure to go into sex work…like they don’t already?
What is this romantic idea about empowerment through legal work, but not illegal work? Go to the nearest Target or McDonald’s and ask the workers there if they chose the job out of need and desperation or a recognition that it matches their skill set. Then ask them how empowering their work is, and if at the end of the day they feel fulfilled or maybe just a little degraded.
The author of the article then mentions all the organizations that are against Amnesty International’s position to decriminalize all aspects of professional, voluntary adult sex work, mentioning all the organizations that are against Amnesty International’s decision. In their own position paper, “Sex Workers’ Rights are Human Rights,” Amnesty International does describe this controversy and admits to being attacked from all sides when they first announced they’d be developing a group to protect the rights of sex workers. It’s true. This is a hugely controversial issue. But you know who agrees with them? Other reputable human rights organizations. From that paper:
We would like to claim to be the first to address this issue. But we are not. Other groups which support or are calling for the decriminalization of sex work include 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.
It’s true that sex work is dangerous. You know why? Because it’s illegal. Until it is legal sex workers will not come forward when they’ve been harmed outside of their negotiated contract for fear of retaliation. Until it is legal, the industry won’t be regulated for safety.
Until it is legal, law enforcement will still conflate powerful, self-respecting, often feminist sex workers with human trafficking victims. Charitable groups will waste their time trying save people who don’t want or need to be saved when they could instead be devoting their efforts to real human trafficking, slavery, and the institutionalized injustices which make real crime invisible.