Prostitution is often referred to as the world's oldest profession, but it's also one of the most common occupations held by women — and men — throughout the world.

As I've looked to illustrate the stories we've written about sex workers — both in terms of rallies for their rights, and women turning to sex work during the recession — I end up scrolling through pictures of women from all walks of life, and from all over the world, who engage in sex work. And as I've read more and more about sex work, the dichotomy between the ways we view women in the developed world and those in the developing world who chose to sell access to their bodies strikes me more and more deeply.

Although many take a default view of sex workers in the developed world as responding to rational choices about the economic valuation of their bodies, there is story after story after story after story after story about how sex workers in "free" societies are often driven by a sense that they have few other options or coerced into the work; meanwhile, an equally nuanced view of sex work in the developing world seems to escape us.

What follows is a sampling of sex workers from around the world: some are posing; some are protesting; some are simply going about their days. Some are more wealthy, or happier-looking than others; some reveal their faces; others camouflage them; still others hide them in shame. Some are exploited, while others seemingly feel more in control of their destinies. But one thing no one can do is predict from whence they came, or where they're going, simply by looking.

A prostitute blows a whistle during a protest commemorating the International Day of Sex Workers in Lima, on June 02, 2009. The demonstration gathered almost 100 people and is one of the first open event of this group of the Peruvian society. (JAIME RAZURI/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on March 6, 2009 in a brothel in Offenbach, western Germany, shows a prostitute waiting for clients. Times are hard down at brothels in Germany, where the current financial crisis has triggered a sharp decline in clientele. (MARTIN OESER/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian sex worker shouts slogans during a protest march in Kolkata on July 01, 2008 against the proposed amendments to the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act in Indian Parliament. Several hundred sex workers and social workers and activists took part in the march where they burnt the effigies of the Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chaudhary and Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil. (DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty Images)
A sex worker sits in a passageway at the upmarket Xclusive brothel in Sydney's Bondi Junction on July 1, 2008. Upmarket Sydney brothel Xclusive won't be offering papal packages, but it is putting on extra sex workers to provide sexual succour to lonely tourists and Sydneysiders during World Youth Day. The purpose-built Xclusive brothel, which has luxurious rooms complete with double showers, spas, custom-made beds and panic buttons for the sex workers, is expecting a 150-200 percent hike in business during World Youth Day. (GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

Young women who have left their village after being abandoned by their parents for acting as prostitutes to Moroccan UN soldiers sit in front of a house that they rent in the village of Trainou, near Bouake, Ivory Caost's second city and the former capital of the rebel-controlled north, 29 July 2007. Moroccan UN troops in the central city of Bouake have been accused by locals of committing 'sexual abuses'. The UN suspended the activities of the the Moroccan forces contingent in the west African country last month due to the accusation, pending investigation. (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

Sex Workers Are Different — Similar - The World OverA Ukrainian prostitute stands in front of a bed in a brothel in an appartment in Berlin, 12 September 2007. (AXEL SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Bolivian prostitutes turn into their second day of hunger strike at an AIDS clinic they took over defending their right to work, in El Alto, 12 km from La Paz, on October 23rd, 2007. Some 50 prostitutes went on a hunger strike Monday and threatened to march naked down the streets of El Alto to reopen the bars and strip joints closed down by the local population last week. Many of El Alto's residents last week demonstrated outside the town's 32 bars and strip joints forcing them to close, complaining that they are magnets for lawbreakers and a bad influence on children. (AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
Sex worker Sue Davis is pictured 07 December 2007 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Davis is part of the BC Coalition of Experiential Women, a group defending the issues of sex workers. (Philippe MOULIER/AFP/Getty Images)
A semi-nude Nepali sex worker of the Badi community climbs the gate of the Parliament complex during a protest rally in Singha Durbar, Kathmandu, 22 August 2007. Police in Nepal detained 13 men and women who tried to strip in front of parliament here to protest the decades-old practice of forcing girls from their community into prostitution. Members of the poor Badi community are one of the most disadvantaged groups in the country. For generations, many have been forced into the sex trade because of a lack of other options. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)
IPSWICH, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 12: A prostitute who gave her name as Lou talks to reporters (unseen) as she stands on a street corner December 12, 2006 in Ipswich, England. Police, who were already investigating the murders of three prostitutes whose bodies were found earlier this month, found two more bodies today and are warning sex workers to stay off the streets. The killings recall memories of the so-called Yorkshire Ripper, serial killer Peter Sutcliffe who admitted to killing 13 women, mostly prostitutes, in the 1970s. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
A woman prostitute, drug addict and HIV postive (C) who wish to keep her identity anonymous, smokes a cigarette in a street of a shanty town in Phnom Penh on June 10, 2008. The United States said that Cambodia still needs to do more to fight human trafficking, even though an annual State Department report said the nation had made progress. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN - AUGUST 10: Khazak prostitutes prepare for the evening ahead as they walk outside their brothel home August 10, 2006 in Almaty in the central Asian country of Kazakhstan. Fifteen years after the breakup of the former USSR, the millions of Muslims living between the Caspian Sea and China, who for decades found themselves repressed under Communism, are experiencing an economic and religious revival. Following the August 1991 abortive coup attempt in Moscow and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan declared independence on December 16, 1991. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo: Prostitutes dance at a centre run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in preparation for World Aids Day, 29 November 2006, in Kinshasa. The 'Biso na Biso' centre in the run down district of Massina provides medicine, health care, and education programmes for sex workers. (LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images)
Amsterdam. A picture taken 23 April 2004 shows a man standing in front of the window of a prostitute in the Red District of Amsterdam. (TOUSSAINT KLUITERS/AFP/Getty Images)
A group of prostitutes from the Merced neighborhood stand a protest in front of local assembly 04 October 2007 in Mexico City, complaining for the arrests they suffer from police. (ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
CAMDEN, NJ - FEBRUARY 17: A woman involved in the sex industry waits on a street corner February 17, 2005 in Camden, New Jersey. Camden, a crime ridden city in the south of New Jersey, has both a high prostitution rate and an escalating HIV/AIDS rate among its young people. A New York man infected with a highly drug-resistant and possibly aggressive strain of the AIDS virus has galvanized health officials around the country to consider the possibility of what some people are calling a 'Super HIV strain.' (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Gisenyi, RWANDA: Adeline, 19, prostitute, stands at the doorway of her house 28 April 2006 in Gisenyi, Rwanda. Forced into prostitution after losing their parents during the 1994 genocide, some 200 women have joined an association to fight AIDS and try to build themselves a new future. (JOSE CENDON/AFP/Getty Images)
PADUA, ITALY: A group of prostitutes took to the streets in Padua, 16 May 2007 to protest against a new fine on clients caught in the act, which is aimed at cleaning up the streets of this northeastern Italian city. The 30 or so demonstrators also distributed leaflets calling for a concerted fight 'against sexual traffickers and not those who ply their trade freely.' Banner at (C) reads- The Symbol of Love-. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JUNE 21: Women hide their faces as police raid an entertainment center which is suspected to have prostitution business on June 21, 2006 in Beijing, China. Authorities have launched campaigns to crack down on prostitutions in the city. According to state media, male and female prostitution, both of which are illegal in China, are nonetheless widespread. According to a draft guideline released by the Ministry of Health, prostitutes are being made the focus of the ministry's latest efforts to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)
File photo taken March 30, 2007 shows a prostitute working on the street in central Oslo. On February 6, 2009, and a month after it came into force, a Norwegian law banning the purchase of sex has nearly eliminated street prostitution, but for the few sex workers remaining, working conditions have become much tougher. 'The clients are extremely nervous. Most of them don't dare come here,' says Nadia, a 22-year-old from Oslo who has been a sex worker for eight years. Since January 1, men who buy sex face up to six months in jail, pay a fine or face both. The law prohibits the buying of sex but not the sale, so the prostitute goes free. (TRULS BREKKE/AFP/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL: (L-R) Brazilian prostitutes Regina, Jane Eloy and Maria model clothes from the fashion brand DASPU, a firm supported by the Non-Governmental Organization Da Vida (To the Life), which supports the project of a new group of prostitutes in Rio de Janeiro, 17 December 2005. DASPU has planned to act as a support to old prostitutes at the end of their professional lives. (ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, REPUBLIC OF KOREA: With policeman looking on, South Korean prostitutes sit wearing white mourning clothes take part in a protest rally against new enforcement laws targetting human traffickers, in front of a government office complex building in Seoul, 06 December 2004. Dozens of people gathered to protest a government move to regulate and restrict the local sex industry — including a tough anti-prostitution law which took place in September. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
Mombasa, KENYA: Photo taken 20 June 2007 shows a brothel run by a number of prostitutes with one of them lying on a bed next to a child, a product of the trade, at Kenya's coastal town of Mombasa where sex-tourism, increasingly involving minors, has become rampant. Between 10 and 15 thousand under-aged girls are now involved in the growing industry that has prompted the Kenya government and hotel owners and managers to introduce a code that must be adopted by hotel operators along the Kenyan coast to prevent the prostitution of minors, many of them girls, by denying suspected under-age clients that are unaccompanied by a related adult admission without proof of age. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
DUBI, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 25: Prostitutes attempt to lure passing motorists from the display window of a roadside brothel October 25, 2003 in Dubi, Czech Republic. Prostitution is big business along the Czech Republic's borders with Germany and Austria, and the country has become a major transit point for criminal gangs trafficking women from eastern Europe into western Europe. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA: Estefani, a sexual worker who is member of the female soccer team 'Estrellas de la Linea' goes back to her 'laboral activities', 23 September 2004 in Guatemala City. The team denounced it has been discriminated by authorities after being expelled from the female soccer local championship because of their profession. (ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
TAIPEI, TAIWAN: Taiwan prostitutes, holding hats and masks of their deceased colleagues, protest outside the presidential building in Tapei, 17 September 2004 accusing President Chen Shui-bian of depriving their professional rights. They charged that Chen, when serving as Taipei mayor, refused to follow a 1998 decision of Taipei city council to postpone ending legal prostitution by two years as the immediate crackdown that year had forced many of them out of jobs and driven some into debts. (SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi mother (R) with her 14 years-old daughter, both of them prostitutes, wait for clients at their home in Baghdad 07 September 2003. With the end of the Saddam Hussein's regime, many Iraqi women prostitute themselves to survive. AFP PHOTO/ Thomas COEX (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)
Greek prostitutes argue during a protest held by more than 50 prostitutes in front of a brothel in Athens 04 August 2003. The women protested the plans by the Athens municipality to shut down at least 15 brothels for being too close to churches and schools. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA: A South African prostitute waits for a client on a Johanneburg street corner 23 August 2002, despite the local police effort to 'clean' the city, before the World Summit on Sustainable Development starting 26 August. (Photo credit: YOAV LEMMER/AFP/Getty Images)
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 03: A Prostitute works on Auckland's Karangahape Road, Thursday. The new law passed legalizing prostitution makes it easy for girls to work the streets during the day as well as the night. (Photo by Dean Purcell/Getty Images)
Two teenage prostitutes ... wait in detention October 25, 2000 in the Juvenile police office in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia. The girl in the middle is 7 months pregnant. There are an estimated 3000 to 4000 street children in Mongolia, a country where 36% of families live below the poverty level. About 20 nongovernmental shelters in Ulaan Bataar try to combat the problem by offering hot meals and places to wash and sleep. The shelters also encourage the children to attend a special school since many of them have no formal education. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Newsmakers)
Paris, FRANCE: French prostitutes demonstrate, 18 March 2006 in Paris, during a 'Hooker Pride' march in protest at a three-year-old old law banning them from soliciting on the street. Banner reads 'passiv soliciting = activ repression'. (FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
JAKARTA, INDONESIA - JULY 10: A prostitute shows an outreach worker how she uses a condom July 10, 2004 in Jakarta, Indonesia. A recent report issued by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS states that six provinces are now being classified as badly affected with a serious increase in 2003 among drug users and sex workers. The 15th International AIDS conference will be held in Bangkok beginning next week. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Earlier: Can't Buy Her Love
German Sex Workers Feel The Pinch Of The Recession
Helping Women Help Themselves
The Problem With The "Happy Hooker" Myth
When Did Sex Work Become Less Stigmatized Than "Menial" Labor?


[All images via Getty Images]