Many people who think sex workers are exploited — perhaps even most of them — have positive intentions. But, as Melissa Gira Grant explains in an excellent Reason must-read, the war on sex workers is a war on women that "has actual prisoners and a body count" and is " waged by women who will not hesitate to use their opponents' corpses as political props but refuse to listen to them while they are still alive and still here to fight."
Grant explains how most laws against "sexual exploitation" are too vague to actually be enforceable, and how we can't combat real sex trafficking unless we stop victimizing all sex workers. The consequences are too "life shattering" to ignore:
In Louisiana some women arrested for prostitution have been charged under a 200-year-old statute prohibiting "crimes against nature." Those charged-disproportionately black women and transgender women-end up on the state sex-offender registry. In Texas a third prostitution arrest counts as an automatic felony. Women's prisons are so overloaded that the state is rethinking the law to cut costs. In Chicago police post mug shots of all those arrested for solicitation online, a shaming campaign intended to target men who buy sex. But researchers at DePaul University found that 10 percent of the photos are of trans women who were wrongly gendered as men by cops and arrested as "johns." A prostitution charge will haunt these women throughout the interlocking bureaucracies of their lives: filling out job applications, signing kids up for day care, renting apartments, qualifying for loans, requesting passports or visas.
Grant spends much of her piece lambasting feminists for perpetuating the concept that all sex workers are victims. "This war is spearheaded and defended largely by other women: a coalition of feminists, conservatives, and even some human rights activists who subject sex workers to poverty, violence, and imprisonment-all in the name of defending women's rights," she writes, continuing:
How have we arrived at this point, that in the name of "protecting" women, or even ensuring their "rights," feminists are eager to take away their jobs and health care? Ramos, Steinem, and their allies deliberately conflate sex work and what they now call "sex trafficking" for their own reasons, not to advance the rights of sex workers. The result is-or should be-an international scandal.
Read the rest of her piece for more on why last year's anti-Backpage protests hurt sex workers, how actual people in the sex trade are ignored by the people supposedly championing for them, and why oversimplified portrayals of trafficking can have "devastating consequences."