Sex Workers' Rights Are Rights For All Women

Illustration for article titled Sex Workers' Rights Are Rights For All Women

Prostitution is a pretty vexed issue among feminists, but maybe it shouldn't be — as Thierry Schaffauser points out in the Guardian, many freedoms sex workers need for their jobs are the same rights that all women deserve.

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Schaffauser makes the broader point that "the 'whore stigma' is a way to control women and to limit their autonomy – whether it is economic, sexual, professional, or simply freedom of movement," and then gets into specifics:

Women are brought up to think of sex workers as "bad women". It prevents them from copying and taking advantage of the freedoms sex workers fight for, like the occupation of nocturnal and public spaces, or how to impose a sexual contract in which conditions have to be negotiated and respected.

Of course, not all women are raised to morally judge sex workers. But Schaffauser's points about public spaces and sexual contracts are spot-on. Too often, women are told not to walk alone, especially at night or while scantily clad. But sex workers often do all these things as part of their jobs — and they still deserve freedom from sexual assault. Unfortunately, the fact that being in public spaces alone at night is something stigmatized groups — not just sex workers, but also those who can't afford transportation or happen to live in the kind of dangerous neighborhoods middle-class people get told not to walk through — have to do makes it harder to claim this simple freedom as a right for everyone.

Nancy Schwartzman's The Line actually addresses Schauffauser's second point directly. When Schwartzman visits a brothel to talk to the prostitutes there about her assault, they tell her that they consent to specific acts with clients beforehand, and that consent to one sexual behavior does not imply consent to anything else. The idea of sex as an agreement between two (or more) people, rather than something one person does to another, deserves widespread embrace whether or not the sex is paid for.

Sex workers do all the things women are told not to do — going out at night, wearing "sexy" clothing, talking openly and assertively about sex, sleeping with multiple partners. These behaviors — and sex workers themselves — are likely stigmatized in part to keep women from gaining too much control over their sexuality. But all women deserve such control — and supporting sex workers' rights may be one way to achieve it.

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Whorephobia Affects All Women [Guardian]

Earlier: The Line: When Rape Victims Aren't "Perfect"

DISCUSSION

I support the rights of sex workers. However, I am ambivalent about the legalization of prostitution. I am not sure if legalizing it will actually solve any problems.

First of all, most places with legalized prostitution only allow it in the context of brothels. This literally makes it illegal for a woman to work WITHOUT a pimp, does it not? I think there are also usually limits on the number of brothels that are allowed to stay open, at least in Nevada (much the way NYC limits liquor licenses). Who is going to be hired at those brothels, then? Most likely the more "privileged" group of sex workers (young, healthy, 'attractive,' white, not junkies). Where does this leave the most desperate class of sex workers, who might not be able to get a job at a legal brothel? The exact same place as before: on street corners, in alleys, outside the law.

Second of all, there is the matter of consent. "Yes" is meaningless if "no" is not an option. I'm not sure if it is EVER possible to guarantee free consent in the case of prostitution. Yes, some sex workers are in control and consenting and happy, but the majority might not be. Would legalizing the profession make sure that more sex workers are in control and consenting? I'm not sure. Furthermore, it's impossible for a John to *really* know a prostitute's mental state, and therefore impossible for him to know if he is having sex with a consenting partner or raping someone. I'm not sure if that gray area should ever be made legal.

Third of all, legalizing the trade will force prostitutes to lower their prices. It will increase demand AND supply, while being LESS profitable for those in the profession.

Here is what I think should happen. I think prostitution should be decriminalized for the prostitutes, but remain a crime for the customers. Take all that money that would be spent on raids and prosecuting sex workers, and spend it on rehabilitation programs to provide education and employment services. If it is not a crime for the sex workers, they will feel free to access health services and report crimes.