Post written by: Alicia Weigel
I believe all people should feel empowered to make their own decisions. I believe all people should have access to health and safety as basic human rights. I believe all women have a right to life. I believe all women must be treated as full members of society.
Most feminists would agree with the above statements. Replace “women” with a more specific subgroup, however, and the statements become problematic.
I believe all sex workers should feel empowered to make their own decisions. I believe all sex workers should have access to health and safety as basic human rights. I believe all sex workers have a right to life. I believe all sex workers must be treated as full members of society.
Although not all sex workers are women, this community includes some of the most marginalized women on our planet. Many face legal repercussions for their line of work in places where it is defined as criminal behavior. They all face stigma in their daily lives, preventing them from accessing sufficient healthcare.
Regardless of one’s feelings on the profession – whether or not they would partake in the industry themselves – it is not my, or anyone’s, right to make this decision for another human.
Promoting the abolition of sex work via criminalization is not effective.
Sex work is the oldest profession in existence. Many historical attempts to persecute those who participate in this ancient industry have not erased it. They have, rather, pushed it further into the margins of society where it cannot be regulated, putting the safety buyers and sellers at risk.
In environments where sex work is illegal, workers fall victim to abuse, often by those who are meant to protect the wellbeing of all citizens: the police. A U.S.-based voluntary sex worker confirms, “I’ve had to provide services more than once in exchange for not being arrested.”
Bringing sex work into the open actually decreases trafficking and child exploitation.
Because prostitution is illegal in most countries, the most reliable data on the proportion of underage sex workers comes from places where the industry is legal and it can be studied openly, like New Zealand – where estimates put the figure of underage workers at only 3.5%. After legalizing prostitution in 2003, a study by the New Zealand Ministry of Justice found “no incidence of trafficking” five years later.
Voluntary sex workers are also natural allies in the fight against trafficking, based on their knowledge of the local network of individuals involved in sex work and the systems in which they operate. They often, thus, are able to refer trafficking victims to appropriate services. I can vouch for this firsthand.
In Cape Town, South Africa, I volunteered for SWEAT, a South African sex worker advocacy organization. In my time with the organization, I saw SWEAT service users identify a sex worker who had been trafficked from Zimbabwe. They subsequently brought her to the Saartjie Baartman Center for victims of violence and abuse, where she was able to take control of her and her daughter’s lives in a safe environment. She ultimately left the world of sex work, a profession she had not chosen for herself.
Promoting the abolition of sex work via criminalization is in no one’s best interest.
Sex workers operating in a criminalized environment cannot legally declare their occupation at most clinics. As a result, they often end up receiving insufficient care or inadequate sexual health education, leaving them unable to protect themselves and others from sexually transmitted infections.
Working in the absence of a regulated system also means sex workers cannot legally enforce condom use with their clients, which further facilitates the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and diseases amongst the community in which they operate.
Promoting the abolition of sex work via criminalization is not ethical.
Engaging in sex work is the choice of the consenting individuals involved. If it is not consensual, then it should not happen. Voluntary sex work and sex trafficking are two different concepts, and should be treated differently – just like consensual sex vs. rape.
Human rights should apply to all people regardless of age, sex, gender, occupation, sexual orientation or HIV status. It is my belief that one cannot be considered a true feminist if one is advocating against the rights of arguably the most marginalized women in most global societies. Whether viewed from a lens of compassion for others, or the preservation of personal freedoms, sex worker rights are human rights and should be upheld as such.
*Editors Note: Views expressed in this post aren’t representative of Girls’ Globe but rather the individual author.