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  1. Decriminalizing Sex Work

    September 11, 2015 by Heather Cole

    Recently Amnesty International made headlines by proposing a policy to decriminalize sex work.

    “Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world. In many countries, they are threatened with a whole host of abuses, including rape, beatings, trafficking, extortion forced eviction and discrimination, including exclusion from health services. More often than not, they get no, or very little, legal protection. In fact, in many cases these violations and abuses are carried out by the police, clients and abusive third parties.”

    It should be noted that Amnesty International wasn’t suggesting that sex work be legalized. With their policy of decriminalization, they hope to offer sex workers the protection of basic human rights and to take them out of the role of “accomplice” to a crime, which is their livelihood.

    “The decriminalization of sex work means that sex workers are no longer breaking the law by carrying out sex work. They are not forced to live outside the law and there is better scope for their human rights to be protected.”

    “If sex work is legalized, it means that the state makes very specific laws and policies that formally regulate sex work. This can lead to a two tier system where many sex workers operate outside these regulations and are still criminalised – often the most marginalised street based sex workers. Decriminalization places greater control into the hands of sex workers to operate independently, self-organise in informal cooperatives and control their own working environments in a way that legalization often does not.”

    To read more about Amnesty’s policy, click here.

    Some may be surprised to know that sex work doesn’t only include street-based sex workers or escorts, like Escorts and Babes. Adult film actors/actresses, exotic dancers, brothel workers, incall/outcall workers, phone sex operators, rent boys, nude models, webcam models, full-body masseuses, adult film producers, dominatrixes, and adult website owners are all part of what is considered sex work.

    Since Amnesty International published their proposal some sex workers, like this male escort, have been voicing their stories. Most of the sex workers I’ve met, and read about, didn’t choose sex work because they thought they’d earn the respect of their community and have fun. They were men and women who were trying to keep a roof over their family’s head and food on the table. And all human beings, regardless of their jobs, deserve basic human rights like access to healthcare, and legal protection.

    The sex trade is never going to disappear. That line about it being the ‘oldest profession’ is true. There will always be a demand for sex and people willing to pay for it. Rather than vilify the people performing this service, we have the power to give sex workers dignity and decriminalize their work. We could change things so that it’s not a risk to their personal safety to earn a living. Decriminalization also means giving workers a chance to do something different and make different choices if they want, instead of branding them with a scarlet letter on their official record that will limit any future jobs unrelated to sex. Decriminalization of sex work means breaking the cycle that marginalizes its workers, so that legal efforts can focus on human trafficking and those forced into sexual slavery.

    I wrote this article at my favorite cafe, and a stranger approached me and asked what I was writing about. I told him the title of the article, and his reaction was to ask me why I cared about “Pasquale the street walker” and Pasquale’s abuse at the hands of the police in some foreign country. I was taken aback at first. Shouldn’t we all be concerned about the people living at the fringes of our society? I was surprised that he considered the plight of a sex worker a problem for developing nations. Honey, sex work is right here in the good ‘ol USofA. It made me want to challenge his privileged viewpoint, but I was flustered that 1. he had asked specifically about my topic, and 2. I had answered honestly.

    When I replayed our interaction, I wish I had answered differently. I wish I had asked him his personal opinion. “If a white, older man paid me to tie him up, spank his bare bottom, and then impale him with a large phallus in his anus in a private home, should I be denied a safe place to live? Should I be refused medical insurance? Should I fear for my personal safety, because I was paid to perform a service? You, dear stranger, may have a strong reaction to the nature of the particular service. But should I, the service provider, be denied basic human rights for fulfilling it?”

    Sex work is a taboo subject in this country. Most people want to go about their lives like it doesn’t exist, or we only talk about it in reference to a bachelor party or the incredibly unrealistic, Pretty Woman. And I get it. It’s challenging to separate how we feel about the morality of paying for sex from the people who are fulfilling the sex work. In my opinion, we’re all human beings and we all deserve to be treated as such. ~Heather

    And something else…you never know who is a sex worker. It’s not like they wear a t-shirt or a super-cool badge. Most sex workers fly under the radar, not wanting their profession to be known for fear of being outed to public scrutiny, or worse, being arrested.

    A sex worker–in any industry–could be the single mother in the car in front of you, dropping off her child at school. It could be the man shopping for produce at the farmer’s market, or the young woman attending college classes. You don’t know the reasons why they chose the job that they did, and believe me, it is a job. So if you do happen to meet a person who is a sex worker, be nice and have empathy. You may not realize it, but we need them. They are a vital piece in becoming the sex-positive world we are working toward, so for fucks sake, show some respect. ~Nikki