“The main difference now is that they have no protection. One case from early 2009 illustrates why I think criminalization was such a bad idea. A young attorney from North Providence was moonlighting as an escort, and one evening she was attacked at knifepoint by an unstable client. Knowing that she had the protection of the law, this woman – whose name I don’t use to respect her own wishes – called the police and the man was swiftly apprehended. Had this incident happened a few months later, she might have never made that call and her appalling attacker might never have been caught.”
-Matthew Lawrence on the anniversary of prostitution being recriminalized in Rhode Island in 2009, and the negative impact it’s had on sex worker safety.
I hate how the conversation has been hijacked by the trafficking framework, as if the sex industry has become the only place where men rape, abuse, and exploit women and children. As if all those things will stop once sex work has been made illegal.
As if they couldn’t be just as well (or better!) addressed by a concerted effort to make rape and assault illegal so that when these things happened anywhere, including within the sex industry, there would be legal protections for victims, and repercussions and punishment for the abusers. Like why is that so unrealistic? So a woman could be like “This john raped me/my boyfriend is abusive and is basically a pimp and he takes my money” or “I was raped on set” because the problem, RIGHT? is rape and assault? The two go hand in hand, like if as much energy was poured into ending rape culture as into ending trafficking, which after all isn’t it just an extension of rape culture? Women could seek redress for sexual exploitation without being criminalized for their work.
how do people expect to help sex workers if they won’t acknowledge that the problems in the sex industry didn’t begin with it, aren’t confined within its borders, and would continue if it was gone.
men rape, abuse, and murder women who aren’t sex workers. family members rape and abuse other family members and this has nothing to do with the sex industry.
Why can’t people just say they want to stop rape and sexual exploitation in all forms and all areas? why limit it to the sex industry?
in the feminist framework seems like the very fact of sex/sexualized services for money is the real assault. Trying to get politicians and legislators to focus on taking rape and sexual abuse seriously isn’t a realistic goal! A better goal is just making sex work illegal. And that suits politicians just fine, it leaves the actual issue of rape culture untouched.
Like am I being kneejerk and crazy here? I just don’t understand how focusing on sex work as labour—how seeing that there is actually a difference between sex work (which is labour and sex workers deserve workers rights and human rights) and rape and exploitation. A woman who is being raped is being raped. That’s not sex work. Sex workers don’t want to protect people who are profiting off rape. Like am I saying it clear enough? You don’t need to criminalize sex work to punish people who rape women and or profit from the rape of women/children.
If sex work was treated as work we could focus on the people exploiting us and stop it. If rape were taken seriously anyone who was assaulted could seek redress, whether they were a sex worker or a teenager running away from home. Those two goals aren’t incompatible and they seem a hell of a lot more reasonable and functional to me than banning sex work and punishing anyone who comes near the industry.
Just as all sex work is not linked to trafficking, all trafficking is also not linked to sex work. While it is certainly true that many women (and children) enter sex-work under violent and exploitative conditions, this is no different from other livelihood occupations in the unorganized sector such as agricultural and domestic work, construction and industrial labour. Ironically, those who demand the abolition of sex work to stop trafficking do not make the same argument for domestic work despite the fact that conditions, wages, working hours, levels of exhaustion are far worse for domestic workers.
It has been repeatedly pointed out that the statistics on `trafficking’ have no basis in a rigorous methodology, scientific evidence or primary research. A study undertaken by the Special Rappateur on Violence Against Women demonstrated the extreme difficulty of finding reliable statistics since so much of the activity happens underground. Consequently, ‘trafficking’ statistics are derived from figures relating to sex-work, migration and even numbers of “missing persons”. By failing to distinguish between sex-work, migration and trafficking, ‘abolitionists’ like Steinem only serve to make the gender-neutral term synonymous with the female migrant.
Ironically, some of the best work on ‘trafficking’ in India is being done by the Self Regulatory Boards of the Durbar Mahila Swamanyay Committee (DMSC) which emerged out of the famous STD/HIV Intervention Project (SHIP) in Sonagachi, now an internationally acclaimed model sexual health project. The DMSC considers sex-work to be a contractual sexual service negotiated between consenting sexual adults and demands decriminalization of adult sex-work. If feminists like Gloria Steinem and organizations like Apne Aap want to end trafficking in sex-work, their best bet is to recognize sex-work as labour, support its decriminalization and empower the sex-worker to fight exploitation, coercion and stigma.
Ms Shohini Ghosh is the Professor Zakir Hussain Chair at the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia
the last paragraph is especially bitter in light of Steinem’s work to end sexual health education, services, and condom distribution in India, because it “promotes trafficking.” People are still working in the sex industry, they still need to eat, but now they can do it without condoms or access to accurate medical information. Adequately saved, Steinem.
ii.) The decriminalisation of sex work makes sex workers more vulnerable
We are unaware of any research that would support the claim made by Equality Now above. In fact, the opposite has been found not only in the robust work and wide consultation of various UN bodies, but in the public health literature.
In a review in New Zealand five years after the implementation of legislation on decriminalisation of sex work, sex workers reported that their working conditions and well-being had improved, that they felt safer, and that they were more likely to report abuse to the police. Researchers also found that sex workers were generally practicing safer sex and that there was no increase in the number of sex workers in the industry – a popular public fear associated with decriminalisation. Elsewhere, in a study in Australia, data showed better coverage of health promotion programmes for sex workers in a city that had a decriminalised legal framework as compared to cities with a legalised or criminalised framework.
These findings are in line with many other studies that show that stigmatised populations are protected, valued and respected if human rights-based laws are applied, and not the criminal law.
iii.) UN bodies did not listen to sex workers in their recommendations.
A multitude of sex workers – including many from Africa – participated in the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s deliberations which resulted in the report: HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health. Their voices were documented in a variety of media and forums, and were captured with precision in the various reports produced by the Commission. Detailed submissions from Africa sex workers – also available online – described how the criminal law on sex work in Africa have led to large-scale human rights abuses, torture and maltreatment of sex workers and their clients.
New Zealand and Australia have low rates (lower than Sweden, for one!) of trafficking and abuse, but both work with a decriminalised legal framework.