Our society is hysterical about sex work – but we have a duty to protect those who do it

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Our society’s attitudes toward sex work are often characterized by terrifying hysteria and lustful excitement. The main focus of the media is stories of either unthinkable violence and trauma, or of privileged, model, very well-paid sex workers idly doing half an hour’s work once a month for a new designer handbag. Given that this is the usually suggested level of detailed discourse, the ignorant outrage directed at Durham University this month came as no surprise, as blatantly foolish as it may be. A training session entitled “Students Involved in the Adult Sex Industry” was launched primarily for staff who support students to help them receive appropriate information and provide informed guidance. V Once reported that Michelle Donelan, Minister of Higher and Continuing Education, described the coaching as “promoting sex work education”. In 2018, the newspaper reported on a similar security initiative in Brighton as “advice on how to become a prostitute.” Donelan and MP Diane Abbott were among the many who voiced their condemnation.

It seems surprising to me that there can be any debate about whether it is permissible to provide support to people already involved in an activity, regardless of your opinion about the activity itself. Why is it considered bad to offer compassionate, practical help to often vulnerable people? This outrage seems to stem from the belief that recognizing the real life of sex workers is wrong because we should always strive for an ideal society without sex work – a society very different from the one we live in today. This is the only explanation I can find, other than the one that says they would rather see sex workers go without safety measures, putting themselves in great danger, hopefully just dying or disappearing so that we can start our new utopia without them. Can anyone really believe that the recognition of the existence of something contributes to this with enthusiasm? At a basic level, it’s true that you have to be aware of something to do it, but I can’t believe there are many adults, even 18-year-old students, who are so naive that they don’t know that people trade sex for money and goods. …

Once we, shocked with horror, hear that sex work exists, are we immediately encouraged to do it ourselves? If a person does not want to engage in sex work, but is forced to do so because of his poverty and financial obligations, this is truly a terrible and tragic situation. It is a lonely and desperate feeling to realize that your resources are limited by the bare bones of yourself. If you are temperamentally unsuitable for sex work, or your position is such that the only job you can do is poorly paid and dangerous work, of course, this is terrible, of course, I wish it never happened.

[See also: Sex Actually with Alice Levine goes inside the pandemic sex industry]

But the difference between me and opponents of sex work, who believe that sex work should be criminalized and further stigmatized, seems to be that I perceive necessity itself as a pressing and intolerable problem, not as a result of necessity. The problem that makes someone do something with their body that they don’t want is a problem. The effect is not the cause. If a person is in such dire straits that they have to do something they deeply hate in order to survive, we must worry about the miserable ripped-off state of social protection.

Let’s say we agree to ignore the undeniable reality of sex work and stop arguing for a moment about the apparently controversial idea that it’s better for sex workers to have resources and information than to be silent and ignore. What about this utopia if we want to imagine it? In any ideal world I can imagine, no one would do work that would hurt them, whether it was sex-related or not. If we imagine that in our utopia nobody is being forced to do something because of urgent financial need and lack of options or support, how can we say that sex work is fundamentally wrong or harmful? I believe that anything that a person or people want to do with their body that does not harm another does not require my judgment or confirmation. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I think of sex work, whether I find the idea awkward or great.

I wonder if part of the problem for those who vehemently support total criminalization is the inability to take the creative leap, to admit that their own feelings of disgust are not universal. If we can accept that sex work is not inherently morally wrong, then the only thing left is resentment associated with circumstances where sex work is forced or coerced, either for personal reasons or by another. person. The real problem is the state of coercion, not the sale of sex.

Discussing the disgust with which they believe many anti-sex work feminists speak of them, sex workers and writers wrote Juno Mac and Molly Smith in their 2019 book. Rebellious Prostitutes:

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“We live in a culture where it is assumed that sexually penetrating someone is essentially an act of domination, and sexual penetration is submission. This means that mistreatment of sex workers is beginning to seem natural. If we who sell sex are already degraded by penetration, then further degradation of what is written about us as trash cans, flesh holes, sperm tanks, holes or inflatable dolls will be seen as fact and not as active reproduction. and the perpetuation of misogynistic discourse and all that. in the name of feminism. ”

Obviously, much of the response to sex work has to do with disgust, not a genuine desire to keep women safe. So-called feminists, who claim to oppose sex work in the name of protecting women, have spoken out in defiantly derogatory ways about the very people they claim they want to protect. If their concern was truly for well-being, and not rooted in archaic disgust, they would never speak with such hatred of those who, in their own words, are eternal victims.

[See also: OnlyFans is abandoning the sex workers who made the platform a success]

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