Fuck Off to People Who Twist around the Meaning of the Term Sex Work for their Own Agendas

Cussing at people usually isn’t my style, but I’ll make an exception in this case. Twisting around the meaning of the term sex work is at best ignorant. Perhaps, some people who do this just don’t know the actual meaning of the term sex work and mindlessly go along with the propaganda by anti-sex work proponents who promote this dangerous image that violence is inherently linked to prostitution. This does nothing to stop violence against sex workers and trivializes the issue of violence by treating it like nothing more than a natural part of prostitution. In such cases where people are just ignorant about the meaning, they can take the time to actually inform themselves before jumping on the anti-sex worker bandwagon.

Furthermore, twisting around the meaning of sex work to promote anti-sex worker agendas under the guise of saving people from prostitution downplays how the term was coined by a sex worker. Thus, for anybody who wishes to learn about this term, the best person to learn from is Carol Leigh, the sex worker who actually coined the term- not anti-sex worker proponents who twist the meaning around. Here, she explains what the term actually means and how she coined it from BAYSWAN’s website, an organization she runs: http://www.bayswan.org/sexwork-oed.html#1 . Furthermore, claims that the term sex work glosses over violence in prostitution ignore how this woman who coined the term is open about having been raped as a sex worker and feeling unable to report this to the police because of her work (http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/SUNDAY-INTERVIEW-A-New-Agenda-For-the-Oldest-2967159.php).

The term sex work is about recognizing sex workers as human beings making a living. Rather than promoting violence, this term challenges attitudes that encourage violence by promoting the image that it is just an inherent part of prostitution. There is presently a movement to encourage the Associated Press to remove the term prostitute from its stylebook and replace this term with sex worker, and a countermovement against the term sex work or sex worker. I don’t agree with treating prostitute like a dirty word and feel that doing this may increase the stigmas and hatred against people working as prostitutes, though I also support the term sex work. The term sex work must never be confused with sexual slavery or sexual violence.

If anybody has a problem with the term sex work, you have the right not to use this term. Just don’t twist around the meaning even if you are anti-sex work.

Sex Workers in Alaska Trafficking Themselves? Get Real…

Did you have to do a double-take when you read the title of this blog entry? How, you may ask, can people traffic themselves? Who is the victim here? Well, under Alaska’s new anti-trafficking laws like with many policies further criminalizing prostitution under the guise of fighting trafficking, trafficking is defined so broadly that sex workers are both the criminals and the victims, even if they are not enslaving anybody.

For example, I read about a woman in Alaska who was arrested and initially charged with sex trafficking for placing an ad offering sexual services, even though she didn’t offer these to the undercover cop. Yikes! Who was this woman trafficking? Herself?

Here’s a good video getting beyond the surface about what this legislation really does: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPpTIRVrIvQ . Though I thought a lot of the people who spoke in this video were spot on, the comments by the vice police chief of Anchorage were so disturbing. First, just because she finds prostitution degrading doesn’t justify criminalizing it. What’s degrading is how vice cops trick sex workers into think they’re clients, arrest them, and in some cases also sexually assault and rape them. In fact, calling this degrading is an understatement. This is downright violence.

Even more disgusting was when she said they need to arrest sex workers to get them out of trafficking situations. Get them out of trafficking situations how? By trafficking them into jail cages when they might not even be trafficking victims in the first place. Even if they are, why arrest somebody for being a victim? This is treating victims like criminals. Is this how the Anchorage Police Department also deals with domestic violence. If somebody is a victim of domestic violence, do they arrest them to protect them from the abuser?

My point is basically: Cut the crap. These arrests against sex workers are not mainly about stopping trafficking. They’re about punishing sex workers and promoting state sanctioned violence against sex workers. Call it what it is.

Stop Trivializing Sex Workers’ Efforts to Protect Ourselves

In an op-ed titled “Prostitution is more than just a labor rights issue” ( http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/prostitution-labour-rights-201485121735809892.html ), Meghan Murphy trivializes efforts of sex workers to protect ourselves on the grounds that screening and working indoors don’t guarantee safety. This is just an example considering that she is not the only person who has expressed such attitudes. Of course screening clients and working indoors don’t guarantee safety because we’re never guaranteed to be perfectly safe in this world no matter where we are or what type of work we do. However, this doesn’t justify undermining sex workers’ efforts to screen clients and take additional safety precautions since they are just that–precautions.

Even when people date outside of prostitution, they may still take precautions. People can take precautions in other aspects of our lives too, including at home and anywhere we go. These precautions decrease the likelihood of experiencing violence. They are not absolute. The only way to guarantee safety in prostitution or outside of prostitution is to make the world a perfectly safe place–and we’re far from that.

There is evidence that screening clients, even if not a guarantee of safety, is a precaution. This applies not only to indoor workers, but also to street workers. A study of street-based sex workers in Miami found that initial assessments of clients before getting into cars with them decreased the risk of experiencing violence. The study is titled “Sex work and ‘date’ violence” and it was published in a professional research journal titled Violence against Women.

Under this “end demand” legislation that Meghan Murphy and additional people have expressed support for, various Swedish sex workers have reported feeling more endangered. At least one reason why is because it has become harder to screen clients. Since the clients have been criminalized, some have become less willing to share personal, identifying information used for screening. On the streets, clients have become more rushed out of fear of being caught. Thus, sex workers have less time to do initial screenings ( http://www.petraostergren.com/pages.aspx?r_id=40716 ).

I agree with Meghan Murphy that rape isn’t just a labor rights violation and I’ll add that it’s also not just an inherent part of prostitution. I’ve blogged before about the harms of conflating all prostitution with rape and how this is similar to the position denying that sex workers can be raped, even if they seem like opposite positions on the surface ( https://veganvixen1.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/rape-isnt-just-part-of-the-job-description/ ).

Supporting Exit Strategies Doesn’t Justify Denying Sex Workers’ Human Rights

This blog entry expands on the previous one about the current prostitution policy debates in the Canadian Parliament. I was reading over the transcripts some more ( http://openparliament.ca/bills/41-2/C-36/?tab=mentions&singlepage=1 ) and further noticing a disturbing trend in which people expressing the importance of getting people out of prostitution while speaking in support for C-36 (proposed legislation described in the previous blog entry) tend to trivialize efforts to support sex workers’ human rights while doing sex work. It doesn’t have to be an either-or thing since it is possible to support people looking to leave sex work while also supporting the human rights of people while doing sex work.

If anybody I’m referring to reads this and to anybody else who may have such attitudes, please stop acting like human rights do not matter while we’re doing sex work. Even if you find prostitution to be inherently oppressive, you don’t speak for all sex workers and it’s not okay for you to act like we need to leave sex work in order to be allowed basic human rights. We deserve them while we’re doing sex worker. As I expressed in the previous blog entry, hatred and oppressive policies against sex workers put sex workers at increased risk for violence. This includes, but is not limited to, the violence of forcibly hand-cuffing sex workers and forcing sex workers into jail cages under oppressive anti-prostitution laws. Though these are structural issues that extend beyond only sex work, misogyny, racism, transphobia, homophobia, and classism can permeate into sex work, affecting levels and frequency violence.

Also, arguing that there’s no way to guarantee safety in prostitution doesn’t justify trivializing efforts to increase degrees of safety. We’re never guaranteed to be perfectly safe in this world no matter where we are or what type of work we do. Thus, unless the world ever becomes perfectly safe, we need to consider safety in degrees rather than as absolute. Not all prostitution is equally as dangerous and there are safety precautions sex workers can take to decrease the likelihood of experiencing violence, such as screen clients. This includes not only indoor workers gathering names, phone numbers, checking references, etc. before ever meeting the client in person, but also street workers doing initial assessments of clients before getting into cars with them. The Swedish or Nordic model being promoted by many supporters of C-36 interferes with this by criminalizing the clients. As has been mentioned in testimony to the Canadian Parliament against C-36, Vancouver police have attempted this method and sex workers reported feeling more rushed by clients and less able to do screenings. Swedish sex workers reported similar experiences ( http://www.petraostergren.com/pages.aspx?r_id=40716 ).

Additionally, decreasing the client pool does not protect sex workers and has the opposite effect by putting sex workers in a position where it is harder to be selective about the clients they service, thus being more likely to go with clients they get a bad feeling about because they need the income. They are put in a position where they can only hope that these clients don’t turn out to be violent or take advantage of them, despite the bad vibes they got from the clients and how they would probably not service them if they had a wider client pool.

Considering how C-36 endangers sex workers when compared to decriminalization, it is not surprising that I have not noticed anybody identifying as a current sex worker supporting it. On the contrary, Amy Lebovitch, a plaintiff in the Bedford v. Canada case that ruled Canada’s anti-prostitution laws unconstitutional, testified to Parliament against C-36 while identifying as a current sex worker. Her testimony is in the first video on the left side of the screen in this link (http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/bill-c-36-hearings-told-not-to-conflate-prostitution-and-trafficking-1.2702095).

Violence is Violence, Not Just an Inherent Part of Prostitution–Canada at a Crossroads on Prostitution Policies

A major contemporary debate surrounding prostitution policies exits between advocates for decriminalization (the removal of laws prohibiting the exchange of sex for payment from the books, and does not decriminalize violence) and proponents of the end demand tactics, also sometimes referred to as the Swedish or Nordic model that criminalize the clients rather than the sex workers. Yet, sex workers still reported being adversely affected by this legislation (http://www.petraostergren.com/pages.aspx?r_id=40716).

Such a dispute is underway in the Canadian Parliament. In 2007, three Canadian sex workers filed a lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws. Before then, prostitution was legal in Canada to a limited degree–though some of the activities surrounding prostitution were illegal. Specifically, the sex workers challenged the criminalization of running a brothel, third parties who made a living at least in part off prostitution (such as bodyguards, drivers, accountants, etc.), and street solicitation. Under the latter of these, communication in public for the purposes of prostitution is illegal–which criminalizes street-based sex workers. As Nikki Thomas explains, this provision criminalizes not only communication between sex workers and clients about the exchange of sex for payment, but also sex workers publically communicating with each other about safety issues related to prostitution ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GIoTV9ypn8 ).

On Dec. 20, 2013, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled these anti-prostitution laws Unconstitutional under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees the right to life, liberty, and freedom. Yet, there’s a catch. The Supreme Court gave the Canadian Parliament a year to review the legislation and pass alternative prostitution laws. Parliament is in the process of doing this and if Parliament doesn’t pass new prostitution legislation by the deadline, then Canada will have no prostitution laws (basically, a decriminalized system that the sex workers who filed the lawsuit are advocating for) or Parliament can request an extension.

Parliament is considering C-36, which will further criminalize clients and still criminalize street solicitation if anybody under the age of 18 is around. Though supporters tend to sugarcoat over how this would still criminalize sex workers and act like it is mainly about going after the clients, opponents argue that such legislation will further endanger sex workers and is no better than the legislation deemed Unconstitutional. For example, this would keep street workers in isolated, more dangerous areas because they may not necessarily know if anybody under the age of 18 is around when they’re in public or somebody under this age may come by while they’re communicating even if they weren’t there at first.

I’ve been following the hearing on this legislation, reading the transcript (http://openparliament.ca/bills/41-2/C-36/?page=3) and watching videos. Something particularly disturbing is how supporters of C-36 consistently treat violence like an inherent part of prostitution, though this attitude is nothing new and not specific just to Canada. This treating of violence like just part of the job description promotes and encourages violence, even if that’s not the intent. It can give people who commit violence against sex workers the message that their violence is just something to be expected in prostitution. Attitudes like this trivialize violence against sex workers and promote a climate where sex workers who experience violence are subject to a “what did you expect” type of attitude rather than being taken seriously.

Such attitudes bring to mind a quote by Gary Ridgeway, who committed the largest known serial killing spree in U.S. history. He killed at least 48 people, targeting street sex workers. He said that he targeted sex workers because he hated prostitutes and could get away with killing as many as he wanted. This happened under a criminalized system of prostitution and for about two decades, he was right about being about to get away with killing sex workers. It wasn’t until almost two decades later that he was charged with the murders.

Ridgeway’s comments illustrate how violence against sex workers, including murder, is not just inherent to prostitution. Rather, hatred against sex workers and oppressive policies promote such violence. Arguments that violence is an inherent part of prostitution are dangerous, overly simplistic, and do nothing to address such factors that lead to violence against sex workers. These include the factors already mentioned as well as how they intersect with misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, and classism to create a climate where violence is perceived as just a natural part of prostitution. Yet, this is not natural. It’s based on oppression. Such oppressiveness promotes violence, not prostitution in and of itself. Here is very powerful testimony from Naomi Sayers of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform. Her testimony in a Parliament hearing on C-36 is in the second video on the left side of the screen in this link (http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/former-sex-workers-make-their-cases-in-prostitution-bill-debate-1.2698425). .

The situation in Canada is a microcosm who global debates concerning prostitution policies. Yet, in Canada, sex workers filed a lawsuit challenging anti-prostitution laws which made it to the nations highest court, which ruled unanimously in the sex workers’ favor. Also, in Canada, this dispute concerning prostitution laws has extended beyond the blogosphere and public as well as private discussions outside of political arenas, and made it specifically into Parliament.

In Loving Memory of Robyn Few

Sadly, Robyn Few, a founder of the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project-USA, passed away this morning (Sept. 13) from cancer. I remember Robyn as a strong, compassionate, caring, vivacious, and intelligent person. We first met in-person during the Measure Q campaign (an initiative to symbolically decriminalize prostitution) in Berkeley, CA in 2004. I have fond memories of sleeping on her floor for three weeks. We’ve seen each other various times since then, the most recent being at the opening of the Robyn Few Sex Workers’ Resource Center in Tucson, AZ this past June.  Robyn was a very resilient person, identifying as a survivor of incest who ran away from home at age 14. She really had the strength to put herself “on the line” as social justice advocate, being subject to verbal assaults by some openents of the sex workers’ justice movement.  Yet, nothing got in the way of her compassion and determination to support the human rights of sex workers. She devoted so much time and energy to advcating for the rights and well-being of sex workers, even amidst all the backlash and verbal attacks she was subject to for this advocacy-which still persisted while her condition was deteriorating due to cancer and she was no longer in a position to defend herself.  I’m proud to say sex worker advocacy lives on and we’re not letting anybody’s maliciousness stop us from promoting the human rights of sex workers. Though Robyn has passed on, her spirit remains with us. Here’s a beautiful website honoring Robyn, where we can learn about her and post stories: http://robynfew.com/ .  The last I checked, the website hasn’t been updated since Robyn passed away, so it still said she lives in the Bay Area.

Backlash against Sex Positive Feminism

There are so many types of feminisms that I have trouble keeping track of them all. One type is sex positive feminism. Broadly speaking, this feminist genre focuses on how sexuality can be liberating and empowering to women. Sex positive feminists challenge puritanical, narrow views of sex and address how there are many sides to sexuality. They also seek to shift the focus in feminism from mainly negative things with the word “sexual” to focus on the positive. This does not mean ignoring issues such as sexual assault or sexual violence, and sex positive feminists are addressing such issues from different angles than feminists traditionally have. An example would be the book titled “Yes Means Yes”, which I interpret as a sex positive feminist anthology with writings from multiple authors.
“No means no” has been a long-time slogan in feminist movements as a way to protest rape and additional forms of violence, arguing that if we say no, you need to listen, take us seriously, and respect that. “Yes means yes” doesn’t negate “no means no”. Both slogans can and must exist in harmony. To me, “yes means yes” addresses how allowing women freedom to our bodies must also mean allowing us the freedom to say “yes, oh yes!”

Though sex positive feminism is not just about sex work, the backlash against sex positive feminism has also permeated into the sex workers rights movement, on the ground that people (and not only people who are anti-sex work) have criticized this movement for being too sex positive and addressed how sex positive feminism is detrimental to the movement. Instead of arguing that the sex workers rights movement is too sex positive, I would argue that the sex workers rights movement recognizes multiple realities in the sex industry-trade, instead of looking at it as all one way or as a binary where it is all either this way or that way. Yes, there are people within the movement who have expressed positive experiences with and outlooks on sex work, but the movement still recognizes that this isn’t the only side.

Even considering how the conflation with sex positive feminism is used against the sex workers’ rights movement, I argue against silencing sex workers in the movement who express positive attitudes because that would go against what I see as one of the main tenets of sex workers’ rights advocacy–supporting the right of sex workers to define our experiences for ourselves. Though it’s important to acknowledge our privileges, attempting to shut up sex workers who speak positively about our work is a way of “otherizing” sex workers. I say this because I do not know of any other occupation where people’s perspectives are dismissed on the grounds that they’re too overly privileged or out of touch with reality when they speak positively about their work, and sex workers should not be treated this way either. Like, would we say this about a doctor who describes their work as important or meaningful. After all, there are privileges to being a doctor, such as often making really nice salaries and it takes some level of privilege to be able to spend all those years in medical school, which takes time away from being able to work for pay which some people need to do to survive. I’m not saying we should dismiss doctors who express positive perspectives about their work, but hopefully, people get the point…Furthermore, I’m not saying that sex work is just like any other occupation because no two occupations are identical, but sex workers still deserve the same human rights and the same freedom to define our experiences and perspectives for ourselves.

Additionally, when sex workers speak positively about our work, that does not mean all of our experiences have been positive. Rather, this could be a way to give us positive energy that we need, as it can be very distressing to just focus on the negative.

Sex positive feminism has also been criticized for focusing little to none on race and class issues. Though these are valid criticisms important to be mindful of and address, sex positive feminism still does make important contributions despite its shortcomings. I’ll draw an analogy to the gay rights movement (now called the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) rights movement). When this movement emerged on a large scale, the movement took on a positive word “gay”, which means happy. This was a positive way to challenge the negativity against and “pathologizing” of gays. Likewise, sex positive feminism has also taken on positive language such as the word “positive” to challenge the negativity toward women’s sexuality and sexual expression, and to challenge stigmas against sex workers who make a living through sexual services, entertainment, and/or companionship.

That being said, it’s important not to assume that everybody who doesn’t identify as a sex positive feminist is sex negative.  There’s not that simply of a binary or a dichotomy, and there are a complexity of reasons why people might or might not identify by the sex positive label.


Dr. Oz’s Segment on Child Sex Trafficking

I don’t watch much TV, but one of the shows I sometimes watch is the Dr. Oz show due to my interest in health, nutrition, and fitness. Today, a segment about sex trafficking aired. It was a preview of an investigative report by Lisa Ling that will air on Oprah Winfrey’s channel, called the O Network. Ling was among the guests, as were two sex trafficking survivors, the mother of a sex trafficking survivor, and the head of the FBI’s Innocence Lost project.

I appreciated Ling and Dr. Oz both distinguishing between prostitutes and sex slaves, thus challenging the conflation of all prostitution with slavery. Prositutes get paid for sexual services, but sex slaves don’t. Ling also distinguished between sex slavery and consensual prostitution, saying that being a sex slave is different from being a prostitute because sexual slavery isn’t a choice.

Something else that really stood out to me was how one of the trafficking survivors named Holly Austin Smith said that she didn’t think she’d be able to get away from her trafficker if she wasn’t arrested. Here’s a link to her website: www.HollyAustinSmith.com  .  Did anybody reach out to Holly without arresting her?  Was there anywhere she could go besides jail?   It disgusts me so much that we live in a society where any trafficking victim needs to be arrested to get away from the traffickers and indicates a lack of outreach, accessible safe houses, and other services for trafficked people. This tells me that resources need to be redirected, with the funds used to arrest sex workers and trafficking victims being reallocated to outreach and safe houses. Arresting trafficking victims is treating them like criminals, so victims need other alternatives besides arrests. Ling acknowledged that child sex trafficking victims are being treated like criminals.

This is one of the reasons why advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution is part of the efforts to stop sex trafficking. This way, resources being wasted on arresting sex workers, non-abusive clients, and trafficked people can be put towards providing outreach, safe houses, and efforts to make trafficking less likely to happen in the first place. An anti-trafficking activist mentioned how there was a real scarcity of safe houses and how it was difficult to find funding for these, so it disgusts me that while people who have a genuine interest in assisting trafficked people are having trouble getting funding, so much is being wasted on making arrests against sex workers, clients (just for being clients even if they aren’t abusive), and trafficked people.

The FBI’s Innocence Lost project runs Operation Cross County, in which the federal government funds local law enforcement agencies and the FBI to set up sting operations in the name of stopping child sex trafficking. Yet, if that’s what these sting operations are mainly about, then why are adult sex workers being incarcerated under these sting operations.

I read an article in the Boston Globe about two sex workers who were arrested by 17 FBI agents in a sting operation at the Mariott though Operation Cross County. I have no idea why it takes 17 FBI agents to arrest two sex workers nor do I get what this has to do with stopping child sex trafficking. I read about how the sex workers were kicking and screaming as they were being arrested, and a hotel guest who witnessed this complained to management. I was traumatized just reading about this, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for the sex workers who experienced it. Here’s a link to the article: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/02/21/5_arrested_in_us_sting_at_marriott/ .

Arresting sex workers for prostitution isn’t simply a necessary evil in efforts to stop sex trafficking. It’s a major human rights abuse that must end. It’s a horrible violation of our right to our bodies that anybody is being arrested for engaging in consensual sexual behaviors, and if they’re not consenting, then why are they being arrested and treated like criminals. I don’t agree with criminalizing children for prostitution on either. On the one hand, they’re widely perceived as victims, but on the other hand, they’re being arrested like criminals or suspected criminals under anti-prostitution laws. This must change. If prostitution were decriminalized, then these children would no longer be criminalized for prostitution. However, it would still be illegal for adults to have sex with children in prostitution under laws prohibiting sex with underage people.

Not surprisingly, the director of the Innocence Lost project mentioned nothing about how sex workers are being arrested under this program.

Did anybody see this segment of the Dr. Oz show about child sex trafficking?  If so, what did you think?

What Are You Doing to Get People Out of Prostitution

A staunch anti-sex work activist asked sex worker advocates about what we’re doing to get people out of prostitution. Well, this would actually be a fair question if we weren’t so busy having to peacefully fight for our own rights. Before asking us this, perhaps she should ask herself what she’s doing to stop the incarceration and major human rights abuses against sex workers under the anti-prostitution laws that are “supposed” to be about stopping human trafficking:  http://blip.tv/sexworkerspresent/anti-trafficking-cambodia-the-reality-full-version-977233.   Since when does persecuting and abusing sex workers stop human trafficking.   She also needs to ask herself about what she’s doing to stop violence against sex workers beyond promoting anti-prositution laws that encourage this; and what she’s doing to promote the well-being and agency of sex workers while we’re sex workers.

Nonetheless, I’ll respond to the question anyway. Criminalizing and stigmatizing prostitution creates obstacles to people looking to exit the industry and people who are looking for jobs in addition to prostitution, as various employers do criminal background checks, and applicants almost always need to list past employment (such as the past 3 jobs, etc.) on job applications. Similiar things could be said about resumes. If prostitution weren’t criminalized or stigmatized,  this would be no problem, as sex workers would be able to include this information without fear of being discriminated against for being sex workers or incriminating oneself. Thus, one thing we’re doing to help people exit prostitution is advocating for the decriminalization and destigmatization of prostituiton.

In cases where people have trouble exiting prostitution due to lack of other viable job opportunities, prostitution isn’t the core issue, but lack of viable job opportunities is.  Criminalizing prostitution or pressuring sex workers to leave the trade doesn’t just magically give these workers other job opportunities. 

The St. James Infirmary, a sex worker led health clinic in San Francisco, also employs current and former sex workers, and provides these workers with opportunities to develop different types of job skills, in terms of providing health care, health education, outreach, planning events, public relations, etc. Sex worker advocates in India provided a way for sex workers looking to exit or in need of extra income can make hand-made sanitary napkins for. Also, a sex worker advocate of Cambodian descent from San Francisco, created a socially concious design company that employed Cambodian sex workers, where they can make clothing and handbags for livable wages.

Also, another way we’re helping people exit prostitution who wish to is by promoting policies that increase the likelihood of people actually living long enough to exit the industry. Each year on Dec. 17 is International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. As part of this event, we read and remember names of sex workers killed over the past year and where they were killed if this information is known. Year after year, the vast majority of people on the lists were killed under criminalized systems of prostitution. It was in this context that the largest known serial killing spree in U.S. history occured, the Green River killings. Gary Ridgeway acknowledged killing 48 people in a two year killing spree in Seattle that lasted from 1982-1984, targeting street-based sex workers. He was likely connected with more murders, as there are unsolved murders of sex workers in that area. However, he wasn’t charged with those murders until about two decades later in 2003. It’s hard to imagine how many sex workers were arrested for prostitution over that same time period.

In a study of street prostitution in neighboring British Columbia, John Lowman found that murder rates against these sex workers went up after British Columbia make it illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution. He attributed this to anti-prostitution laws and hatred against sex workers: https://veganvixen1.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/how-the-swedish-anti-prostitution-legislation-harms-sex-workers/ .

How the Swedish Anti-Prostitution Legislation Harms Sex Workers

Sweden’s government has often led the way in progressive social justice legislation, but not with anti-prostitution laws. On the surface these policies may seem progressive. After all, they break through the double-standard in which sex workers (who are largely women) are more likely to be arrested than clients (who are largely men). The legislation criminalizes the clients, but not the sex workers. So what’s wrong with this legislation?

If gender double-standards were the only problem with anti-prostitution laws, then there would be nothing wrong. However, there’s a lot more wrong with anti-prostitution laws and it’s important to look beyond the surface.

Sweden’s anti-prostitution policies have received praise from various anti-sex work feminists, politicians, and others. Yet, various Swedish sex workers have  expressed very different feelings about this legislation. Rather than just jumping on the bandwagon in support of the Swedish model, Petra Ostergren spoke with Swedish sex workers about this and listened to their concerns. Despite the fact that this legislation was “supposed” to protect them, Swedish sex workers reported the opposite. They reported that their work became more dangerous after this legislation passed and that they have less agency and control over their working conditions. For example, they reported a higher percentage of clients demanding unsafe sex acts and less agency to turn down such clients. Sex workers also reported that criminalizing the clients hindered their ability to screen them, thus further jeopardizing the sex workers’ safety.  Here’s a link to Ostergren’s report: http://petraostergren.com/pages.aspx?r_id=40716

Additionally and relatedly, this legislation is very pateralistic, so it’s interesting that some people who identify as feminists would support it. It totally infantalizes women in prostitution, treating us like we’re all incapable of making decisions for what we do with our own bodies. This is very disappointing, especially from a country’s that’s often so progressive. I would expect better from the Swedish government.

This is exemplifies how paternalistic legislation under the guise of protecting women further endangers us. (I’m not Swedish, but use the term “us” because I’m a woman and a sex worker). I realize that not all sex workers are women, but I use the term “women” because the language in the legislation targets women in prostitution as victims, without recognizing the multiple realities that exist in prostitution and how legislation such as this increases the likelihood of victimization. Though I don’t like to impose the victim label onto sex workers, various Swedish sex workers seem to feel that the legislation victimizes them more than sex work does.

The anti-criminalization of consensual sex acts whether for free or for payment is the way to go.  The abuses and violence that sometimes occur inside and outside of prostitution would still be illegal.  To criminalize somebody just for paying for sex makes as little sense as criminalizing somebody just for having sex for free.  Though this may seem overly simplistic, it is this simple when we look at anti-prostitution laws.  Just like I find it problematic to overly simplify complex concepts, I also find it problematic to make concepts more complicated than they need to be.  Though there are a lot of complexities in prostitution, legally speaking, the only thing that differentiates prostitution from non prostitution is the exchange of payment for sex.

Here’s additional info. about the Swedish model:

So, if you think the Swedish model is progressive, think again…