Amid all the terrible news lately, a slew of articles about several sex workers — and their clients — who were recently arrested popped up. These articles don’t impact me the way they should. Perhaps it’s the way the media portrays sex workers or simply the frustration I feel for a system that works against people who might legitimately want to earn a living in this method. If I’m being honest, I could think of far worse ways to make money than through prostitution, and I think I would prefer it to, say, starring in porn.
It’s not that I don’t sympathize with sex workers. I’ve thought their line of work should be legalized for years. And after reading the piece titled “Lost Boys” in Best Sex Writing 2013, I’ve thought about sex work more often and in a new light than before. That story certainly impacted me, and it’s stayed with me as I’ve read accounts about homeless teens who’ve been rejected by their families for coming out as gay as transgendered. Sex work is often the only logical reaction for these people; although, being forced by their circumstances can lead to some pretty dangerous situations. Still, it’s not always dire.
One thing that this story impressed upon me is how many people see sex work as a way to pay the bills or earn some extra money for the things that they want. It’s something that we all do and something that’s fairly encouraged in a capitalistic society. However, controlling a woman’s sexuality seems to trump capitalism in this case. If a woman’s body is her own, if she is to retain autonomy over it, then laws outright outlawing sex work are at odds with that right. Those laws enable people to literally police a woman’s sexuality. They take away the choice in the name of providing choice to people who may be unable to escape sex work. And while women are certainly not the only sex workers, people who want to make and keep it illegal focus on woman. Laws against sex workers are just another aspect in the war against women.
[In a related note, the UK’s decision to essentially outlaw female orgasms, ejaculation and pleasure in pornography is another unacceptable example of controlling women’s sexuality. It angers me to no end!]
I’m not saying that people who have been forced or coerced into sex work shouldn’t have a way out if they choose it, but I think there is room in society for both legal and safe sex work. If a woman wants to be an escort who provides sex in exchange for a fee, why should we, as a society stop her? Some people might argue that the demand for sex work exists solely because of the objectification of women in a misogynistic society. This may be a contributing factor, but men can also be sex workers. Indeed, there are likely more male escorts than people realize. And a woman can enjoy sex and authority over her own body without succumbing to the patriarchy.
Furthermore, legalization paves the way for both taxation and regulation, which, if done correctly, could both become a source of revenue and offer protection to sex workers. Options such as healthcare and routine testing that may not be available to some sex workers could become available to those people if prostitution and escorting became legal.
Those same protections could extend to sexual and physical abuse, which sex workers experience far too often. Rather than hiding their work for fear of being arrested or even raped by police, these men and women would be able to seek legal and judicial protection from the people, typically men, who pray on sex workers. When a sex worker has no one to turn to, that violence continues because perpetrators know they won’t be caught or have to pay a price. However, legalization would protect those who want to be in this line of work while highlighting those who are victims of sex trafficking, and this is a distinction that must be made.
Legalizing sex work would open a lot of doors, from opening communications and networking between sex workers themselves (trading safety tips, rating clients, et cetera) and their clients via websites like Escorts and Babes (without fear that those websites would be targeted by law enforcement). Aside from safety, sex workers would likely see improvements in health due to a decrease in STIs. Transmission often occurs as a result of violence (rape) without a condom, and editors of one medical journal have explicitly stated that legalization of sex work is the only option to protect sex workers from sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. And studies show this is truth. Just consider Rhode Island, where prostitution was technically legal for about two decades. During this time, transmission of some STIs and reported rapes both dropped.
If this could happen in the 1990s, then surely sex work could be legalized in 2014 and beyond with consequences that are both sex positive and positive for society.