Decriminalization of Sex Work Essay

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From this perspective, the act of selling sex for money is not inherently harmful to women. Advocates for sex workers’ rights view consensual sexual activity among adults for money as an occupational choice of individual sex workers who decide to sell sex for money. Sex work is a term consciously used by advocates to identify sex for money as legitimate work. To these activists, there is no difference between a woman who chooses to sell her vagina for intercourse and one who sells her hands for dishwashing, her body for modeling, or her brain for calculating.

These advocates posit that to believe that all women in prostitution are exploited is to reject a fundamental feminist principle of valuing and accepting the existence of multiple realities in women’s lives. Further, dismissing the claims of sex workers that they are not exploited and are choosing sex work denies their reality, is materialistic, and serves to silence their voice.

Sex work disturbs the sensibilities of society and is therefore deemed a crime. When prostitution is made a crime, sex workers are oppressed and prevented from exercising their right to self-determination and denied the basic human right to control their own body. Feminists agree that women should control the decision to have an abortion, because each woman’s body is her own, but in the same breath will not assign ownership and decision making to a woman who chooses to sell her body for money.

In recent years sex worker rights advocates have argued and lobbied for decriminalization of sex work and for protection of sex workers under a free and democratic society. Their argument is rooted in the American ideal of free choice and free enterprise denied under a society that stigmatizes sex workers and asserts political control over an often misinterpreted and largely misunderstood issue.

Advocates put forth several reasons why sex work among consenting adults is demonized by society. At the core of their argument is the fundamental belief about women and male ownership of a woman’s sexuality through marriage or commitment. Sex workers challenge the very system built to maintain this status quo. Because prostitution is one of the few work experiences where women dominate the field financially and challenge beliefs about gender and sexuality, it remains stigmatized and unaccepted. Indeed it is this stigma, labeling, and demonizing by society that creates a perspective and societal milieu that pushes sex work underground where it can be dangerous and psychologically and physically harmful to women.

Policies And Programs Supported By Sex Worker Rights Advocates

Legalization of prostitution is not popular among sex worker advocates because it typically means state control over a woman’s activities. To them, legalization may involve new taxes, restrictions, and regulations on when, where, and how to work; mandated licenses and registration; and a host of other costs designed to be financially coercive. Advocates for sex worker rights support the decriminalization of all aspects of adult prostitution, including those who purchase or manage the women involved.

Sex worker advocates acknowledge that although sex work may be a temporary job for some women, all sex workers need proper health care and prevention, awareness, and interventions to keep them safe, healthy, and prosperous. Thus, these advocates support and operate harm reduction programs designed to reduce and/or prevent violence, HIV, and poor health outcomes and to promote health, safety, and overall well-being. Sex worker advocates conduct outreach, operate clinics, and provide needed social services. Beyond direct service with sex workers, advocates engage in local, national, and international advocacy to facilitate discussion; promote sex worker decriminalization; and push for more sex work–friendly agendas in their own communities as well as in other parts of the world.

Reducing Violence Against Women By Decriminalizing Prostitution

Preventing violence against women in sex work is at the forefront of the sex worker rights agenda. However, attempting to rescue women who are not victims is viewed as demeaning and disrespectful to these women. Advocates acknowledge that street based prostitution, the bottom rung of sex work, is fraught with violence, risks of HIV, poor mental health outcomes, and drug addiction.

While street-based prostitution is estimated to occupy upwards of 30% of all prostitution, most published research is focused on street prostitution and generalized to the experiences of all women in prostitution. Critics argue that this is an unfair and biased reporting of the experience of prostitution.

Advocates believe that violence against women in sex work would be reduced if such work were a legitimate profession in which sex workers were afforded all of the protections of society that women in other professions have. The example of the sexually harassed secretary, who without the protections of workplace policies and the support of society would have to suffer continued victimization at the hands of her employers and other male employees, serves as a case in point. The secretary who is victimized has access to formal complaints and protections under the law.

Decriminalizing sex work is, in the minds of these advocates, the best way to respond to violence against this population of women. Decriminalizing prostitution removes the fear that women have to report the violence inflicted on them to authorities.

Advocates For The Cause

The following are among the trendsetting leaders in the movement regarding sex workers’ rights: Robin Few, Margo St. James, Carol Leigh, and Norma Almovodar. Some of the most notable U.S.-led movements have come from Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE), International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture, and Education (IASFACE), St. James Infirmary, and the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).


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