Sex Work Advocacy

Sarah Epperson is a feminist illustrator – follow her on Instagram @Sarah.Epperson

Sex work is real work

I’ve always considered myself a feminist and I have been involved in supporting women in any way I could by addressing issues of injustice, demanding equal treatment and fighting against patriarchal oppression. However, I admit that I viewed sex work as a field that women enter when they had no other options. I wanted to raise awareness and help all these women in sex industry because I was under the impression that somehow, they were unlucky to find other means of survival.

At this point, it should be noted that some of the prejudice experienced by sex workers comes from the idea that this type of work is linked with human trafficking, where women are forced to perform sexual acts because their life and safety are threatened. Undoubtedly, this is still happening and international organisations in collaboration with governmental assistance and guidance are fighting to eliminate.

However, the difference between the two is clear – when there are consenting adults that wish to be involved in sex work, it ceases to be a problem. Why punish people whose choice is sex work?

Growing older, I realized that there are people who want and choose to be sex workers. After meeting and talking to sex work advocators, my entire view point shifted.

Sex work doesn’t have to be synonymous with oppression. It is time to free people from patriarchal narratives that don’t allow women – or anyone who identifies as one – to have control over their own bodies.

Let’s take for example a few nations that have fully decriminalized sex work. Some of them are New Zealand, where it was made legal in 2003, Australia, Austria, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Bangladesh, Canada, Brazil, France, Columbia and finally Germany, a country worth mentioning in this case, since it decriminalized sex work in 1927.

In the countries mentioned above, workers must pay taxes and in most cases are offered free health care and receive social benefits like pension (Germany).

Why sex work should stop being criminalised ?

Among all the reasons, I will distinguish the main one – safety and human respect.

Decriminalization will decrease police violence against sex workers

It is no surprise that police brutality has gotten out of control and it is a quite frequent phenomenon when it comes to sex workers.  The root of the problem is the fear of being arrested if sex workers decide to come forward and report the abuse to the police. Therefore, the police have many times used the conditions of criminalisation to abuse, threaten and take advantage of sex workers if they don’t comply. Criminalizing sex work will simply result to police exerting more pressure and not showing the necessary respect.

So, in the end, it is fair to assume that with the decriminalization of sex work, these individuals would no longer fear police arrest and would be willing to speak up, raise their voice and report incidents of violence.

Less violence from clients

We should also be aware of the fact that, similar to police brutality, sex workers also suffer from physical or emotional violence from their clients. This leads to numerous cases of assault, robbery or even murder because they are being continuously disregarded and not given the appreciation and respect every human being deserves.

This happens because these clients know that sex workers do not have the same constitutional protection and can get away with it. Conditions of criminalisation of sex work are continuing to put lives in danger and denying basic human rights.

The time has come and it is now crucial to suspend judgement, by acknowledging that fighting for sex workers’ rights is a fundamental contribution towards the feminist movement and will help reduce abuse against women. It is not a process that happens overnight. We do not change our mindset so easily. Like everything else, it requires listening, educating ourselves, and being willing to set aside preconceived notions.

Sex is not immoral.

Sex work between consenting adults is work and should be treated as such.

I want to end this by saying that everyone believes they are fighting the good fight. However, it is more essential than ever to keep our minds open in order to learn and unlearn, removing toxic narratives that enable racism, stereotyping and shaming others.

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