Despite being the ‘world’s oldest profession’, and being present in some form pretty much everywhere all the time, sex work gets a bad rap. It is talked about in a whisper, swept under the rug. Societal norms would have you believe that sex work is the lowest a woman could sink. They’re usually painted as desperate women, forced into the job by circumstance or by abusive pimps. While this is still, sadly, too often the case, there are sex workers that chose their career all on their own.
I’ve had a look at some of the arguments against the legalisation of prostitution. Many of them seem to come from a good place, with genuine concern for those wrapped up in it, but for sex workers these arguments are misguided.
Prostitution encourages violence against women and is misogynistic
Unfortunately we still live in a patriarchal society and there are still too many incidents where men treat women badly. Take a look at recent Hollywood scandals, stories of politicians groping staff members – or maybe just ask any woman you’ve ever known and she’ll tell you some shocking stories! Misogyny can rear its ugly head anywhere.
Any man worth his salt should have the decency to treat every woman with respect; this includes women who provide them with services. Pro-crim (pro-criminalisation) activists will say that paying for a woman’s sexual services are inherently sexist – treating them as merchandise. They say that a prostitute may not like or be attracted to a client, but sleeping with them for money means they are ‘selling their bodies’. However, any woman who has worked in customer services will tell you – you don’t always like your customers! Service with a smile, even in the face of people you don’t particularly want to smile at, and running around all day selling food or things to people often means you get treated with a lack of respect, and by definition you are putting on a front and using your body to please people. Do waitresses ‘sell their bodies’?
We should absolutely encourage men who visit prostitutes or watch porn to respect sex workers. A man who disrespects a waitress would be seen as callous and nasty, and it should be no different for a man who disrespects a woman providing him with sexual services. Driving prostitution underground and turning it into a sleazy, criminal underworld only encourages this. In Amsterdam’s famous red light district, the workers have access to panic buttons, bouncers, and the streets are under CCTV surveillance. Try being rude to a sex worker there!
Legalising prostitution puts women in danger
The amount of sex workers who have faced violence at the hands of clients and pimps is shocking. But is keeping the sale of sex illegal really the best way to protect them? Anti-crime activists argue that when sex workers fear going to the police in case they get arrested themselves, they can be attacked by clients without there being any legal consequences for their abusers. It can leave them open to pimps who promise to offer ‘protection’. The law should protect people from sex trafficking, and being forced into prostitution, but it should not be used to punish women who entered sex work of their own free will, or the men who use their services respectfully and safely. Legal sex work also allows for better regulation, with regular sexual health check-ups and required condom use.
Legalisation boost the industry and makes pimps richer
Current estimates value the sex industry at $189 million worldwide. That’s a lot of tax money not being put back into the system. Pimps and exploiters thrive on offering girls protection in a dangerous profession. If sex workers are earning legally, their money is protected just like anyone else’s is. In decrim countries like New Zealand, sex workers have even sued the owners of brothels for attacking or harassing them. After NZ passed its laws reforming sex work, prostitutes reported back greater safety and ability to turn away clients.
Here’s how best to keep sex workers legal and safe;
- Empower the workers themselves, not the state in the ability to control them, or big-business brothel owners. See the German vs New Zealand model.
- Improve safety. Zero tolerance towards abuse and safety measures like panic buttons.
- Teach respect for sex workers.
- Above all – listen to sex workers themselves!
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