Thursday, March 06, 2008

Late, as always: International Sex Workers Rights...

h/t Cara

I'm several days late on this, but, then, I didn't even realize that it was Sex Worker's Rights day on the 3rd. Until I read Cara's post, I didn't even know that there was an International Sex Worker's Rights day. I am woefully out of touch, I think.


I've written about my complicated feelings on pornography before. Part of the problem is that the arguments about how porn is harmful can be quite compelling, relying, as many of them do, on emotional reactions to the statistics about the types of violence that people involved in sex-work face. It's hard not to be moved by stories about "sex tourism", or the violence that sex-workers sometimes face at the hands of Johns.

But then I remember that I dislike violence against women precisely because it's violence, regardless of what occupation the woman has. I remember that I'm opposed to the sex tourism industry because raping children is wrong, regardless of what motivates you to do so.

A commenter- Betty Boondoggle- raises a good point, over at Cara's:
Aren’t our efforts better employe in improving the conditions so that all the workers are safer? I would like to assume that this is the “official” position. I’m getting the feeling though, that I might be wrong.

I certainly don't think that the sex-industry is perfect. It's pretty obvious that there are some serious problems. But, it occurs to me that pushing the industry underground isn't necessarily the best way to help the women working in it. If my boss is treating me unfairly, I have legal means to pursue justice. If I'm not paid fairly, I can get compensation. If someone is working illegally as a prostitute, and has been wronged in some way- cheated out of money, forced to work in unsafe conditions... whatever- what recourse is there? None. You can't go to the police, or else they'll likely arrest you. You can't take your employer to court... what would you say?

And, no: I don't think that men have some kind of "right" to women's bodies. I think that all of us have a right to have sex, so long as we don't attempt to infringe on another person's right to personal autonomy. My right to sex ends where another person's body begins. And, I think that all of us have a right to safe working conditions, and fair wages- to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

I also don't think that prostitution or stripping or whatever are somehow empowering to women. They might be personally empowering, but empowering in the broad sense? No. Why should that matter, though? Most jobs aren't particularly empowering. Pointing out that sex work isn't empowering isn't an argument against sex work. It's an argument against most work. Or not really an argument at all, I suppose.

My point, in-so-far as I actually have one, is that criminalizing and denigrating women for being involved in sex work is the opposite of helpful. Talk about how women are brainwashed into sex work strikes me as dehumanizing and offensive. The problems that sex workers face aren't solved by sweeping them under the rug or by further alienating them by insulting them or by criminalizing their behavior. The problems they face are much better solved by actually engaging in dialogue with sex workers to find out what kinds of support they want and need. The problems are solved by helping change the ways that we view sex and sex workers.

I'd be remiss if I didn't suggest checking out Renegade Evolution and Being Amber Rhea (also at the GA Podcast Network, since I can't read Being Amber Rhea at work!). Oh, and $pread Magazine.

And, I also wanted to take a moment to link to SWIMW: Sex Workers' International Media Watch. They've got a lot of really great information there, even if the organization is "currently inactive", and I've found a lot of interesting information and essays- including Addressing Sex Work as Labor, by Melissa Ditmore (for the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery), and Sex Worker's Rights and Media Ethics:
Notes for Journalists
, by Jo Weldon.

1 comment:

assembling words to armory, she waits... said...

Most jobs aren't particularly empowering. Pointing out that sex work isn't empowering isn't an argument against sex work. It's an argument against most work.

what a great point, roy! when dealing with a hot-button (cringeworthy buzzword, i know, but it's the first that comes to mind)issue such as sex work, so many people get caught up in the political details. but honestly, people have the right to earn money, earn it fairly, and be respected. whether or not it's fighting the system isn't typically crucial to those in the industry. survival and success is what matters.