At this point in my life, I strongly support the decriminalization of sex work. For too long, society has stigmatized and criminalized sex work, ignoring the fact that it is a legitimate profession that provides a valuable service. Decriminalization would help to remove the stigma and provide sex workers with the legal protections and human rights they deserve.
But I hadn’t always been this way. Growing up, I had always equated sex work with desperation, sex trafficking, and abuse. While my inner exhibitionist was fascinated with many women who worked in porn, the contradiction between enjoying sex work on film yet also disapproving of it off-set never occurred to me.
This started to change during my second year of college. One girl I knew from my apt complex -we’ll call her Alyssa- worked off campus. She worked out of state. She flew out to Vegas to dance about a few weekends per semester, and never once had a problem with her monthly expenses. Alyssa had been one of the prettiest, nicest, girls I knew that year. She even invited me to get into dancing with her. I contemplated it for a time, but only a time. I was to chicken to go through with it.
Later that year, I noticed that Alyssa no longer maintained serious relationships with men. This was also the year the housing crisis made any work anywhere bad for people our age, and I can remember almost trembling about my own future loans. On the other hand, Alyssa continued to work. Eventually, she confirmed to a few of us what we had suspect. She had moved on to work more lucrative -significantly so- than merely dancing.
Alyssa kept her work quiet for her safety and privacy, but what she didn’t have any shame about it. Once, we talking about the business side of her work, I said “it sounds like capitalizing on empathy.” She agreed that it was, as sometimes clients simply loved to talk. Alyssa had access to a place to work, that was legal, and safe. It was not without its drama, for sure. But it didn’t fit the stereotypes in my head about what I thought sex work was.
I researched and wrote about sex work for an ethics class that year. I still agree with many things I wrote back then.
First and foremost, decriminalizing sex work would improve the safety and health of sex workers. Remember how I wrote that Alyssa had been safe? Everyone deserves to have safe place of business, no matter what kind of work they do. By removing the threat of arrest, sex workers would be more likely to report abuse and exploitation. This would lead to better working conditions and health outcomes for sex workers. Decriminalization would also allow sex workers to access healthcare services without fear of being penalized, leading to improved health outcomes for both workers and the broader community. Allowing sex workers to feel safe is not fundamentally different than OSHA standards enforced in any other profession.
Secondly, decriminalization would help to reduce stigma and discrimination against sex workers. By recognizing sex work as a legitimate profession, society can begin to break down the harmful stereotypes that have long been associated with sex work. This can lead to a more inclusive and accepting society that values the contributions of all workers, including sex workers. Someone recently noted on reddit: why do we destigmatize sex workers, but still stigmatize their clients? Let’s be clear on that point too: destigmatizing sex work destigmatizes their clients as well.
Thirdly, decriminalization can empower sex workers by giving them more control over their work and lives. Sex workers would be able to negotiate safer working conditions and better pay, and have the ability to refuse clients or types of work that they are uncomfortable with. This can lead to improved mental health outcomes and higher levels of job satisfaction.
Finally, decriminalizing sex work can have significant economic benefits. Criminalizing sex work is costly, with expenses associated with police enforcement and court costs. Decriminalization can also generate tax revenue, as sex workers would be able to work legally and pay taxes like other workers. This can help to alleviate some of the financial burden placed on taxpayers. Furthermore, it is fair for an industry that requires regulation, to be taxed for that regulation. Preventing crime through regulation of sex work is my favorite version of “defund the police.”
The decriminalization of sex work is a feminist issue that deserves our attention and support. By supporting the decriminalization of sex work, we can help to improve the safety, health, and human rights of sex workers while also having positive economic and public health benefits. It’s time to embrace a more inclusive and accepting society that supports the rights of all workers, including sex workers.