Daily Archives: April 28th, 2014

Extreme definition of ‘survival sex worker’ erases male violence

I found this poster a while ago on tumbler:

survival sex worker

It was re-blogged positively on the ‘sex worker problems’ tumbler.

Survival Sex Worker
a person who works in the sex industry who can’t access the right to refuse sex work

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any alternative images that show the rest of the poster.

I meant to write about it in more depth, but I was reminded of it by two articles I read in the Guardian today.

Putting aside the obfuscatory language (“can’t access the right to refuse” = can’t say no), under any other circumstances, a person in a situation where they can’t say no to sex is a victim of rape. But here, because money has changed hands, it’s not rape, it’s ‘survival sex work’. My previous understanding of ‘survival sex work’ or survival prostitution, was people prostituting in order to get their next meal, or a roof over their head for the night, ie, to avoid immediate starvation or harm from environmental exposure.

The above definition re-labels any kind of forced prostitution, including trafficking and sex slavery, as ‘survival sex work’, and thereby conveniently erases the traffickers, the pimps and the johns.

The first article I read today was this one, on the Japanese army’s ‘comfort women’ during World War II. Under the above definition, these women were not victims of male, military violence, they were ‘survival sex workers’ and the institutions and individuals who abused them disappear.

The second article was this one, about the testimony of a man who was abused in an Australian religious institution as a boy, he is quoted as saying (that because of the lack of food): “I would do anything and let anyone do anything to me, just for a feed.” By the above definition, he was not a victim of abuse but a ‘survival sex worker’ (or, rather, a ‘juvenile survival sex worker’), exchanging ‘sex work’ for food, and the men who abused him have disappeared.


What questions were they asking?

Whenever I hear someone say ‘sex workers want xyz’ I always wonder under what circumstances the question was asked.

Ask a woman working on the street whether she would prefer to be in a brothel and she may well say yes (on the other hand, she may have worked in brothels already, and found it so abusive the streets seem safer), because she’s thinking about how she’s going to get through the next 24 hours.

Ask the same woman if she would like long term help with drug-addiction, homelessness, lack of education/work skills, physical and mental health issues, she may well say yes to that as well.

Sex industry advocates/researchers/etc often have nothing more to offer than free cups of coffee, clean needles, condoms, lubricant, and harm reduction ‘advice’ on the best way to be penetrated when you are already in pain from being penetrated multiple times already.

If the people asking the question aren’t actually offering you any real alternatives, when the tacit statement underlying the question is ‘given that you are going to be in prostitution for the rest of your life’ what else are you going to say?

Also, given the victim-hating hostility that comes from many sex industry advocates, and even academics – calling victims liars, trying to intimidate and discredit them – what woman would speak up about it if she did feel like a victim?

(From a comment I left in yesterday’s thread here)