Why are sex industry advocates so dishonest?

I just came across this article in the Guardian, by two members of the “International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe”, which not once even acknowledges that those who oppose the decriminalisation of the entire sex industry, actually support a legal model that involves the decriminalisation of the prostitute her (or him) self, and that any abolitionist approach worthy of the name will also include funding for exit services.

What is dangerously missing from opponents’ arguments is that criminalisation itself reinforces both the social stigma and the material conditions that put individuals at risk. Sex workers as well as men who have sex with men, trans people, people who use drugs or migrants – different identities which often overlap – are all made much more vulnerable by being criminalised. Repressive legal frameworks force sex workers to operate underground or in isolated areas where they are vulnerable to rape and murder. Even worse, stigma means that sex workers are viewed by many people as “deserving” of abuse. Changing cultural values and norms so that sex workers are less stigmatised will take decades or centuries – but decriminalisation can be achieved in our lifetime.

This is what Amnesty did, insist that decriminalising prostitutes, while criminalising the pimps and johns was just the same as criminalising prostitutes.

There is also the very dishonest, and, frankly, homophobic, conflation of ‘sex work’ and homosexuality – are all gay men ‘sex workers’? Is decriminalising the sex industry a necessary prerequisite for decriminalising homosexuality?

Is decriminalising the sex industry a necessary prerequisite for having a sensible legal approach to drug use?

Is decriminalising the sex industry a necessary prerequisite for treating migrants well?

And again, there is this nebulous ‘stigma’ argument (which Glosswitch tackles so brilliantly here) – they are even admitting now (as Germany has shown), that decriminalising the sex industry doesn’t actually do anything to tackle this ‘stigma’ – and there is the entirely dishonest implication that those opposing decriminalisation think prostitutes deserve to be abused; there are many johns who think this, the number of abolitionists who do is zero.

The real ‘stigma’ here is misogyny, decriminalising the pimps and johns and the commodification of women’s bodies and sexuality and legitimising male entitlement does not challenge misogyny and patriarchy at all, it just reinforces it.

What sex industry advocates are saying – when it’s not all the magical choosy choices of already privileged women – is that woman are poor, so they ‘need’ ‘sex work’, rather than any other route out of poverty (and poor women and girls aren’t good for anything else anyway), so let’s paper over the cracks, round them all up into flat-rate brothels and out of town (and out of sight) ‘sex boxes’, and hand out condoms and lube, because that’s all we can do, that’s all those women are worth.


3 responses

  1. Here’s an example of someone flat-out lying over what the abolitionist approach means, insisting that a model that, by definition, means decriminalising prostitutes, actually means criminalisng prostitutes, including child victims of commercial sexual exploitation!

    The original article is here:


    and unless I’m doing something wrong, the comment thread seems to have disappeared, hence the screen-cap from my email account (I’m also revealing how infrequently I check said email account – whoops!)

  2. Well look at this:

    Change in Seattle law targets sex buyers

    Now, this isn’t actually decriminalisation (from the wording it’s down to police discretion as to whether or not to prosecute), but it is a first step towards it.

    When it comes to human trafficking, Seattle city leaders believe words matter.

    Last week, the city council voted unanimously to change the name of the crime of “patronizing a prostitute” to “sexual exploitation.”

    Those who work with survivors of the sex trade say it’s a shift that could save lives.

    In the sex trade, it’s known as walking the track. It’s a path most of them don’t chose. They’re abused, they’re alone. And for women like Marcy, they feel trapped.

    “I felt there was nothing else I could do. I felt it was all I knew, I felt like I was never going to make it out of that life alive,” Marcy recalled. She asked that we not use her real name.

    The goal behind changing what the crime is called, is changing how prostitution is viewed. Sexual exploitation targets the customers and recognizes that, in the majority of cases, the person being sold is a victim.

    “When we call it sex exploitation, it puts a lot more responsibility on the person who’s engaging in that activity and it says, ‘Am I willing to do something that’s exploitive to another person?’” said Amanda Hightower, Executive Director of REST– Real Escape from the Sex Trade.

    REST partners with Seattle Police. The idea is to provide sex workers a choice and a second chance.

    “Instead of taking them to jail they would have the opportunity to bring them to us,” said Hightower. “We don’t have time limits. We’re not going to end the relationship. We’re going to stick by your side as long as you want, the way that you want, that you feel is best for you.”

    Marcy remembers the day two years ago when a police officer stopped her. She thought she was going to jail.

    “But the officer at that point was like, ‘Do you want to get help? Do you want to get out of this?’”

    For Marcy, the answer was yes. After six years in the sex trade, she got out.

    “I finally had somebody positive speaking into my life. I’ve never and that, I’ve never had anybody care or try to steer me in the right way,” she said.

    Marcy is now on the right track, thanks to a police officer who gave her a choice and an organization that gave her a chance.

    “I’m clean today. I’m off the streets and I’m a good mother to my son. And I’m just striving to not let what I went through define me anymore,” said Marcy.

    Hightower says REST is now working toward building a long-term emergency receiving center for people trying to get out and stay out of the sex trade.

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