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.