Posted at 23:07 on 5 Jan 2014 by Pandora Blake
Happy 2014! I've been a bit of a hermit so far this year: a combination of recovering from NYE, caring for a sick cat, trying to catch up on work, and (as of this weekend) coming down with a cold myself. As a result, I've been on Twitter more than usual, where I've witnessed something truly extraordinary emerge in the last few days. #notyourrescueproject is a hashtag created by sex workers, for sex workers, to challenge the media and radfem narrative that paints us as victims incapable of consent.
The thread arose out of a conversation between @wassailinggirl, @mollidesi, @nagarvadhu and @BlasianBytch, among others. Right from the start, this was a conversation rooted in the experience of sex workers from a range of backgrounds, including migrants, women of colour, and abuse survivors (although these origins have been obscured by subsequent press coverage focussing on tweets from white SWs).
WassailingGirl has put together a Storify that documents the conversation's beginnings - it's long, but it's well worth reading. I saw the hashtag kick off on Thursday night, and added a few contributions of my own. Shortly afterwards the conversation exploded until it was flowing faster than I could follow it.
I know that my experience is not representative of all people working in the sex industry. The sample of us posting in Twitter in English, and connected to the people campaigning for decriminalisation, is not globally representative either, but the thing that prohibitionists persistently fail to do is listen to the voices of sex workers themselves. Whatever you think you know about sex work, I can guarantee you that there will be some surprises in this feed.
I can't possibly represent the full range of voices and perspectives here - the best thing is for you to go and read it for yourselves. But here are a few that stood out for me:
In particular, @mollidesi has some eye-opening information about what it's like to be held in an NGO rescue centre:
The overwhelming message that emerges is that sex workers know what is best for them, and resent outside influence that seeks to prevent them from making their own choices. Most workers want to be able to work legally and safely, without fear of abuse from the police, law or "rescue". There are far more stories of fear or abuse from these agencies than from pimps or clients.
On the subject of criminalisation, Feminist Ire has just published a revealing article about the much-lauded "Swedish model", which criminalises clients, but not sex workers themselves. According to a report by Swedish police, the new law has neither reduced sex work, nor kept sex workers safer.
I think its fair to say that most of those whove declared their support for the Swedish model would be surprised by the contents of this report. Theyve been sold a law that has been proven to reduce the size of the sex industry, not one that isnt actually being measured in this respect. A law that reduces sex trafficking from other countries, not one under which the number of women from certain countries who are being exploited in prostitution in Sweden has increased. A law that deters men from purchasing sex, not one that is such a useless deterrent the number of massage parlours in the capital has almost trebled in recent years.In fact in practice, it seems that criminalising clients and criminalising service providers amounts to the same thing: "just because it isnt a crime to sell sex doesnt mean a person can do so without facing the strong arm of the law."
Prostitution is indeed legal in Sweden, but the purchase of sexual services is a criminal offence. This means in practice that a crime has to be committed under Swedish law to enable a person engaged in prostitution to support themselves. [...] Prostitution is to be regarded as a dishonest means of support according to the law. Prostitution which can not occur without a crime having been committed may also be considered as a prohibited occurrence in one principal element.Sex work isn't perfect. There is no doubt that abuses, including trafficking, do occur, although the efforts of anti-sex-work activists to fudge the data means the actual extent of trafficking and sex slavery is unknown. The point is that sex work is work, just like any other job. The fact that some farm workers or factory workers are slaves, or working under slave conditions, does not mean that farm work or factory work should be abolished; and just like factory workers, sex workers would benefit from legal protection, unionisation and labour laws that protect their rights.
Because sex work involves sex, there is a tendency to judge it under a different standard, but even this doesn't hold up. Outside paid sex work, rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse exist. Despite this it is generally understood that the existence of consent violations does not inviolate consent generally. Even though rape happens, is still possible to consent to sex. Marriage is another example; the existence of child marriage, forced marriage and marital rape does not invalidate marriages undertaken with the consent of both parties. It all comes down to consent, like so much else that I write about in this blog. If sex work is undertaken consensually, that is all that matters.
Here's another double standard: in most lines of work, consent is not seen as the bottom line. It's accepted that when we go to work, we might be told to do stuff we don't enjoy, or perhaps don't even agree with, and we do it because it's our job. Once we've consented to the job, we don't need to consent to individual acts within the job; freedom of choice rather consists of being free to leave the job at any time, the moment doing what we're told becomes less preferable than getting paid. Sex work is no different. A sex worker doesn't have to be a horny happy hooker having a lovely time and expressing their true self for consent to be valid. It's okay to choose paid sex because you really need the work, rather than because you particularly want to have sex with this person right now. It's still a choice, the sort of choice grown-ups in other industries make every day.
Until sex work is seen as being real work, the moral crusade of the anti-sex-work lobby will continue to erase the voices of sex workers all over the world who are making the best choice available to them right now. Personally, I love sex work, but even if I hated it, I would still have the human right to choose to do it if it seemed like the best option at the time - whether anyone liked the fact or not.
While I was writing this post, Jes Richardson posted an excellent article entitled Four Myths About Sex Work, challenging the idea that sex work and trafficking are indistinguishable, that all clients are rapists, that sex workers don't care about trafficking, and that victims need to be rescued. It's a strongly argued, concise post and I highly recommend it.