6 reasons Why You Should Treat Sex Work No Differently Than Any Other Profession In The Service Industry
A topic of conversation that can easily be compared to politics, climate change, or breastfeeding in public, in how polarized and contentious arguments can get.
Some of you think it’s immoral, some of you think it’s a perfectly fine means to put food on the table.
For me, even before entering the profession, it has always been difficult to understand why as a society we don’t treat sex workers just like any other person that makes a living from the service industry.
“Pretending that [sex work is] inherently different than other service industry work for any other reason than the fact that it’s stigmatised is buying into the belief that sex is uniquely special to women and has a unique moral impact on our worth.
…right now some guy is telling me how different and special sex is than waiting tables, all because it involves genitals. It’s not different. It’s not more special. My value and integrity is not located in my genitals any more than it is in my hands when I changed diapers.”
I’ve mulled over all the possible reasons for what exactly is it that sets sex work aside (other than sex lol) from those that get paid to cook your food, serve your meals, wash your clothes, clean your homes, or care for your children.
I keep falling short of reaching a concrete answer.
Chalk it up to my possibly undiagnosed autism or the almost pathological need I have to find universal truths in my world, but I’ve always had a knack for picking arguments apart and reducing them to their most basic concepts. An event that would ultimately cement this need, occurred senior year of high school, when I had to take this boring ass sounding class called Theory of Knowledge.
Theory of knowledge, or epistemology, as the pretentious like to call it, is defined by Merriam-Webster as: The study or theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge, especially with reference to its limits and validity. It “addresses such questions as: "What makes justified beliefs justified?”, "What does it mean to say that we know something?", and fundamentally "How do we know that we know?".
Essentially, this class taught me to always question the validity of anything anyone ever claims to know in an argument. It taught me to be unabashedly acerbic at pointing out flaws in logic. We’d discuss things like, “Why do people need friends?” “How do communities form?” or “Why do people shave their pubes?”
I shit you not.
Thus, today I figured, what better topic to brush up on my critical thinking skills than sex work?
Join me as I set off on a journey to pick apart the most frequent arguments I could find online that support the stigmatization of sex work.
Shit’s gonna get real wordy, real quick.
Argument #1. Women do not prostitute themselves by choice
Hold your horses there, buddy.
If you peruse through any escort friendly blog, (like titsandsass.com, my friend’s Phoenixx’s blog , or Maggie Mcneill’s blog, a recurring theme in many articles is that sex workers choose prostitution because it pays more and grants them more free time to do shit like, I don’t know, LIVE. They frequently maintain that sex work feels a lot less demeaning than being a waitress or a maid, being worked to the bone for minimum wage.
When faced with the question of what other choices a woman can resort to other than prostitution, I went to Indeed.com for some answers. For reference, as of time of this publication, Indeed has 847 entry and mid level open job postings within 15 miles of the city of Valdosta, GA. I chose this location intentionally because it’s small enough that most of you have never heard of it, and according to the Census Bureau, it’s considered to be on the mid to lower end of what it defines as a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) with a population of around 145,500 with a current unemployment rate of 3.5% according to the latest local area unemployment statistics performed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If you want to get technical here, this could be considered a false dilemma/false dichotomy fallacy, a “line of reasoning [that] fails by limiting the options to two when there are in fact more options to choose from”.
Opponent reasoning: All the women who “choose” to become sex workers only had two choices: Prostitution or starvation… And that’s not much of a choice, you silly goose.
To put it in perspective, and although I know this isn’t an apples to apples comparison (an inconsistent comparison fallacy lol), there are 11,234 entry and mid level open job postings within a 5 mile radius of the City of Miami Beach alone, which according to the census bureau has an approximate population of 92,000. Keep in mind that I’m not including the rest of Miami-Dade, let alone Broward and Palm Beach, the other two counties that comprise the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Fl MSA, which has a population of nearly 6.2 million and a 3.1% unemployment rate. Now, if that isn’t choice, then I don’t know what the hell is.
Also, I took the liberty of googling “jobs that will never be replaced by tech”.
This is what Investopedia said:
Social Workers and Counselors
Computer Systems Analysts
What I hate most about this argument, is that it effectively strips women, especially survivors of human trafficking, of their right to economic, social, and sexual autonomy.
Oftentimes, after survivors are initially separated from their traffickers, they are most adept at making a living performing the work they were being trafficked for in the first place. Instead of helping them achieve self-sufficiency by allowing them to profit from the work they had been exploited for, anti-sex work advocacy groups deem them too fragile and too broken to alot them that power.
Through this lens, victims never become survivors and are thus never considered to be competent enough to make decisions for themselves.
Before anyone gets their underwear up in a wad, let me specify that I’m not implying that these victims don’t know how to do anything else aside from sex work or am I even suggesting that they should go back to it. What I’m questioning is:
IF they do choose to finally profit from it, WHY should they be penalized for it?
Argument #2. Prostitution should stay criminalized because it promotes violence against women
This is a circular argument fallacy: [it] is a kind of presumptuous argument where it only appears to be an argument. It’s really just restating one’s assumptions in a way that looks like an argument… Another way to explain circular arguments is that they start where they finish, and finish where they started.
Opponent reasoning: Prostitution is a crime because it promotes violence against women, and because of this reason prostitution is a crime.
Let’s clarify this real quick; women in ANY industry are sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace every second of everyday and we’re not going around criminalizing administrative work or retail workers.
The reason why sex workers are more likely to be assaulted is because they are engaging in an unlawful activity.
The criminalization of sex work itself is the reason why a dangerous client would feel at liberty to harm a sex worker in the first place. Same goes for unscrupulous law enforcement.
People who already have violent tendencies are much more likely to harm a sex worker, resting assured on the fact that she or he will not contact law enforcement out of fear of criminal charges.
Argument #3. Prostitutes spread disease, or are drug addicts, and/or are deceitful
(Even though that is indubitably impossible to prove in relativity to the rest of the population, let’s pretend it’s true for shits and giggles)
This is an Ad Hominem fallacy: It’s an insult used as if it were an argument or evidence in support of a conclusion. Verbally attacking people proves nothing about the truth or falsity of their claims… Ad hominems can be unethical, seeking to manipulate the audience by appealing to irrelevant foibles and name-calling instead of addressing core issues.
Opponent reasoning: prostitutes are cesspools of disease that intend to seduce and deviate us from a righteous path. Therefore, none of the things they say could ever possibly be in the best interest of our community.
Let’s start with…
Prostitutes spread disease… So does eating produce contaminated with E. Coli, Salmonella, or mad cow disease, and I’m yet to read the headline,
“Florida man arrested for sharing kale salad with coworker. Grocery store giant Publix facing criminal charges for suspected distribution of contaminated produce.” (because we all know, if this were to actually happen, it would happen in Florida first.)
Prostitutes spread disease… So does…
Not washing your hands after going to the bathroom
And even digging in the dirt
My point is: It would be absurd to criminalize any of these things, not only because of their statistical propensity, but because we should have more productive shit to do with our time.
Below is the actual latest data from the Centers for Disease Control for leading causes of death:
Prostitutes are substance abusers…
Oh, and I almost forgot, any legally prescribed opioid user too.
Please see below this nifty graph from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) on substance abuse by profession and industry.
And another one…
I’m well aware that “prostitution” is not listed in any of the graphs. However, unless you can provide me with some peer reviewed article that discusses the correlation between prostitution and substance abuse in an environment were it is legal and not stigmatized, then by all means…
Prostitutes are scammers and thieves. They want to cheat me of my money.
Do I have to call to Wall Street again? Am I the only one that remembers the 2008 market crash? Do we need to call Morgan Stanley to the stand? Lets go back even further. How about our good friends at Enron? JEEEEZZZZZZZ!!!!
If sex work was decriminalized, then you (my opponent) would be able to file a police report if a sex worker scammed you, bait and switched on you, or stole your wallet. Call me crazy, but that just makes total sense to me.
Seriously, though, and I found this truly fascinating,
“UCLA public policy professor Manisha Shah… and … Scott Cunningham of Baylor University conducted a study when the Rhode Island legislature inadvertently decriminalized indoor prostitution in the state from 2003 to 2009.
Key findings from the study show that there were 31 percent or 824 fewer reported rapes and a decrease of approximately 2000 cases of gonorrhea during the seven years indoor prostitution was decriminalized. The authors note that the results suggest that “decriminalization could have potentially large social benefits for the population at large — not just sex market participants.”
What this means is that when violent crime against sex workers decreases, it has a trickle down effect that benefits non-sex workers.
Need I say more?
Apparently, yes, I do.
Argument #4. Most human trafficking occurs through prostitution
Hasty Generalization is one of the concepts at work here: It is the key error to overestimate the strength of an argument that is based on too small a sample for the implied confidence level or error margin.
Operating here is also Confirmation bias: The tendency to look for evidence in favor of one's hypothesis and not to look for disconfirming evidence, or to pay insufficient attention to it. It happens in many articles that cite studies with statistically unrealistic percentages of child and teen trafficking, prostitution and homelessness, and whatever other correlation prostitution may seemingly have with another stigmatized concept.
The problem is that when a study is held at a women’s shelter or at an anti-human trafficking advocacy organization, the subjects will be exponentially more likely than the rest of the population in question to confirm what you already believed: that sex work is only a weapon used against women and children.
Opponent reasoning: look at all these young women at Miami’s Rescue Mission-Center for women and children. Every one of them had to escape a pimp that was abusing them and taking advantage of them. This deal of sexual human traffic looks like an epidemic in my community and I must stop it.
Journalist Noy Thrupkaew, who has been writing and researching human trafficking for almost a decade, said the following in an enlightening and gut-wrenching TED Talk about human trafficking,
“Forced prostitution accounts for 22 percent of human trafficking. Ten percent is in state- imposed forced labor, but a whopping 68 percent is for the purpose of creating the goods and delivering the services that most of us rely on every day, in sectors like agricultural work, domestic work, and construction. That is food and care and shelter. And somehow, these most essential workers are also among the world's most underpaid and exploited today.
Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel another person's labor… Out of an estimated 5,700 convictions in 2013, fewer than 500 were for labor trafficking. Keep in mind that labor trafficking accounts for 68 percent of all trafficking, but fewer than 10 percent of the convictions.”
How can anti-sex work advocates dare be so self-righteously appalled at human trafficking, yet too complacent with the ease with which such services and goods are delivered to them, that they willingly turn a blind eye?
Argument #5. If you legalize prostitution, you will legalize the pimps who abuse sex workers
This is a Straw Man Fallacy: Inadvertently or deliberately mischaracterizing the opponent’s position for the sake of furthering your argument. It happens when someone attacks a position the opponent doesn’t really hold.
Opponent reasoning: Legalization, decriminalization, call it whatever the hell you want, but the only thing that’s gonna do is give these pimps and traffickers the power of the law on a silver platter!
Most sex workers are not calling for the legalization of sex work, but for its decriminalization. As Juno Mac so succinctly elaborated on her presentation for TED Talks,
“It's crucial to remember that decriminalization and legalization are not the same thing. Decriminalization means the removal of laws that punitively target the sex industry, instead treating sex work much like any other kind of work. In New Zealand, people can work together for safety, and employers of sex workers are accountable to the state.
A sex worker can refuse to see a client at any time, for any reason, and 96 percent of street workers report that they feel the law protects their rights. New Zealand hasn't actually seen an increase in the amount of people doing sex work, but decriminalizing it has made it a lot safer.”
Decriminalization is the privilege that all other “legitimate” professions possess: Running your business how you want, with integrity, if you work independently. Being able to contact the appropriate authorities when you have been assaulted, harassed, stalked, robbed or defrauded by a client. Being able to provide for your family without putting them at risk of pandering or trafficking charges.
Yet, the most compelling point for me is that by decriminalizing sex work, you eradicate the barriers that keep the real victims of sexual human trafficking invisible and voiceless. You allow and support these survivors to fight back against their traffickers without the fear of arrest or deportation looming over their heads.
Argument #6. It’s just plain immoral
According to whom?
What qualifications does this person have on the subject of inherently immoral human behavior?
Did he get a degree in morality from a reputable higher learning institution?
Was he appointed by a divine entity?
Does God say prostitution is immoral?
Bandwagon fallacy: It assumes something is true (or right, or good) because other people agree with it. One example is the ad populum fallacy… which is when something is accepted because it’s popular. Another, is the consensus gentium (“consensus of the people"), which is when something is accepted because the relevant authorities all agree on it. [Finally] the status appeal fallacy, which is when something is considered true, right, or good because it has the reputation of lending status, making you look "popular,” "important," or “successful.”
At work here is also the Is-Ought fallacy: it occurs when a conclusion expressing what ought to be so is inferred from premises expressing only what is so, in which it is supposed that no implicit or explicit ought-premises are needed (these people need to try harder at explaining this shit in layman’s terms).
Opponent reasoning: Everyone knows that prostitution is the same as human trafficking. The pope said it and my mom agrees, it’s a gross violation of human rights and it ought to be stopped immediately!
Saint Thomas Aquinas (kind of a big religious deal) had this to say on the matter,
“Now although God is all-powerful and supremely good, nevertheless He allows certain evils to take place in the universe, which He might prevent, lest, without them, greater goods might be forfeited, or greater evils ensue. Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority, rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain greater evils be incurred: thus Augustine says (De Ordine ii, 4): "If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust."
He’s basically implying that you need prostitutes, because if not, men are gonna go around on rape rampages… Which is still super fucked up to even suggest, but c’mon, THOMAS AQUINAS said it.
But I digress.
This person, Subject Matter Expert, that knows so much about immoral things, where do I find him?
Does he have an office?
What are his hours?
Does he drink? Because during the prohibition era, drinking alcohol was considered immoral. But not anymore.
On that note, what is morality?
Is the death penalty a moral or immoral punishment?
Was it moral to send 14 year olds to war during the American Revolution?
See what I’m getting at?
So, I’m left asking the same question with which I started:
What is it about sex work that is so offensive?
Is it because it monetizes an intimate human need?
Isn’t shelter and food also human needs?
I personally can’t find anything (not even sex) more intimate and necessary than eating, the nourishing of your body in order to survive. We show love and care through food. Yet, you have public establishments dedicated to feeding you. Places where you go en masse with your children and let faceless strangers touch your food, cook your meals, and you engage in all of this without batting an eye.
Don’t believe that eating is that intimate?
Think I’m exaggerating?
Just ask every single Game of Thrones character that got their wine poisoned and died.
The thing is, I wish this was all just a thought experiment for me.
I’ve worked in other fields of the service industry. As a front desk person at a 500+ room hotel. As a call center rep after THE Recession. Not one day would go by that me or one of my coworkers would be shouted at or treated like a servant.
I cried a couple times.
I dreaded getting out of bed and “willingly” having to go to work.
To add insult to injury, I had to pay $3.85 per gallon to get there.
I’ve worked in offices were people genuinely smiled maybe twice a week.
I’ve been so jaded I’ve cracked jokes at the expense of people not reading the fine print on their health insurance policy.
People at work thought I was HILARIOUS.
After years of working with people when they were at their worst, now I work with clients that look forward to seeing me; that treat me with kindness and simple human decency.
I escaped the suffocating confines of the perennial corporate dogma that is “The Customer Is Always Right.”
I escaped the obstacle course that was climbing a ladder with steps missing.
I can proudly say that after switching to this profession, no client has even come close to disrespecting me like I’ve been disrespected in “legitimate” jobs in the past.
That being said, I’m not oblivious to the fact that not everyone in this line of work shares my experience.
I have had a particularly unnerving experience myself, but that’s a story for another time.
In no way do I mean to diminish or dismiss the experience of those who have been forced or coerced into selling sex for money. The people whose sole purpose is to benefit at the expense of the weak and disenfranchised deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
However, I feel the need to make an important distinction here: The victims of these very real and very heinous crimes are not sex workers, they are sex slaves, and to me, calling them sex workers and piling them up with people that are in the profession by choice, is just another way for society to ignore them as collateral damage and preserve the system that places these victims, especially children, in such despicable circumstances in the first place.
How about you? Do you think some service jobs are more or less dignified than others?
Do you think I’m full of shit?
(one of my besties brought to my attention that I failed to include straight and gay male, as well as trans sex workers’ into consideration. As a socio-economically privileged cisgender woman, I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to comment in depth on the experience of these communities but would love to hear from anyone who could shed light on these topics.)