End Violence Against Sex Workers

Today is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Here are some of my thoughts on why violence against sex workers happens and some suggestions for helping to end it:

Violence against sex workers boils down to two things: a woman who demands money for sex is a woman who is saying NO to sex without money. For all of our fancy talk and progress, our society STILL does not wholly support women's right to say NO. Our problem is not just with women charging money for sex, our problem is with women SAYING NO to sex with men unless the men meet conditions set by women.

We still do not wholeheartedly agree that women own their own bodies. We still do not wholeheartedly agree that women should have the right to determine the circumstances under which we choose to allow people access to our bodies. We still think that one woman's individual sexuality is responsible for wreaking havoc on men's behavior, on other women's happiness, and on children everywhere. We still blame individual women's sexual agency for bringing about the downfall of all that's good for the Christians' cause, for the feminists' cause and for unraveling the the moral fabric of society. We still believe women shouldn't be allowed to capitalize on natural resources the way that men do -- we fear the complete disintegration of order in our society if women are allowed to openly capitalize on and dominate the biggest demand in the marketplace.

Violence against sex workers is all about refusing women the right to NOT consent to sex; this refusal is RAPE. We're all (as a society) accessories to rape by not supporting sex worker rights.

Violence against sex workers is violence against women. Violence against sex workers is often an act of angry insistence that women are of no value except what men, their brainwashed handmaidens, certain hysterically irrational feminists, and society place on them or allow them to be, and that a woman who values her body enough to deny someone access to it unless they provide her with money or material compensation is a woman who has stepped so far out of line that she deserves to be punished or committed to the care of Concerned Women who insist no woman in her right and undamaged mind could have chosen sex work willingly.

Gary Ridgeway, The Green River Killer, did not just target prostitutes because he knew crimes against people who work the streets are harder to solve; that makes it sound like he would have been happy killing just about ANYbody when that's not the whole truth. He didn't want to and never did kill homeless veterans or women who consented to having sex with him for free. Gary Ridgeway said, "I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex." That hatred of sex workers and the belief that charging money for sex is loathsome, unjustifiable, immoral, indecent, "devalues" women (the most absurd charge of all), and/or somehow dirties or corrupts a society that would otherwise be asexual outside of the bonds of married love or male ownership permeates our culture and is not unique to serial killers. Gary Ridgeway was able to talk openly with his neighbors about his desire to exterminate prostitutes without them batting a fucking eyelash; chances are you yourself have tolerated similar hate speech without objection when you would certainly have responded differently had the target of the hatred been twelve year old Catholic schoolgirls or boy scouts or soccer moms.

When people say that women's bodies and sex are SO VALUABLE and precious that it's taboo to put a real dollar amount on sex acts, they are talking irrational, brainwashed rubbish, pure and simple. Violence against sex workers is not so much about women charging money for sex as it is about women having the right to WITHHOLD sex and to define the terms under which they will CONSENT to sex. Any of us who deny sex workers the right to set the terms of consent is effectively denying ALL WOMEN their right to consent or not consent to sex. Do not tell me or any other woman that she can only have sex when she loves someone or is attracted to someone or is sex-positively horny for someone or is in the politely prized possession of a husband. Do not tell me or any other woman that she is "too good" to work in the one industry that women naturally should dominate. Do not tell me or any other woman that it's more respectable to do ANYTHING for money other than turn a trick. All of that bullshit is part of the the same belief system that claps people on the back who perpetrate violence against sex workers and says, "what you did to her? SHE'S A PIECE OF GARBAGE AND SHE FUCKING ASKED FOR IT." And that? That's part of the same belief system that enables violence against ALL women. It's also part of the same belief system that leaves women in helping professions like teaching, nursing, and mothering grossly underpaid and overworked: because women should not do the most important jobs in the world for MONEY, we should do them for LOVE. You know what that I call that? A BIG FAT CROCK OF SHIT.

If that's not enough for you to think about, here are some suggestions for behavior I think would go a long way in changing this mindset that promotes violence against all women via endorsing violence against sex workers/subverting sex workers' rights:

*Don't sit in mute and complicit witness when your friends, coworkers, acquaintances, partners, etc. use hateful speech against women and sex workers. Use peer pressure by expressing disapproval of expressions of hostility towards sex workers. Challenge them to rethink their prejudices. Tell them they sound like crazy fucking assholes. Tell them you don't want to hear that shit and walk away from them. Just do *something* instead of accepting that it's okay. Even if they respond initially with belligerence or defensiveness, it will give them food for thought and make them think twice the next time they feel like saying that. Anything you can do to break down the assumption that prostitutes and sex workers are "fair game" is a step in the right direction.

*Never, EVER, shortchange a sex worker, refuse to pay a sex worker after receiving service, demand or force a sex worker provide services she doesn't want or hasn't agreed to, or tolerate someone bragging who does any of those things. Stealing service from a sex worker IS RAPE. Also, make sure our justice system knows that assaulting or forcing a sex worker to perform or endure sex acts without meeting her (or his) terms and conditions IS RAPE, not some lesser charge (read this story for an example).

*Buy time with a sex worker. Pay your sex worker with the same respect and appreciation you give any other person who provides you with service. Hell, pay your sex worker with GREATER respect and appreciation than you'd give other service providers because sex workers do their work at greater social costs and legal risks. Act as proud of supporting your favorite sex workers as you are proud of supporting your favorite record store, restaurant, mechanic, or chiropractor.

*Let people know you support sex workers, and have the balls to say that you proudly patronize sex workers (if you do). Be vocal in your support for sex workers' rights. Let people know you think sex work is a valuable service and that women own their own bodies, are capable of making their own decisions about what to do with them, and should not be denied the right to set the conditions (and prices) to access them under their own terms. Insist that NO ONE -- not the government, not other women, not their husbands or boyfriends or jealous stalkers, and not their customers -- should tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her own body, either for free or for money.

*Think critically about sex work and prevailing attitudes towards sex workers. Question media portrayals of sex work, and do so OUT LOUD to get other people thinking and talking about it too. Ask yourself whether or not your positions on sex worker rights are consistent with your other positions on women and women's rights (example: if you believe no one should interfere in a woman's right to an abortion, why is it okay to interfere with her right to charge someone money to touch or be touched by her?).

*Recognize and publicize that not all sex work is the same while also acknowledging sex work for what it is, wherever it is (in many marriages, for example). DO NOT equate sexual slavery with sex work performed by consent. Feminists: don't get all hysterical and irrational by insisting that all sex work is intrinsically bad; it's horrible when women and girls are kidnapped, forced to act as sex slaves, are raped, assaulted and killed but you just sound like fucking morons with your inability to separate those crimes from sex work done by women who CHOOSE to do it on their own terms. EVERYTHING A WOMAN DOES WITH HER BODY OR INVITES SOMEONE ELSE TO DO WITH HER BODY SHOULD BE DONE ON HER OWN INDIVIDUAL TERMS. It is unacceptable for anyone, man or woman, to set those terms for another woman (or man).

*Read about sex work, sex worker rights, womens' rights and feminism (from as many sources/voices as possible). Be open-minded. Be rational. Decide what's right for you and let other people decide what is right for themselves. Understand that sex worker rights are a gender issue and educate yourself about other gender issues. Do what you can to understand and prevent rape (that's right, ESPECIALLY if you are a guy).

*Let your elected representatives, local law enforcement and government agencies know that you support sex worker rights and that discrimination against sex workers is intolerable and counterproductive. Have arguments handy that illustrate the perverse double standards used to regulate socially acceptable industries vs. the sex industry. Learn what a "victimless crime" is and do not tolerate people trying to turn bullshit abstractions into crime. Write to the media and complain when you read or hear biased reporting on sex work-related stories.

*Demand higher wages for ALL work traditionally viewed as "women's" work: mothering, caretaking, nursing, teaching and WHORING.

*Support womens' right to reject men. It is crucial to women's right to choose that they be allowed to choose other women as mates and be given the same rights and privileges that heterosexual partners enjoy. Women should not have to insist that they didn't "choose" to be queer and that it was all decided biologically. Lesbians should not be obligated to soothe ruffled feathers by promising that they really love and appreciate men, just not in that "special" way (even if it's true). Stopping violence against women mostly means stopping men from perpetrating that violence, and the first step in doing that is insisting that men are not ENTITLED to our bodies. The second step is making everyone believe it. We do not need to make excuses for saying no and those of us who DO say no (whether by not having sex with men, not shacking up with men, or by specifying the conditions under which they will have sex and/or specify the TYPE of sex they will have with men) should not be punished for it.


Here are posts on the same subject by Audacia Ray and Seska.


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