Wednesday, August 17, 2011

If all things were equal, sure. But they aren't.

Just a note of warning- there will be some triggery language and use of words meant as slurs against sex-workers in this post. The use of the slurs (in quotes) are phrases I have actually heard and are not meant to demean sec workers in any way, but to illustrate the bias in the system.

The Stranger (groan, I know) has a piece up in favor of legalizing prostitution(their word- not mine).

Here's the thing, if we lived in a world without classism or sexism, sure. I think every adult has the right to do whatever they want to their own body with whomever they choose (so long as everyone involved are consenting adults). But we don't live in that world. We live in a world where the only occupations where women consistently make more money than men are sex work and modeling. We live in a world where a woman with a BA degree will make, on average, the same amount of money as a man without a degree. We live in a world where one out of every 4 women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. We live in a world where 70% of single parents don't receive child support, where daycare costs more than minimum wage pays. We live in a world where college costs more than house and universal healthcare is a pipedream.

Sex work puts workers at daily risk of rape, assault, robbery, disease, and death. Perhaps legalization could so something as far as mitigating these, and that would be great. But once you legalize sex-work, the scanty social safety net we have in place for low-income women gets scantier. There was not-exactly a joke about welfare where I grew up in Nevada. "Why would they pay women to stay home on the state's dime when whoring is legal?" If you think that's hyperbole, just a few years ago in Germany, where sex work is legal, several women were denied benefits for refusing to work as sex workers. Eventually the decisions were reversed, but you get the picture.

So how about legalization? The Swedish model, the decriminalizes the selling of sex but criminalizes they buying of it, is an elegant, and widely considered to be the best, solution. But it's not without huge problems. I am all in favor of not arresting or prosecuting sex workers and in giving them legal means of protection from violent clients and pimps. While this kind of decriminalization is important, it doesn't change the fundamental inequities in the system. It does nothing to give women at the very bottom more choices for supporting themselves and their families. It does nothing to provided healthcare for sex-workers who are struggling with substance abuse and using sex work to pay for the means to self-medicate. It does nothing to give young women better options for paying for college than crushing student loans or exotic dancing. It does nothing to give a poor single mom affordable daycare so she doesn't have to work as a massage therapist who provides happy endings.

And legalization doesn't change society's view that "you can't rape a whore" (said by and SPD officer while giving a guest lecture as Seattle Central Community College). While there technically may be avenues for legal recourse if a sex worker is assaulted, the chances are fairly slim of her (or him) prevailing because of ingrained views.

Until the inequities are changed, the idea that most sex-workers are of the sex positive, happy hooker, who has chosen sex work over a career as a rocket scientist* variety is false. If your choices are limited to starve, suffer, or be a sex worker, then that's not actually a choice.

*Yes, of course some people are exactly that. Good for them. But as in most things, they tend to be the top of the pyramid. Healthy, without children to support, with enough power and security in their work to be able to choose clients and minimize risk. But when we let the top of they pyramid speak for everyone, we all know what happens.

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