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Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 in Culture, Law, Politics | 7 comments

“The war on sex workers”

Since I’ve spent a fair bit of time this week using the example of being pro-nudity but anti-prostitution to make a general philosophical point, let me also direct your attention to this piece in Reason magazine by Melissa Gira Grant. This is an opportunity to talk about the real consequences of bans on prostitution, rather than worrying about the abstract consistency of philosophical positions (much as the later is of interest in many ways). Whichever way you view things, real people are affected by this issue – including in their liberty and their livelihoods.

Have at it!


  • Great article!! Interestingly, a while ago, I read an article by Greta Christina with a similar approach:

  • MosesZD

    It was well written.

  • MosesZD

    Personally, I think certain things should never be banned. This includes prostitution and the criminalization of recreational drugs. The reason being that prohibition has been shown, time-after-time, to cause more problems (potency increases, exploitation of the most vulnerable, increases in crime (especially during gang turf-wars)) than it solves as people will not stop doing these things.

  • In Atlanta, a new law is in the works to ban/exile any convicted prostitute, customer, or pimp (if caught and convicted) from the area where the arrest occurred. The ACLU is looking into the tar-and-feathers angle.

  • Vic

    Excellent article. And if one googles Melissa Gira Grant, her blog and other articles contain a lot of more information on the topic and links to sex worker organisations.

    Prostitution is one of the things which will continue to exist despite a ban, whether we like it or not.

    I think the legalization and regulation route is the best to take.

    And with regards to that, what could make any sense whatsover but to listen to sex workers and what they think when their own occuption is concerned? And to heed those suggestions?

    Putting a stigma or a legal repercussion on the customers, that’s an idea I’d be open for.

    However, it is a reality, that sex workers (not sex slaves) depend on the income these customers provide. Depriving them of that income makes their situation worse, not better.

    Instead, the priority should be to bring sex service work from the grey or black market into the white market, give sex workers the same beneftis as any other group of workers, give them healthcare, allow them to form unions etc. and reduce the stigma sex work has in the general population. Special emphasis on the last point, since any legislation will fizzle if not carried by the citizens.

    In parallel to that we have to find a way to put the judiciary hammer on exploitative behaviour, sex slavery etc. so we don’t encourage a growth of that market which might be caused by the reduction of stigma in the general society. We have to make a clear distinction between sex workers and sex trafficking victims. But treating sex workers with openness and encouraging their cooperation with the authorities will make that easier, too, if we can make them feel welcome. Who else to report a breach of the regulations in which they had a say?

    A tangent:
    Anybody seen the messages Melissa Gira Grant gets for her writings e.g. on twitter? From supposed women’s rights activists and feminists? (yes, I went there, the train is rolling, belt up)

    And then how language gets distorted? Sugarcoated? Trafficking Victims Protection Act – who would not support a law which sounds like that?

    Which politician would dare to oppose something which supposedly protects women from sexual exploitation? Which supposedly serves a noble goal?

    Then that bit: “[…] I watched Norma Ramos’ staff distribute
    fliers to passers-by cautioning them against the very term sex
    work, a phrase that “completely masks the physical, psychological,
    and sexual violence inflicted on prostituted persons,” although
    they had to acknowledge “it is a term that women in prostitution
    themselves use and prefer.”

    Because a little poison in the well never harms when trying to silence opposing voices. And we never saw that before.

    Wake up people, what happened to our equality movements?

    Enough derailment of the topic from me, but I decided I will be a derailing ass tonight and that’s it.

  • Dave Kendall

    A lot of anti-prostitution activists have been attacking Grant’s article as a false representation of their position. They argue that there’s no war on sex workers themselves, just a war on their customers and the industry that they participate in.

    Despite that claim, I don’t think you have to look far to see the contempt that a lot of them feel for sex workers. Especially the sneering and sarcastic feminist comments about “empowerfulized” women “choosing their choice”, or the idea that they’re incapable of deciding how to live their lives due to “false consciousness”. Unevidenced claims that sex workers encourage misogyny and rape seem downright hateful to me too, even if they’re framed as criticism of customers or “the patriarchy”.

    It reminds me of blatantly homophobic preachers who blame gay people for all of society’s ills then disingenuously claim to “hate the sin but love the sinner”.

    As for the practical question of how prostitution should be dealt with in the real world; most sex workers seem to favour the decriminalised system currently in place in New Zealand. Looking at various reports, it does seem to have been a success, and if the workers in the industry agree that it’s a good system then that holds a lot of weight with me.

    I don’t imagine that prostitution would be free of problems and risks even under the best circumstances, but prohibition generally causes more problems than it solves. There are lots of dangerous and unpleasant jobs that are regulated to minimise harm instead of being criminalised.

    In Britain, it always strikes me as ironic that the political left, including major trade unions and socialist organisations, generally campaign to criminalize prostitution in the name of rescuing women from exploitation (whether they like it or not).

    One recent Labour party proposal was that prostitutes caught advertising online should be cut off from electronic communications, with their websites deleted and telephones deactivated. It seems obvious to me that some indoor workers could end up on the street (and in much more danger) if their ability to advertise was taken away, but even that is spun as all about helping “vulnerable women free themselves from the sex trade”.

    At the same time, those left wing groups hold up the closure of coal mines in the 1980s as an example of how Thatcher’s government harmed the working classes. Considering the unpleasant and dangerous conditions in those pits, with coal miners suffering from health problems like Black Lung, I’d have thought that there’d be just as much of an argument for “rescuing” them from their jobs. Of course they’d never have considered making decisions for those miners without actually including them in the decision making process…

  • Yes, it was.