We Need To Talk

In this article, from the Las Vegas CBS-affiliate KBAL, the Nevada Coalition Against Sex Trafficking is said to have the following goals: “What they would really like to see is some help for prostitutes who want to get out of the business. They would also like tougher penalties against people who pay for prostitutes.”

I would be very surprised to hear that any worker in the sex industry objected to their first goal. Yes, it should absolutely be easier to transition from the sex industry to other professions; I’d love to see programs that aimed to help workers leave the industry if such was their wish. Unfortunately, far too many of such programs in existence today seek to assist workers, while also framing their work in shameful, moralistic overtones. For this practice, Melissa Farley ‘s work is an exceptional guidebook.

Contrary to the Coalition’s guiding light, some people actually choose to work in the sex industry—not all, I’m sure, for in any given profession, you’re apt to find at least a few people who wish they were doing something else. How many books about career transitions can you find at any bookstore? But in how many other professions does one face so much social stigma at point A as to make the thought of transitioning to Point B unfathomable? Forcing a transitioning worker to view her past with such disdain only serves to make the task of leaving the industry seem more insurmountable.

So, if one wants to leave, it should be easier. We can agree on that point at least. The methods of achieving the transition and the inevitable reality that not all want to leave, is that what we can’t see eye to eye on? Are both sides trying to mend that divide? My daily reality, as sex worker and feminist, tells me the answer to that second question is most definitely a resounding ‘no’.

What’s interesting from my perspective is that most of my sex worker friends know about my political leanings, while most of my feminist friends either don’t know or don’t want to know my thoughts concerning sex work. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Jill many months ago, wherein I asked her if she had lost friends because of her stance on sex worker rights. I don’t remember her precise words, but the answer was a resounding ‘yes’.

What is it about the issue of sex work that makes women turn their back on other women? And it’s often feminist-identified women who are rejecting their own allies! Feminists supposedly want what’s best for women. Likewise, workers tend to want what’s best for other workers. Those two points should be common-sense.

But when you realize that the radical feminists want what they, alone, think is best for other women, then it isn’t as hard to understand that they could see a worker wanting what said worker, alone, thinks is best other workers. If that worker wants to leave the sex industry, then they must want all workers to leave the industry. If that worker wants to stay in the industry, then they must want to make all workers stay in the industry, or at the very least, make it more difficult for them to leave.

The aforementioned logic is dumb-founding. Really, read it several times and you’ll see the connection there. It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around because it’s such a one-sided, and short-sided, view. One size fits all isn’t appropriate for the sex industry, and it shouldn’t be for feminism either.

Ok. Ok. I went on a tiny tangent there, but I hope you get my point.

Now, on to the second goal of the Nevada Coalition Against Sex Trafficking, as stated by KBAL: “They would also like tougher penalties against people who pay for prostitutes.”

This is a call for textbook “demand” legislation. For counterpoints here, I refer to the Urban Justice Center’s Working Group on Sex Work and Human Rights and their briefing paper “The Truth About Demand”. To quote, [in the sex industry and related trafficking in persons],
“It is not the number of customers but economic trends and social conditions such as unemployment and a shortage of living wage opportunities that determine the number of sex workers at any given time.” (It must be noted that human trafficking occurs in a number of industries, and is not unique to the sex industry.)

You could take away every customer, but you’d still have a person with very real economic needs searching for a way to meet those needs. Economic need is the driving factor here, not “demand”, unless we’re talking about my landlord who is demanding to be paid.

What we can see in this juxtaposition of transitional opportunities and economic realities is the need for understanding among those who strive to improve the fabric of workers’ lives. To reach understanding, we must begin to talk to one another, to share experience and ideas. You, Melissa Farley and the Nevada Coalition Against Sex Trafficking must start listening to us. In fact, we demand it.

Jessica Land

5 Responses

  1. A very interesting point here is that there are other industries in which forced labor occurs – even right here in the USA. “End demand” campaigns targeting the food industry or construction trades would be interesting.

  2. It’s so funny that they focus on ‘demand.’ Even if there were no driving demand behind the industry, there ould still be women who need money, and most of us understand how to make our services and our time seem valuable enough to pay us for it. Ultimately, if we want to make money by providing sex, we can seek out those who’d be swayed to pay us for one reason or another. Of course, this suggests that women have sexual agency, which is in conflict with Farley’s perspective that no woman would provide sex were it not for the man’s driving demand.

  3. Look you can swing your sexual agency in front of any man you like and try to convince him to buy a little somethin somethin.

    I’m just saying it should be illegal for him to buy it.

    Because buying people is a human rights violation. It’s just not ever going to be acceptable to buy and sell people. We’re still getting over that slavery thing.

  4. josie writes:

    “Look you can swing your sexual agency in front of any man you like and try to convince him to buy a little somethin somethin.

    I’m just saying it should be illegal for him to buy it.”

    Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So it should be a criminal offense to buy sex from somebody who is offering with full agency? That’s so fantastically paternalistic, authoritarian, and full of double-standards on so many levels, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

  5. Absolutely! I’m really sick of hearing that the sex industry exists because men want it to.

    Men can want to buy sex all they damn well like… it’s not going to be available unless there are women who need money and for whom selling sex is their best option to get it. All that happens if you dry up “demand” is women competing for customers.

    I see how that ends every day and it’s not pretty… yet those who push to criminilise buying sex without providing a way for workers to earn a living without selling it are apparently quite happy for more women to be pushed into that situation.

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