What are we doing to help women get out of prostitution?

by Robyn Few

Melissa Farley wants to know, ‘What is Desiree Alliance doing to help women get out? What are the UNLV faculty and their students doing to help women get out of prostitution?” That is always the question asked by the prohibitionist.

Well Miss Farley, what makes you think that is our focus. There are tons of non-profit and governmental agencies focused on saving women from prostitution and they are funded. Unfortunately, there are very few agencies that focus on the sex workers who have chosen to work in the sex industry and support improving conditions in their workplace. Billions of dollars are wasted trying to abate prostitution in this country while zero dollars are spent enforcing labor laws in the sex industry workplace.

The focus of the sex workers rights movement has been to support sex workers in their workplace, not tell them that they need to get a better job. How are we supporting, helping, improving the lives of sex workers if we cannot support their decision and right to be one. How can we expect to get woman off the streets, when they cannot find affordable housing or jobs that pay enough to feed their children? Sex workers have been able to support sick parents, pay college tuitions and buy their own homes. While doing sex work many people have transitioned into other professions using the skills they learned from the sex industry.

The sex industry is here to stay and it is time that all feminist rallied to support the women who work in the industry. If you really want to help a sex worker get out of the industry, empower them to fight for their rights, change the laws that make them criminals and support their right to choose to do with their bodies whatever the hell they want too. Then you are supporting women to become whatever they want to be and you are giving them control of their own bodies.

21 Responses

  1. Adovocating for the decriminaliation of prostitution is one thing we’re doing to help people who wish to exit prostitution do so. Various employeers do criminal background checks and having prostitution on one’s permenant record will make it harder to exit prostitution, even if s/he has a college education or other forms of vocation training or job skills and experience.
    In cases where people work in prostitution due to lack of other job opportunities that pay a living wage prostitution is not the core issue, but deeper structural conditions are. Taking away prostitution won’t magically give people other job opportunities.

  2. “it is time that all feminist rallied to support the women who work in the industry”

    It is not my experience that you will ever get all feminists to rally to support anything. It’s like herding cats.

    “Taking away prostitution won’t magically give people other job opportunities.”

    Similarly, making prostitution legal does not magically erase the stigma. The stigma is one of the reasons women risk working in illegal prostitution in Vegas rather than in the legal brothels.

    There is a stigma on prostitution. THIS WILL ALWAYS BE THE CASE. Unless you all are delusional enough to think you will destigmatize prostitution (which is a much crazier idea than anything I’ve heard here so far) the stigma is not going to go away with legalization or decriminalization or wizardification.

    It’s not my idea to stigmatize prostitution. I think it goes back the madonna/whore enculturation of youth. But it ain’t gonna change with any law.

  3. “Similarly, making prostitution legal does not magically erase the stigma.”

    You’re right on this point. The law in itself will not remove the stigma, legal strip clubs are a perfect example of this problem. Ongoing education of the public and empowerment of the workers is the only way to challenge stigma.

    “There is a stigma on prostitution. THIS WILL ALWAYS BE THE CASE.”

    There used to be serious stigma against single mothers, the used to get institutionalized. Times have changed and women have more reproductive options than society once permitted them.

    “It’s not my idea to stigmatize prostitution. I think it goes back the madonna/whore enculturation of youth.”

    You didn’t create the stigma, but you very enthusiastically perpetuate it. The ‘madonna/whore enculturation of youth?’ I think your choice to view things as polarized opposites rather than seeing the broad spectrum of realty is a source of your hostility toward sex workers.

    Even after the laws change, there will always be work to do to keep workers informed and organized. If the laws change, our work would transform to serve the changing needs of sex workers, but the work will not go away.

  4. I’ll have to differ, Josie. While the stigma won’t be gone in our lifetime, I do believe that eventuallyt it will fade with decriminalization.

    Compare prostitution with miscegenation.

    There were laws in the US forbidding marriage between people of different races until as recently as 1950, and maybe even later. Indeed, some states didn’t declare anti-miscegenation laws to be unconstitutional until as late as 1967.

    Today, mixed-race couples may raise some eyebrows from time to time in certain parts of the country, but by and large, nobody pays much attention. Certainly, prejudice still exists, but to a far lesser degree than it did under segregation, and certainly under anti-miscegenation.

    Today we wouldn’t dream of telling people that they can’t get married because they are from different ethnic backgrounds. I believe that once prostitution is decriminalized, it will also lose its stigma.

    Martha Nussbaum brilliantly points to the very highly disapproved-of practice in the 18th century of receiving money to. . . sing opera. Yep, that’s right- it was a highly-stigmatized occupation in 1776, when Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations. Today, however, it is one of those highly-thought of occupations, the practitioners of which are very much admired.

    Nussbaum argues that while some occupations’ stigmatization might exist for good reason, many exist soley because of race, gender, and class prejudices. I believe, as doe she, that prostitution’s stigmatization falls into the latter category.

    Also, New Zealand has been happily decriminalized now for 5 years. Stigma is certainly far less there (and was even before they decriminalized, as I was there in 1998, and it was certainly not as highly stigmatized as it is here- more a nudge-nudge, wink-wink attitude to its participants- male and female), and we currently have a friend there who can attest to that.

    You can read their updates and most current information on their Prostitution Law Reform here:
    http://www.labour.org.nz/TimBarnett/news/PRA_update/index.html

  5. Josie,

    I believe in working on removing the stigma. You’re free to think it’s a waste of my energy (and maybe it is). But I fully believe that the examples given to us by the Civil Rights and gay movement show that America can accept those who are “different.” Sex workers have everything to gain – and nothing to lose – by becoming an accepted part of society; instead of being viewed as walking diseases or pitiful victims.

    XX

  6. OK, let’s assume for a moment that it is possible to remove the stigma around prostitution.

    How are you going to do it?

    How are you going to convince the mom’s of the world that…
    1. you are not a threat to their marriage and
    2. you are not going to try to convince their daughters to become prostitutes and
    3. you are not going to give an STD to their son?

    I am asking these questions honestly. This is what I hear ALL THE TIME from moms. They are the ones whose stigma is loud and out there.

    So HOW ON EARTH do you overcome that? I don’t think you can because the moms are basically right. But maybe you have a plan.

  7. “How are you going to convince the mom’s of the world that…
    1. you are not a threat to their marriage and”

    Well, at least you’re finally beginning to acknowledge the REAL reasons that you hate sex workers. It’s very clever of the prohibitionists to pretend that they are concerned for the safety and well-being of women. But the reality is that they feel threatened by sex workers (and probably all sexually-liberated women in general.)

    An entire blog could be dedicated to this topic, but I’ll do my best to briefly respond here:

    1. Some people are monogamous, some people simply are not, men and women in American society have often been deprived of education about how to approach and resolve conflicts of this sort. Extra-marital affairs are the result of communication problems within the relationship- NOT the result of external factors. Fear that men will cheat on their wives is not just cause to imprison people. Plus, many women know that their husbands see professionals and would prefer them see pros rather than have affairs with women who may become attached. Not everybody believes that sex is the only defining factor in a commitment.

    2. It is not in anybody’s best interest to encourage more women, especially younger women, to get into the industry. When newcomers do choose to get into the biz, they need guidance, information and support so that they can maximize the benefits and minimize the disadvantages. Making it illegal to exchange sex for money only increases the likelihood that if your daughter chose to get int sex work that she’d be vulnerable, but it does nothing to deter her from entering the business if she really wants or needs to.

    3. We are the experts at safe sex. Our lives and our livelihoods depend on it. It is a myth that sex workers are the ones who transmit diseases. Sex workers are educators. We not only teach people how to have safer sex- we teach them how to make safer sex fun and pleasurable, minimizing resistance to using safer sex practices. Sex workers are the exact right people to be teaching and promoting safer sex.

    These may be the concerns of some individuals who continue to buy into a number of myths about morality, health and women’s sexuality in general. No doubt, it will be an uphill battle to dissolve these myths and in some ways these fears and attitudes will linger deep down in some people. What’s most important is that these fears and myths are not used to justify scapegoating and abusing sex workers.

  8. Sorry, StaceySwimme, I obviously don’t “hate sexworkers’. In fact, some of my closest friends are sexworkers, some of whom are using my computer today to post comments on this blog.

    And this comment “We are the experts at safe sex” is just bizzarre.

    Congratulations to you if you are using condoms every time and geting weekly HIV tests. Would it surprise you to learn that most people IN AND OUT of legal prostitution are NOT ?

    Honest to God, I don’t know where you people on this blog get your information, but real life does not match your happy hooker fantasy.

  9. HAH! Being the exper at safe sex doesn’t mean u practice safe sex honey.

    When was the last time you told a john he didn’t have to use a condom? Was it when he offered $50 extra? $100 extra? $500 extra.

    It ain’t about the amount,it is about the fact. For the right amount of money, whores will forget all about the condom.

    either you know that or you don’t and if you dont you should stop talkig right about now.

  10. Josie.

    Put down the bottle and step away from the computer.

  11. It’s so sad how our tones can shift from one thread to another. It really appeared that progress was being made from reading your conversation with Karly.

    But now you’re telling me that I’m just a whore who places a dollar amount in front of my own health?

    This condescension illustrates how your hostile attitude toward women who’s sexual choices differ from your own perpetuates myths and degrades the very women who you claim that you are supporting.

    It is not a feminist value to quantify a women’s integrity based on her sexual choices. Your claim that: “For the right amount of money, whores will forget all about the condom” is exactly how discrimination and violence against sex workers is justified by some and tolerated by most. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    It appears that you may be intoxicated and not putting your best self forward. Perhaps you should take a break for the night, we’ll be here to chat with you tomorrow.

  12. Josie: “I obviously don’t “hate sexworkers’. ”

    That’s not obvious actually. The tone of many of your posts suggests that you have quite a bit of contempt toward sex workers, not care for their safety, but actual hatred of the women who choose to be in this business.

    “In fact, some of my closest friends are sexworkers, some of whom are using my computer today to post comments on this blog.”

    So you’re saying that some of the posts under your name are being written by other people?

    “And this comment “We are the experts at safe sex” is just bizzarre.”

    Why is that bizarre? It is perfectly sensible. Practice makes perfect.

    “Congratulations to you if you are using condoms every time and geting weekly HIV tests. Would it surprise you to learn that most people IN AND OUT of legal prostitution are NOT ?”

    I would be surprised if you had any statistical basis for your statement.

    Honest to God, I don’t know where you people on this blog get your information, but real life does not match your happy hooker fantasy.

  13. Stacey. I don’t have different standards for sex workers than for anyone else. If you are a stand up honest person, I will treat you with respect. If you try to tell me I dont’ know what I know, I will be less than respectful of you.

    I do not doubt that you are a fine upstanding person. I have never met you and dont’ know otherwise.

    However, if you are going to tell me that prostituted women are not abused in Nevada, we have a problem. They are. That is a fact. Even if you yourself are a prostitute and lead a very happy prostitute life, that does NOT override the reality of their existence.

    The thing that drives me the most crazy in this blog is the continual assumption on the part of the prostitutes here that their experience is the definitive experience of all prostitutes. The fact that you have the freedom and resources to be typing away on a blog calling me names at this time of night instead of servicing johns, means that your experience is different.

    I don’t hate your or love you Stacey. I just take you at your word and judge you by what you write, just like everybody else.

    And yes, I let people who don’t usually have access to a computer use my computer to make posts on the internet. So sue me.

  14. Sorry, StaceySwimme, I obviously don’t “hate sexworkers’. In fact, some of my closest friends are sexworkers, some of whom are using my computer today to post comments on this blog.

    “I’m not racist! I’m NOT!!! Some of my best friends are black!! See, here’s one of my black friends, and she thinks it’s just fine for me to use the N-word!!”

  15. Josie, the sex workers who speak here may not speak for all sex workers and/or prostituted (nor do they claim to), but i like that they -do- speak for themselves. I think that’s a good thing, in general, you know, which is a goodly chunk of why I’m here.

    Who are you speaking for, Josie? And, more to the point, why?

  16. …whoa. “whores,” now, is it?

    and, did you just tell people to “stop talking” -on their own blog?- About -their own experience?-

  17. and frankly, if you’re mm letting your sex worker friends (?) comment here under your name, it’d be best if you/they were upfront about that from the beginning, don’t you think?

    anyway, I’m curious: To Josie’s friends, whoever you might be and under whatever name you’re posting: how are you feeling about your friend saying this? Does that ring right with your experience? Are you cool with the way she phrased it?

    “For the right amount of money, whores will forget all about the condom.”

  18. >1. you are not a threat to their marriage and
    2. you are not going to try to convince their daughters to become prostitutes and
    3. you are not going to give an STD to their son?

    I am asking these questions honestly. This is what I hear ALL THE TIME from moms. They are the ones whose stigma is loud and out there.

    So HOW ON EARTH do you overcome that? I don’t think you can because the moms are basically right.>

    WHOA.

    I’m sorry; Josie, did you say you were a feminist? We’re worried about preserving marriages and -sons-, now, is it?

  19. …cause, that sounds a -lot- more like “traditional family values” to me; especially with you saying “the moms are basically RIGHT” (in freaking out about the dirty diseased unethical whores taking away their huzbins and corrupting/infecting their yoot).

    I dunno. I dunno how we remove the stigma; but at this point I am starting to think, well, who is this “we,” again, exactly? Cause I can tell you -my- priorities ain’t about keeping the traditional family intact.

    The moms are basically right; whores will do anything if the money is right, and are crawling with STD’s. Who are you, Josie?

  20. I agree that decriminalizing prostitution won’t in and of itself get rid of the stigmas, but that doesn’t negate the importance of decriminalizing prostitution. At least if prostitution were decriminalized, sex workers in prostituion would no longer be persecuted just for providing sexual services in exchange for payment and perpetrators of violence could no longer rest assured that they could attack a prostitute and almot be guaranteed to get away with it because prostitutes would be scared to report abuse out of fear of incriminating themselves. Also, prostitutes would at least be able to carry around condoms to protect themselves from STD’s without having to worry about these condoms being used as evidence against them in court.

  21. Yep. I’d suggest it’s “necessary but not sufficient.” There’s no such thing as an illegal activity that -isn’t- socially stigmatized, even if the converse does exist.

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