Our world is changing every day but more specifically, the world of sex workers is changing globally and the sex worker movement is very close to a precipice that the world will be forced to address in the not too distant future.
From FOSTA/SESTA in the United States to the proposal of the Nordic Model in home grown Victoria, governments worldwide are trying to shake down the adult industry through scare tactics and poorly informed laws that are designed to make it look like their government gives a shit. These laws generally paint a picture of an active government that is committed to the betterment of sex workers’ safety. It is gobbled up by the media and dished to the public as a change for the better, a step forward for human rights, an improvement for the safety of sex workers worldwide. This is a very romantic, whimsical and grandiose idea, but the unfortunate fact is that these laws don’t even come close to doing this. In fact, they drive us around a sharp bend towards a more dangerous working environment with less freedom and less rights. The fast turn still has us all reeling with whiplash.
The laws that criminalise sex work are formidably stupid, are not based on research, and completely disregard reports released by the United Nations such as Sex Work and the Lawthat state that there is no evidence that criminalization or even legalization improves the safety of workers. The underlying reason for this disregard is because there is a carefully concocted yet woefully incorrect argument that is used time after time to explain why these laws are required, and it stems around human trafficking.
With any of these anti-trafficking laws, the argument remains the same. Purely and simply, the recipe that they say is the key to eliminating sex trafficking involves these three thoughts.
- The purchase of sex is wrong
- Sex work is intimately related to sex trafficking
- Sex trafficking is a global phenomenon that permeates our society and is a phenomenal contributor to the darkened corners of the world where human trafficking resides
It is an easy train of thought for the general public to believe. After all, a lot of the hype surrounding sex trafficking began with a campaign that was brought to the attention of the public by the likes of Amy Schumer, Seth Meyers, Anne Hathaway, Ricky Martin, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson… the list goes on. These celebrities pleaded with the global community to end sex trafficking and they usually shared the experiences of those who had been legitimately trafficked. The stories are horrific, they are life altering, and MOST DEFINITELY…. These stories should never have been written into the lives of those victims.
Let me be clear. SEX TRAFFICKING NEEDS TO BE STOPPED. I am 100% a supporter of this fight, I am 100% onboard with being a contributor to this global movement. What I am not OK with, however, is the instigation of laws that do nothing to prevent this and instead hurt people that provide sexual services from an empowered place of choice.
The unfortunate thing about people however is that people are pack animals… we generally like to follow the pack. Sad, simple and true. In society we are taught that change after change after change is considered forward progress, a win for humanity as a whole. The unfortunate part of this equation is that the inciting change, the outrage surrounding sex trafficking, is very ill informed. To the general population, the recent laws are touted as a “stance against human trafficking”, “a win for women’s rights”, a “victory for the enslaved”. To sex workers globally, it is eliminating their livelihood and their rights.
So let’s beat out these myths and look at argument #1… the purchase of sex is wrong.
I would hope that if you have followed my blog over the years, you would realize that I have personal account after personal account that laughs in the face of this statement. The man who used sex workers to heal his debilitating fear of intimacy after being sexually and physically abused as a child… the terminally ill man who wanted to wrestle one last time before passing… the 24 year old who had never been kissed… the couples who felt more in love afterwards than they could have imagined. I have said it before and I’ll say it again… intimacy is a massive part of human nature, and it is OK to want to explore that. For some people, they do not have an outlet to do this and their lack of an intimate partner can be due to a myriad of reasons. Clients usually seek out a sex worker in order to explore this deeper side of themselves. Seeking out intimacy is not about the sex. Rather, intimacy is a concept infinitely more complex than ‘sex’. To belittle the services of sex workers to the act of sex is quite frankly offensive and simple minded. If sex work can help the abused heal, or give people happiness before death, or allow them to overcome crippling shyness… if people are prepared to pay for this as a service and get joy from it… tell me, why is this wrong?
Let’s now deal with argument #2…. Sex work is intimately related to sex trafficking.
I’m going to cut to the chase. Purely and simply, the reason why sex trafficking is wrong and sex work is OK is that in trafficking the people are FORCED. I refuse to even label the victims as workers because they are not working… they are enslaved in a dark and debilitating rat trap for which release is a faint hope. The second that a person’s freedom and rights to say yes or no are taken away, it becomes a despicable act. Yes, we as a society need to figure out a way to prevent this. Laws that prevent sex work, however, do no such thing.
The laws that prevent sex worker freedom are actually probably compounding the issue. In the case of FOSTA/SESTA, the inability to advertise online with American sites has resulted in the entire sex industry being pushed underground. Where before advertisements could be monitored in order to screen for traffickers, now the web is much more silent. The funny thing is that it is only really silent for sex workers… I mean, come on. Trafficking has always been illegal and no amount of further criminalization will close the back channels that they have for communication. Trafficking is a silent seed no matter the laws, and the roots run much deeper than open advertising platforms.
Switch across to everyday sex workers, however, and they are faced with this unfathomable situation where they have lost their avenues to communicate digitally with clients. How does this manifest in their life? Well, workers have lost the ability to security screen clients before bookings. Many workers may have to switch to street walking areas less frequented by the police to find clients. Workers may require the assistance of pimps with client contacts in order to make ends meet, and although there are many people out there who manage workers fairly there are also plenty that use and abuse. Workers are as a result faced with an increase in the inherent danger of work. Luckily, some ‘advertising’ channels are still open. Twitter and Instagram seem to allow workers to use their sites according to their terms and conditions, and so American workers do have some methods of reaching out to people privately; the number of avenues that they now have access to however is heartbreakingly small.
By now we can all hopefully agree that sex work does not equal sex trafficking. It’s now time to deal with argument 3: Sex trafficking is a global phenomenon that permeates our society and is a phenomenal contributor to human trafficking.
I do not want to belittle the importance of the prevention of sex trafficking, but this is an area that I feel the general public need some perspective.
To find figures that are closer to a true global representation, I went to the International Labour Organisation’s most recent statistics on global forced labour. Why did I go here? Human trafficking is regarded as a forced labour and so is captured within the estimates.
According to the ILO’s global estimates in 2012, we find this:
- a staggering 20.9 million people are victims of forced labour globally, whether that be coerced or trapped within a job that they do not have the luxury of leaving.
- Women and girls represent 55% of this group, at 11.4 million
- Adults represent 74% of those in forced labour
- 18.7 million (90%) are victims of private entities, and the remaining 10% are in state imposed forms of forced labour such as in prisons or armed forces
- 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation (22%)
- 14.2 million (68%!!!) are victims of forced labour exploitation in economic activities that include but are not limited to agriculture, construction and manufacturing
Of course, 4.5 million people are 4.5 million too many trapped within forced sexual labour. I do not want to discount the circumstances that these victims find themselves in daily; my heart aches for them. The issue that I have however is that so many campaigns that target the sex industry as a root for exploitation completely ignore the fact that other industries contribute more than triple the number of trafficking victims when compared to the sex trade.
In light of these estimates, let’s now revisit the premise that advertising facilitates trafficking. Surely if closing advertising online was the true key to preventing human trafficking then the government would close advertising online for every imaginable business. After all, trafficking has been shown to permeate every sector within our global economy; other areas even moreso than the adult industry. This is an action that we have not and will not see however; why? The government would exclaim, “It’s ludicrous! Preventing businesses from advertising will not help the trafficked! People doing the right thing still need to make a living!” And this would be correct. So why are sex workers being forced into this situation?
Another interesting fact from the global estimates is this; the prevalence of forced labour in the world is highly biased to Central Europe, South Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America with those affected ranging between 3.1 and 4.2 per 1000 inhabitants. Developed countries such as North America and Australia are grouped together within the data, and even with their prevalences combined they only experience a third of the prevalence of forced labour as the other countries do at 1.5 per 1000 inhabitants. Break the developing countries into their own entities, and this figure is much smaller again. If this is the case, then how will the prevention of advertising in one developed country such as America stop the trafficking of people in the multitude of other countries? Prevention of advertising of the sex industry in America is just one drop in a vast deep sea; it both does not target the main offenders, and does not remotely target the global regions where people suffer the most.
It is laughable.
In light of this information, I ask you to please then consider… is this all worth it? How are these laws even passing?
Do you understand why sex workers are angry now?
The exploitation of the sex industry has a phenomenal amount of buzz surrounding it at present. Buzz from workers who are angry at the new laws. Buzz from people who are angry at sex trafficking, including the rich and famous who attempt to build platforms for themselves based upon misguided information and a wish to be able to help the victims. Buzz from people angry about the removal of their rights to see sex workers. This tension could be viewed as negative, but any dedicated Netflix fan would know the truth about tension thanks to Hannah Gadsby. Hannah taught us recently that the amazing thing about tension is that it opens up dialogue. It prompts the storytellers to speak up. It encourages discussion and fuels fire for change. You only have to look at every major change in human rights throughout history to see that just before the changes occurred, there was phenomenal tension, flooring backlash and a colossal amount of bravery.
It can be easy to turn around and find yourself “enslaved” to a person in order to get by. Just don’t forget that it can happen to anyone…. Whether you are a chef in Europe, a lawyer in Australia, a business partner in the US, a dry cleaner, dog washer or doctor. So if it can happen to any of us, please don’t point the finger at the adult industry. Pointing is rude. In this instance, you should be pointing everywhere.