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Published on 6th September 2019

Sex Work vs. Laws: Why Sex Work Should Not Be Banned Worldwide

A controversial issue which is important to discuss is that of sex work. Sex work, I would define, is the exchange of money for sexual services, which can be seen below in Image 1. According to Liqun Cao and Steven Stack, “prostitution … is defined as improper sexual conduct between the two sexes with money or property as the medium of exchange”. Shulamit Almog and Ariel Bendor define prostitution as “… the exchange of sexual activity for money or other financial compensation”. What is clear from these different definitions is that sex work will always involve exchanging something of value for a sexual service. Despite many believing sex work should be banned, this piece will argue that it should not be banned. Instead, the laws which relate to sex work should focus on protecting workers within the industry from violence.

I chose to research this issue as it is important that people who decide to work in the sex industry have access to rights and protection. I will explore this issue by looking at people who voluntarily choose to work in the sex industry, and how if there are laws prohibiting sex workers instead of laws to protect sex workers, it can affect their income and their physical health. Teela Sanders writes that prostitution has now been realised to be a vital job, and this means it is just as important as any other type of job and should have laws in place to protect its workers. To properly analyse this issue, I will examine different examples and types of sex work, before examining laws from different countries and their background. Finally, I will look into examples of abuse against different workers, before finishing up by explaining the necessity of laws to protect sex workers.

Megan Lowthers examines the main form of sex work, which is direct contact between worker and client, by looking at the story of Rose. Rose is a thirty-eight-year-old single mother who lives in Kenya. A friend of Rose’s helped her get in touch with a manager of a flower farm, “who offered her employment in exchange for sex”. Rose does not work in flower farms anymore, instead, she works in the sex industry full time because “… she feels the working conditions are more favourable in sex work”. This example demonstrates how workers often choose the sex industry as they not only enjoy the work and money they receive, but they find the conditions they work under to be better than other jobs. The other main form of sex work, which Vitalie Stati and Gheorghe Renita look into, is “… the erotic video-chat [which] is a relatively new ‘business’ creeping into the market”. Stati and Renita go on to explain that erotic video chatting involves showing different body parts on a chat service, to give the people viewing it sexual satisfaction in exchange for money. While it has been debated whether video-chatting is sex work, it does involve the exchange of money for sexual activities, meaning it fits into the definition.

It is important to examine laws regarding sex work across the world, to show how they are all inconsistent. In Berlin, sex work is not illegal, and clients are not criminalised, whereas in the Czech Republic, sex workers themselves can operate as they like, but any third-party participation is not allowed, meaning sex workers cannot work from bars, restaurants, etc. Over in China, any form of sex work is banned, due to the fact that they believe it “corrupts youth and undermines the ideals of family and morality”. In America, sex workers, clients, and owners of brothels can be criminalised in all states except Nevada, and in Sweden, those found to have engaged with sex workers are sent to “an educational-therapeutic program … to educate them and cure the need which led them to partake in sexual services”. Finally, in Australia, “legislation … often criminalises the sex worker, not the clients”. From this research, it is quite obvious that laws relating to the sex industry differ greatly depending on the country. Nevertheless, all countries should have laws to protect the workers’ rights in the industry. The Declaration of the Rights of Sex Workers was endorsed in Europe in 2005 and showed “… how sex workers’ rights are encompassed in various international human rights …”. Declaration shows how sex workers share the same rights as anyone else in other jobs. However, it is only enforced in Europe, so while it is an important document, it does not apply to sex workers outside of Europe. The creation of this Declaration was an important step in ensuring sex workers had rights they could use, and so if this document spread worldwide it would also help change laws to protect sex workers.

Following on from that statement, it is important to look into examples of abuse workers have suffered from clients. Rebekah Baumann, Sarah Hamilton-Wright, Dana Riley, Karen Brown, Cindy Hunt, Alicja Michalak and Flora Matheson researched and discovered that 45-81% of women working in the sex industry have experienced abuse from clients. They went on to provide examples of different abuse workers suffered from, mainly focusing on head injuries. A sex worker called Ellie stated that a client hit her, grabbed her hair, and punched her in her head. Naomi shared that she was “severely beaten including having her head smashed against a set of stairs”. Finally, Tiffany explained that she did not like reporting violence to the police because she says the police “… look down on us. They think ‘oh you got what you deserved …”. What these examples show is that instead of workers feeling safe in their industry, some are scared to go to police to report violence. This links closely with the idea of forming new laws to protect workers, as they should not be afraid to report violence they experience from clients.

These examples, and the research indicated, show why the laws around the world need to be changed to protect sex workers. As Almog and Bendor say, “examination of various legal systems … show that none of them are fully coherent or consistent in its attitude towards prostitution”, meaning that sex workers often have their rights violated because the laws in place try to criminalise them or their clients. An important point, which Denver Kisting makes, is “the fact that sex workers would have no service to offer if there were no clients”. Essentially, Denver’s statement means that people demand the sex industry, so there must be services to meet for this request. Ava Rose, a sex worker, supports Kisting by stating that “criminalizing those purchasing my services would have certainly limited my income …”. What these reports from Rose and Kisting show is that workers should have laws which protect their rights, as they need an income, and many of them favour sex work over other types of work. Rachel Marshall claims that “… some women become sex workers by choice …”, because the sex industry provides higher wages and flexible working hours. While it is an undeniable fact that some people are forced to work in the sex industry, it is also important to realise that there are some who have chosen this way of life and view their work as any other normal job.

In this article, I began by defining sex work before arguing that sex work should not be banned, instead, laws should protect workers as the industry provides jobs for people. I then looked into different types of sex work to give some background information on the industry. I then inspected laws from different countries relating to sex work, to show that the laws are inconsistent, and none relate to the safety of the workers. I then provided examples of abuse workers have suffered due to clients, to help emphasis why laws need to be changed to protect workers, rather than criminalise them. Finally, I looked at how some workers choose this career, and how it benefits them and their lives. Overall, the article showed why the sex industry is important because it provides employment, and a lot of the workers enjoy the field they work in. It also pointed out why laws need to be about protecting workers’ bodies and rights, rather than criminalising and banning the industry.


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NOTE: This article was written based on an assignment I did for my university unit Gender, Globalisation and Development