Sex work should be legal
- Published: 06 December 2009
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Sex workers’ rights are part of the social justice movement. Peer educator Seranna Angel explains why.
In 2009 I decided to see the world. I travelled to India America and Australia, comparing the countries’ compassion to sex workers.
The underlying concern throughout my journey is to affirm the importance of the virtue of compassion as a crucial component of the struggle for social justice and human flourishing, human needs, and humans being treated equal.
While travelling, I looked around me. I saw strength, injustice, power inequity, so many humans fighting for the simply rights as other human beings. On one side of the world, in India, I saw poverty, beauty and corruption. On the other side, America the “super power of the world”. What scared me was that both are similar in how they tackle prostitution.
Firstly they both outlaw it. In India and America, sex work is illegal and policed in a corrupt manner most of the time. This way of tackling the situation is failing.
Spending millions of dollars policing prostitution and locking up men, women and trans who are selling their skills and shaming the people purchasing the services in the media isn’t working. The media hypes up sex workers, condemning them and making them out to be the lowest of the low. Why is this?
Is it jealousy that we have independence, can work whenever we want, get paid lots of money, and might actually enjoy our jobs and our lifestyle?
Imagine if they turned all "this filth" into a legal industry and imagine the millions of dollars of tax the government could accrue instead of wasting millions. Maybe the media is just jealous we don’t work in a office every day and stressed to the max trying to make deadlines. We are having sex AND getting paid for it.
Criminalisation and sex worker safety
When sex workers are treated as a criminals, this of course then affects their safety at work.
When a client knows that you are doing a job illegally, they know that you can’t or won’t go to the police if they rape you or treat you badly, because you are not acknowledged as a professional.
For the immense skills and professionalism you have, you are deemed a criminal. I have worked 10 years in a illegal setting in Australia. I didn't enjoy breaking the law but I didn't move states either. After few police raids and knowing I was deemed a criminal, I had to hide everything. This is what sex workers have to do: not let anyone know and lie to your partner.
This increases stigma and discrimination and that in turn increases isolation in all aspects of your life. Sex workers are not known to have the best social life. It’s normally us working on a Friday and Saturday night, driving around late at night.
All the hiding because sex work is illegal is what sometimes eats away at your soul, NOT the actual job – the stigma surrounding it. I question why should I pay tax on illegal earnings when I don’t have occupational health and safety.
Stop shaming us to death
How about the government simply decriminalise the industry and get us out of the underground and stop “shaming us to death”.
I first heard this phrase in America and some people say it’s just a bit extreme. Well, no it’s not. Because of the stigma attached to our job, all the amazing other skills we have are overlooked once you say you’re a sex worker.
There have been hundreds, probably thousands of murders all around the world of sex workers. Sex workers who seemed like a easy target because of bad laws. My first ever whore-buddy’s suicide happened after seven years of being a worker and having to hide it from the world and her fiance’s negative reaction when he found out pushed her over the edge.
The shame society heaps on us is appalling, as is and how the media makes us feel – that our job is so bad that no one could possibly choose to be a sex worker; you would have to be forced . This simply isn’t true for all sex workers.
Working in a illegal setting has health consequences. When you go to a doctor, you need to lie about your sexual practices – either sounding dumb or, even worse, like a slut telling the doctor how you need some tests because you had a broken condom due to bad storage of condoms by a client, or the condom slipped off, or the client slipped it off. Or if you have questions about the fishy smell that has come about from having multiple partners and your PH level going out of whack from using so much lube.
If sex work was legal, workers would feel more comfortable (not having a nervous breakdown in the S.T.I waiting room), telling the truth to the doctors.
In the US there is little money for sex workers’ peer education because the government has made all the charities sign a declaration stating that you won’t help prostitutes. Many of the sex worker peer educators work for the passion and mostly or free. I’m one of the incredibly lucky peer educators in the world that actually gets a full-time wage.
Some of us don't need saving
Much of the contempt we face is from religious people who simply want to save us. Telling us we deserve better than a life of prostitution; that part of our soul is taken away every time we do a booking. They condemn us, then seek funding to help “save” us. This is so hypocritical.
We choose to work and we get to choose what we do with that money. Do you think it’s better working for a multi-national company, getting screwed over, being overworked, under-paid, surviving week to week, then spat out when things go pearshaped and you’re “retrenched”? I don’t think so.
A vision for the future
A vision for the future
I would like more discussion around why there isn't law reform and all countries around the world. What else do peer educators need to do to improve the world? How can a few key steps change other peoples lives?
I would like more people to treat sex work as real work.
I would like many people to see how sex workers use condoms. Sex workers should be teaching people how to use condoms correctly. More people need to touch condoms so they are not scared of them, so they understand how they will protect you from many infections and diseases and pregnancy. I have only recently stopped assuming that "they know" or have access to sexual health.
For India, I would like condom accessibility improved, condoms to be allowed on chemist shelves, education around lube, the proactive selling of lube with condoms in chemists and youth centres, and other high-risk minority groups.
Seranna Angel is a full-time peer educator in Australia and is the producer of an upcoming documentary Comparing Countries Compassion. Jessie Abraham is the character in the movie. Jessie also does stand-up, radio and is currently working on a script of the most romantic love story movie script of the decade.