It is a challenging time for sex workers right now. New laws brought uncertainty to everyone across the sex work spectrum. This week's Sex Stories We Love looks at sex work from many different angles.
The Current State of Sex Work
To really understand the current fears sex workers experience, it is important to understand exactly what they're up against. In the past year, the United States government signed two bills into law: Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOTSA) and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 (SESTA). Bex vanKoot outlines the issues with these two laws in this great primer on sex workers relationship to technology and the Internet. These laws are meant to fight human trafficking. On the very base coating, that's a great idea. However, the full language of these laws threaten anyone doing sex work of any kind in any way on the Internet - illegally and legally. What FOSTA and SESTA do is, essentially, remove the safeguards sex workers established for themselves in their work. It could, essentially, necessitate a move back to street work for some. So, laws meant to keep people safe will, inevitably, endanger others.
The fallout of signing FOSTA into law was swift. The popular classified advertising site, Backpage, was seized and suspended by law enforcement. Its CEO and co-founder recently reached a plea bargain. Carl Ferrer agreed to take "all steps within his power to shut down Backpage, to forfeit all the company's assets and property, to testify that Backpage laundered money and encouraged prostitution-related ads."
This deal also required him to admit that he and his co-workers created "a veneer of deniability" by removing keywords from ads that pointed to illegal activity. One key note is that Ferrer does not admit to sex trafficking, despite allegations of such involvement.
These were two main spaces sex workers could advertise and better screen potential clients.
From the Mouth of Babes
We're going to read and hear a lot in the coming months about the issues facing sex workers and those who aim to control the extent of sex work (including from yours truly). However, as you seek out and interact with information, please do all you can to hear the struggle from the voices of sex workers themselves. Theirs is the most authentic voice in all of this. Of course, this dialogue should include those who've been the victims of sex trafficking as well as consensual sex workers. To start you off, here is a great insight on sex work from Siouxsie Q., a sex worker and activist. Siouxsie offers insight on the day-to-day struggles of sex workers that people outside the industry are often shielded from.
A Different View
Representation is key to facilitating understanding, and sex workers are, predominantly, misrepresented in media and storytelling. All to often new items, films, and television will depict the same visual trope of a woman on the streets, in fishnets, high heels, and a miniskirt negotiating through an open car window. That might be one reality, but it is only one of many realities for sex workers. Lindsay Irene is a photographer who takes advertising photos for sex workers, but she is turning her camera toward other aspects of sex workers' lives. Taking a glimpse into their worlds is an important step in fostering a better understanding among everyone about the nature of sex work and the people who participate in it. Dispelling stereotypes and increasing representation will increase the dialogue of this valuable work.
A New Perspective
Many people, when trying to sort out their feelings about sex work, just can't envisage a reality other than the reality depicted by North American society. This version of sex work dominates media, but there are other realities out there. Take New Zealand as an example. The passing of the Prostitution Reform Act of 2003 made sex work legal. It opened up a new world of possibilities that other jurisdictions could emulate. The Act empowered sex workers tremendously and allows workers, such as Bubbles, to share their stories of engaging and enlightened employment in sex work in an age when there is so much darkness attributed to sex work. New Zealand is definitely on the right track.
Why and Who
Finally, while it is important to learn more about sex workers to understand the challenges they face, we should also take a little look at those folks who visit sex workers. Their participation in this equation is important to recognizing the need for this work in our world.