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Are Laws Against Sex Workers Sexist?

by Christine DeSadeleer Apr 14, 2010
A male sex worker argues that laws against sex work disempower women.

The phrase “sex work”, at least for me, conjures up images of pain, victimization, and slavery of women throughout the world.

I wrote about my frustration with the continued perpetuation of this system, and what I believe is its effect on our spirit, in the piece The Butterfly Effect of Women’s Plight.

So it would be an understatement to say I was intrigued when I came across an article in today’s Guardian about laws against sex work being inherently sexist. It seems the UK passed a little measure last year called the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which just took effect on April 1 of this year, which provided some strict new policies against prostitution for both the solicitor and solicitee.

First of all, the commentary was written by a male sex worker, shocking enough itself. What was even more shocking, though, was that he made some damn valid arguments that kinda blew me out of the water.

Paternalistic and Divisive

Thierry Schaffauser writes that laws against sex work are “essentialist, paternalist and reinforce the division of women,” and that our traditional views of sex work – mostly women being forced against their will or for survival purposes – disregards the many men and transsexuals in the industry, and reinforces a victim mentality when it comes to women.

In other words, these laws perpetuate the idea that women need to be protected (and that they are unable to do this themselves) while at the same time implying that these women are somehow broken, often from some earlier form of sexual abuse.

Schaffauser continues:

It denies sex workers the free disposal of our bodies, our self-determination, our capacity to express our sexual consent like children under 16. It reinforces the idea that sex workers are too stupid, lazy, without any skills, and without consciousness of their alienation.

As soon as I finished reading this statement, I realized how often I place sex workers in that victim role. And to add insult to injury, as Schaffauser later blasts the phrase “selling your body” as an idiotic notion that being penetrated equals giving your body away, I thought about my own situational disregard for the ability of human beings to find empowerment and consciousness in any act.

In seeing this side to the sex work argument, I don’t let go of the many women who truly have no other choice than to trade sex for money, or who are enslaved in this system. I also don’t let go of working to end those oppressive realities. But there certainly is a bit to contemplate when just like anything else, one steps outside the box and looks at the whole picture.

Do you think laws against sex work are helpful or harmful? Share your thoughts below.

Community Connection

It’s easy to think that slavery ended long ago, but the truth is, it’s worse now than ever before, as Caroline Nye outlines in 10 Shocking Facts About Global Slavery in 2008.

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