Sex work, rape, marriage and social media: A commentary

I took a bit of a pasting on Twitter last night. It was an illuminating experience. I am no flame war virgin, I have experienced my fair share of online ire in the past, but this was the first time my female persona had been the subject of a flame war and the first time I had been taken to task on this sort of issue.I found the experience interesting.

It all began when someone re-tweeted a tweet that stated: ‘There is no rational reason sex work should be illegal’. I have always been of the view that sex work (prostitution if you prefer or whatever other contested name you wish to use) should be legal. After all, I am of the view that whatever two consenting adults do in private is no-one else’s, least of all the state’s, interest. However a few months ago I heard a radio interview that challenged my position. A former sex worker (she prefers the word prostitute) was championing the Scandinavian model, which criminalises the purchase of sex but protects the sale of sex: it is an attempt to remove the demand rather than the supply from the economy.

Her rationale was that all sex work is in fact a form of abuse at best and rape at worst because if it were entirely consensual then there would be no need for money to change hands. If the sex worker truly wanted to have sex with the client then she would do so for free. This is the nature of sexual attraction, desire and indeed love. She said that the use of money was a form of coercion in the same way that the use of physical force, threats of violence or drugs was coercive in the more traditional sense of rape. She also pointed out that whilst some sex workers may have some autonomy, many work in brothels or for pimps who force them to have sex with people they may not wish to have sex with, to perform acts they are entirely uncomfortable performing and to risk their health and well-being. She is of the opinion that the notion of a sex worker being able to refuse sex is more a myth than a reality.

I acknowledge that these are her views and that they may or may not reflect the lived experience of the majority of sex workers (I have no way of telling for sure). Her evidence may be anecdotal (or not, I have no way of telling) but nonetheless, her views and experiences are valid and real. Even if she is in a minority her opinions are worth considering.

Her point of view challenged my preconceived ideas and I found her argument with respect to money being coercive compelling. I have not definitively changed my mind on sex work but I am considering all points of view. Therefore, when I saw the tweet that said there was ‘no rational reason for sex work to be illegal’ I challenged it. Pointing out that there was perhaps a rational reason to at least challenge part of this proposition. I also pointed out that I was to an extent playing devil’s advocate, hoping that this could lead to a rational debate. Sadly Twitter only allows 140 characters and some of the nuance of my position may have been lost.

In any event I was flamed, subjected to ad hominem attacks and severely told off. People seized on the fact that I was married and questioned whether marriage was not also a form of rape. I happen to disagree with this. Regardless of what the law may say in any country, it is my view that consent is still required for sex whether married or not. I acknowledge that in a loving relationship one spouse may from time to time perform sex when ‘not in the mood’ but that does not per se imply a lack of consent. I also happen to think that if you habitually deny consent in a marriage then your marriage may have problems but that is another topic. Someone then pointed out that not everyone in capitalist countries is ‘MADLY IN LOVE’ with their jobs. I agreed and pointed out that capitalism is inherently exploitative and that the person had thus inadvertently supported my argument. This did not go down well to say the least.

For what it is worth I care about sex workers and sex work. Being trans* I am acutely aware that a number of trans* people end up in sex work for a number of reasons. Some have been discriminated against and that is the only employment they can find. Others need money for medical procedures and sex work seems to be the only means of raising the relatively large sums of money quickly and then once involved in sex work they find it very hard (impossible) to find other employment. It is at this point that sex work starts becoming very unpleasant and increasingly non-consensual.

I believe that all sex workers need protection and that they should not be the subject of abuse by law enforcement (as they too often are), but I question how best this is achieved. The risk is that by legalising sex work you may also inadvertently make associated practices more prevalent. Human trafficking may increase, brothels and pimps that promote unsafe and non-consensual practices may be harder to identify and police. This is not a given, but may be a possibility. I therefore wonder how best to provide this protection. I appreciate that many sex workers say that they enjoy their work but I wonder given the type of work, the conditions, the people involved and the inherently (often) asymmetrical power relationships (brothel owners have almost all the power, clients have the money that the worker often desperately needs etc) how far away even these happy sex workers are from being coerced into doing something they do not want to do. The fundamental questions that we as a society  we need to answer are:

Is it possible to empower sex workers?

Is the industry inherently coercive?

How do we protect sex workers?

I am truly fine with defending my position and do not mind the odd bit of ire directed at me. I am a big girl and frankly don’t really mind what strangers on the other side of the world think of me. It did however make me think. When I first became aware of social media I had high hopes that it could be an excellent forum for (and in addition to grumpy cat videos), debate and discussion. It could be a wonderful place for sharing ideas, challenging preconceptions and developing knowledge and understanding. Sadly human nature is such that rather than free, open and informed discussion, social media is characterised by entrenched ideas, dogmatic views and a pack or herd mentality that results in people following the crowd and attacking anyone who posits an alternative point of view.

I think that this is a very complex issue that needs debate and discussion. I am not sure that entrenching positions and closing down debate by attacking people is helpful. I wish social media was better used and opened up space for debate. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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About the post

feminism, human rights, marriage, sexuality, transgender

7 Comments

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  1. I think to avoid some of the pitfalls of legalization, there should also be a sex workers Bill of Rights. Something which spells out what sex workers will and won’t do, something rooted in law, which protects and empowers them, whether they run a tease website or they take cash for sex. This could include;
    *refuse service or services to anyone
    *refuse a specific service
    *protects a sex workers likeness of they maintain a website
    *refuse to utilize pimps or madams
    And similar rights.

    To limit the associated problems; *broaden and firmly establish what constitutes pimping or “managing” a sex worker,
    * increase the jail time and fines associated with pimping or being a pimp,
    *establish a three strikes law for pimps/madams with mandatory jail time associated with a conviction, *establish a zero tolerance policy in human trafficking,
    *require sex workers to register as independent contractors in whichever cities they plan to work, pay fees to do so, and require the filing of taxes in order to maintain their business.
    *Establish pimp hotlines to report pimps,
    *have access to women’s shelters opened to sex workers who need to escape a pimp or madam.
    *establish programs which would assist women looking to escape or willingly leave the sex trade. Often women enter the sex trade because they feel empowered to do nothing else or lack education or opportunities. Or the money is just too lucrative compared to what they are already doing. I knew a woman making 60k a year in an IT job who created a tease website making 140k a year. Of course she left IT work.

    Of course these are fast and dirty ideas, from someone who isn’t a sex worker. But I think in the right context it could be valuable to the industry.

    Ever,
    Caden Lane

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think sex work should never be encouraged its very demoralizing to the well being of the person involved that’s my view. love is free its priceless. we can’t exchange love with money….sex yes.

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    • Thanks for the input Franz. On the other hand prostitution is a reality, wishing it away is unlikely to help. What to do?

      Liked by 1 person

      • There’s nothing we can do about it but legalizing it will cause moral decay . In ancient times there are already prostitutes but they are stoned to death. we must not teach our children that prostitution is fun and easy money they don’t have to educate themselves to get a good living condition . Because being a sex worker is a definition of a successful life itself imagine that .Moreover , encouraging to legalize this issue will cause more problems and conflicts and chaos. e.g. we know that there are victims of prostitution like those who are victims of human trafficking . They suffered abuse that will affect thier mentaal and psychological health .they are coerced or forced to become a sex worker ….. Morality of women will be jeopardized we will be reduced to a thing , a cunt a doormat to be trampled on. We know that there were women who are victims of kidnapping, then housed in a remote places to serve as a sex worker . It will lead to a crime laden world by exercising laziness in our society moral values must be taught not the material things…..Life here on earth is just a breath a brevity compared to the eternity promised by God our maker , our creator to mankind. The question is could you exchange your eternal life with money? What is 60 years to immortality, infinity and eternal bliss in heaven?

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  3. Sex work often ends in heated debates. As a current sex worker in Queensland Australia I am very active on Twitter and have been the recipient, and instigator, of many a “flame war” with anti sex work activists, religious organisations, conservative government reps and individual men and women. You’re right 140 characters immediately shuts down a lot of important debate.

    I was most interested in the sixth paragraph in your piece. I feel that replacing certain aspects of this paragraph you come some way to answering your own question. I’ve reproduced the altered paragraph below with my changes highlighted in **.

    People seized on the fact that I was married and questioned whether marriage was not also a form of rape. I happen to disagree with this. Regardless of what the law may say in any country, it is my view that consent is still required for sex whether *getting paid* or not. I acknowledge that in a *service* relationship one party may from time to time perform sex when ‘not in the mood’ but that does not per se imply a lack of consent. I also happen to think that if you habitually deny consent in a *service relationship* then your *service relationship* may have problems but that is another topic.

    Simply comparing sex work to marriage is inherently problematic. People aren’t only having sex within marriages. And accepting money for sex does not negate my consent. People have sex for a variety of reasons and getting paid is only one of those reasons. Sex is simply a service I provide so I find it much more sensible to compare sex work to say a mechanic, or a hairdresser. I provide a service and I receive payment for that service. Simply because the service I provide is sex does not alter any of the parameters of any other service relationship. Sex does not always equate to love so this idea that marriage is the epitome of where sex can occur is flawed.

    I am not implying you are wrong for your views. I’m just trying to present another perspective from inside the industry. Hopefully this is food for thought for anyone who reads this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this! This is exactly my intent, to stimulate debate… I remain undecided. I was always firmly in the legalise camp, but then I heard the views of the former sex worker and it opened my mind to other possibilities. Please note it was not me bringing marriage into the equation it was those on Twitter who did so. Your points are well made. This is a highly complex issue with no one answer that is obviously the ‘right’ way to go. Protection is clearly required for people working in this industry. How best to achieve that is what is up for debate. The Nordic model has much to recommend it. Is it the best solution? I do not know. As I am not involved in the industry I am eager to hear the views of those that are…

      Like

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