How To Keep Sex Workers Safe

Hi Reader Friend,

This week, I’m diving into why, from the research I have done and people I have talked to, I think we should highly consider decriminalizing sex work for the protection of women.

You may have to lay aside, or maybe you don’t, your background of morality that says sex is sacred. I hope this can give you an introduction that you will use to further study and learn. I’ve listed some resources at the bottom to get you going.

I would adore if you subscribed to my Letters from Lauren (button at the bottom). And if you feel inclined, you can buy me a coffee to support my research and writing.

Love to you all,

Lauren


Make selling sex legal? Are you serious? Why would you ever suggest that we condone a person (often, but not always a woman) selling her body for the sexual desires of another human being (often, but not always a man)?

Two months ago, I wouldn’t have ever thought that the selling of sex should be decriminalized. Working with victims that have been trafficked into the sex trade has given me a little bit of an insider’s view into how the forced selling of sex can affect a woman. I thought that it would be better to protect her, not just the trafficked women, but the prostitute or the woman selling sex voluntarily, by making it a crime to sell sex. I scoffed at the idea of giving into a patriarchal, misogynist society that would condone a woman being used by rich, entitled men who were feeling randy. And would have advocated for her protection by keeping her out of potentially violent situations while working.

And then I immersed myself into the world of fierce advocates calling for decriminalization of sex work in the UK. I want to share with you my findings (by no means extensive) on why sex work should be decriminalized. By the way, there are many that would disagree with me. Many that want to see the Nordic Model adopted in the UK (which would make the purchase of sex illegal, amongst other things). Even recently, feminist MPs tabled a motion in Parliament for the Nordic Model as a means of protecting trafficked victims. I’m by no means an expert, but I am a learner and hopefully, a communicator. I encourage you to take my findings and research yourself to come to your own conclusion.

What would it mean for sex work to be decriminalized? It is the removal of criminal penalties for the consensual provision of sexual services (sex work). The UK functions in a system where sex work is legal, but with lots of loopholes. The exchange of sexual services for money is legal, but soliciting in public places, managing a brothel, and working in groups are considered to be crimes.

In a decriminalized system:

1.       Women can work in numbers.

One sex worker told the charity Decrim Now, “the big thing for me is that decriminalisation would mean that I could work with my friends for safety. There are just so many benefits to it: not feeling isolated, being able to talk to and support each other, but also in safety in numbers. When I was receiving death threats from an ex-client and was terrified to work, I wished then more than ever that I wouldn’t have to fear repercussions for inviting another worker to help me feel safe.”

If women could work together, they can help to keep each other safe. Additionally, when working in groups, women can flag when they notice behaviour that suggests exploitation or trafficking.

2.       Women can form unions.

If sex workers can access labour rights, which include safety and dignity in work, they will have increased legal protection, justice for crimes against them, and access to healthcare.

3.       Women will be more likely to report violence to the police.

A woman that is scared of the police will be hesitant to report to the police. She doesn’t want to be arrested, deported, reported to social services. And she doesn’t want to be dismissed and ignored because of her choice of her work.

4.       It reduces stigma associated with sex work.

Human Rights Watch reported that it “consistently found in research across various countries that criminalization makes sex workers more vulnerable to violence, including rape, assault, and murder, by attackers who see sex workers as easy targets because they are stigmatized and unlikely to receive help from the police. Criminalization may also force sex workers to work in unsafe locations to avoid the police.”


How do you feel after reading those points? Do you vehemently disagree? Or feel unsure of what to think? Does it violate your view of sex? Does it make you uncomfortable?

Let it sink in that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reuters have all reported that decriminalizing sex work is the best way to protect women.

In an ideal world, women wouldn’t need to do sex work. Most women would rather not be selling sex, but poverty, lack of employment, education, childcare, along with many other reasons, drives a woman to a profession that is guaranteed to put food on the table, credit in the gas meter, and a roof over her families’ head.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where sex work is happening, whether it is legal or not. It is the Government’s job to protect the human beings in front of it, and those human beings, in this case sex workers (not all sex workers, but many), are calling for decriminalization.

What is the other option? Criminalization of sex work, often referred to as the Nordic Model. The Nordic Model decriminalises sex workers and makes buying sex a criminal offence. The purpose of the model is to reduce the demand for sex work and to uphold the viewpoint that all sex work is violence against women. It’s used in countries such as Northern Ireland, Sweden, and France.

Advocates for decriminalization argue that this model can actually endanger women further. The numbers of sex exchanges might lessen because law-abiding buyers will most likely back off. But the men that aren’t law abiding, often with riskier behaviour, will continue to find women to buy sex from. These men tend to be more violent and operate “behind closed doors”, leaving women at risk of violent sexual encounters but too afraid to say anything to the police. Even though the police technically should be on the side of the woman, many report that it is often not the case and many sex workers are finding themselves criminalized by the police.  

The bigger problem with criminalizing sex is that it takes away yet another way for women to provide an income. Women aren’t working in the sex industry because they love sex (not most of them anyway) – they are working because of poverty.

Both the Nordic Model and Decriminalization advocate for women’s right and protection. The question is which one protects women best. We can’t work in a model of the “ideal world”. We must look at the woman in front of us – the single mother, the undocumented migrant, the disabled, the poor – and ask how we can protect her now.

Further Resources to Consider. I hope this gives you a start to seeing and understanding both sides of the argument.

The New Zealand Model of Decriminalisation

How Sex Work Has Protected New Zealand Sex Workers During COVID

What Sex Workers Say About Decrim (from those that propose decrim)

Nordic Model Facts About Prostitution

Testimonies of Past Prostitutes (from those that propose Nordic Model)

Prostitution Isn’t A Choice

What Happened In Northern Ireland When Nordic Model Was Introduced

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