Indoor sex work involves having access to the indoors. Do we not remember that this is an enormous privilege?
An “on and off” sex worker for 20 years, Fleur de Lit, takes on the recent decision by Ontario’s Court of Appeals with righteous anger and compassion. Though Judge Susan Himmel of the (lower) Superior Court recognized that current laws enhanced the existing vulnerability of outdoor workers, the Court of Appeals decided that laws were not the endangering force in street workers’ lives, citing instead “poverty, addiction, gender, race and age” as being the factors responsible for marginalization and subsequent risks. (And it would be ridiculous for the law to pro-actively recognize or mitigate those factors, right?) Their recent decision only legalized brothels; “communicating for the purposes of prostitution” is still illegal.
Fleur de Lit goes on to write:
Decriminalization won’t change the way that I work: carefully screening clients, asking my colleagues for references and working indoors. The onus of criminality has always been on my outdoor colleagues.
In this election, there is no viable option for those of us looking to build a better world. People have exclaimed, “What about Bernie?! What about Jill Stein?” And maybe a little while ago, before looking into their respective platforms, I would have said, “Okay, yeah, sure—but organize.” But fortunately, since then I’ve been schooled by other pros on the position the US Green Party takes on our labor, and I’ve withdrawn my initial, albeit less-than-enthusiastic support.
The Green Party is traditionally seen as the go-to camp for independent voters with progressive ideals. Ultimately, however, it falls in line with the existing two party system of pro-carceral, punitive, reductionist policies on sex work. It is not a radical alternative; it is not a progressive bastion of thoughtful consideration for marginalized communities. If you cannot stand with folks in criminalized work, demand they be able to organize openly, and advocate for their full decriminalization, then you are on the wrong side of history.
“We urge that the term ‘sex work’ not be used in relation to prostitution,” the GP USA platform proclaims. Yet, this is the term we as workers demand to be called. We are laborers in the trade of sex.
“With the increasing conflation of trafficking (the violent and illegal trafficking in women and girls for forced sex) with prostitution,” the GP platform continues, “it is impossible to know which is which, and what violence the term ‘sex work’ is masking.”
It absolutely is possible to know which is which, but that might require talking to actual sex workers, something the GP USA seems uninterested in doing. The Green Party stance on sex work demonstrates that sex workers are excluded from party policy dialogue. It also takes agency away from both consenting voluntary workers and trafficking survivors. It implies we cannot speak for ourselves, and we can. The platform ignores the damage the conflation of voluntary sex work with the term ‘human trafficking’ does to both consenting workers and trafficking survivors. Arrest, jail time, prison sentences, open records in Human Trafficking court—this is violence, and yet it’s what the GP USA calls safety.
The GP USA should know that even if the police manage to find actual victims of trafficking, rather than consenting adults engaged in sex work, in the course of their sting operations, their so-called rescue methods are carcerally violent. Trafficking survivors are thrown in cages just like voluntary workers, exacerbating their trauma, rather than being given the mental health care and exit resources they need. The purported threat of trafficking is used as a justification for the arrest and imprisonment of both trafficking survivors and consenting workers.
Perhaps the most damning statement in the platform document is the one that follows: “No source in existence knows which forms of prostitution comprise forced sex and which comprise free will or choice prostitution.”
No source in existence?! How about this blog? Or SWOP-USA, Red Umbrella Project, Paulo Longo Research Initiative, or Support Ho(s)e, to name a few? There are numerous sex worker led initiatives, organizations, and publications which can be easily found and sourced. All the time, more and more workers are coming out and actively organizing for decriminalization, or campaigning around others who have been targeted by state violence. Google that shit.
This past August, Texas’ Supreme Court upheld the 2007 “pole tax.” Also known as the “stripper tax,” it is a $5 per patron entry fee that is supposed to go towards low-income health insurance and assistance for victims of sexual assault. Currently there are an estimated 169 strip clubs in Texas (according to TUSCL, it’s closer to 200), and proponents of the new law allege that the revenue will provide $2.5 million annually to rape-survivor programs.
Since its passage in 2007, the tax has been tied up in court battles. The Texas Entertainment Association sued in 2008, stating that the proposed tax would be a violation of the First Amendment. At first the appellate courts upheld that argument, but that decision was reversed by the court’s ruling. In Justice Hecht’s deciding argument, he wrote “The fee is not aimed at any expressive content of nude dancing but at the secondary effects of the expression in the presence of alcohol.”
The fact that porn workers have always been popular scapegoats for the broadest strokes of politics and media is hardly news for those who work in the sex industry. There are myths claiming pornography leads to violence and there is the historical fact that porn workers have protected our civil rights. Protecting our First Amendment rights is just scratching the surface of sex workers’ contributions to labor and women’s rights movements, among others, since antiquity. Although more is at stake for sex workers than free speech, the passage of FOSTA and SESTA will not only affect us but civilians too, especially in light of the repeal of net neutrality. In a titillating cross-section of lawmaking and scandal, we have on one side Stormy Daniels suing 45 for unlawful payoffs and calling him to account publicly for his associates’ threats against her, and on the other side, legislation that has already silenced common sex workers, with the overlaying intersections of race and class; good whores and bad whores; victims and perpetrators; and misinformation all around.
You might see liberal celebrities championing Daniels, but you won’t see them championing sex workers’ rights.