I can almost guarantee that you know a sex worker. Yes, you. I, personally, know many people who use their sexuality as a primary or secondary means of income, both out of necessity and out of choice.
I’ve heard a lot of anti-sex work rhetoric lately, especially in the form of SWERF (Sex Worker Exclusive Radical Feminist) ideas: that all sex work is non-consensual, that empowering sex work does not exist and in fact is a manufactured concept by the patriarchy, that healthy sex work is wrong because sex trafficking still exists.
These are not true.
Of course, in a capitalist system, sex work necessitated by poverty is not consensual, healthy sex work. Sex trafficking and slavery are not even comparable to healthy sex work. Equating healthy sex work with all other forms of sexuality-as-profit, and refusing to acknowledge that we have a problem with systems of oppression and not with people choosing to use their own bodies to make money contributes to the issue. If you continue to criticize all forms of prostitution, you ignore the intersections of racism, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, classism and ableism that continue to distort peoples’ agency over their own bodies.
Denying people bodily autonomy does not eliminate bodily exploitation.
Sex work is normal. Prostitution is often cited as the oldest profession, and why wouldn’t it be? Our bodies are the most available tool at our disposal. However, sex work remains risky for anyone involved. If you do choose to use sex work as a secondary income, stay safe: get yourself tested regularly, set boundaries, keep records of interactions, disclose as little personal information as possible, and keep a friend, partner, or counselor in the loop, especially when doing in-person sex work. Be careful with using cash-app platforms. If you know someone choosing to use sex work as income, respect their privacy, ask how you can help keep them safe, and never “out” them as a sex worker.
In Illinois, prostitution (which refers specifically to the exchange of physical sex acts for anything of monetary value) is a Class A misdemeanor. Immunities to this charge apply to minors and trafficking victims. Those considered to be “promoting” prostitution can also be charged.
The SESTA/FOSTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act/Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) package was passed into law a year ago, in April 2018. The titles are misleading; SESTA/FOSTA has mostly provided a way for websites to criminalize sex work online and to shut down the profiles and communities of sex workers.
Our narrow view of sex work as exploitation is actively endangering real people trying to do their jobs, and is doing almost nothing to change the situation of sex trafficking victims worldwide. Sex work must be protected in order for sex workers to be protected. Any other rhetoric simply continues to endanger lives.
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