Let’s Argue About Prostitution

Pretty-Baby_1Sex work produces some unexpected fringe benefits. For instance, according to this article in Hazlitt about a proposed bill restricting classified ads for escorts in Canada, it supports print media at a time when little else will, and as well as other industries.

sex work ads contribute crucially to the health of print media. And the less secretive publishers are about this relationship, the better they seem to do: the Grid is dead, but NOW—despite a defiantly untrendy design—is holding strong. … There is no question that online advertising has transformed the sex industry, but in fact, ads for sexual services are far from endangered, and appear in print publications as diverse as the Toronto Sun and the New York Review of Books (which runs them alongside personals ads). …

Sex work supports economies beyond publishing. It’s likely that businesses in the hotel, transportation, and tourism spheres will be hurt by the bill, too. “The sex industry is huge, especially when you consider that it’s not just sex workers, but everyone involved with them—clients, drivers, porn consumers, sex bloggers… the list goes on and on,” says Carolyn, an agency escort in downtown Toronto (her name has been changed on request, to protect her anonymity). “Our clubs bring in tourists, our lived experiences sell books and magazines, and sex workers buy food and clothes and cars and houses just like everyone else. But we don’t talk about that. We’d rather have this illusion that sex workers are different from non-sex workers, and that what we do isn’t real work.”

“It’s hard to admit that sex work isn’t just happening in certain zones or neighbourhoods, and that any normal person you see around could be a sex worker,” she continues. “I think if people were to realize that, it would be much harder to criminalize and dismiss us.”

Although I’m glad it can do some good, I do feel kind of conflicted about prostitution. On one hand, I believe women should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies, including charging customers for limited access to them, as they see fit. Men too, of course, but men usually have, and certainly historically have had, more choices. My issue with sex work is with the way women and girls have been treated through history and the way they have been, and still are in many cases, forced into exploitative situations.

On the other hand, I don’t want to live in a purely capitalist free-for-all where female bodies are a commodity like paper towels or lobster and are valued or devalued according to the whims of the market.

The realities of life being what they are, I think America should decriminalize sex work and aim to make it as safe as possible. (And Canada shouldn’t be trying to criminalize classified ads.) The workers should be able to unionize, to seek redress from the courts if they’re wronged, to insist upon protections and conditions. Where do you fall on this issue?



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