Decriminalise Sex Work For Safety's Sake // Sex Work Is WORK

17th December marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Sex Workers. Globally, sex workers have a 45-75% chance of experiencing sexual violence at some point in their careers and are more likely to be killed on the job than the average person. It's time to put an end to this and decriminalise sex work.
At the end of the day, sex work is WORK, therefore, it should be recognised as such. It pays the bills, it pays the rent, it puts food on the table for families. Sex work should not be treated as a crime. Decriminalising sex work is vital if we want to ensure the safety of those who, for whatever reason, engage in it. It's horrific for people to be forced into prostitution but we must also acknowledge that no one loves their job 100% of the time, meaning even those who do sex work willingly and feel empowered by it, probably don't feel in love with it all of the time. Whether someone was forced into sex work or does it of their own accord, all sex workers deserve to feel safe.

Because sex work is still illegal, sex workers are less likely to come forwards with their stories of the assault and abuse which has been inflicted upon them as they fear their own arrest. Sex workers struggle to trust police officers and, as long as their jobs remain illegal, they will continue to do so and will not speak out. This is wrong. Sex workers should not be fearful of punishment but should instead feel able to speak out about violence, knowing someone will offer them help. Sex workers deserve the same access to safety and the justice system as those who perpetuate violence against them. Those who commit acts of violence should be the ones living in shame in cells, not their victims.

Sex work was decriminalised in New Zealand in 2003, making it an example of the decriminalisation of sex work being successful. Over there, sex workers are much more likely to report acts of violence against them to the police and the safety of sex workers has vastly increased. 
Whereas, in the UK, sex work is still very much frowned upon and so their safety is not prioritised. In the UK, if more than two sex workers are working in the same building, that building is classified as brothel - brothels are illegal. Of course, common sense says that having multiple sex workers in one unit makes them feel safer than if they were to be working alone. However, UK law doesn't seem to understand that and so chooses to make women fear for their lives instead.

The stigma surrounding sex work is very much part of the problem. The negative attitudes towards sex workers, the way we think differently of women when we learn they are sex workers, the incorrect myths we have absorbed over time...these things all contribute towards the stigma and, therefore, are doing nothing to improve the safety of sex workers. We ought to challenge people's twisted ideas of sex workers and annihilate the stigma if we want to fully protect sex workers. Sex workers do not deserve to live lives of shame, nor do they deserve to be punished for something which they, often, feel they have no choice but to do. 

The majority of sex workers are single mothers and the government's austerity cuts are mostly targeting women, resulting in an increase in street prostitution. Ultimately, as most things do, it comes down to politics and money. Poverty lies at the core of this. Single mothers are feeling lost and are panicking about how they're going to care for their children, leaving them to do something which, in an ideal world, they wouldn't be doing. Whilst a portion of sex workers choose that lifestyle, most of them don't. People who don't want to should not be forced to sell themselves in order to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. The welfare state must be protected and single mothers should be given more support. But, because sex work is still illegal and frowned upon, women are afraid to open up about the drastic measures they're having to go to in order to earn money. Millions of families would not have survived had it not been for sex workers, therefore, the occupation should be recognised as the economic contribution to society which it really is.

Sex workers are human beings, like you and me, just with the capacity to make their own choices in life with what they want to do with their bodies. Sex workers are worthy of visibility and rights and they deserve to be recognised as people too, just doing their best to survive in a patriarchal, inequitable, capitalist society.

As feminists, we must fight for the rights of sex workers and do what we can to make their jobs safe. I am not a sex worker, I cannot speak on behalf of sex workers, nor do I wish to, however, what I do wish to do is to raise their voices and stand in solidarity with them during their struggles, for if we do not fight for the the elimination of violence against sex workers, we do not fight for women's right to be free from violence at all. We must support all sex workers, regardless of race, sexuality, age or circumstances and challenge the laws which have a duty to protect the country's population.

Keep those who have lost their lives as a result of sexual violence in your heart as you fight for a better future for sex workers. Listen to their stories and support sex workers, do not judge them.

Visit the ECP website for more information HERE.

Love, Emily

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