The sentence in Grant’s book that most changed my mind about the topic was this simple observation: “Sex workers should not be expected to defend the existence of sex work in order to have the right to do it free from harm.”
Like many people, I have a mix of conflicting ideas, thoughts and reactions when it comes to the issue of sex work. But that sentence was clarifying. We shouldn’t have to solve a Big Question to ensure that people are not subject to risks and threats from both the people who hire them and the state itself through its policing powers. Those simple labor-market issues aren’t new. And, historically, they’ve been best addressed through democratic accountability and action.
Most sex workers will have conflicting opinions about their work. But that’s true of all workers. And sex work exists within a larger labor market at all times. As Susan Dewey found in her ethnography of women working at strip clubs in the Rust Belt, it was the low-wage work outside strip clubs that the women found “exploitative, exclusionary and without hope for social mobility or financial stability.”
The debate over sex work isn’t going to go away anytime soon. But hopefully, with more books like this out there, it will move forward to a place where the workers under discussion are seen as people we are trying to empower to make decisions, rather than merely criminals to punish or victims to save.
— Sex workers’ rights are just workers’ rights, v. nice review of Playing the Whore on Wonkblog at the Washington Post