People...I have low opinions of most celebrities. I mean, I have low opinions of most people if I’m being honest. But celebrities really irritate me. They're people in positions of perceived authority whose opinions somehow manage to shape our society and our opinions. That’s a bit bullshit really. Our society and our opinions should be shaped by those we deem to be the most informed on any given topic. Not the least informed.
You may have heard of the Amnesty International Sex Decriminalisation debate. It hit headlines only after an array of waif-like ingenues decided to speak out on behalf of people they've never met, who work in an industry they've never engaged in. It was riveting stuff. The Spark Notes are that Amnesty International put forward a proposal to decriminalise sex work globally as a way of protecting sex workers and their rights. You’ll remember Amnesty International as a rather large human rights, not-for-profit organisation whose stated objective is “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated”. After Amnesty put forward this proposal, a slew of Hollywood starlets, including Lena Dunham, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, and Kate Winslet, came forward stating that they thought this was a bad idea, because this would increase human trafficking and lead to a “gender apartheid”. You’ll remember these starlets as people who are paid to professionally impersonate other people, both real and imagined, for amounts of money that surpass the GDP of small third world countries.
Celebrities and their opinions have a long history of leading to incredibly stupid movements and social outcomes. Thanks to Jenny McCarthy and her idiot husband, we now have a movement of anti-vaccinators who are so terrified of autism that they will literally risk killing not just their own children but other children in their community. Because the only thing worse than autism is peer reviewed science.
To be fair, when it comes to celebrity opinions on sex workers, I can’t entirely blame them. These are people who work in pretty much the only industry that depicts sex workers and as a result, it’s that same industry that dictates how we see them. When you think about ‘prostitutes’ in movies and television, it’s almost exclusively as a low-end, pimped-out, drug-addicted, heroin-chic looking cis-gendered woman who is a victim of poverty and circumstance. We’ve seen sex workers played for laughs, or played for empathy, or played as shameless Oscar-bait, but we almost never see sex workers depicted as independent individuals, in a variety of gender identities, choosing to be in the industry and looking after and enjoying themselves. Because let’s face it, no one would believe that if you put it on film. You’d be accused of ‘glamourising’ the industry and of sanitising what is ‘essentially sexual assault’. And it sure as hell wouldn’t win an Oscar! Who wants to see someone doing a job they enjoy, for decent money, in a safe environment for 90 minutes?
So I look at these actors and their indignity about Amnesty’s proposal and I feel sorry for them. Because they’ve started to believe the bullshit Hollywood is feeding them. They’re buying into the lies and misinformation that they’re being fed about sex work and the system it exists in. No person who genuinely believed in the rights of women, or in fact people, would oppose Amnesty’s proposal.
Many are arguing that it’s anti-feminist to support decriminalisation. Once I wipe the spray of irony off my face, I would address those ‘feminists’ who are telling other women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. First of all I would point out that they’re completely ignoring all the people who don’t identify as cis-women who are working in the sex industry or are victims of human trafficking and ask if they actually give a fuck about them as well, or are they irrelevant since they don’t fit onto your soapbox?
Secondly I would argue that since feminism is about equality and equality means having a right to choose what you do and don’t do with yourself, maybe we should let the people who are doing the sex work decide if they want it decriminalised. Because really, their opinions on this are the only ones that matter. Not the celebrities, not the talking heads, not the sex-negative feminists, just the sex workers. And yes, I’m saying that, knowing that the people who are forced into sex work against their will aren’t exactly going to get a say in this debate. But the thing is, if sex work is decriminalised, those people who have had their rights taken away and their bodies violated against their will, they’re going to be a lot easier to find and a lot easier to help.
This woman’s argument that “all prostitution is a form of male violence against women” is probably one of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard. It’s offensive to men, it’s offensive to women, it’s offensive to people outside of the gender binary, and it’s offensive to sex workers. Lady, the only thing separating ‘prostitution’ from that thing you do with your husband at night with the lights off, is money. And to be honest if you’d phrased it as “money is a form of male violence against women” I’d be more inclined to agree with you since at least you can quantify that in terms of a wage gap and an institutionalised glass ceiling. You’re making victims out of people who are actively telling you that they’re not. How acceptable would that be if you did it to any other career or industry? But oh wait, that’s the interesting part isn’t it.
See human trafficking isn’t limited to sex work. In fact, there’s a whole industry called labour trafficking, where people are forced to working in agriculture, hospitality, cleaning, factories and even sales. But you know what’s funny, I don’t hear anyone calling for the criminalisation of farms, restaurants, hotels, manufacturing or marketing. Isn’t that odd? And despite there being over 14.2 million trapped in forced labour, no one’s talking about them. So maybe, if you actually gave a genuine fuck about human trafficking and the millions of people globally that are victims of it, you would stop prosthelytising and listen to people who actually know what they’re talking about. Like this amazing organisation. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the people who are demanding the continued criminalisation of sex work, aren't really worried about other victims of human trafficking.
The people who oppose Amnesty's proposal believe that outlawing something acts as a deterrent to the demand for it. But when you do this, all you’re really doing is forcing the production and/or sale of it underground. Look at what happened in America during prohibition. You didn’t see an entire nation suddenly give up alcohol. You saw a massive black market emerge that found creative and ingenious ways to provide something that everyone wanted but that was no longer legal, not to mention a golden age of organised crime rackets that now had a massive market for something that was previously regulated and taxed by the government. Although I guess it did lead to some awesome parties as well...illegal ones.
You can see the same thing with the modern drug trade. Compare morphine to heroin. One is legal, one is not. One is clinically tested to ensure there is nothing in it that could hurt a person and systems are set up to minimise the possibility of addiction and overdose, the other is forced underground, mixed with unknown substances in order to pad out the weight and comes with zero support or information about what happens when you take it. Now which drug would prefer to take? Because I sure as shit enjoy some medical grade morphine when it’s legally administered.
In most countries around the world sex work is currently illegal. Do you know what still happens in these countries? Human trafficking. So, effectively those celebrities and activists are arguing to keep the existing system...you know the one with all the human rights violations. Because that’s working out so well for all the people that aren’t currently getting trafficked, because trafficking is totally illegal. If you want to know why the existing, criminalised system is so bad, please watch this video. Even if you don’t want to know and don’t care, PLEASE watch the video. It’s quite short and will give you an insight into why we need reform.
Some people are arguing that the world should adopt the “Swedish Model”. This would mean that buying sexual services becomes illegal, but being a sex worker isn’t. It’s a nice idea, as it stops the persecution of people who provide sexual services. But it’s problematic as fuck. For a start it basically creates a system similar to statutory rape for all paid-for sexual encounters, whereby one party is inherently guilty and the other innocent. Like statutory rape, it also implies that one party is not fully aware of or fully in control of their body and choices, whereas the other is violating and taking advantage of a weaker person. This is nonsense and continues to brand consensual sex as a crime. In addition, Amnesty International points out that,
”[Amnesty International]’s view is that existing laws around prostitution, such as the ‘Nordic Model’ where sex workers are decriminalised but clients and pimps still face criminal sanctions for buying sex, still create problems for sex workers.
Sex workers can find it difficult to rent accommodation, as their landlords could be charged with pimping, and are often evicted with little notice if the police are involved.
The law also prevents a number of sex workers living together, as their home could then be classified as a brothel, and so they are forced to work alone.
Another issue is that their customers may pressure them to meet in unsafe locations to avoid being caught by the police, which can put the sex worker at risk.”
My biggest issue with the Swedish or Nordic model is that it’s pretty much designed to drive people out of the sex industry. It entails making sex worker’s lives so dangerous that they feel sex work is no longer an option. Many migrant sex workers are deported. That so many feminists support this means either they don’t understand its purpose and its consequences, or they’re willing to sacrifice the safety and well-being of other women for the sake of making an ideological statement. Either way, they’re not part of any 'feminism' I would put my name to. You can't pick and choose the kinds of women you support.
There are many issues with this debate and the only thing that has prevented my blood pressure from exploding my brain into a pretty pink mist as I sit here typing this, is that Amnesty International made the right choice and decided to support the sex workers. It’s important to keep in mind here that Amnesty is NOT a government body, they are not in charge of legislation anywhere and they are still just a charity. So even though they have decided to support global decriminalisation, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen. It doesn’t mean anything, except that a group of people who specialise in human rights violations believe that there’s a better way to deal with sex work than by sweeping it under a rug and hoping that nobody mentions it polite society again. I hope we can all remember that.
That is all.
You may go now.