There’s two distinct but overlapping strands of activism within the movement for sex workers’ rights. One is concerned with changing the conditions of the sex trade itself. Its internal campaigns focus on improving workplace conditions, on workers’ rights. Its external campaigns target institutions outside sex work that impact sex workers—and police and health care providers are highest on that list. The other strand is primarily concerned with changing conditions outside the trade to impact the lives of people who do and who used to do sex work, or people who are profiled as sex workers. The first strand, which is more vocally identified with sex workers’ rights, may be more likely to argue for decriminalization in policy and building the political power of current sex workers to control the terms of their work. The second strand, which may not outwardly identify as a sex workers’ rights movement, may be more likely to argue for an end to criminalization as it’s experienced in its community’s daily life, and in building the capacity of current and former sex workers individually and collectively to define their own lives. These strands of the movement converge and go their own ways, but their common purpose is to value and believe the experiences of people who sell sex, to insist that it is not sex work that degrades us but those people who use our experiences to justify degradation.
Solidarity—not support. This is what’s absent in even well-meaning “support” for sex workers: a willingness to direct that support at those people who have the power to change anything about the conditions of sex workers’ lives.
The first step in talking about meaningful standards for sex work is to make space for sex workers to lead that process. That will not happen so long as law enforcement are on sex workers’ backs.
Melissa Gira Grant, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, Verso, March 2014.
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