Sex Workers Deserve Dignity and Care


Written by Aviva Dove-Viebahn

There’s no doubt that sex work in its various manifestations, ranging from stripping to prostitution to pornography, remains a contentious issue. It’s one on which even feminists notoriously disagree–a “fracture in ideology,” according to Kate Holden–with discussions veering back and forth between victimization and empowerment.

Of course there’s a substantial difference between becoming a sex worker by choice and, say, being sex trafficked by force, and I doubt anyone would argue that forced prostitution is empowering. However, “sex slavery,” as popularized in films and on shows such as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, represents a more extreme scenario, with many sex workers–at least in the U.S.–falling somewhere on a spectrum between choice and circumstance. One thing isn’t really up for debate, though: A sex worker, woman or man, cis- or transgender, shouldn’t be deprived of rights, protection or access to health care due to the social stigma that weighs on their profession. Today’s post features projects and organizations recognizing that no one should be left behind in our continual battle for equality.

Washington, D.C.-based HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive) works on a “harm reduction model … to address the impact that HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, discrimination, poverty, violence and drug use have on the lives of individuals engaging in sex work.” HIPS’ initiatives include both emotional and practical support structures: peer education, support groups for transgender and women workers and a mobile outreach program that offers STI testing, syringe exchange and access to contraception.

The Sex Worker’s Project, run out of the Urban Justice Center in New York City, also works with individual sex workers, but its main focus is on advocacy to protect sex workers from violence and undue prosecution. For example, a recent campaign involved a recommendation from the UN that the U.S. acknowledge the “special vulnerability of sexual workers to violence and human rights abuses,” which the U.S. government officially endorsed in March 2011.

And then there’s the collaborative blog Tits and Sass, which offers a socially conscious, open-minded space for sex workers to write about their experiences and bust public misconceptions of their profession. Founded in 2011 after the demise of the sex work magazine $pread, the blog’s aim was to fill a “void when it came to witty commentary on the public image of our industry.” Contributors make the point that common stereotypes of sex workers can “have an impact on the realities of [their] lives as sex workers every bit as strong as the law.”

Even if our opinions on the sex work industry diverge, we can all agree that being a sex worker–whether by choice, circumstance or force–should not disqualify someone from basic human dignity, care and respect.

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.


Related Stories:

Kenyan Men Trafficked as Sex Slaves to Gulf States

Ending Sex Trafficking One Brothel At A Time

A Case for Co-Op Brothels


Photo from Steve Rhodes via flickr


Stephen B.
Stephen B.3 years ago

BMutiny T.: COYOTE still exists. Google found the following -- which had links to organizations that are working on rights for prostitutes.

I'm an avid reader of Science Fiction. For obvious reasons, the topic isn't mentioned in young adult books, but in most of the books for a non-juvenile audience, prostitution is legal and regulated (typically using a term like "licensed companion"). If you want to stick to non-fiction, you can look to several ancient societies where prostitution was common (and some prostitutes had very high status).

If the United States wasn't so fixated on sex (a woman's nipple is exposed on national TV, and the country is in an uproar), sex industry workers would probably not be bothered by it. Instead, we have "slut-shaming" and issues like the rape culture. I highly recommend "The purity myth : how America's obsession with virginity is hurting young women" by Jessica Valenti. It's looks at the other end of the spectrum, but you end up with a similar picture.

Evan Schooler
Evan Schooler3 years ago

Escorts should only be allowed to work in safe and regulated brothels. Man if I was a woman I would never set foot in some guys house I didn't know. That's just asking for trouble

janice b.
jan b.3 years ago

Women want to work in brothels reminds me of the remarks like
"People like working two jobs" (Michelle Bachmann)
Poor people are lazy ( They love living in squalor, hungry and in shelters or on the streets)
People who were always employed love being one of the unemployed poor now.
Seniors are selfish. (Even though they took this country thru wars, depressions & built it up)

Aaron G
Aaron Gallo3 years ago

I hate feminists! Mind your own damn business! If some women want to work in brothels and some actually do enjoy it contrary to popular belief, that's their business not yours! SHAME ON YOU ALL!

Aaron G
Aaron Gallo3 years ago

I am going to try and move to Las Vegas, in a year because I cannot legally pay for sex here in Arizona! Boy I'm I pissed! I can't legally pay for it in Las Vegas either but atleast I would only be an hours drive away from the legal brothels in Nye County!

LMj Sunshine

Interesting article and comments, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting article and comments, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting article and comments, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting article and comments, thank you.

JAMES HOLLEY4 years ago


And why? All because the defendent was an escort.......

PS the escort was recently released after serving 10 years in prison for trying to protect herself...and the jerk who falsely entered into a contractual arrangement with her? i.e. a felony, and then accepted services without intending to pay? i.e., the second felony, and then attacked her while she was trying to collect, i.e., a third felony, well, I'm thinking the prosecuting attorney, a WOMAN, probably offered the jerk a get-out-of-jail-free card in return for his testimony...