On Tuesday, Feb. 18, the Feminist Student Union met to discuss sex work and the different stigmas that surround it. While not all of the people present chose to speak, the ones who did participate in the “Sex Work and Stigma” discussion showed an interest in the decriminalization and possibly even legalization of sex work in the U.S.
Sex work is a complicated topic because many don’t know how to define it. For the purpose of this discussion, it was defined as the consensual sale and purchase of sexual relations. The seller is not a victim of human trafficking and is selling this service of their own free will.
Many in the discussion agreed that there are stigmas around sex work because it is an unconventional career choice. However, not all assumptions about this type of service are true.
According to participants in the discussion, in entertainment, sex work is often portrayed as the typical “hooker.” Sex workers are often shown as being lower-class, which is not always the case. These stereotypical depictions were highlighted in a video shown during the event that showed how harmful these stigmas can be.
FSU member Sarabjit Kaur finds that these stigmas are rooted in American culture.
“These stigmas won’t change for generations,” Kaur said.
Sex workers face dangers because they receive no protection under the law. FSU member Dina Ahmed, commented that sex workers can often suffer from physical, emotional and sexual violence. For example, according to a survey of sex workers presented by FSU, 68% of respondents said that they have been victims of rape.
According to the video, a common problem for sex workers comes when one reports a rape, only to be put in jail. If sex work were decriminalized, workers could go to law enforcement without fear of repercussions.
Another possible motivation for decrinalization is the idea of regulation. Another member of FSU junior, Hannah France supports the legalization of sex work as a way to reduce human trafficking.
“If we legalize sex work then they woluld have to be a registered sex worker because that would make it so people who are victims of sex trafficking would be easier to identify,” France said.
FSU member Sophie Lamb agreed with France.
”If we were to use a sex worker registration system, it could also require an STD checkup every so often to try and keep everyone safe,” Lamb said.
Legalization would not come without new challenges. One of them, according to France, is that the laws would be made predominantly by older white men who may not attempt to understand the needs of sex workers. Another is religious concerns. Some groups are motivated by different religious ideologies, and these groups may reject sex work completely. Ahmed identifies as Muslim and said this discussion was hard for her.
“I think a woman should choose what happens to their body, but in this case it goes against the Quran,” Ahmed said.
At the end of the day, this is a difficult topic, but the FSU believes that events like this are necessary in order to educate themselves and others on campus.
“Basically, the point is to bring people together to discuss topics that we usually wouldn’t discuss with someone else,” Kaur said. “We all have different opinions, and none of us are going to think about things in the same way, so we bring it out into the open.”
FSU holds discussions like these on Tuesday nights at 6 p.m. in the Women’s Center.
Edited by Sophie Stephens | firstname.lastname@example.org