Today is International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers, and in honor of this, in this post, I write about personal instances in which I've witnessed violence against sex workers at school, and then I discuss violence against sex workers in more general terms. This post by no means covers any semblence of the entirety of subjects within the broad topic of violence against sex workers, it just includes a few things that were on my mind today as well as the use of my favorite books/websites which discuss sex work as sources.
The words, "That's it! I'm dropping out of school to become a stripper/prostitute!" stigmatize sex work/sex workers and therefore create an open platform for further violence towards sex workers. Sometimes, when sitting in study hall or in the hallways at school, I've heard variations of these words being said. When you say this, what you're communicating is that since your grades are in trouble, you have to become a sex worker. You're conveying that sex work is a second choice made by those who are failing. By saying this, you're essentially throwing your local sex worker under the bus. You're classifying those who engage in sex work as lesser than those who have the ability to successfully complete school. Being a sex worker is not shameful or something you should consider an "easy way out" of academic life. Sex work takes skill, just like any other job, and sex workers come from all backgrounds, including those who happen to be educated. Uneducated individuals aren't automatically eligable to become sex workers; you don't have to come from an uneducated or disadvantaged background to be sex worker.
On a more broad level, sex work, such as prostitution, needs to be decriminalized in order to prevent violence against sex workers. What happens when a sex worker is in an abusive situation with one of their clients? If said sex worker goes to the authorities to report the violence, they will be arrested for being a sex worker. To prevent violence against sex workers and to ensure the safety of the sex work environment, sex work needs to be decriminalized.
"To be clear: decriminalizing sex work would not mean removing criminal penalties for trafficking. Trafficking is an abhorrent human rights abuse. States must have laws in place which criminalize trafficking, and use them effectively to protect victims and bring traffickers to justice... But criminalization of sex work can hinder the fight against trafficking – for example, victims may be reluctant to come forward if they fear the police will take action against them for selling sex. Where sex work is criminalized, sex workers are also excluded from workplace protections which could increase oversight and help identify and prevent trafficking" (source). The battle to end forced trafficking often involves the arrest and oppression of voluntary sex workers due to the criminalization of sex work, "...global efforts to combat the shibboleth of trafficking, efforts that work in concert with criminalization, mean that sex workers often face violence, violation, stigma, poverty, and death at the hands of police, rescuers, or predators pretending to be clients. In the United States, recent campaigns against trafficking conducted by federal law enforcement have overwhelmingly caught independent sex workers and undocumented immigrants who were performing sex work voluntarily. Disproportionately affecting the most marginalized sex workers, including people of color, trans people, single parents, and those who have previous criminal convictions, these crusades against trafficking leave sex workers even less able to seek help from law enforcement when they actually need it, for instance if they face coercion or wish to report underage sex work" (False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, chapter ten, "Hillary Screws Sex Workers", by Margaret Corvid). The criminalization of sex work forces sex workers into silence, which leaves the prevention of trafficking largely inaffective. The abusers then get away with the violence they are perpetuating, and more sex workers are left victimized and more individuals are trafficked.
To further highlight the enormity of this violence, In Arizona, in the city of Pheonix, "37% of prostitution diversion program participants report being raped by a client, and 7.1% report being raped by a pimp. In Miami, FL, 34% of street-based sex workers reported violent encounters with clients in the past 90 days. In New York, 46% of indoor sex workers reported being forced to do something by a client that they did not want to do, and over 80% of street-based sex workers experienced violence" (source). These are just a few states within America in which sex workers have experienced some form of violence; this is not including violence against sex workers abroad.
How can you make a difference? The violence which occurs against sex workers is something that should be discussed constantly. If your friends are talking about strippers, bring up the fact that they are prone to experience violence from abusers posing as clients. If a topic comes up at home in which sex work is discussed, bring up some statistics on your phone regarding the violence against sex workers to share. Actively campaign to end the criminalization of sex work. Support your local sex workers. There are so many things you can do to help.