I went to a networking breakfast this morning for work- the presenter was from a local group that does addictions treatment for women who “are in the life,” ie, engage in prostitution. It was what I expected: more on the anti-sex trafficking aisle (why there are aisles to begin with irritates me) and the language was totally othering: “those people,” “these women,” “prosituted women,” etc. I tried to go in with an open mind, but I felt pretty disengaged from how this person and agency approaches sex workers (many of their clients are court-mandated to go once they have been arrested for prostitution- yuck). She also made a comment that when she drives down 82nd she tries not to look at the women working on the streets- for fear of what?? I was dumbfounded and slightly disgusted.
Some positives from the event:
I got to meet a social worker from another DV agency who shared similar thoughts as me, and is also attending the MSW program I will be. That was an encouraging connection to make.
The woman presenting did give some allowances for the fact that she works with a very particular population of sex workers.
I shared information about our local sex workers outreach coalition and our approach to working with sex workers.
It’s unfortunate to me that the anti-sex trafficking organizations and the sex worker rights organizations have such a hard time working together, but after this event I have a clearer understanding of why. I do wish that we could all agree that we want workers to be safe, and that some workers need resources and support leaving the industry while other need resources and support staying in the industry. Trafficking is different from working, and I wish that everyone agreed on that ;) I think it comes down to ideological differences within the feminist and anti-violence movements. Some people see participation in sex work at all as perpetuating gender-based violence, while others (like myself) see participation in sex work as more complicated than that- trafficking violates human rights in a major way, but choosing to participate in sex work is something different. That, too, can be flavored by unfortunate circumstances: “choosing” between prostitution and McDonald’s is not an ideal choice, and it’s not like my choice between stripping and child care at a gym. To “choose” prostitution to care for a partner or family isn’t like my choice to strip to support myself. But I still think that kind of work is different than being forced into sex work (ie, being trafficked). It’s a contentious issue, but I wish we could still all work together more effectively.
It’s also timely that this piece at Tits and Sass was published yesterday by a local dancer. I really appreciate the complexity and nuance Red discusses, and she does it well: Love and Frosting: A Conversation with Portland’s Cupcake Girls