OpenDemcracy: The false feminism of criminalizing sex workers’ clients

Feminist arguments against sex work are as influential as they are dangerous.

Sex workers fight daily battles to defend our rights. The illegality of sex work isn’t a hypothetical ‘debate’ for us. It is our reality. Hundreds of women are criminalized each year under the United Kingdom’s draconian prostitution laws while rape and other violence are at epidemic levels. And, as poverty increases at a horrifying rate, we’re seeing more women – particularly mothers – pushed into prostitution to survive. It is frustrating that, against this backdrop, we must battle not just conservative forces but certain leftist feminists as well.

False feminism: So-called feminist arguments around sex work are harder to dismiss than religious fundamentalism, which condemns prostitution, abortion and all sex outside marriage. Some of the women putting forward those arguments have a reputation for speaking out against violence against women. But their exclusion of sex worker voices – and, usually, of trans women – calls that commitment into question. In the UK, feminist MPs in the Labour party like Sarah Champion and Jess Phillips, who are openly contemptuous of any sex worker who doesn’t fit their description of a ‘prostituted woman’, frame their arguments as feminist. And yet they are campaigning to increase the criminalization of sex work via the criminalization of clients. Such a development would worsen our situation and directly threaten our lives, as any sex worker-led organization in the world will tell you. We have no choice but to deal with them.

Here are the most common arguments we come up against from anti-decriminalization feminists.

1. Sex work is inherently violent

This is the core argument for anti-decriminalization feminists. We do not contest that levels of violence are high. Sex work in the UK has the greatest risk of occupational homicide for women, with a murder rate of five times that of other female workers.

But to propose outlawing prostitution on this basis is to impose a moralistic double standard. Agriculture is the UK’s most dangerous industry, with 167 deaths over the past year. No one proposes that farming be banned. Two women a week are killed by their partner or former partner, but we have yet to see a feminist hazard warning against marriage. Instead there are calls, rightly, to better protect labourers in the field and women in their relationships. Why should the route to safety for sex workers be any different?

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OpenDemcracy: The false feminism of criminalizing sex workers’ clients

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