Hi, I m Olly Thorn. Just wanted to come out before tonight's show begins and
assure you that it's gonna be strictly educational and completely above board; like it's suitable
for classrooms. Classrooms with cool teachers, but yeah. We are gonna be talking about some heavy themes including sexual assault and police
violence but there's absolutely no graphic imagery. It'll almost certainly get demonetised by YouTube,
which is partly why it's sponsored by Skillshare, and if you like it you should check my Patreon! Okay. Showtime.
Are you watching closely?
With the right magic words anything can disappear. People. Money. Even ideas.
Are you watching closely?
First things first: 'sex work' is a broad term covering all sorts of jobs. You've got dancers, adult film stars, webcam performers,
escorts, phone sex operators, fetish and domination works, and even within full service providers (that's people who have sex with private
clients for money) you've got street workers, people who do it out of a flat, people who do it out of hotel rooms…
We call it ‘sex work,’ rather than prostitution, because ‘sex work’ covers that wider
umbrella, whereas “prostitution” specifically denotes a crime. Sex work is a big industry with people of all different genders and races and
classes doing all kinds of different jobs, some of which criminalised, some are legalised, and some are decriminalised.
And here’s the first big point of the day - decriminalisation and legalisation are not the same thing.
If something is legalised then it is allowed within tightly controlled spaces, like smoking is legal but there’s rules about who can do it and where.
If it's decriminalised then it’s just allowed: like as of 2003 gay sex is decriminalised in England.
You have to be over a certain age and you can’t do it in public obviously but you don’t need to apply for a gay sex license, it’s just the same as any other kind.
You might have thought it was a little earlier than 2003, but group gay sex was illegal till then.
So sometimes things are partially criminalised and partially not and it can be a little murky. So if only I could conjure some kind of expert…
OLLY: Well I guess let’s get started, for those who aren’t familiar would you mind introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about what you do?
RILEY: Hi, I’m Riley Reyes, I’m an adult performer and I’m also the chair of APAC,
the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, which is a labour group by and for adult film performers.
APAC works in conjunction with other sex work organisations a lot because honestly a lot of sex work overlaps:
many adult film performers also escort, also webcam, also dance, and any legislation that affects one group of us often will affect all of us.
OLLY: I imagine I’ll have a lot of people saying, “You’ve not spoken to anybody who’s really representative of the industry.
But I guess something that I’ve been finding or the impression I get is that it’s so diverse that nobody can really be the one perfect representative of it.
Who do you see leading discussions about sex work and whose voices would you like to see amplified more?
RILEY: Largely I see discussions about sex work, at least in the public eye, being led by White Feminist celebrities who are interested in “stopping sex trafficking,”
there’s very little public discourse about sex work as labour rights at all. Lately that’s been changing!
I’ve been so excited to see the word ‘SWERF’ entering popular usage in Leftist spaces
(SWERF is a Sex Worker Excluding Radical Feminist)
that is a very, very recent term and it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve seen non-sex workers proudly stand up for sex work as valid labour.
Some sex workers play the game cause they enjoy it, but a lot do it because they need the money and the deck is very much stacked against them.
In England it is legal to buy and sell sex. But if you do it in a flat with someone else that's technically brothel-keeping, which is still illegal.
If you do it outdoors you might be charged with solicitation, which is still illegal. If you advertise, depending on where you do it, that might be illegal.
If you help a sex worker book gigs cause they can’t use a phone, if you borrow money from a sex worker,
if you’re a driver or a bodyguard for a sex worker, then you are profiting from somebody else’s sex work and technically that's pimping - which is still illegal.
So if you need the money, how much are you willing to gamble?
Cause working in a flat with somebody else will be safer but it’s against the law. It’d be great to have a security guard, but technically it’s illegal.
If you are working outdoors you're gonna wanna talk to clients about prices and condom use before you get in a stranger’s car,
but better hurry up cause if you get spotted you could be charged with solicitation. Or hit with a Prostitute's Caution, which will show up on a background check.
And we're not done playing yet.
In Northern Ireland it is legal to sell sex and criminal to buy it. But because that transaction is a crime, if I utter the magic words ‘Proceeds of Crime Act 2002’
all your money can disappear if the police suspect
- not prove, suspect -
that you got that money selling sex. And it’s illegal to rent a flat to a sex worker, cause profiting from somebody else’s sex work is pimping.
So if you are caught selling sex in Northern Ireland you face a potentially unlimited fine and eviction from your home
all without trial for doing something that is completely legal.
I think some of us have this image of ‘being arrested’ where it’s a gentle knock on the door and they say,
“I’m terribly sorry Mister Thorn, we’ve just seen some of your tweets from 2007: I’m afraid you’re gonna have to come with us,”
and then they lead me away stoically whilst my wife cries softly on the doorstep and wonders just how many more dark secrets this quiet coastal town can hold.
When in fact if you’ve ever even come close to being arrested you’ll know it’s a humiliating, unpleasant, and often quite painful experience.
As research for this episode I put out a call on Twitter asking sex workers all over the world to share their stories:
VOICE OF MISHA MAYFAIR: "Several officers who had been watching the building for a few hours and presumably knew that it had no clients in (just workers and management)
burst in, held me against a wall, separated all the workers and basically terrified everyone.
All of our details were taken down so immigration checks could be done, which now means we’re all on record with the police as prostitutes.
They then sat us down and informed us that the whole thing was a “welfare check” that was carried out for our benefit,
which is ironic given that if they had decided we were trafficking victims then we would have been put into immigration detention.”
“My friends had iphones, laptops, and cash savings wrongly confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime Act, several of which still haven’t been returned.
The Metropolitan Police invited press photographers to the raids, and purposefully did not let people get dressed before they were taken into custody.
I’m still scared I’ll come up in some of those photos and be outed at my day job. Several friends were taken from custody to immigration proceedings.”
OLLY: There’s an unspoken assumption I think that arrest, imprisonment, or threatening somebody with those things is morally neutral.
But I would invite you to consider those things as forms of violence:
- when somebody is arrested or detained they are harmed by that and so the question, “Is this harm justified?” - which it might be - is always gonna be worth asking.
In England solicitation and advertising are summary offences, meaning they don’t have to prove it in court - if the cops say you've done it then that’s enough
which is supposed to streamline things but obviously gives the police a lot of power.
Often, whether or not you get punished is at the officer’s discretion, which can be questionable when it comes to sex workers.
In the US full service sex work is criminalised almost everywhere and in several major cities
you can be arrested for intent to commit prostitution if they find that you’re carrying condoms.
That's enough! Sometimes. Depending on who you are.
I was actually in New York recently and carrying condoms and I’m not even American,
but they’re not gonna profile me as a sex worker and stop and search me, are they?
I could have walked up and slapped de Blasio on the ass and they’d have gone, “Eyyy, I love this guy! You wanna free hot dog; you wanna hold my gun?”
In her book "Playing the Whore," journalist and former sex worker Melissa Grant notes that since the 70s and earlier,
many sex workers have consistently identified the police, not clients, as the major source of violence in their lives.
Which has led some thinkers to suggest that there might be some kind of/
/trick going on here. Some people on the receiving end of this violence have said,
“It doesn’t feel like you’re arresting me for solicitation, cause walking around with condoms is legal after all;
it feels like you’re profiling me and arresting me for being trans.
It doesn’t feel like these laws are there to protect people cause they clearly don’t; it feels like you just want to see a lady disappear.”
OLLY: So I guess this kindof leads us quite neatly onto decriminalisation. What is to you?
What is it to the people you work for and with? I see a lot of people conflating it with legalisation as well.
RILEY: Decriminalisation would allow sex workers to operate without fear of arrest but relatively independently and without a lot of infrastructure
whereas legalisation would probably require a lot of licensing, maybe specific venues, and tends to lead to sort of a brothel system.
OLLY: And I’ve heard from some people that legalisation can create a two-tier system where if you don’t have the money to afford the license or the right ways in which to,
if you can’t jump through the hoops for whatever reason, then you’re kinda still criminalised.
RILEY: Right so the most marginalised people could still be criminalised under legalisation if they can’t afford all of those licenses and fees,
or the most marginalised would be forced to work for Some Guy who has the money to own a brothel
and pay for all their licensing in exchange for them to be under his thumb, which... I don't like.
I think the biggest goal of all of the sex work organisations I talk to is the full decriminalisation of full service sex work and that’s not just of selling sex itself,
it’s of buying sex, it’s of helping people who are selling sex, it’s of creating homes where you can work cooperatively and sell sex
because I understand that in the UK the selling of sex itself isn’t the problem but all of the parallel activities are still criminalised
which leads to workers still living under this kind of threat of constant police violence.
You’re still forced into a black market situation which is always more unsafe for labour!
Decriminalisation puts the power in the hands of the workers and in the hands of labour
and legislation in many cases requires you to have some wealthy capitalist who can pay for all of your licenses and the legalised brothel
who’s going to take a large percentage of your money and control the way in which you move through the world.
Because it’s supposed to keep people safer, decriminalisation is supported by Amnesty International and the World Health Organisation,
and if that’s the name of the game then it makes sense to look at New Zealand, where sex work has been decriminalised since 2003 - mostly.
I say “mostly” because it’s still illegal for migrants to sell sex there, whether documented or not,
so all that violence we talked about - the raids and the deportations without trial - is still going on, just targeted mainly at sex workers of colour.
Despite some people worrying that decriminalisation would increase the number of sex workers in New Zealand
it isn’t clear that that's happened - we’ll come back to that at the very end.
For our philosophical purposes though, if you think that more sex workers is intrinsically a bad thing
then you would need to argue why, and we’ll come back to that later as well.
Decriminalisation isn’t a magic bullet though. As mentioned, migrant sex workers are still being disappeared,
people still get bad clients and have bad shifts and if they have management, management doesn’t always handle it well.
Social services are still underfunded, and LGBT people, especially trans people, are still being discriminated against for other jobs,
and homelessness has not yet been eradicated by abolishing landlords,
so some people still choose sex work cause it’s that or poverty, and, as with all wealthy nations that poverty does not have to be there:
as with all wealthy nations that poverty does not have to be there:
it’s there because gambling with people’s lives is more profitable than actually taking care of them - yay capitalism!
“Total decriminalization is incredible and it is SO important that it happens everywhere.
It's allowed us to work openly, to have some protection against police violence and even to seek the help of the police when necessary.
In fact there have been a number of legal cases where clients have been taken to court by workers because they violated the terms of their service.
That said, it's my opinion that it just moves sex work into having many of the same flaws as any other job…
Because we need to work (whatever form that takes) to survive, people get trapped in it just like any other dead-end job
especially those without other career opportunities, access to higher education or the like. I talked to several people in this industry that do it just to survive…
I don't want to shoot down the idea of decriminalization but I also think alongside that we need to talk about the wider structural problems with how we work in general.”
Decriminalisation is one approach - let’s take look at another one, the Nordic Model. It’s been used in Sweden,
Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada and a number of other countries, where selling sex is not illegal
but buying it or profiting from the sex work of somebody else is. Sometimes referred to as “ending demand.”
And “exit services” are set up to try and help get sex workers out of the industry.
It’s seen by many as a very progressive, very feminist, very Swedish way of protecting sex workers.
But in their book "Prostitution Policy in the Nordic Region," scholars May-Len Skilbrei & Charlotta Holmström say
there isn’t really such a thing as *the* Nordic Model.
Like an Ikea cabinet, it seems sturdy at first but there's a suspicious number of pieces left over!
In Sweden there’s a ‘zero tolerance towards prostitution’ stance and some social workers have been reluctant to do things like give out condoms to sex workers
cause they might be seen as endorsing it; but in Denmark and Finland it’s a bit different.
The punishment for buying sex also varies quite a lot.
And those sorts of differences are maybe to be expected, but - are you watching closely?
If you are travelling from outside the EU to Denmark, Finland, or Sweden
you can be stopped at the border if they suspect (again, not prove) that you are intending to sell sex.
In other words non-EU citizens can be refused entry if they are suspected of intending to do something that is legal for everyone else.
I mentioned evictions in Ireland already; if you’re a sex worker in Oslo the cops will contact your landlord
and threaten to charge them with pimping if they don’t evict you, even though you haven’t done anything wrong.
Norwegian law says you're supposed to have three months notice before you’re evicted,
but according to a report by sex workers’ rights group PION hundreds of sex workers have been evicted illegally,
without notice, losing rent and deposit money, and the cops do nothing.
The presence of sex workers in public is often treated as a nuisance, even though again they haven’t committed a crime.
Almost all the police attention is paid to women who sell sex to men outdoors, as opposed to anybody of any other gender doing it anywhere else,
and almost zero attention is paid to Nordic citizens who go abroad to buy sex.
One of the supposed advantages of the Nordic Model is that pimping is illegal. Which sounds like a noble goal,
but as we saw earlier landlords and friends of sex workers are vulnerable to pimping charges
because ‘profiting from somebody else’s sex work;’ the law can’t distinguish between third parties who are helping and third parties who are hurting.
Moreover even if we say, “We just wanna catch the bad guys,” the way law enforcement do that is by arresting sex workers and searching through their phones,
which is obviously an unjust invasion of their privacy but also more to the point doesn't help them pay the bills.
All of which seems pretty inconsistent with the idea that these laws are about protecting sex workers. It seems we’re still trying to make them -
These inconsistencies make more sense if we think of the Nordic Model less as a legal approach and more as a philosophical one.
In Sweden in particular, supporters tend to think of sex work as something done to women by men,
as opposed to something that people of all genders negotiate a decision to engage in cause they need money.
We see this sort of approach to the legal sex industry too. In the UK, an anti-sex work group recently went into strip clubs in Manchester and Sheffield
and secretly filmed the dancers without their consent to try and catch them doing something illegal to get the clubs shut down.
It was billed as trying to save women from exploitation but it wasn’t consensual, and it exposed the dancers itodanger of being outed and losing their jobs,
which again seems like it’s more about making them disappear.
Although public health is often a concern when it comes to sex work, it’s usually approached only in terms of the risk of sexually transmitted disease;
there isn’t often much chat about police violence, deportations, evictions, and poverty, all of which are pretty hazardous to your health.
Which suggests that it’s less about the health of workers themselves and more about the imagined health of the community.
“The narrative leaves no room for discussions of disability or gender accessibility of the work, immigration issues,
and especially the reasons trans women engage in sex work... And no room for discussing and processing trauma and violence we face on the job,
from clients, police, landlords, parents, banks, etc. lest it be used against us to further paint us as victims to be saved against our will.
Working under the Nordic Model is extremely frustrating, because I'd rather move on from proving I know best for myself to actually improving rights for sex workers,
and improving sexual and mental health in general. Sex workers are experts in our field and yet we've been relegated to justifying our existence.”
Sex work has a lot of symbolic baggage attached to it: the bodies of sex workers can become bargaining chips in conversations
that are really about “who are we as a neighbourhood, or a nation.” Sweden in particular has a reputation for being clean and orderly and equal (for given values of those words)
that many public figures in Sweden and elsewhere want to maintain.
Goddamn virtue-signalling Swedes!
I mean I kid, but also yeah. The Swedish YouTuber Mia Mulder has said that all kinds of people invoke an ideal of Sweden for different reasons but it is just a country:
parts of are nice, parts of it aren’t. The magic word ‘Sweden’ can be a kind of misdirection,
especially when conversations about sex work are being used to smuggle in something else:
RILEY: SESTA and FOSTA are federal bills in the United States that have criminalised certain kinds of sexual speech on the Internet.
Basically what they've done is made it illegal to talk about sex or sex work on online platforms and they have made the platforms liable for that speech.
So if someone were advertising sex work on craigslist, or talking about sex work on YouTube,
in a way that could be seen as trying to sell it they could be criminalised, the platforms themselves. YouTube or Craigslist.
That’s why Craigslist has shut down their personal ad section and that is why tumblr is no longer a place where sex exists.
Like everyone was very upset when they lost sex offof tumblr and I don’t think they realise it was a direct
domino effect from something that was designed to stop sex work under the guise of wanting to stop trafficking.
Not only do they lose the online places where they advertise that keep them offof the street and out of the arms of pimps,
they also lose the ability to gather and congregate online to screen clients. The places where people put up blacklists or screening mechanisms
that would help them know people who are bad or unsafe clients got removed under FOSTA/SESTA as well and made everyone’s lives more dangerous.
FOSTA and SESTA and a lot of anti sex-work legislation is sold as a way to combat trafficking
and when I hear the word ‘trafficking’ I think of, like, the movie Taken, which, if you haven’t seen it:
Liam Neeson plays a man called…
whose daughter is kidnapped and sold into sex slavery.
But, surprise, he’s actually Special Agent
And he has to rescue his daughter by killing all the brown men in Paris.
So in that movie, ‘trafficking’ means kidnap and rape that crosses international borders.
But the word ‘trafficking’ is often used to describe situations that aren't like that.
Let’s say you live in Brazil and you wanna move to Madrid - cause you wanna see the world and travel,
or maybe you’re LGBT and Brazil’s not the most friendly place for you right now -
but you can’t afford it or you can’t get a visa, so you go to a people smuggler and they say, “Yeah, we’ll get you into Madrid;
obviously you’re gonna owe us though, and you’re gonna pay off your debt when you get there by doing sex work,”
and you say, “Alright, that’s probably not gonna be my favourite thing in the world, but…”
in her book "Sex at the Margins" anthropologist Laura Agustin talks to a lot of people
who have made and continue to make those sorts of decisions for themselves.
When you get to Madrid, if you’re caught, your smuggler could face charges of sex trafficking and you might end up arrested.
But there is a bit of a difference between that situation and the Liam Neeson situation because you wanted to be in Madrid.
The cops will say you’re a “victim of trafficking who has been rescued” and Agustin says just watch out, cause
words like “trafficking” and “rescued” can be a magician’s misdirection.
What might have actually happened is
you’ve been arrested, imprisoned, your wages have been confiscated and you have been deported back to a country you didn’t even wanna be in often without trial or even charges
Meanwhile the police will say that they’re feminists and say, “Look, we helped all these poor people! Give us more money for “anti-trafficking operations.””
Now sometimes you might get to Madrid and find the debt is a lot bigger than you were told, or the working conditions are terrible: exploitation definitely happens.
And in that situation you can’t go to the police because you're an undocumented migrant and a sex worker, and they will be violent and deport you
when what you really want is to stay in Madrid but just improve your conditions.
So again, some migrants and sex workers and migrant sex workers say the big threat is actually the law.
The YouTuber Jim Sterling once said something absolutely brilliant, “If you want to cut down on video game piracy you gotta provide a better service than pirates.”
If you don't want people to download music off YouTube make it faster to buy it off iTunes.
if you don't want people to have dangerous backalley abortions give them convenient abortion access.
And Mac and Smith say if you wanna cut down on migrant sex workers, and imigrant workers of all kinds, being exploited and endangered,
decriminalise human movement!
Some people see that as a utopian idea - some people get scared by the words ‘Open Borders’ -
but what if we said, “Okay, if you're bringing guns into the country, or you're moving a lot of money without paying tax, or you are wanted for a crime,
then the border is there for that, but other than those things, human movement is decriminalised.
No more “detention centres,” no more visas, no more language tests or income requirements - we’re just not doing that anymore.”
That would be less work and it would save a lot of money, but for our philosophical purposes it also reflects a completely different way of thinking about borders,
one where we put individual people’s safety and happiness first.
RILEY: I think a big people miss who are against sex trafficking is that even if sex work were fully decriminalised sex trafficking would still be illegal!
Even though agricultural work is legal trafficking people into it is illegal: labour rights violations are labour rights violations
and if we decriminalise sex work we can begin to treat the violations that occur under it as just that and people will be able to come forward and report that.
OLLY: Yeah cause I guess at the moment if people come forward and report it then they run the risk of being deported or of being arrested for a crime.
RILEY: Right, a sex worker can’t come forward and file something with the labour board about the way in which her pimp is mismanaging her money.
OLLY: Mmhmm, under criminalisation at least - cause I know that in New Zealand that has actually happened!
Under decriminalisation people have actually brought legal cases against management
RILEY: Beautiful. And another thing is under partial decriminalization like the Nordic Model a worker could come forward with complaints but a client couldn’t.
For example if a client were to see a worker and realise that she seemed scared, uncomfortable, and perhaps underage he would have no-one he could report that to.
That has happened! I know somebody who works for a decriminalisation organization in Florida
who had someone calling her from I think Sweden saying, “I saw a girl and I think there’s something wrong but I can’t call the police: help me!”
We’ve heard a lot about decriminalisation, now let’s hear the other side.
Some people say that sex work, whether it’s full service or whatever, is violence and therefore it should be criminalised.
Now, “Sex work is violence,” is not the same point, philosophically speaking, as, “The sex industry features violence.”
This might seem Jordan Peterson levels of pedantic but the reason it's crucial is that if we say, “the sex industry features violence”
then we can have a chat about waht's the best way to reduce it. Mac and Smith acknowledge, absolutely there’s
violence and exploitation - we’ve been talking about police violence for ages
and they still support decriminalisation as the best way to reduce it or at least mean that you're not also gonna be running from the cops.
Whereas if we say, “Sex work is violence” then the implication is that no amount is ever okay and some kind of criminalisation is the only answer.
Radical feminist Julie Bindel, and many many others, argue that sex work is bad in itself.
They give examples of women who have suffered violence whilst working in the industry, or interview former sex workers
some of whom, it must be said, support criminalisation or the Nordic Model, but there’s a magic switcheroo going on here.
Are some people traumatised by their time in the industry? Yes.
Do some people who do it want to stop doing it? Yes. Could a lot of the people who do it use help? Yes.
And some sex workers acknowledge all of that and still argue for decriminalisation as the best way to reduce them.
If you wanna be an abolitionist it’s not enough to show that the sex industry features violence; you need to argue that sex work is violence.
There’s a common argument which says that if money is changing hands then you cannot consent, and therefore all sex work is rape.
If you wouldn’t do it but for the cash then that’s not exactly “enthusiastic consent,” is it? And it’s just adding insult to injury if you also have to pretend like you’re enjoying it.
A lot of people take this line, including supporters of the Nordic Model,
and I myself used to be very persuaded by it until I realised that I am actually a living counterexample.
I’m a professional actor in my non-YouTube life, and occasionally when you’re an actor you get asked to do a love scene.
I’ve never been asked to have full sex with somebody for a role, but I’ve done a lot of scenes where I’ve been physically intimate with people
that I wouldn’t want to were it not my paid job, and even one or two that I didn't enjoy.
In July I’m hopefully going to be playing Claudio in a tour of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing - if you follow me on Twitter you can find out when and come see it
and there might be some intimacy required for that.
So as an actor I get physically intimate for money without always enthusiastically consenting, I pretend to enjoy it, and that’s okay.
And you might say, "Well it’s completely different!"
but many of the things I do in my job like kissing someone, getting naked with them, pretending to be into them - sex workers get hired to do.
I’d say it’s not a totally different cocktail, it’s just that one of them's quite a bit stronger than the other.
Now if I was doing a passionate kissing scene with another actor and in the middle of it they just grabbed my dick, and we hadn't agreed to it, that’s assault.
But there is a legit difference between sexual intimacy that is my job and sexual assault in my workplace.
And a lot of sex workers say the exact same thing:
VOICE OF MISHA MAYFAIR: <“Labeling all of those experiences “rape” erases the truth, my reality, and my agency.
It also means, as many sex workers have pointed out when dealing with prohibitionist propaganda,
that my “yes” and my “no” while I’m working are equally meaningless, so there would be no difference between my experience
with a client who respects my boundaries and one who doesn’t.
As an adult human being, I assume responsibility for my own best interests. Sometimes I decide those interests are best served by freely consenting to unwanted sex.
Maybe 20% of the time I truly hate the sex, 20% of the time I like it, and the other 60% is tolerating it.”
Argument Number Two against decriminalisation. Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai was a communist - and I don’t mean Sexy Online Communist,
she fought in the Russian Revolution. She was also a feminist: when the Bolsheviks made a big push
to get Russian women literate, equal wages, voting, proper sex education and so on, and Kollontai spearheaded a lot of that.
She was sympathetic to the fact that many sex workers choose it to avoid poverty, but she still thought they shouldn’t do it.
It’s not just appropriate for some people to leech off others without producing anything.
Like landlords: they don’t make anything useful for society they just take other people’s money, so they need to be given other jobs.
After the Russian revolution a lot of sex workers tried to form trade unions; the Bolsheviks didn't like that
and did basically the same thing that we do now “detained them in detention centres and placed them in rehabilitation programs.”
But “productive work” is maybe not all that clear cut: like a factory worker obviously produces something and a landlord obviously doesn’t,
but there is a grey area - does a therapist do productive work? Does a masseuse?
They don’t really make products, but they do provide services that people need and a lot of sex workers say their job dovetails neatly into that service economy
Like when you go to a bar they say, “How are you? Enjoy your drink!”
The guy who cuts my hair, he’s always like, “Hey, how’s the YouTube going?
How’s your wife?” and I’m like,
“She left me after I got arrested for tweeting,”
and he’s like,
“I wasn’t paying attention at the start of the video cause I usually just put them on in the background or I watch them at double speed
while I'm doing something else so I don’t know what that's a reference t”-
and that emotional aspect is all part of the job. Thinking of labour only in terms of products and manufacturing is very...
Well, it's very Bolshevik!
Argument Number Three against decriminalisation is that it sends the message that women’s bodies are for sale to men.
And obviously this ignores all the women who pay for sex and all the men who pay for sex with other men
all the people who pay sex workers for things that aren’t really sex - but alrightalrightalright
There are some women who say that they enjoy sex work and find it empowering and they choose to do it, and the response is,
“Just because a woman chooses it doesn’t mean it’s a feminist cause. If you are choosing to buy into this very patriarchal, very misogynist industry,
you are reinforcing the idea that women exist for male consumption, which isn’t just an abstract concern about optics
it’s an idea that regularly gets women of all backgrounds harassed and even killed.”
The journalist Megan Murphy is very critical of the sex industry and she says that “choice” can sometimes be a magic word -
“‘Choice’ for some may equal repression of others.”
This concern about sending a bad message is definitely one that I can sympathise with -
there is some evidence that when you create a market in a thing you change the way people think about it.
What this criticism misses though is that you can only play the hand you’re dealt.
And a lot of sex workers say, “Yeah, in an ideal world my job wouldn’t exist but what are the alternatives?”
When I put that call out on Twitter, multiple people in the UK got in touch to tell me that sex work was easier
and less degrading than trying to get the disability benefits that they’re entitled to:
VOICE OF MISHA MAYFAIR: <“With Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance I would be expected to live on about £400 a month.
Putting myself through all that for money I can make on one really good brothel shift just seems completely pointless.
Sex work is the only job where disabled people can almost always accommodate our disabilities and make enough money in the short hours we manage to have an acceptable quality of life.”
OLLY: If somebody gets criminalised and then gets ripped out of that, like put in prison or whatever, or deported, then that’s somebody who had a life -
RILEY: What happens to their sick grandmother and their autistic son?!
What Mac and Smith say too is, “Okay, if you wanna talk about women making choices that hurt other women - let’s talk about women who choose to become cops.
Who choose to work for the private security companies that run the detention centres. Who choose to become lawyers who put sex workers behind bars.
All the examples Megan Murphy gives of harmful choices are like full service sex work and stripping,
and she doesn’t talk about those other ones cause those are still seen as respectable professions.
I mean if you wanna talk about women making choices that hurt other women
Julie Bindel and Megan Murphy have both said some pretty horrible things about trans women!
And that doesn't mean we can't play the harmful choices card, but if we are gonna play it we should do it consistently.
Kollontai said, “A man who buys the favours of a woman does not see her as a comrade or as a person with equal rights.
He sees the woman as dependent upon himself and as an unequal creature of a lower order who is of less worth to the workers’ state.
The contempt he has for the prostitute, whose favours he has bought, affects his attitude to all women.”
Very similar to Megan Murphy there, only in communist language.
But the way Kollontai puts it
it’s much clearer that this is actually a problem with men!
The issue she's describing is that men, even communist men, can be sexist, and that definitely is a problem.
But sex workers say that criminalisation and the Nordic Model make them collateral damage in the effort to tackle that.
It’s interesting that even through very different ways of looking at the world, similar arguments against sex work get produced.
VOICE OF MISHA MAYFAIR: “Whore is perhaps the original intersectional insult.”
RILEY: I always tell people the worst thing about sex work is the stigma and a lot of them are shocked:
people think I’m going to tell them things about sleazy agents or terrible producers or bad clients,
but the worst thing about sex work is the stigma that is heaped upon you from the outside world.
Stigma loses people their loved ones, it loses people their families, they get harassed and trolled, and stigma also strips people of resources that they need.
I just had a friend who does fully legal sex work, who does porn, who got served an eviction notice
for having "known pornographers" come and go from her apartment and that they were making too much noise.
OLLY: That’s interesting cause that means whoever reported that must have recognised ‘em!
RILEY: Oh yeah, they knew who we were!
OLLY: Mmm, hm mm mm mm mm…
RILEY: But many people who face that kind of discrimination simply have to leave and not make trouble
because they don't know their rights and they’d rather not stand and fight so they end up losing their housing.
They could be kicked out their homes, they could lose their banking, they could lose online platforms even if they don’t post anything lewd on them,
they could be denied access to mental health care, certainly unstigmatised mental health care;
and let me tell you how hard it is to find a gynaecologist who will have an honest conversation with me.
I think a lot of breaking down stigma has to do with humanising sex workers and I think that work is
happening bit by bit in online platforms and social media in which sex workers have more direct contact with folks.
I know for pornstars we have become so much more humanised through the world of Twitter and people being able to talk to us.
People will say things to us that we don’t like and we’ll say, “Oh no, I’m a person and you cannot speak to me that way but
I’m glad you enjoy my work, please continue masturbating to it. But don’t tweet me that with your hand on your d*ck ever again.
It softof ties into the stigma thing of, when you go and see a magic show and they make somebody disappear
it’s not just that it happens so fast that you can’t see it, it’s that on some level people want to believe that
that person really has vanished and isn't just like stuck in a tiny box under the stage.
RILEY: Yeah but we are: we’re stuck in a tiny box!
And I have enough respectability politics and privilege on my side that I can come out here and scream at the top of my lungs for everybody else!
VOICE OF MISHA MAYFAIR: "Sex workers are everywhere. We are your neighbours. We brush past you in the street. Our kids go to the same schools as yours.
We’re behind you at the self-service checkout, with baby food and a bottle of Pinot Grigio.
People who sell sex are in your staff cafeteria, your political party, your after-school club committee,
your doctor’s waiting room, your place of worship. Sex workers are incarcerated inside immigration detention centres, and sex workers are protesting outside them.
Although we are everywhere, most people know little about the reality of our lives. Many people want to stop us from selling sex, or fix the world so we don’t need to,
or just to ensure they don’t have to look at us. But we are notoriously hard to get rid of, at least through criminal law.”
One thing that I didn’t have time to touch on that I would have liked to is
who gets to be an expert on sex work? How are data gathered and research budgets assigned?
Cause it turns out that even trying to answer a relatively simple question like, “How many people sell sex in Sweden?”
is incredibly difficult to do and how different groups go about trying to do it reflects their opinion on sex work generally.
And speaking of people doing things that they might not otherwise enthusiastically do cause they need the money -
this video was sponsored by Skillshare!
No, but, for real, it actually was. I had to learn a few magic tricks and how to do things like hold a deck of cards so that it looks halfway decent
and I did actually use Skillshare. They're an online learning community for creators,
they've got like 25,000 different videos. They can teach you how to compose a shot, how to edit....
And in exchange for them sponsoring this video you can see all of that stuff for free. There’s a link in the doobleydoo, and the first 500 people who click it get 2 free months of Skillshare premium!
And for everyone else it's like ten bucks a month.
Thanks very much to Riley Reyes for being in this video; I'm gonna put the full interview with her up on Patreon
for all my Patrons, and thanks very much to you for watching it!
ESTÈRE SINGING: Whispers and signatures were part of her campaign, She kept a list of names (She kept a list of names),
And red lipped for every kiss, The senate fell on their knees, broadcasted on TV
Magdelaine Lavirgin, bordello resident Wanted to be the United States president
Yeah aha yeah aha
Magdelaine Lavirgin, bordello resident Wanted to be the United States president!
Yeah aha yeah aha
A voice of the people and advocate of equal Rights for everyone
A candidate peculiar to represent the future Hijacked the election
And soon she was walking though the marble corridors, Her heels clicked on the floor, (Her heels clicked on the floor)
No one had ever stunned a nation quite like her, The country where dreams can occur!
Cause Magdelaine Lavirgin, bordello resident Was to become the United States president
Yeah aha yeah aha
Magdelaine Lavirgin, bordello resident Was to become the United States president!
Yeah it’s true, do you believe it too?