By Stephanie Bohanon
As someone who has dabbled in the world of being a sugar baby (tell the government I said to leave Seeking Arrangement alone), I believe it is about time that the full scope of sex work be legalized. While I personally have never traded sex for money, I believe people should have the right to do so and I respect sex workers. And yes, sex work is a valid career choice.
The argument that that sex work shouldn’t be legalized is a campaign against women’s bodily autonomy. Yes, men can be sex workers too. But the people who benefit from this work the most are not, and being anti-sex work directly correlates to being anti-women. People of marginalized genders not having full autonomy over their bodies is outdated, patriarchal, and sexist, and conservative lawmakers have made it their mission to turn us back 50 years on women’s rights. They’ve shown us so this through efforts to ban abortions and shut down planned parenthood, along with the taxation of feminine products and the ability of employers to deny employees birth control coverage. But a series of new federal human trafficking laws add another layer to this struggle.
Last week, The Trump administration moved bills FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) into law. Both bills were passed under the premise of eliminating online sex trafficking rings. However, the new laws will inevitably disenfranchise sex workers who willfully advertise online. SESTA-FOSTA has compromised protections afforded by the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which once kept websites from being liable for content published by their users. Consequently, websites like Craigslist have stripped the personal ads sections from their platforms for safe measure.
Earlier this month, the website Backpage–known for its permissiveness of sex work advertisements– was seized by the federal government. In March, Google Drive users–particularly those working in the sex work industry–began reporting the mysterious disappearance of nude and adult content from their accounts. This series of events has led many to believe that there is a war on consensual sex work, with the eradication of human trafficking acting as a Trojan horse. Advocates argue that this new policy will not slow down human trafficking, but rather force it to adapt back to the pre-online solicitation era.
We need to reject the stigma of sex work for the safety of those involved. Decriminalizing sex can reduce the amount of violence sex workers face. Having to conduct business in the shadows puts people in the industry at an increased risk for violence, and the criminalization of sex work leaves victims with little to no legal recourse. Sites like Backpage and Craigslist allowed sex workers to contact their clients directly, without having to navigate the dangerous world of pimps and traffickers. These sites also provided a network of support for sex workers that allowed them to warn each other about known predators.
The legalization of all sex work would also mean that systems would be in place to keep sex workers safer and healthier. For instance, the legal brothels of Nevada have regulated STD and STI checking, along with heavy security and client screening measures in place. Sex work can very much so be safe, if we allow it to be.
Aside from safety concerns, the notion that women shouldn’t have full autonomy over their bodies is played out. Men manipulate women into having sex and objectify them without their consent day in and day out, and hardly anyone seems to take issue with this. Yet, society shames women who make a conscious decision to monetize their own bodies. It’s time to advocate for women having the right to financially benefit from men’s lust, the same way they benefit from women’s exploitation. You can sign a petition to veto SESTA and FOSTA here.