Today is National Sex Workers Day. This day should be used to recognize the people in sex work (SW) and to humanize this job. This day should also be used understand the injustice that comes with the criminalization of sex work.
In the United States, sex work is criminalized, for many reasons. Many justify the laws, thinking that sex work is completely exploitative of workers, morally wrong, and creates more crime. This is not the case. Even with the criminalization of this job, there are a many reasons why people choose sex work. Some prefer it for the flexibility of hours, they can’t find another job, they can make better money than a traditional job, and some like it to explore and express their sexuality. SW is a hard and dangerous job for some and those individuals deserve health, safety, and protection. Sex work is work, but with the criminalization of it, it puts many in harm's way and leaves sex workers very vulnerable to assault, being forced to work in unsafe conditions, and other systemic issues.
An article by Open Society Foundations explains the effects of criminalization of SW, “Criminalization makes it difficult for sex workers to report rights violations, especially by the police, because they are vulnerable to incarceration, further abuse, and retribution." Criminalizing SW does the opposite of its intended purpose, which is meant to protect people.
Trans Women in Sex Work
There is a massive amount of discrimination against minorities in sex work, especially for trans women. Sex work for transgender women is one of the deadliest jobs they can have. In 2020, ACLU reported it was one of the deadliest years for Black transgender women in sex work, with the numbers likely higher in recent years. The article is written by Kaniya Walker, who is a former sex worker and activist, and who is a black transgender woman.
“I know what it’s like to be targeted for who you are, and to not have anyone to call for help because your job is illegal.”
I highly recommend reading her story. There are many triggering statistics and painful accounts but it is important to understand the effects of sex work on minorities and the criminalization of it. Decriminalization of sex work is a human rights issue. There are many personal accounts and documentaries online about the dangers of sex work. I believe with the decriminalization of sex work, we can begin to create justice for trans individuals and others who are in sex work.
Below I have listed ways to support sex workers in your community and beyond. Advocate, protect and respect sex workers and the sex workers in your community.