Sex, Media & Culture 

Life of 'Sex Workers' - A taboo

Chetana Chaudhury Jul 08

Life of 'Sex Workers' - A taboo

A closer look inside the dark, closed walls of the bordellos.Those life are full of mysteries!

Hardly does anyone know about the living conditions of those involved in sex work and rarely is there an acknowledgement of the many hurdles and challenges that they go through daily.

Visibility is really important. Not all sex workers are cis. Not all sex workers are women. Not all sex workers are conventionally attractive or skinny. Make sure to give visibility to anybody who is doing sex work and not focus on one demographic because that's a common misunderstanding and it puts a lot of peoples lives at danger.

I think the best thing for our society to do to support individuals who choose to do sex work is to recognize that sex work is vastly larger than what it seems. 

Sex work is a spectrum. Sex education is super important. Everybody loves sex. Beyond that, we're all kind of sex workers because we sell everything with sex.

If that's not sex work, then I don't know what is. The definition of sex work is someone who works in the sex industry, and every time you turn on the television you see another commercial that uses sex to sell a product. 

Maybe we should start looking into self and identifying where we view sex in our work — to get ahead, to get a leg up, to get an opportunity — and when I say sex I don't necessarily mean physical.

And the maybe we step back and find ways to educate people around healthier sex practices so they can feel free and open to communicate their wants, needs, and desires and creating pathways to connect them to that.

So who are sex workers? 

This definition is broad and covers many different categories of sex work, such as street-based, home-based, phone-based, and many more. While it is true that many people turn to sex work as a last resort, sex work is, by definition, a consensual form of earning income.

Sex work is often seen as a social taboo, despite the fact that there are many millions of adults engaged in consensual sex work globally. 

Is sex work inherently harmful?

The fact that sex work is work does not mean that it is good work, or empowering work, or harmless work.

However, sex work is not inherently harmful, but criminalization and stigma do make sex work circumstantially harmful.

Sex workers, like most workers, have diverse feelings about their work. 

Some sex workers dislike their work but find that it is their best or only option to make a living. Some are agnostic about their work but find that it offers flexibility or good pay. 

And some enjoy the work and find it all around rewarding or fun. Regardless of what sex workers think about their work, they deserve workplace health and safety and human rights.

There is an active conversation happening among international organizations and national government bodies about whether sex work should be criminalized.

The ultimate end goal being either abolishing the practice altogether, or if adult sex work should be treated as a legitimate vocation with the same number of rights and rules that come along with any sanctioned job.

Legalization of sex work goes a step further by providing a legal framework within which the various sectors of the sex industry must operate. 

Countries around the world have different perspectives on sex work, including being illegal, decriminalized, and legal.

In 2012, it was reported that sex work was illegal and criminalized in 116 countries. In some countries, sex work is not only criminalized but sex workers are also denied the rights other citizens enjoy, such as owning property, accessing public education, healthcare, banking services or purchasing utilities. 

Because the laws around sex work are often unclear, there have been countless cases of sex workers being imprisoned unjustly or intimidated and abused by police.

Condition:

Further, the older they got, the less sex workers manage to earn, as their customers would deflect to younger women. 

Since this is a dead-end job, this is another concern– the economic stability of these women grows more fragile with time, as does the possibility of opportunities in other industries. While

Whereas for some, prostitution becomes an acceptable profession, for others–several of whom are victims of sex trafficking– it is just a constant reminder of their restrictions before they came to brothels. 

The rooms in which these women are caged reiterate their poor condition, which is no less than a modern form of slavery.

Moreover, in cases of harassment, this issue is rarely addressed and police officials abstain from registering complaints cited by sex workers. 

Mostly accused of violence and treated as a public nuisance, they have to struggle through the entire process of getting bails by paying fines, which they have to grown to prefer over contesting their innocence, since the taboo attached to prostitution automatically labels them as ‘guilty’. 

Right from the stigma and hesitance observed in teaching biology or sex education in schools, to family values of keeping away from the red-light districts, everything revolves around the taboo attached to sex.

For example: 

Some countries, such as Norway, Iceland, and Canada, have adopted the Swedish Model within their legal framework for sex work. The Swedish Model makes it legal for sex workers to offer services, but illegal for people to buy services or facilitate sex work, such as run a brothel or manage a sex worker. 

In other words, purchasing or facilitating sex work is criminalized, but selling sex work isn’t. The goals of this model are to end sex work by destroying the demand for it, and treat sex workers as victims rather than criminals.

Many sex workers have spoken out against this model of halfway decriminalizing sex work because it pushes sex work underground in order to keep customers out of trouble. 

As a result, sex workers have to keep their work secret and have less access to health services, condoms, and a safe space within which to operate.

Montenegro (former sex worker) says it’s not true that men are only interested in younger women, with escorts of all ages being financially successful.

She believes it’s also a myth that all men want “kinky services.” Instead, most of Montenegro’s clients simply want to feel desired, needed and wanted.

Sex workers are known to be a vulnerable population and are considered a high-risk group for HIV transmission.

Criminalization and other punitive laws around sex work have been shown to increase the risk of HIV transmission and create stigma. 

In fact, many sex workers don’t carry condoms because this form of protection can be used against them as evidence of sex work and they may be fined or jailed.

While sex work carries clear threats to physical health, the psychological impact of sex work has the potential to be just as damaging. 

It’s not difficult to imagine the amount of stress and emotional pain a person may experience if they are somehow violated and can’t ask for help or support. There has been little research done on the mental health of sex workers around the world, but the few studies that do exist indicate high levels of psychological distress.

In countries where sex work is criminalized, people who engage in sex work and are experiencing psychological distress will have a much harder time reaching out for help.

In fact, the occurrence of physical violence, which includes homicide and rape, is higher among street-based sex workers than any other population of women globally. 

In countries where sex work is criminalized, sex workers cannot report the violence or rape they have experienced for fear of further abuse or imprisonment.

Stigma is a powerful tool to make people hide, or stay quiet when they experience an injustice. 

As a result, there are disproportionately low numbers of civil society groups comprised of sex workers and allies who advocate for the human rights and access to services that sex workers need and deserve.

 “Acceptance of sex work as work, opposition to all forms of criminalisation and other legal oppression of sex work, and supporting self-organization and self-determination of sex workers.” 

“When sex work is decriminalized, sex workers are better able work together and demand their rights, leading to better working conditions and greater oversight of commercial sex and potential trafficking within it.”

Sex work and the legalities surrounding it are controversial, complicated topics. We know that sex work will continue to happen, regardless of laws or the moral lens through which it is viewed. 

While there may not be a single solution to protecting sex workers that fits all countries and settings, the opinion that matters most is of the population that is most directly affected: sex workers themselves. 

Research has shown that, in general, the best way to protect communities and prevent illness is to educate and empower people. 

What can be done?

Building programmes on strategies that address the “situations and structures which create vulnerability and deprive sex workers of their perceived right to live and work safely” such as violence and other human rights violations. 

Given the right inputs and an improved legal and policy framework, sex workers claim they can have a valuable role as educators and may even function as "part of the solution.

Teaching risk reduction methods and skills such as the correct use of condoms, negotiation and communication skills; information about non-penetrative and lower risk sexual practices; what to do when condoms break; recognition of STI symptoms and where and how to access STI diagnosis and treatment.

First we must unlearn everything what society has taught us all.

Raise your thinking.

No work is big, small, less or more.

Nor any portrays our standard.

Its our thinking which decides

The length of our work.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash


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