The O Face: Sex work not such a risky business


Photo credit: Briana Mcdaniel

Lorinda Sasan

It’s been called the oldest profession in the world. It is estimated that over one million people living in the U.S. are sex workers. With the exception of Nevada, sex work is currently illegal, making it one of the country’s largest unregulated industries.

Sex workers are defined by the World Health Organization as women, men and transgendered people who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services both direct and indirect. Most people immediately jump to prostitution, which has a negative connotation, but the modern sex worker isn’t working the street corner. They are exotic dancers, call girls, sugar babies, porn stars or cam models.

For some, their work in the commercial sex industry is their main source of income. Many consider it to be their occupation. We need legal rights and increased protection for these sex workers. These consenting adults deserve the same rights and protections as any other citizen who wants to make an honest living in their field of work.

However, the negative stigma given to prostitution is keeping sex work criminalized and driving the profession underground. By criminalizing the occupation we promote higher risk of abuse for these individuals and make healthcare less accessible. Criminalization exposes these men and women to instances of battery, rape and murder. Just last year, a West Virginia prostitute made national news for shooting a man in self defense. The man is now thought to have been a serial killer who targeted call girls. Most abuse goes unreported because involving the authorities often works against the victim.

The biggest stigma is that sex work is thought to be synonymous with sex trafficking. The two have a history that confuse many. Sex trafficking is the enslavement of people. In this year, there have been 5,746 cases reported in the United States. In these cases the law is helpful in liberating the trafficking victims. However, it ostracizes those who choose to get into sex work.

Reworking the laws to include protections for sex workers can make it easier to spot and eradicate real cases of human trafficking. New Zealand legalized prostitution in 2003 and reports no incidence of trafficking. Law makes it easier for sex workers to report abuse and for law enforcement to investigate crimes against sex workers.

Laws against sex work is another way for the government to control what individuals can do with their bodies. For some, sex is what puts food on the table. It’s obviously a lucrative business. Atlanta generates $290 million a year. It’s easy for those who advocate against sex work to sit on their moral high horses and talk about how the industry is corrupt and wrong.

If this was a moral issue, hundreds more occupations should also be criminalized. Defense attorneys who work to keep rapists out of prisons. Jordan Belfort-esque moguls who scam others out of thousands of dollars. These professions are legal, and sex workers who have nothing but their bodies to survive in a capitalist society are driven underground.

Personal opinions need to make room for rational thought. If it is not harming others, how people choose to live and work is nobody’s business and shouldn’t be regulated as such.

Lorinda Sasan can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.