Sex Workers Need Rights Not Rescue!

imageDecember 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. From a feminist and a trade unionist perspective, I know supporting Sex Workers’ Rights is the logical thing to do.

As I wrote in my blog post ‘Organising Sex Workers Within Mainstream Labour Movement’,  the stigmatization and consequent exploitation of sex workers would be minimized if sex work is accorded its recognition as a bonafide job; a real job which has its challenges, rights and protections under the law like every other job. Criminalization of sex-work in many countries and jurisdictions makes it difficult to create a safe, enabling environment and workplace for sex workers.

The continued criminalization of sex-work, rather than serves as a deterrent has only succeeded in exposing sex workers to violence, intimidation, harassment and exploitation.

Not all sex workers hate their jobs and not all sex workers are forced to be sex workers. Sex workers want RIGHTS not RESCUE. People should stop acting like knights in shining armor rushing to save ‘scarlet’ queens!

All workers, whether they are bankers, micro-biologists, interns, salespersons, street hawkers, housewives, surrogates orrights1 sex workers should be protected from forced labour. Yes, everyone’s body, in one way or the other, is being purchased for labour and sometimes for marriage too. I just wish people would appreciate and understand the difference between forced labour and choice.

It is no news that not many workers are 100% happy with their jobs and if they had a choice, many would gladly change jobs. I then wonder at those who scream that sex workers do not like their jobs, therefore sex work should be criminalized.

It is annoying when the excuse “but they hate their job” is used to justify the clampdown on sex work and the harassment of sex workers. I mean, can you truly say you love your job and wouldn’t give it up if you won the lottery jackpot?

It is not just people in low paying or stigmatized jobs that might not be happy with their chosen profession; high and medium income earners like bankers, doctors, lawyers, receptionists, nurses or soldiers could also hate their jobs.

There are people, especially immigrants, with Masters degrees and PhDs who work in chain stores like Wal-Mart, Sainsbury and Tesco as security men and cashiers.  They are stuck with certificates that don’t pay their bills. No, they aren’t happy that they burn the candle at both ends to pass their exams, paid huge fees to meet the expenses of graduate schools but still end up stacking shelves at Tesco. Many are forced by economic, political and social situations to settle for jobs that would at least pay their bills.  Some go into arranged marriages just to keep a roof over their heads, while some settle for commercial sex work.

Many people are choosing to be Interns and Volunteers because it fills the void before they finally find paid employment. Gone are the days when people do volunteer and internship work just to help out; now it is because they can’t get a job and it also looks good on the CV. Volunteering for many is now basically like doing good to earn ‘Paradise’ points on your card so you can make it to Heaven and live happily ever after with Sky daddy.

If some people decide that they’d rather jerk off in front of a webcam and be paid for it than take up a job as a Wal-Mart assistant or volunteer for a job they really should be paid for doing, respect their choice. Even if they won the lottery, there are people that would still wish to work as sex workers.

It is really none of our business what consenting adults do with their bodies, I cannot see how my being a feminist means I must hate sex work or try to save sex workers. Sex workers can also be feminists and there are sex workers who are feminists. It is about choice, respect and rights

 Just as I say with my sexuality, your approval is not needed. And this is what sex workers are saying. They do not need feminists’ approval, what they want is RIGHTS like every other worker. And I do not think that is too much to ask for. Rights not rescue!

sex-workers sex-workers-rights

Related post- Organising Sex Workers Within Mainstream Labour Movement


  1. Meggamat says

    It seems you have chosen to objectively extrapolate upon your principles to arrive at this conclusion., rather than simply making a rash emotional decision. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many others.

  2. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Meggamat- Objectivity is always the way to go, after all one person’s morality is another person’s rag. As long as they are not harming anyone, what consenting adults do with their body, how they earn their money and how they spend their money is none of my business, and it should never be the business of the law too.

  3. voidhawk says

    It reminds me of a scene in The West Wing with Josh arguing with a feminist character who’s usually right on the money. They are debating whether prostitution should be legal and Josh asks something along the lines of

    “How can you claim to support a woman’s right to do what she chooses with her body but not support the right to be a prostitute?” And she comes back with something like :

    “Nobody wants their daughter to grow up to be a prostitute.”

    It’s presented as an ‘oh-snap’ rebuttal to Josh but I was left feeling frustrated, few people want their daughters to be sewage workers either but nobody is calling for women to be banned from sewage work.

  4. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @voidhawk- People who say such things like “Do you want your daughter to grow up to be a prostitute” are also in the same league as those who say “Do you want your son to be gay?”How is it a matter of what I want for my child? Commercial sex workers are adults who can make their own decisions. Denying others rights because I do not like my child to be like them is selfish, ridiculous and stupid.

  5. says

    I really don’t understand the criminalization argument either, other than as that disgust with the idea which seems to largely come from religion. Of course there’s clearly several strains of feminism, and humanism I suppose, of which I’m not too familiar.
    It does seem to me people should have a choice. And that we should try to avoid abuse and exploitation of workers in any industry. That might help people avoid jobs they don’t like, whatever those preferences are.

  6. Maddie says

    The Scarlet Queens comment got under my skin, Yemisi. Don’t call me a Scarlet Queen. I do not support prostitution being illegal, but it’s foolish to think that all these sex workers are adults, a lot of them aren’t. When I was first conscripted into prostitution, I was twelve. And I would have loved any kind of care from the community at all, rescue, whatever. I called the cops several times, for rescue, and they didn’t give a shit because I didn’t tell my parents, because I had been specifically told that my mother would get raped and murdered if I did, and you have to have parental consent for the cops in this town to do shit. Furthermore, a lot of these cops are getting freebies from these pimps. I had to rescue my damn self after five years of trying by stabbing this motherfucker in the eye with a toothbrush and strangling him until he was almost dead. No kid should have to deal with that. I’m kind of sick of the world turning a blind eye to human traffic. I still like you, but damn, Yemisi, stop stigmatizing people for caring about slavery. And, to be fair, you’re not helping the cause of Atheism by claiming so many Christians are stupid. Yes, there are stupid Christians in the world, but, saying this as an Atheist, I’ve met Atheists who would make your hair stand up. There’s no religion, or lack thereof, that has a claim on morality and intelligence. There are Atheist homophobes, too, and Atheists who have such bad personality flaws you’d wonder why they were even born. (Because their parents had sex; that’s why they were born.)

    Some prostitutes want rights; many want rescue. If you want prostitution to be legal, you also have to take up for the right for these slave prostitutes not to be prostitutes. To talk about one side of the coin and not the other is remiss.

  7. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Maddie- Who called you a “scarlet queen”? If you were referring to this on my post “People should stop acting like knights in shining armor rushing to save ‘scarlet’ queens!” You should see there is a comma after the word scarlet and yes, that was a sarcasm. plain and simple.

    Again, you are obviously confusing human trafficking , forced labour and child labour with the choice of ADULTS who voluntarily choose sex work as a profession.

    Because i stand for the Rights of ADULTS to be sex workers and for sex work to be recognised as legitimate work with labour rights does not mean i am ignoring human trafficking or those forced into sex work.

    I have worked with human trafficked victims before. I have been an executive member of a major organisation in Nigeria that focuses on helping rescued human trafficking victims resettle and empower them economically too to start a new life.

    You had an awful experience and i am sad to hear that. However that is still not Consensual adult sex work you were talking about. Peadophillia, child abuse, human trafficking, forced labour and kidnappings are and should be criminalised. Consensual sex work by ADULTS should not be criminalised.

    Again I will reiterate, Sex workers need rights not rescue. Choosing to be a sex worker does not mean you have chosen to be a slave. People who exploit sex workers are only taking advantage of the system that has failed to protect sex workers and women in general. Sex trafficking thrives because the system has failed to protect the victims of traffickers. Abuse of sex workers thrives because the system hardly does anything to protect sex workers from the stigmatization, assault and battery of sex workers

    Sorry if this post triggers awful past experience for you. .

  8. Maddie says

    I agree with you that prostitution shouldn’t be illegal. But it’s foolish to think that prostitution isn’t littered with slavery; look at the billboards in my home town and you’ll see a bunch of ads for foreign slave labor, pretending to be ads for sexy masseuses. They even advertise the ethnicity. Some of them round up American women, as if that makes it any better. Go to these massage parlors and the first thing you’ll see is a door that locks on both sides.

    The reason why I think it shouldn’t be illegal is that (a lot of) cops use that as leverage for coerced sex. They should be arresting the person who’s rounding up individuals and taking away their right to say no.

  9. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Maddie- I don’t use the word “Prostitution” because it is so stigmatised and always meant to be derogatory. Adult sex workers or commercial sex workers, as they also preferred to be called, are not the cause of human trafficking, forced labour or peadophillia.

    Commercial sex workers deserve to have their voices heard regardless of the fact that many people use sex to exploit the vulnerable. There are many abuses in other professions including the medical profession, banking industry , Acting, modelling agencies and even in the publishing world. We cannot demand that these professions be criminalised because of the abuses perpetrated by the top guns in these industries towards employees, clients and vulnerable people that walk into their offices. What we criminalised is sexual harassment, child labour, forced labour assault, battery and we also fight to adopt and enforce labour laws.

    You wrote “They should be arresting the person who’s rounding up individuals and taking away their right to say no.” . I believe Human trafficking is already a criminal offence in many countries. The system obviously need to do more to eradicate human trafficking and put traffickers behind bars.

    I will reiterate again, do not confuse human trafficking , forced labour and child labour with the choice of ADULTS who voluntarily choose sex work as a profession.


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