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Support Prostitutes' Rights Now!

Resist Scapegoating of Prostitution and Confront Real Problems:
Global Capitalism, Patriarchy, Poverty, Exploitation and Violence

by Emi Koyama, Student Hookers Association

"Well, of course you can legislate morality!"
-- Fired Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker, circa mid-1990s

What is the Prostitutes' Rights Movement?

Prostitutes' rights movement is a movement by prostitutes and our allies to improve and control the condition of our labor as well as our status within the society. It is an integral part of the greater feminist movement as well as the labor movement. Even though laws have been passed to protect other women from sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. and other workers from unfair labor practice, unsafe or hostile working environment, etc., we are still vulnerable in many ways. We demand, just like other women and workers have, that our rights to safety, dignity, and respect that all people deserve.

Do Women Choose to Become Prostitutes?

Like many other workers in a capitalist society, our options are limited by many factors, including poverty, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. But to the degree many workers choose their occupation, many prostitutes do choose ours. To the degree many workers are forced into an occupation that they do not want to enter, many prostitutes are forced into prostitution. One of the goals of the prostitutes' rights movement is to empower everybody who works in the sex industry regardless of how we entered this field, creating many options for ourselves, both inside and outside of the industry.

Isn't Prostitution a form of Slavery?

"Prostitution" is a word that describes the type of work, like "manufacturing" or "farming." On the other hand, "slavery" describes the condition under which the work is performed and exploited regardless of the type of work involved. During the American Slavery, most slaves were forced to perform either farm work or domestic work, but it was not the type of work per se that was inhumane; rather, it was the condition under which their work was performed that was.

Even today, severely exploitative working conditions exist in many different fields. Two of the contemporary examples are offshore sweatshops ran by large U.S. corporations, and the U.S. farms where undocumented migrant workers work. But nobody is calling for the abolition of garment industry or agriculture altogether; instead, we are rightfully calling for the better, more humane and just treatment of all workers. Why should it be any different for the sex industry?

Isn't Prostitution Inherently Oppressive?

Not any more so than other lines of work in a global capitalist system. If prostitutes were more vulnerable to exploitation than other workers today, it is because we, like offshore sweatshop workers and migrant farmworkers, lack the institutional power to defend our rights as workers. To say that prostitution is "inherently" oppressive would absolve the wrongdoers of their responsibilities, and therefore is ultimately reactionary.

Aren't Many Women, Children, and Others being Hurt in Prostitution?

True, but not because we trade sex for money. As pointed out above, it is because we lack the institutional power to defend ourselves and our rights as workers. For example, the laws against profession can be used by police officers and abusive managers/pimps as a leverage to harass us and violate us. Our empowerment as workers and as women will make it more and more difficult for them to mistreat us. Unsafe working conditions and abusive management are labor issue.

What about People who have been Forced into Prostitution?

Our goal is to empower everybody who works in the sex industry regardless of how we entered the field. As the prostitutes' rights movement gains more recognition and grows more powerful, it will become harder and harder for pimps to coerce women to be in prostitution against their will because we will not tolerate that. It was the labor movement that forced the government to enact stricter child labor laws, occupational safety laws, eight hour work days, and many other protection mechanisms for all workers. Prostitutes' rights movement will achieve the same impact on ourselves and our fellow workers that the rest of the labor movement did on other workers.

Weren't Prostitutes Sexually Abused as Children?

Given the epidemic of child sexual abuse in the United States, it is no surprising that many prostitutes have been abused as children, just like many non-prostitutes have also been asbued. On the other hand, there are plenty of prostitutes as well as non-prostitutes who were not abused as children. We as the society need to move beyond stereotypes and take the epidemic of child sexual abuse seriously rather than using it as a tool to oppress a whole class of workers.

Isn't Sex Industry Inherently Sexist (or Oppressive to Women)?

Because we live in a Patriarchal society, virtually every industry is guilty of incorporating sexist elemtns to some degree. For example, in the medical field, doctors are disproportionately male while nurses are disproportionately female as a result of the pervasive institutional sexism. In the same sense, yes, sex industry reflects the society's sexist structures and attitudes. On the other hand, it is one of the few fields where women make at least as much as men if not more for the same work, and there is a lot of female companionship and rapport among female sex workers. Scapegoating the sex industry for its sexism will trivialize the farreaching impact of the Patriarchy that is present across the board.

But According to Statistics...

Most if not all statistics used by anti-prostitution activists are skewed due to their flawed methodologies. Because average or better off prostitutes rarely answer surveys or are mandated by court to attend programs, existing studies on prostitutes, especially those compiled by anti-prostitution activists, vastly overrepresent those who are indeed in particularly bad situations due to homelessness, mental illness, drug addiction, abusive pimps, or any combination thereof while underrepresenting more typical workers. Keep in mind that these issues are indeed real for some people, but before you accept these reports as experiences of a typical prostitute, question the source. Request a copy of their original research and assess its methodological validity.

Shouldn't Sexuality be Reserved for Romantic Relationships?

Everybody is entitled to her or his definition of sexuality, and there is nothing wrong with holding the view that sexuality and romance should go hand in hand. However, when a dominant group forces its version of sexual ideology on the marginalized group, it becomes a sexual oppression. A common example of this is homophobia. It is no wonder that gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people have historically been persecuted in so-called "vice sweeps" along with prostitutes, or that lesbians and female sex workers were lumped together as "sinful women" and put in concentration camps during the Nazi era, once we realize that the oppression against sex workers is tightly linked to the oppression against other sexual minorities. It should be selfevident which side progressive activists should stand on.


This document is reprinted from Emi's 'zine, Instigations from the Whore Revolution: A Third Wave Feminist Response to the Sex Work "Controversy". Distributed as a pamphlet by the Feminist Conspiracy during a demonstration against a radical-feminist anti-prostitution event in Portland in April 2001.