It was a very good year for chorus girls named Cupcake O’Leary

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by Jeff Fecke, August 19, 2008 • If you haven’t been reading the guest posts by Ren over at Feministe, you really should take the time. Ren is an advocate for sex workers’ rights, and she does a great job laying out the case for a harm reduction/decriminalization strategy for improving their lives.

The sex industry covers a huge swath of territory, certainly from pornography to prostitution, with modeling, acting, and Nicholson Baker novels in the grey area separating it from “legitimate” work. It’s been around approximately forever, and will be around approximately forever, but that doesn’t make it a simple issue. There are certainly sex workers who choose the lifestyle, and there are certainly sex workers forced into it. And there’s a huge continuum there, from people who choose the lifestyle because they enjoy it and make money, to people who choose it because they don’t have better options, to people who don’t so much choose it as fall into it, to people who are forced into it, to people who are abducted to participate in it.

Like Ren, I’ve tended to believe in a laissez faire approach to sex work; I’m not sure you can get people to stop having sex, nor do I think it’s a desirable goal if you achieve it. But I also know that the way the sex industry is structured now is especially bad for women, bad for everyone who is participating on the service end of it. And I know that there’s plenty of evidence that areas where prostitution is legal, like Nevada, have higher rates of illegal sex work, higher rates of violence agains women, and higher rates of rape. Needless to say, that’s not good.

Ultimately, I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that nothing is gained by targeting sex workers themselves. Frankly, a sex worker is either participating in a mutually-agreeable act between consenting adults — or she’s a victim. The former doesn’t concern me at all; the latter deserves protection and support, and the ability to live free from fear of the criminal justice system. Regardless, though, Ren’s posts are a thoughtful, insightful take on the subject, and you should read them all.