Perhaps it’s because the work it’s suggesting is illegal in many parts of the world, perhaps because it’s often intimately tied to abuses and shady dealings. The term came out of California decades ago by pro-prostitution groups like COYOTE.” COYOTE stands for Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, a group now championed by sex workers but which was actually formed in the seventies to promote the cause not of women, but of johns. people think it lends dignity to women who do it.” Farley insists the phrase “sex worker” fails to bring dignity to women in prostitution.
Still, proponents of the phrase, some of whom have started their own sex-worker unions, are trying to use “sex worker” until it sticks. Some say it was first used by Carol Leigh, also known as the Scarlet Harlot, at a conference in 1989. Farley, who has authored numerous national and international studies on prostitution, told me in a phone interview, “in that term [“sex worker”], a violation against women is turned into employment . “What lends them real dignity,” she told me, is “to call them a woman or a sister.
“Above all, prostitution and trafficking is about marketing and ‘having a good time’ and making money—this image is all a lie, but it’s good for business.” The truth is, many of the women in so-called sex work do not choose that employment voluntarily.
Drawing from decades of research, Farley says that most of these women “have been caged in by racism and sexism and poverty and end up involved in something that is really hard to get out of once you’re in.” Farley’s not concerned with making sex work more accessible and accepted; Farley is pushing instead for women’s “right not to prostitute.” According to her research, 89 percent of prostituted people interviewed in nine different countries indicate “they want to get out now.” One formerly sex-trafficked woman, Rachel Moran, described her options at her blog The Prostitution Experience: When I think of my choices they were simply these: have men on and inside you, or continue to suffer homelessness and hunger. Make your “choice.” People will never understand the concept of choice as it operates in prostitution until they understand the concept of constraint so active within it.
As long as the constrained nature of this choice is ignored it will be impossible to understand the pitiful role of ‘choice’ for women within prostitution.
Escaped prostitutes’ testimonies like this one are what fuel many women’s organizations to try to help women out of prostitution across the globe.
Lauren Hirsch and Kristen Berg, from the women’s group Equality Now, told me the phrase “sex worker” wrongly suggests that those in the industry freely chose the line of work, whereas “a very small minority” actually chooses to enter prostitution.
They find that the sex-worker advocate philosophy “focuses on the elite who have a choice to enter or exit,” and that’s simply not the majority. For Equality Now, it would be “concerning to see a policy made for such a minority when so many women don’t have choices.” To make things more complicated, sex-trafficking often involves traumatic bonding of victims with their traffickers, so there are “a lot of women who say they’re doing it voluntarily but when you peel back layers, go back five years, there was coercion.” Unfortunately, proponents of the phrase “sex worker” seem to believe that achieving widespread acceptance is more important than combating cases of real coercion and trafficking in the sex industry.
At least, that’s the takeaway from pieces like “The War Against Sex Workers” by Melissa Gira Grant in Reason Magazine last year.
Grant, whose bio describes her as a “former sex worker,” feigns ignorance of the problem of trafficking and its victims.
Contrary to the rhetoric of sex-worker advocacy groups, the vast majority of women working as prostitutes did not freely choose to do so.
Human trafficking is a serious problem, and those who attempt to downplay its prevalence often have ulterior motives.
This past December, California changed some laws regarding sex workers.