OPINION: Why feminists should care about sex workers' rights

Joana Nastari from F**k You Pay Me on how we can all be better allies to sex workers


F**k You Pay Me

Alex Brenner


We are in increasingly turbulent times for the sex industry in all its forms – across London, the UK and the world.


Strip club closures, city-wide gentrification, online censorship and discriminatory laws all put sex workers in continued and increasing danger.


There is a chronic lack of awareness of the experience and working conditions of sex workers and a prevailing social stigma that propagates a silence around the industry. 


It is stigma that is the most dangerous and damaging thing to sex workers. Stigma creates base lack of respect for workers as people, which comes out in the behaviour of some customers and in the behaviour and attitudes of the general public, government, the police and of “well-meaning” women’s groups who have never actually talked to a sex worker in their lives. 


It is this ignorance and stigma, alongside the criminalisation of the sex industry, which makes sex workers unsafe and exposes them to violence. At its worst, stigma kills. Sex workers are far more likely to be murdered than the rest of the population. 


Stigma is what excludes sex workers from society and permits people to treat them with disrespect and not listen to their needs. Sex workers are not even consulted about the legislation that affects them and are censored when starting conversations about their profession on the internet. 


The FOSTA and SESTA bills are a prime example of this and have directly affected us in trying to advertise our sex worker activism events this weekend - as Facebook and Instagram are tighter than ever on where they will and won’t allow paid advertising. This bill stops women from working safely and independently, not to mention all the women it silences through crude censorship. 


Decriminalisation is the only way to work on creating safe and democratised working conditions for sex workers. Sex worker-led groups, Amnesty international, Human Rights Watch and the WHO are all clear on this. Sex workers experience stigma partly as a result of criminalisation - as workers are viewed as immoral, deserving of punishment, and excluded from debate on laws that affect them. 


Feminists! Want to help? You can fight stigma by being vocal, sticking up for people who work as strippers and sex workers in conversation, by listening to them and engaging with their cultural input, by showing solidarity and learning about what they can do. 


In my life, before I had personal contact with sex work, sex workers and strip clubs, I had this inherited notion that it was an industry that was full of desperate, sad, depraved people. When I arrived there, I realised how wrong I was. I want other people to change their notions on sex workers. 


Non sex-working women are our most powerful allies when it comes to dismantling stigma and pushing for decriminalisation, as male allies are seen as self-interested perverts, and sex workers are seen as powerless victims, incapable of having a proper opinion on their own industry. So it is down to our female allies to stand up and tell society that sex workers are people, and that sex-working women should be listened to. 


In our festival at Rich Mix this weekend, we’re platforming the real-life stories of strippers and sex workers to transcend reductive narratives and dismantle shitty preconceptions. The weekend includes a special remount of my show F**k You Pay Me with guest performers and post-show discussions, queer dance party Brazilian Wax, and an Activist Symposium all afternoon on Saturday - Rewriting the Future of Sex Work



In hosting this festival, we want people from all backgrounds and lines of work to attend and start a dialogue about the rights of sex workers. People either want to hear a scandalous tell-all about "happy hookers" or a tragedy-porn sob story. I want this event to transcend these binary preconceptions.


The symposium will feature a full programme of workshops, talks, and discussions for sex workers and their allies, where we hope to smash the stereotypes around sex workers and push conversations on working conditions and stigma forward and into public consciousness.


Whorephobia is sexism – let's not let it be sexism that women propagate against each other. More often than not, strippers and sex workers are portrayed in the media as voiceless bodies, statistics or through cheap stereotypes.


Come and hear us speak, get involved in the conversation, and learn how you can help.




Book now at richmix.org.uk/festivals/fk-you-pay-me  



Opinions expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors of DIVA magazine or its publishers


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