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"Playing the Whore" The work of sex work, by Melissa Gira Grant.

In a nutshell: Melissa Gira Grant does an excellent job of making a concise case for decriminalising sex work as well as portraying the history of the sex workers’ rights movements.



I’m not going to do a review of this book as such because there’s no real need. It's clear fact, plainly put. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to verse themselves on the wide-reaching issues that sex workers face. It stands up there in the SWer canon as a strong precursor to Revolting Prostitutes by Juno Mac and Molly Smith (2018) which is also a worthwhile read.


I remember not fully understanding the phrase “Sex work is work”. Like anything you hear out of context, it becomes a sound bite amongst a sea of sound bites on the modern airwaves. But I feel it's important to pick apart what it means. “Sex work is work” is primarily a plea to make things safer for a vulnerable community. Essentially, the adage seeks to highlight that sex work is a heavily stigmatised and often dangerous job. Asides from harm-reduction, it goes one step further by positing: If it is a way that so many people are making their income wouldn’t it be best to acknowledge that? And, confront it so that the industry’s workers can access the same rights fought for by so many through trade unions.


There is a union here in the U.K. for adult entertainment professionals which supports strippers, porn pros and some online SWers (amongst others). But it’s a little trickier for the full-service contingent. The way that businesses related to prostitution are regulated forces “prostitutes” to be treated as stand-alone entities.


Often, I feel like the issues surrounding SWer rights are pigeonholed to superficial moral conundrums. “Is the exchange of sex for money good and proper?” etc. But when you read a book like “Playing the Whore” you realise how everything is interconnected. It’s a border issue, it’s a race issue and an issue of corrupt policing. The book opens with a police dept. leaking videos of prostitution stings as some kind of vigilante-video-entertainment. An erotic peepshow for those tuning in. The relationship between sex workers and the police is clearly fraught. Women in the states can still be prosecuted for "sex-worker related" crimes using the fact they were carrying contraception as evidence against them. Yet another example of the systemic sexism entrenched in our culture.


Image Credit - HAH x Mina Karenina 2022

It seems insane that we can be nearly 10 years on from the publication of this book and the situation has not improved: In fact, it’s worsened. With the introduction of Fosta/Sesta in the U.S. and the online safety bill here in the U.K. With MasterCard pulling out of being a payment provider for adult businesses. With social media’s incessant and somewhat random censorship (I know so many people who’ve been de-platformed on Instagram). Even recent occurrences like the soon-to-be-enforced restrictions on Amsterdam’s Red Light district are all "canaries in the cage" for our sexual autonomy. Symptoms of a world that’s veering in a neo-conservative direction...I guess there’s a naïve part of me that assumes I’m going to dwell in a more open-minded world than say, my parents did. But this cannot be taken for granted.


The case for full decriminalisation of sex work is clear and it’s what sex workers want, so why isn't it happening? I suspect that govt. response so slow because politicians don’t want to stand by SWers. Muddying themselves by association is a bad PR move for MPs looking for wide-reaching support from a mostly ill-informed votership. But, in countries where restrictions have been lifted like New Zealand and Australia it’s working well. These examples are paving the way for how sex work ought to look worldwide.

For those of you who don’t know what the laws are here in the U.K. “Prostitution” isn’t illegal, the swapping of money for sexual favours is permissible. However, it’s regulated with a very British "let’s brush it under the carpet” approach. In layman’s terms, 3 of the major laws that criminalise U.K. sex work are: (do get in touch if I’m oversimplifying these)


- Street Solicitation. Advertising that you’re offering sex in exchange for money in a public space. Often penalised with fines which SWers can’t pay off except by further sex work.

- Brothel keeping. Which is defined by more than one SWer working under one roof (assumably a far safer way to work for those offering services than alone) – Who is this law protecting?

- Pimping or profiting from prostitution by proxy. Which can be as simple a transgression as being a SWer driver, bodyguard. Or, allowing a SWer friend to rent you a room for the day to work in.


The laws here reinforce the moral stigma of being a sex worker and force SWers to operate alone.


Maybe I live in a bubble, but I am optimistic that things are changing. Of late, SWers’ rights have come into the public eye more than ever. I’m hoping that through exposure the stigma will slowly wear down. I’m hoping that politicians will stop hiding behind their public image and realise that the current regulations don’t benefit those they seek to protect. I’m hoping that censorship on social media will lessen as Gen Z abandon Facebook products.


But,Let’s see.



Image Credit - HAH x Mina Karenina 2022

What you can do:


- Back Sex Worker Campaigns and organisations. Such as “Hookers against Hardship”, a coalition of SWer organisations who are making demands for the government to support those suffering in The Cost of Living Crisis. Sign their petition lobbying for the government to decriminalise sex work and help keep sex workers safe.

- If you’re able to, donate so that sex worker-led organisations can continue to support the sex workers who are struggling the most.

- Email your MP to ask them to support the movement to decriminalise sex work.

- And just generally keep the conversation going amongst friends and family.


Xxx


Ffion







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