Sexuality and the State

It’s time to decriminalize sex work

photo of lingerie and condoms

We need to talk about sex work.

Sex work and sex workers have been around as long as people have been engaged in commerce. Despite being one of the oldest professions on the planet, sex work remains a taboo to many people.

Oftentimes, when people hear the term “sex worker,” they think of street prostitution. But that’s far from the whole story. Sex workers are also dancers in strip clubs. They are performers on OnlyFans and similar websites. They are adult film actors. They are escorts and “sugar babies.” The list goes on. The bottom line? If you have ever been to a strip club or watched an adult film, you have been a consumer in the sex work industry – it’s not just about buying sex.

That said, sex workers who are in the business of selling in-person sex, whether on the street or online, are the most vulnerable workers in this industry and would benefit the most from the destigmitization and decriminalization of sex work.

Because of the persistent taboo around sex work, in most communities in Pennsylvania and across the nation, sex workers face arrest and incarceration for doing their jobs. A run-in with police can also lead to coerced sex. The threat of being targeted by police drives many sex workers into situations that can often lead to sexual abuse, physical violence, or worse.

An arrest on charges of sex work can prevent someone from accessing an accurate ID, jobs, housing, healthcare, and other services. It can also lead to deportation for immigrants. Sex workers already face discrimination in many of these systems, and a criminal record and these collateral consequences further marginalizes and stigmatizes them.

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