Feminist Student Union discusses sex work, sex workers and decriminalization

FSU co-president Lydia Ghuman: “Sex work is inherently linked to how women aren’t normally in control of their bodies or to have autonomy over their bodies.”

The Feminist Student Union discussed sex work, legalization models and perspectives of sex workers in their meeting on September 26. FSU defined sex work as the consensual provision of sexual services for money or goods. This can include anything from full-service sex work, which is commonly known as prostitution, to stripping, performing sexual acts for a webcam audience, or pornography.

For FSU co-president Allison Pierce, the mission to spread awareness is personal, because she knows several sex workers.

“I personally am pretty passionate about advocacy for sex workers, knowing a couple myself and knowing the struggles that they have gone through and that sex workers at large have gone through,” Pierce said.

A goal of the discussion was to bring the topic of sex work to a more mainstream audience.

“I felt like it was something I didn’t hear a lot about in classes,” Pierce said. “I’m a Women’s and Gender Studies major, and I felt like that was a topic that wasn’t really discussed despite it being such a huge part of social justice movements, from Stonewall and before that and beyond into now. I feel like it’s not really engaged in mainstream feminist movements or social justice movements.”

The presentation, led by Pierce and organization co-president Lydia Ghuman, gave reasons why sex workers may have difficulty finding other work. They may be able to make more money than at a minimum wage job or may not be able to hold the hours that a more traditional job would require.

The prevalence of sex work is also correlated with socioeconomic factors, as sex workers are also more likely to be minorities or from a low-income area.

FSU also discussed models of legalization, as well as pros and cons of legalization and decriminalization. The presentation pulled information from a statement by Amnesty International, which takes the stance that sex work should be decriminalized.

Legalization or decriminalization would allow a sex worker to go to the police without fear of prosecution.

Amnesty International does not advocate for the legalization or decriminalization of sex trafficking, as a trafficked person is forced into the work, whereas a sex worker makes the choice.

“I can’t speak for all sex workers, and the attitudes I’ve read about kind of vary,” Pierce said. “Legalization can put laws in place by people who aren’t sex workers to manage what they’re doing without any input from the sex workers themselves, whereas a decriminalization model wouldn’t have those sorts of laws that may force sex workers to manipulate their behavior.”

Ghuman believes that the issue of sex work represents some of feminism’s core values.

“It ties to a lot of issues that are very valuable to feminism in itself,” Ghuman said. “Sex work is inherently linked to how women aren’t normally in control of their bodies or to have autonomy over their bodies, because sex workers are viewed as negative even though they’re just getting pay for utilizing their bodies in the way they want to.”

Edited by Kyra Haas | khaas@themaneater.com

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