Elizabeth's picture

Workers Memorial Day 2009


Today is Workers Memorial Day.

As always, when it comes to work and sex and society, I am thinking about some of the most vulnerable among us: sex workers. Sex workers are a large and diverse group. I don't mean to use the term as a euphemism for prostitutes, though I do include them. I mean to include all whose labor is in the providing of sexual or erotic services. I mean to include them whether their work is legal or criminalized, whether they are migrants or not, whether they have a great deal of autonomy or are working in exploitive conditions. No matter what, all those workers deserve to be safe.

The serial killings of prostitutes in places like Ipswich (UK), Vancouver, and Washington remind us of the particular dangers faced by prostitutes (or women suspected of being prostitutes) but it is important to remember that workers in the legal realms of erotic work are also put at risk as we've been tragically reminded recently by attack on Roberta Busby, who was set on fire outside a strip club in February or the murder of Julissa Brisman in a hotel in Boston earlier this month.

Three simple thoughts, then, on Workers Memorial Day:

1. No women are safe until prostitutes are safe. As long prostitutes are targets of violence, and as long as that violence can be perpetrated with much less risk of sanction, and as long as all women are potentially identifiable as prostitutes by virtue of owning our sexuality, no women are safe until prostitutes are safe.

2. An injury to one is an injury to all. When we don’t speak up to protect the safety of other groups, we cannot expect much support when we ourselves are targeted. Solidarity is important across groups of workers. Stigma and bias only serve to divide us. Whatever work we do, whether erotic or otherwise, whether legal or not, whether chosen or not, we need to stand up for each others rights to self determination and safety.

3. Those of us with more privilege (greater safety, more autonomy, more money, more education, more access to power) need to use it to improve conditions for those with less.

Workers deserve to be safe.

All workers.

In solidarity,


Rebecca Deos's picture

Interview with Lady Jayla: On being outed as a provider


Rebecca Deos

I met Lady Jayla online, on a message board for sex workers, when I had put out a call to sex workers who were outted and wished to tell their story. Immediately, Lady Jayla responded, which began a dialogue with myself, Jayla and Elizabeth.

Very quickly I felt a connection with Jayla, and her story, and was a bit suprised at how we shared many of the same emotional responses to our situations.

Jayla has a career in the medical field, and has two grown daughters, both of which have limited their contact with her since they found out about her sex work.

Click here to read the interview.

Michael's picture

"It's Wrong to Pay for Sex"

"It's Wrong to Pay for Sex", or is it? This is the title of a debate scheduled in NYC on April 21  by Intelligence Squared. It is actually the second debate on this topic that they have held, the first one being in London, UK on November 11 2008. The motion was soundly defeated, 449: 203. While we don't know how the speakers were chosen, the gendering is of interest. In the UK, each team consisted of one male and two females. The US debate will feature three women for the motion and one woman and two men against the motion. Is this significant? Maybe. While paying for or selling sex is not the sole property of any gender, it is the frame into which the dominant discourse has been forced that is highly gendered. 

Elizabeth's picture

Would you deny rights to child care workers because of the nature of their work?

Would you deny rights to child care workers because:

...their work is dangerous? (Consider the spread of infections and exposure to bodily fluids, let alone the heavy lifting. No, we would advocate for hand sanitizer and worker protection laws so that we could be sure our kids would be as safe as possible.)

...their work is often exploitive? (Day care workers in centers and in homes are poorly paid, often have no benefits. They are among the most necessary and most vulnerable workers. Instead of denying them rights we argue for better wages and working conditions.)

...their work is sometimes done illegally? (Many people taking care of children work off the books and some work without documentation. And when lots of more privileged moms hire this way we turn a blind eye and don't call them pimps or johns.)

...their work is associated with migrant labor and human trafficking? (Women are trafficked for many reasons including domestic service and child care.)

...their work is associated with care that is otherwise provided out of love and devotion to family? (Would we ever argue that because a woman cares for other people's children for pay that she is incapable of loving her own children and caring for them well?)

Click here to continue reading.

Caroline's picture

Sex Traffic at Institute of Contemporary Arts in London

via Laura Agustín.

SEX TRAFFIC at London’s ICA - Institute of Contemporary Arts

11 March 2009 - 1900 / 7pm

The media and NGOs have raised awareness of sex trafficking in recent years, but does it serve the interests of migrant sex workers to suggest they have been trafficked, or does it collude in their criminalisation and deportation? Should our priority be to give migrant women in the sex industry more control over their own lives, or to stop the traffic?

Speakers: Laura María Agustín, author of Sex at the Margins and a former educator working with expatriate sex workers; Georgina Perry, service manager for Open Doors, an NHS initiative which deliver outreach and clinical support to sex workers in east London; Catherine Stephens, sex worker; Jon Birch, inspector, Metropolitan Police Clubs and Vice Unit. Chair: Libby Brooks, deputy Comment editor, The Guardian.

Nash Room.  Book here  £10 / £9 Concessions / £8 ICA Members

Caroline's picture

Link to a guest post by Douglas Fox (IUSW)


Those who have been following the blog posts about Jacqui Smith’s plans to change the prostitution laws in the UK will surely know the name Douglas Fox, spokesperson for the IUSW. He, as well as the IUSW in general, has faced a great deal of criticism this month from the UK radical feminist bloggers who have been largely inclined not so much to show their support for Jacqui Smith but more to discredit sex worker’s unions.

Douglas has written a post at my blog about the proposals, as well as the misunderstandings, prejudices and preconceptions held by those who no doubt would see themselves as allies - government ministers and feminists. I’m hoping he’ll contribute regularly to my blog.

Elizabeth's picture

Speaking out against the prohibitionists who claim to speak for all

We write a lot about sex work on Sex In The Public Square and it is my sincerest hope that we never appear to be speaking for sex workers as if they were a homogenous group with a single set of needs that can be defined and advocated for by others. Sex work covers an enormous range of jobs from phone sex to erotic massage, from still-photo modeling to web cam work, from stripping to prostitution, you get the idea. Within each type of work there is a range of working conditions, and within each group of workers there are degrees of exploitation and autonomy. 

Specifically regarding prostitution our focus here has typically been on destigmatization and decriminalization, and supporting sex workers and their allies in shaping the way that their work is portrayed in the media.  Recently Caroline of Un-cool and now of Better Burn That Dress, Sisterhas blogged here about the changes in UK prostitution policy that increase the stigma and criminality of purchasing sex. Renegade Evolution, another of my favorite bloggers, has been writing a lot about the shift overall toward Swedish-style policies that criminalize prostitution by making the purchase of sex illegal even while decriminalizing the sale of sex. And beyond writing about the policies themselves, these two in particular - not alone but certainly leading the pack - have been speaking out about the way that the prohibitionists who push these policies attempt to speak for all sex workers in justifying their work. Ren  in her most recent post on the subject, has called for greater and louder response and a reframing of the discussion, and I wholeheartedly support her. Specifically, she nails the problem this way: Click here to read more

Elizabeth's picture

Solidarity on the solstice

Stop Shaming Us to Death: First National Sex Workers' Rally, USA from PJ Starr on Vimeo.

Stop Shaming Us to Death: First National Sex Workers' Rally, USA from PJ Starr on Vimeo.,

It's been quiet around here, and for that I apologize. Things have been unusually busy for me. Much of that is good, and some is regular end-of-semester chaos, but it has meant less time here and I regret that.

The winter solstice is the darkest time of the year, and it is the moment when things start getting brighter. In the spirit of the solstice I want to highlight sex worker solidarity, writing and activism all of which represent efforts toward constructing that brighter future.

Click here to read more

Elizabeth's picture

Help make December "Sex Work Awareness" month!

Originally posted on Best Sex Bloggers


red umbrella with text "only rights can stop the wrongs"We are exactly 9 days away from December 17, International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers. I’d love to suggest that we dub December “Sex Work Awareness Month,” and spend as much of our blogging time in December focusing on the violence and stigmatization that sex workers face, and also on the good that sex workers do in the world. And just as there is much of the former, there is also a great deal of the latter.

At Sex In The Public Square this month Rebecca Deos told her story about being outed as an escort, and discussed the harm done emotionally and financially not just to herself but to her husband and kids, and she also talked about how the experience brought them together as a family. We also posted a brief piece about the Women’s Institute Lady’s Guide to Brothels. We’ll be posting more this month about legislation in the UK that will increase the stigma on sex work rather than decrease it and about the banning of “extreme” pornography in the UK. And of course we’ll certainly be highlighting the December 17 events.

Sex work is a pretty common theme at Sex in the Public Square, and there are sex worker blogs that address the issues of sex workers in their own voices and with great power and eloquence. But equally important is the support that comes when people who are not necessarily sex workers speak up on their behalf. Not to talk over sex workers’ own voices but to support them by adding many more. Audacia Ray, in a post on Bound, Not Gagged, wrote about the Sex Work Awereness fundraising calendar project:

The vast majority of the people who posed for the calendar and are buying the calendar are not sex workers, but they are expressing solidarity with sex workers and putting their faces, names, and dollars on the lines to support the efforts of a sex worker advocacy organization. And this is a great thing.

I posed in that calendar along with some pretty amazing writers. I’d like to ask you each to consider adding your voices to ours by helping to promote Sex Work Awareness this month. Here are some ways you can help:

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