Leave sex workers alone

In the last two months we have been facing a large wave of public shaming against sex workers. The Metropolitan police decided to publish photographs and personal details of East London sex workers so the local community can discriminate against them more easily. Sex workers are treated like sex offenders like if giving pleasure to other human beings was a serious crime.

TV programs follow police raids in Soho to film sex workers being arrested in their working clothes. Trashy newspapers publish sex workers’ images without their consent accompanied by disgusting comments about their life. A MP’s wife was outed with the pictures she uses to advertise her services published in papers and suggesting that her husband should not be married to a sex worker due to his political career. What does that say about us? That we haven’t got the right to marry who we want? That a ‘decent’ man should not love a sex worker?

Then in the Guardian, I read Zoe Williams’ article in reaction to Jennifer Thomson’s outing. Instead of defending this young woman who’s not committing anything illegal, I read comments on her supposedly bad behaviour despite the fact that she was educated and coming from a rich family. Williams suggests that someone with self-esteem and intelligent enough should not sell sex.

Sex workers are still caught between the double stigma culprit/victim. Either we are portrayed hopeless uneducated victims, probably too stupid to get a ‘proper’ job, or bad persons, greedy, selfish, self promoting and sleazy, taking advantage of naive men.

TVs and newspapers have then the good excuse to publish our working pictures and attract the public attention. We know it: sex sells. People want to watch half naked women and are excited by sex scandals. But by calling us names and trying to shame us, they want to reassure themselves. In fact, you’re only exposing your own shame, the shame of your own sexuality.

You’re also exposing your sexist double standards. Because straight men can do whatever they want sexually and no-one will tell them anything. They can even sell sex to women and people will probably only think that they are lucky and would wish the same for themselves. Jennifer Thomson would not suffer all this scandal if she was a man. The only equivalent I can see for men is gay politicians with pictures taken from their Gaydar profile or powerful men caught as clients.

People often say that they would not want their daughter being a sex worker like if it was the worst thing that could happen to their children. It really reminds me homophobic parents’ reaction when they discover that their son is gay. People have to accept that we are free to do what we want with our body even if they don’t like it.

We are still voting laws like if the law was there to send a message about what is good or bad. Can we one moment accept that people live different lives and that our personal feelings are not relevant to their lives? Personally I am against religions; I think it is just about obscurantism and control of the masses. But I will always oppose restrictions on people’s religious freedom or the right to wear religious symbols in public if they want.

Perhaps you think that I live a terrible existence and everything I do is morally wrong, but I am a human being and I deserve the same rights as any other person, including the right not to be exposed to public shame, criminalised, losing the custody of my children, being sent to a rehabilitation centre, my partners and I mocked publicly, etc.

Even China last month stopped its shaming parades. In the UK we still use our photographs to shame us. When all this will stop? In the past sex workers were forced to wear a black triangle or other specific symbols. What is the difference now?

Please stop shaming us to death.


About Thierry Schaffauser

Queer, sex worker, drugs user, student in Gender History, GMB trade unionist, migrant, wants to change the world, etc
This entry was posted in Sex work. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Leave sex workers alone

  1. Hecate says:

    Thank you for this article. It’s important to me that this point of view be expressed more often. I have been a sex worker too, both in the UK and recently in the US. Not that I have to make excuses or anything, but both times I did so as a result of pretty desperate circumstances. I sometimes wonder if people would blame sex workers for the current recession, if they could get away with it.

    Unfortunately, my mother found out about my sensual massage work in San Francisco, and reacted, and continues to react, with nothing but shaming and horrific insults. I will never apologize to her for doing what I needed to do to survive. She is truly the last person in the world who has a right to judge me, as she knowingly put me in harm’s way as a child. Basically, she moved me in with her father who sexually abused her. So of course the same happened to me. And on top of that, she sexually abused me herself at one point. When I confronted her about it, she was very self righteous, saying I was ‘lucky it only happened once,’ and she thought I’d ‘passed it off as a dream.’

    So who’s the hypocrite and ‘dirty’ person here? I think it’s her. Anyone with a conscience would agree. We live in such a fucked up society. Most of my friends are amazed I survived my family, let alone life as an adult. And I am a responsible one. The people who really love me can see the pain I went through and let me deal with it as I see fit. They don’t necessarily link my involvement with the sex industry with the abuse I suffered as a child either. Fortunately, I have had some understanding partners. I probably should have married one of them, to protect myself from ‘mommy dearest’ and her rage fits/ guilt trips!

    Some sex workers are reclaiming their sexuality after very negative experiences. Those could range from abuse, to being raised in an overly strict religion. Has anyone ever thought of that? I would never have been able to participate in the industry if I felt sex and/ or my body were inherently bad things…

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