Sex Work IS Work: A Statement

We received some screenshots of a series of stories that were put up by @sister.library on Instagram a day ago- we could not look at all of the stories because it was already 24 hours by then. This is in response to what we have seen, and translated to network members and in the hope that conversations about sex workers are had with sex workers being able to respond to them.

In one of the screenshots, a part of a story of a sex worker speaking at a panel is displayed, talking about how she has been treated in a strip club and how she rejects the term ‘sex worker’- We understand, respect and validate that these experiences take place. It is precisely for this reason that NNSW organizes workers to support them to fight back and root out such exploitative practices in sex work.

We know that sex work is not inherently exploitative; the criminalised structures where we work forces us to accept exploitative practices.

Our point of view is that we have the right to sex work; and that the structures at play that make this right unsafe are to be questioned and ended. We ask for full decriminalization of sex work so that we can have more control over our safety, the collectives that we work in and our workplaces. The dichotomy of good and bad is a false one. Sex work is neither good nor bad. It is work which offers us a livable income. Good or bad- We ask that we are treated as citizens of this country, as people who are doing a job.

Many women, men and trans persons doing sex work are from oppressed castes, and classes. But the only way to truly address this is to annihilate racial, caste, and class structures- we know this is the same for all working class persons. We organize like all other workers do to fight the same problems within our workplace, and we demand the right to be able to organize. Those who seek to “end/abolish” sex work push workers underground and create unsafe spaces where sex workers face violence and even pay with their lives. Abolitionism creates unsafe, dangerous workplaces for sex workers, especially women and trans people. This will mean that workers cannot access health services, access protective measures as they have sex, or even access any protection by state actors or laws.

In a patriarchal society, there are many customs, traditions and working environments that give men, access to the bodies of women and trans people (with no proper laws/safety measures). These push them towards sexual violence in silence but where as often the choice of consenting adult women to choose sex work as a legitimate form of work, it is attacked as a violent structure.

The concluding screenshot, with a pink background says that saying sex work is work only protects the interests of men who “who buy sex”. We oppose this sentence, we are adult consenting sex workers, who do not sell sex. Selling sex is an alien construct in our cultural context and we have no local and indigenous language to express this idea. We are workers who provide sexual services. Similar to domestic workers who do not sell their labor but merely provide a service.

In the context of South Asia, use of ‘choice’ is a misleading construct. ‘Choice’ is a cruel mirage thrown at marginalised populations by the privileged class to look down upon workers whose work and livelihood depends upon complex survival strategies. How come morally acceptable work that is actually hazardous to health, for instance working in the mines or working with hazardous chemicals like acids, caustic substances, disinfectants, glues, heavy metals (mercury, lead, aluminium), paint, pesticides, petroleum products, and solvents in industries never has to deal with the word ‘choice’. Sex work is work. Let us make it safe for any adult person in sex work working of their own volition.

Yes, listen to sex workers, but not only when they are serving you trauma porn about exploitation that happens in ALL industries within the capitalistic structure. By putting up stories on Instagram, where most of our network members, or active sex workers cannot respond, cannot see and cannot engage, feminist organizations are doing the same things that non-feminist organisations tend to do; infantilise us, our experiences and speak for us. One can have an opinion on sex work that doesn’t punch down on the workers but instead punches up at systemic injustice that takes away from both consenting sex workers as well as those who are in sex work for survival.

We, the coordinators of the network (and active sex workers) are responding to these stories because they have the capacity to only further stigmatise us, and worsen the situations sex worker collectives are in due to discrimination and societal violence. We also recognize the political game plan of fund procurement via victim narratives from abolitionist groups. Trafficking is a criminal offense. Support sex workers who are on the front lines and with the most knowledgeable strategies to fight trafficking.

1. https://nationalnetworkofsexworkers.medium.com/
2. http://www.nnswindia.org/
3. Violence Faced by Sex Workers in India
4. Recommendations on Ensuring and Protecting the Human Rights of Sex Workers
5. Status of Women in Sex Work in India
6. Advocating for Women in Sex Work
7. Raided
8. Who Stole the Tarts? Sex Work and Human Rights
9. Beyond Vice and Victimhood

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National Network of Sex Workers India

NNSW is a national network of sex worker-led organisations and allies committed to promoting the rights of sex workers in India.