Sex worker is one of the few jobs that represent every socio/economic group within society and it is a job that requires no formal qualifications other than common humanity. What other jobs can claim to be as truly egalitarian? The answer is few, and if sex work is eradicated then we would be a much poorer society, not only culturally, but also financially. No one knows how much sex work generates for the economy or how many livelihoods are dependent on selling sex. All sex workers support a range of people and businesses that rely on them for income. Not only directly, such as agents, maids, drivers, photographers, website designers, web cam and chat line companies, but indirectly there are fetish clothing designer’s, sellers and manufacturers of sex aids, property rental companies as well as the many services within the community who supply and support sex workers, probably often without knowing. If sex workers loose their income then that has a consequence for many thousands who support the sex industry directly and indirectly.
The reality is that anyone can sell sex and by doing so buy food, pay their rent or mortgage or fill their wardrobes with expensive designer clothes if they choose. Selling sex is a vital freedom that moralists want to take away without truly considering the consequences. There are no absolute truths in selling sex which is a multi faceted and diverse industry. Many sex workers for example only sell sex for short periods, with the specific purpose of paying a debt, or as an alternative to taking on debt. Some may, through no fault of their own, find themselves trapped within the benefits system and choose sex work because it pays well, in cash, and offers flexible working hours. Many migrant sex workers turn to sex work, whither they are legal or illegal, because in a foreign country they have more social freedom to choose a job that is flexible, pays in cash, and is, by its nature secretive. Many migrant sex workers in the UK for example are selling sex not only to keep themselves but also their families back home in India or Africa or Eastern Europe? If sex work is abolished as the abolitionists want then what are the alternatives for this diverse range of people?
The so called rescue industry talks emotionally about offering alternative jobs, proper jobs, they claim, to those they think they have saved. Inevitably for the less well educated sex worker or those sex workers who may already be socially disadvantaged, these will be menial jobs, cleaning perhaps or other low paid, labour intensive jobs, or perhaps if they are in Africa the rescue industry may offer a sex worker the opportunity to sell second hand bras donated by privileged white women. In truth however the rescue industry offers unemployment and poverty. Even for educated sex workers the fact that they have sold sex, may mean they have a criminal conviction for doing so, which will negatively affect their opportunities outside the sex industry. The reality for many sex workers exiting sex work is that stigma and prejudice linger long after a person has stopped selling sex, which again is why so many sex workers go to great lengths to keep their sex work secretive, to avoid the press and even organisations that support their choices.
The abolitionists illustrate their emotionalised propaganda with stories of sex workers who have chosen wrongly or who have become the victims of criminal activity, which exists in every industry, but especially industries that are forced to operate in a semi or often totally illegal black economies. They adorn their propaganda with, for example, the emotionalised tales of the drug addicted. What they do not tell you is that for the minority of sex workers who sell sex as a survival strategy, perhaps to feed a drug addiction, is that the alternatives are in truth limited. Rehabilitation is already available, but that only works if the addict chooses to address his or her drug addiction. The truth again is that if you have an addiction then you will have to feed that addiction and selling sex meets that need better than any alternative. This may be an unpalatable truth but it is true. The alternatives for society could be much worse.
Sex work remains however, for the majority, the opportunity to be self employed and self supporting. Sex work offers the flexibility and the income that few, if any, other jobs can, without years of training to obtain qualifications. Until the abolitionists can offer the flexibility and financial rewards of sex work then sex work will remain, as it always has, an opportunity for many and not a trap as they protest.