Leibee: Let’s end the stigma around sex workers

Katrina Leibee

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

People don’t like to talk about sex. It’s uncomfortable, taboo and regarded as a private subject that shouldn’t be the center of public debate or conversation. My colleague Shay Rego’s series, Fifty Shades of Shay, is not always well received, but the subjects she discusses are nothing out of the ordinary.

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If the subject of sex in general is difficult to discuss, then sex work and the sale of sex is even more difficult. A sex worker is anyone who provides sexual services in exchange for money. Sex workers are also referred to as prostitutes or hookers.

The issue with sex work is that it’s not legal in any place in the United States, except for a few counties in Nevada.

Because sex work is illegal, there’s a large stigma around it — that it’s the same as sex trafficking. However, sex trafficking and sex work are entirely different things, and many people who choose the sex work industry are not forced into it. While it’s important to recognize and help those who are coerced or forced into sex work, there’s also a large population of sex workers that choose their work.

Ending the stigma of sex work and making it a recognized profession would allow for much safer working conditions and a more positive view of sex in general.” 

The problem with the negative view of sex work and its illegality is that most sex workers are not in safe working conditions. Sex workers often work in pimp houses, they have no employment protection or benefits and they have no way to report if they are being abused in their work.

The professionalization, rather than criminalization, of this work would make it safer. Ending the stigma of sex work and making it a recognized profession would allow for much safer working conditions and a more positive view of sex in general. 

A large worry is that the industry is one that many are coerced into. It’s true that children from the foster system, people of color and people of low income are often coerced into sex work. The 2015 young adult novel “Dime” by E.R. Frank was about just that, portraying the life of a teenage girl pressured into this type of work.

Overall, the debate around this is heated. However, decriminalizing this line of work would offer more protections and benefits to the people within it. 

Many don’t want to legalize prostitution and sex work because they don’t view it as legitimate or a type of work to be proud of. However, I would argue that it’s not only legitimate work, but it’s one of the most demanded services out there. Sex workers are shamed, the majority of them being women, but purchasers of sexual services are not, the majority of them being men.

The root of the issue and what the sex worker rights movement aims to do is change who is criminalized in the prostitution industry. Prostitutes that are just doing their job shouldn’t be criminalized — the people that beat, abuse and exploit them, knowing they cannot be reported, should be.

This isn’t an issue that’s distant from us college students. There are student sex workers on college campuses without enough resources to support them. They are not criminals; they are trying to work their way through school.

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Anyone can donate to and connect with the sex worker rights movement. Further, states can choose to legalize sex work, and we can make a change now by petitioning to legalize sex work in Colorado.

Katrina Leibee can be reached at letters@collegian.com or Twitter @KatrinaLeibee.