Guest Blogger

Abolish Sexual Repression, Advance Sex Workers' Rights

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 08, 2014 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: decriminalization, homeless youth, prostitution, prostitution legalization, sex work, sexual freedom, sexual liberation, survival sex

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Derek J. Demeri is a student at Rutgers University and a human rights activist. He works as the Project Leader for the Sexual & Gender Minorities Program with the Center for the Study of Genocide & Human Rights, and is involved in sex work activism in his home state of New Jersey.

sex-work-heels.jpgAs an LGBTQ activist, I believe the ultimate goal of our work is to achieve sexual liberation. It is the simple idea that we all deserve to choose how, with who, and why one engages in sex. In the LGBTQ community, this movement has taken many forms, from repealing sodomy laws to the social and legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

Yet advancements in these areas are not just liberating our community, as they also further the sexual liberation of all people. Consider that when violence is committed against members of the LGBTQ community, it stems from the perception that one is deviating from sexual and gender norms. By eradicating the root causes of violence, straight and cisgender people whose expression deviates from the norm are also protected. Freedom from violence for the LGBTQ community also extends to freedom from violence for everyone.

Understanding this, I believe the struggle to eradicate sexual repression continues (but does not end) with the decriminalization of sex work.

To be clear, sex work is the consensual and monetary exchange of sex. This is not to be confused with human trafficking, where consent is not obtained. Instead, sex workers are men and women who willingly choose to engage in the practice for a variety of reasons, like achieving a certain standard of living. They comprise an array of people from all walks of life and represent the diversity of society, including all people in the racial, socioeconomic, and sexual rainbow.

Recently, there has been international recognition of the need to address laws criminalizing sex work. United Nations agencies like the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, UN Women, and other agencies have all called for the decriminalization of sex work as a human rights issue.

For those engaged in sex work in the United States and elsewhere, the right to security, health, citizenship, and even life are far from guaranteed.

Considering that its nickname is "the world's oldest profession" and its existence is well-documented since the earliest recordings of human civilization, we must not pretend that our government -- or any government for that matter -- is capable of eradicating the sex industry. By stigmatizing something that is clearly an innate part of all societies, we are denying a sense of humanity to countless people who we should be calling our brothers and sisters.

sex-work-bills.jpgIn prosecuting sex workers, stereotypes are relied upon by law enforcement in order to determine who is and is not a sex worker. As a result, laws criminalizing sex work disproportionately affect the poor, trans women of color, and LGBTQ youth. For example, as 40% of all homeless youth are LGBTQ (and a significant number use sex work as means of survival), law enforcement agencies have been documented to harass and intimidate LGBTQ youth on the streets who appear to be homeless under the assumption that this group is breaking prostitution laws.

It has also been documented by Human Rights Watch and others that the legal system in the United States uses the possession of condoms as legal evidence that prostitution laws were being broken.

Our current laws criminalizing sex work contribute to our society's sexual repression, as the choice to engage in sex work is a choice to use sex for something other than reproductive purposes. Can sexual freedom ever truly be achieved if there are laws that dictate why someone is allowed to have sex and encourage policing of the bedroom in the name of law enforcement?

Liberation can only come when there is freedom to choose how one engages in sex. I am a sex worker advocate because I am an LGBTQ advocate.

People deserve nothing less than to be sexually free in a world without persecution of sexual expression. The laws in the United States must begin to align with these ideals. We must decriminalize sex work.

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