Painting the sex trade in black and white

Here we go again. Prostitution, trafficking, the sexual exploitation of kids. All of a piece, all equally wicked, and all inextricably linked (and unpacked quite nicely over at Boinkology). It’s what we’ve come to expect from the zealots who put their own souls ahead of other people’s bodies and minds. The goody two-shoes rescue cowboys, the dumpy academics, shrill on their soapboxes.

Except the poster above doesn’t come from the usual suspects. It travels around Chicago on the back end of buses, and is produced by the Prostitution Alternatives Round Table. I happened upon PART when I went to a talk they organised during my only ever visit to Chicago. (I know, I know, three days in Chicago and I go to public meetings with HIV case-workers? All I can say in my defence is that it was the second week of February and the room was well heated.) I believe PART is trying hard to find practical solutions to a constellation of social problems, including homelessness, which are woven into an uncomfortable fabric of poverty in Chicago. But not all sex work is cut from that cloth.

It so happens that I’ve just finished Tracy Quan’s giggle-inducing Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl (she’s especially funny about zealotry within sex worker activism itself; I made a mental note to plan a major cull of my T-shirt collection). So today I’m perhaps thinking more about the top end of the industry. Obviously, sex workers who get flown across continents for champagne-fuelled working holidays in renovated villas do not represent all sex workers. But nor do under-age street walkers who are beaten iinto turning over four fifths of their earnings to their pimps. Sex is a complicated commodity, and its trade therefore makes for a kaleidescopically complicated industry. Over-simplifying the issue by re-painting it in black and white may suggest simple solutions, but it is unlikely to produce effective ones.

This post was published on 15/08/08 in The sex trade.

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  1. Comment by anonymous because the Internet is forever, 16/08/08, 12:58:

    Even if you don’t like her scholarship or her politics, I think the word “dumpy” is an unnecessary slur. Is that really the direction you want to take the conversation in?

  2. Comment by jessica suzette santascoy, 19/08/08, 11:45:

    It’s far too easy to paint sex workers as a monolithic (usually sinful) group. Same as strippers.

    On an ABC special, sex workers were portrayed as follows: “Behind every prostitute is a story of sex abuse, drug dependency or mental illness,” Sloan said. “No one chooses this.” See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23708970/

    ABC really conveyed their stereotype of sex workers through the dialog chosen for the script, editing, and choosing sex workers who played to the stereotype. While many sex workers may have had abusive backgrounds, many “regular” workers can claim the same, yet the report failed to point this out.

  3. Comment by Tracy Quan, 21/08/08, 09:57:

    THIS is where “dumpy” originates? Hi Elizabeth! This is giggle-inducing indeed. In another post, minutes ago, I had no idea I was wringing my hands over the sensitivity of an “anti.”

    No, I wasn’t trying to be Christlike or Pollyanalike… I just looked at the situation without personal bias because the face you showed was anonymous to me. I still think it’s best to avoid puncturing someone’s vanity, to be on the safe side.

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