The sex industry continues to move millions

sex industry workers

Global changes in immigration, migration, health, public policy, and employment are having an enormous impact on the sex industry today. In particular, as journalists of the newly focused topic on sex working have presented papers to document some of the changes, journalists have begun to ask questions of the impact of sex slavery on societies and civilizations around the world.

Sex workers, forced to work against their will and risking injury, sometimes death, have been the subject of global discussions for some time now. As these international discussions come to light and journalists begin to examine how the sex industry continues to develop, governments and organizations involved in the sex industry need to consider how they can support workers and give them the information and resources they need to survive and thrive in dangerous conditions.

While a great deal of attention has been given to how prostitution and selling sex around the world continue to take place, there has been relatively little written about how criminalization affects the lives of sex workers. As prostitution is largely unregulated in many countries, including the United States, selling sex outside of licensed brothels poses a serious risk to those who work for such services. Criminalization, whether through legislation or social policy, drives many sex workers into the arms of organizations that promote the criminalization of the sex industry worldwide. Criminalization not only drives workers to escape abusive situations but also criminalizes their clients.

Unfortunately, criminalization does little to improve the conditions of the working poor in countries where people live in poverty and have limited access to healthcare and other benefits. While it may seem that criminalization deters workers from running brothels, in practice, it pushes the few people that do continue to work under harsh conditions into further poverty.

Likewise, while it may seem that criminalization deters buyers of sex from buying the coerced sex from prostitutes, in practice, it drives people into the arms of those who make the sex industry legal and ensures that those who are forced to traffick others will receive even less money than they would otherwise get. Criminalization, by definition, does not benefit the working poor at all. By allowing the sex industry to flourish unchecked, by driving people into abysmal conditions, criminalization actually pushes the working poor into places worse than they would have otherwise found themselves.

Some sex workers are choosing the industry because it can be more lucrative and rewarding than low-wage service sector jobs, according to a recent study by different researchers.

Professor Cecilia Benoit, a scientist at BC’s Addiction Research Centre, said she heard a variety of reasons why sex workers enter the business from previous studies, reasons that contradict the public perception of being coerced or exploited. The effectiveness of prostitution laws is based on the notion that all sex workers are victims.

Enlightening results

Benoit decided to quantify and analyze the comments he had heard before and began studying after receiving funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

His research team surveyed over 200 female, male, and transgender sex workers in six communities across Canada.

While one-third of the sex workers who were surveyed entered the industry because of “critical life events” such as abuse or neglect, Benoit said it was more surprising to find that one-quarter found the work attractive.

Reasons to enter the sex industry

“They like to work in this line of activity and feel that they are discovering themselves,” Benoit said in an interview. A sex worker from Vancouver said he entered the industry three years ago as a student partly to earn money but also to explore his sexuality and curiosity about the business. He said his name is not used because of the fact that he is stigmatized and harassed.

Before his involvement in sex work, he had identified how to be gay but came to realize that he was transgendered. After discussions with his doctor about living with gender dysphoria, he said he decided that transitioning to womanhood was not an option for him, at least not in the near future.

But he decided to continue participating in sex work, seeing mainly men, but also women and couples.