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The "Equality" Model: A Reality Check

Let's Humor the SWERFS (for now)...

Last week we got some basic definitions down and (hopefully) came to a revelation that there was a fundamental difference between trafficking and sex work. But, let’s humor SWERFs for a bit longer. Let’s take a look at the Equality model, a series of bills that propose an end demand to the human trafficking prostitution hybrid they’ve created in their rhetoric. 


For simplicity’s sake I’ve taken one by one the assertions that Equality Model bills are based on, and broken down why they do not actually help sex workers. 

guest Author Bio:

Zee Xaymaca (They/Them) is the Berlin Branch Coordinator of The BSWC (Black Sex Workers Collective). 

They are also a "badass queer, Black, perpetually wandering heaux, writer, and sex work researcher." They are  passionate about Black liberation, particularly for Black womxn who fight white supremacy with their very existence. Sex workers' rights benefit society as a whole and ensures the safety of the intersectionally oppressed.


Assertion:

"Repeal laws calling for the arrests and incarceration of people in prostitution (i.e., decriminalize people in prostitution)."


Reality Check:

Sex workers have been calling for decriminalization (for both sex workers AND clients) since we began to organize. This assertion maintains the criminalization of clients. This puts sex workers at risk by limiting their ability to screen clients, taking away their ability to organize and work in safe spaces, and depresses income, making sex workers more likely to take risky clients. If the aim is to combat violence against sex workers, then this type of ‘decriminalization’ does more harm than good. Any criminalization and associated stigmatization of sex work will inevitably lead to harassment by the legal institutions that perpetuate this stigma.


Assertion:

"Provide comprehensive trauma-informed social services (e.g., legal, social, clinical, medical, economic empowerment) to people in prostitution, including options should they wish to exit the sex trade."

Reality Check:

Let’s start with the fact that all individuals deserve trauma-informed services. Full decriminalization would make this a far simpler task for sex workers in particular. If sex work were treated like a job then sex workers would have access to already existing social services just by virtue of being tax payers. This means, labor protection, unemployment insurance, job placement/training services, all without the stigma of sex work to follow them. Sex workers are citizens with varied lives and needs not related to their jobs. Alienating sex workers from social institutions is another way criminalization of any kind serves to further isolate and ignore sex workers. Programs aimed at raising the universal standard of living, increasing healthcare access, universal access to education, and migration reform are all important to sex workers’ rights.

Assertion:

"Reduce the demand for prostitution by penalizing sex buyers. This shrinks the sex trade and prevents more vulnerable people from being pulled into harm’s way."

Reality Check:

Does it though? The Swedish model has only shown that client criminalization pushes sex workers farther into the shadows as they try to protect clients and their income. This is interpreted as shrinking the demand. Any sex worker will tell you, there is no ending demand, just ending visibility. Furthermore, both client criminalization and the infantilization of sex workers do nothing to address the stigma that prevents sex workers from safely navigating and exiting the industry.

Assertion:

"Continue to criminalize pimps and traffickers, brothel owners, and illicit massage parlor owners."

Reality Check:

The criminalization of an entire business sector pushes exploitive operators underground and gives them more control over the sex workers they employ. This means that sex workers have no legal support in negotiating working conditions and contract terms. Still, working in an establishment is often the safest way to work for many sex workers.

Assertion:

"Commit to an extensive community education campaign to raise awareness about the lifelong physical harm and psychological trauma people in prostitution experience at the hands of sex buyers."

Reality Check:

Decriminalization tackles the stigma associated with sex work. It allows for a healthy view of engaging with sex workers. If sex work is not an act of deviance then the humanity of sex workers can be affirmed throughout society and reflected in client relations. If the criminal label is removed then sex workers can be integrated into social structures that are already in place to offer support to women. All I'm saying is, the trauma of poverty, misogyny, whorephobia, stigmatization, and institutional violence would be well addressed with basic universal healthcare. 


guest Author Bio:

Zee Xaymaca (They/Them) is the Berlin Branch Coordinator of The BSWC (Black Sex Workers Collective). 

They are also a "badass queer, Black, perpetually wandering heaux, writer, and sex work researcher." They are  passionate about Black liberation, particularly for Black womxn who fight white supremacy with their very existence. Sex workers' rights benefit society as a whole and ensures the safety of the intersectionally oppressed.


There are many sex worker written responses to these bills. Support for these bills is an act of willful ignorance at best, whorephobia at worst. 


Next time we’ll talk about what sex workers actually want. Cause this ain’t it. 


For a more detailed critique of the Nordic Model (the basis for the equality model), check out the Network of Sex Work Projects’ report here


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