Madeleine Dash, Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK), 877-776-2004 x 2 firstname.lastname@example.org
Audacia Ray, 718.554.1714
Sarah Bleviss, Sex Workers Outreach Project NYC (SWOP-NYC), email@example.com
Prostitutes of New York (PONY), firstname.lastname@example.org
Desiree Alliance, http://www.BoundNotGagged.com
New York, NY – In the wake of former Governor Spitzer’s resignation, sex workers and human rights advocates remain concerned about the representation and future of “Kristen” and other sex workers, who do not have the legal and social privileges that will be afforded to Mr. Spitzer. The identity of the sex worker implicated in this case has already been made public, a situation mirroring many a sex worker’s worst nightmare. “Kristen’s” exposure may entail not only bring her legal repercussions, but invasion of privacy, financial hardship and social opprobrium.
Rather than continuing to sensationalize Spitzer’s actions and those directly involved, we urge the press and the public to shift their focus to the legal climate under which sex workers operate, while respecting “Kristen’s” agency to have chosen sex work as a viable source of income. “Everyone wants to know how high her rates were, all the salacious details, but the real issue at stake here is that the hypocrisy of criminalizing sex work has been exposed! It’s a part of our society, of every society, and we need to take this opportunity to stop with the value judgments and start coming up with policies that respect the human dignity of all people, sex workers and all workers. ” says Dylan Wolfe of SWANK (Sex Workers Action New York).
Former Governor Spitzer took a lead role in developing the NY State Anti-Trafficking Law as well as other initiatives that stigmatize sex workers and their clients. It is the stigma of sex work that leads many individuals like “Kristen” to keep their occupations a secret, creating further isolation and opportunities for exploitation. This same stigma compromises the safety and well-being of people like “Kristen” when their private lives become public knowledge. Sex workers are then forced to work further underground, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse, while denying them access to the basic civic participation, health and social services available to other people. “Hopefully Mr. Spitzer’s unfortunate public decline will send a message to all like him who pass laws that endanger the safety of sex workers while indulging in the service themselves,” Sarah Bleviss of SWOP said, “Sex workers clearly provide them a very valuable service; it’s time for lawmakers to return the favor.” Too little attention has been paid to what the repercussions of this case will be for those most directly concerned, sex workers, and more generally to the impact of laws and attitudes that marginalize them. It is time for a change.
Spitzer pushed through penalty enhancements against clients of all sex workers. Sex worker advocates fought against such provisions because these policies drive people who need help further underground. Often prostitution is wrongly conflated with trafficking and vice-versa. People are trafficked for many kinds of work, be it domestic labor, farm work or other jobs, and this kind of exploitation undoubtedly needs to be addressed. The majority of men, women and transgendered people working in sex work, however, are ‘normal’ members of society who have used their own intellectual agency to decide to make a living in a sexually-oriented way. Laws, like the Mann Act (against inter-state transportation for the purposes of commercial sex), are too often used for punishing sex workers and their clients rather than those who profit from their exploitation.
Sex workers make a living in an industry with the potential for high risks and little by way of protection from abuse. The stigma surrounding our work can be lethal at its most extreme: we are often the targets of notorious serial killers, like the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway who targeted prostitutes because he thought he “could kill as many of them as [he] wanted without getting caught.” If sex work were decriminalized and legitimized as a form of paid labor like any other, or seen simply as an intimate exchange between consenting adults, the associated harms would be greatly diminished. Furthermore, sex workers could access their basic human rights and social services without fear of legal reprisal or personal upheaval. “Eliot Spitzer has represented himself to the public as a law and order man, and ironically, has been in the vanguard of further criminalizing sex workers and clients. . . However, it’s a shame that so much time, energy, and tax payer resources are being spent to criminalize consensual sex between adults. It’s time to decriminalize prostitution.” says Sarah Blake of Prostitutes of New York (PONY).
Incoming Governor Paterson and other law-makers need to create policies that actually reflect the realities of their own lives and those of their constituents, including sex workers, rather than the harmful legislation of morality, whereby private matters become public scandals.
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