A Picture of the American Sex Worker

A diverse group of protests advocating for sex workers rights. Front group holding a sign that says “sex workers rights = human rights.” By Rosemary Anderson

As I write this article, I want to make it known that the sex industry is not always positive for women and girls. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, sex workers around the world have a 45 to 75 percent chance of experiencing violence during their careers.

When sex workers do experience violence, they are not protected by rape shield laws and are not eligible for compensation funds.

Many see sex workers as objects, non-human, and second-rate members of society. This makes sex workers even more prone to being victims of violence.

Women are forced into sex work without their consent, others are forced into sex work because of financial situations, and some choose sex work as their profession.

To learn more about this topic, I interviewed a friend of mine who is a feminist and a stripper. For her safety, she wanted to be an anonymous source. I will refer to her as Deja.

The first time Deja entered a strip club she realized she harbored her own stigmas on strippers. She thought the club was going to smell bad and the girls were going to be dirty; she was surprised to see a clean, welcoming space with beautiful girls. Although this may not be a reality for all clubs, it definitely is a reality for some.

“Part of women empowerment is giving women the opportunity to do whatever they want,” Deja said. “For those women who choose to be strippers, we need to avoid slut shaming and respect their choice of work. We need to put a face behind the word ‘stripper.’ We are women, and we do not deserve sexual assault and harassment.”

Deja said that by being a stripper, she has learned how to say no and how to respond to sexual misconduct.

“We are taught to be ‘yes women’ from an early age,” she said. “I always thought I would be strong enough to slap a man’s hand away when he grabs my ass, but I guess I really wasn’t. The longer I’ve been a stripper, the better I’ve been at finding my own boundaries and solidifying them. Now, when I’m at a store and a man hits on me, I have an easier time telling him no.”

Deja is frustrated when people tell her that her line of work is easy. She said she often hears women joke about “dropping out of school and becoming a stripper,” so they can make quick and easy money.

“Sex work is hard. You have to be coordinated, interactive, and sociable,” she said. “People need to fall in love with you in a few minutes. It’s an emotional, taxing job – forming intimate connections with people you don’t actually like every night.”

She is even more frustrated when feminists do not support her because of her profession. She taught me about SWERFs, sex worker exclusive radical feminists.

“Many women I encounter that don’t agree with me confuse sex work with sex trafficking,” she said. “I have consented to this line of work, and I am not being taken advantage of. When you shame sex work, you shame the women involved. As long as what I’m doing is consensual and not harmful to others, I don’t understand why other feminists wouldn’t support me. What isn’t empowering to you, may be empowering to others.”

Deja believes that sex work needs to legalized in the U.S. in order for it to be regulated. She thinks a big reason that sex work is so dangerous is because the government has no way to manage the misconduct and violence that goes on inside the industry.

“If you call the police over sexual assault or violence, they’re not going to listen to you because you’re a stripper,” Dej said. “This is making the industry much worse. We need to protect those who choose sex work as their form of income.”

She wants all sex workers to be healthy and work in a healthy environment. She said when women need to take drugs and drink alcohol in order to be in this line of work, they need to consider doing something else. She thinks women must be in a good mental space to be a stripper or sex worker and shouldn’t do it as a form of validation.

“I struggled a lot with trying to decide if I was adding to our misogynistic society by being a stripper,” Deja said. “The average man is socialized to think that sexual misconduct against women is acceptable, especially when it comes to sex workers. I think that by being present in these men’s lives, I can teach them to respect me and my body. I can tell them ‘no, you cannot touch me as a stripper, and you cannot touch the women you work with at the bank either.’ Every night I not only have an opportunity to get paid and find confidence in my body, but I have the opportunity to educate as well.”

Although not every woman has a positive experience in the sex industry, many women like Deja do. She said that many of the girls at her club have found financial independence by stripping after coming out of an abusive relationship. She herself has also become less dependent on her boyfriend and discovered herself as an individual.

“I am proud to be a stripper,” she said. “I have found a community of other women who empower each other and strengthen each other when we encounter a bad client. I want everyone to know that someone they know is a sex worker. Treat us like human beings.”

Hey readers, thank you for the awesome semester! I have loved sharing my passion for intersectional feminism with you all.

Over the past few months, I have learned a lot about how to share my voice and how to be a communicator for the voices of other men, women, and nonbinary people. I hope you all will continue reading my articles after I graduate from the UI next week. Look out for my name in Bitch Media one day!

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