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Sex Work: What It Is and Isn't

What it is and isn’t

SHIP believes people have the right to control their own bodies and as such, advocates for the decriminalization of sex-work in order to ensure safety for sex workers.

Sex work is term to explain providing an erotic labor in exchange for an agreed upon exchange of money, goods or services. Examples of sex work could involve prostitution, phone sex dispatching, professional submissive/dominatrix services and/or working in the pornography industry. One does not necessarily engage in touching another person to be involved in sex work. For instance, someone could be a sex worker if they are the lighting director on a porn set. The person is not engaged in any direct physical contact with another person, but they are making money off of their service in the sex field. Not every in this field uses the same terminology, though, so individuals involved in any sex-related industry may use other words to describe their participation as well as their identities.

It has been implied many times that people who are sex workers are all victims of sexual trafficking. These are two separate, though related issues. A number of sex workers are in their job freely, consensually, and sometimes even happily. Trafficking, on the other hand, specifically sex trafficking (as The CSPH focuses on sexual issues), is a non-consensual activity, and is illegal. Also known as “sexual slavery,” it involves people being sexually exploited through the use of force, coercion, deceit, or other similar means for another’s commercial gain. While some might still call this “sex work” because there’s usually a sexual service or encounter being monetized, we prefer to separate them. We feel that discussing these things with the same term conflates the issues and actually does a disservice to those who are being exploited as well as those who are consensually engaging in this kind of work.

Understanding the difference between sex trafficking and sex work is important to combat trafficking and ensuring that individuals are safe in the jobs they perform. Decriminalizing sex work ensures that sex workers are more likely to disclose their employment to medical providers (ensuring better health care) and to report abuse (being assaulted or robbed) to the proper authorities.

At the same time, not all sex work is created equal. While there are people who engage in sex work happily and because it is a fully informed choice (Turn Off the Blue Light did a wonderful poster campaign about this), others do so primarily for survival. The term “survival sex work” refer to people who engage in this work due to outside factors/circumstances. According to Shift Calgary in their blogpost about this term, “survival sex workers are not engaging in sex work of their own volition but out of environmental factors & need that could be related to poverty, addictions or mental health concerns as example. There is a sense of vulnerability related to survival sex work because those involved may have an increase chance that they will take risks to obtain and maintain clients.”

They make the important distinction, though, that survival sex work and sexual exploitation (or trafficking) are not the same thing. “A person may experience sexual exploitation if [they are] being forced into sex work without their consent and do not have control or choice over their work, earnings, services provided etc.” If there is that consent and control/choice, then it’s not sex trafficking/exploitation. We recommend taking a look at their page and their breakdown on the terminology, as it’s informative and

It is important to note that consensual sex work involves a person being able to legally give consent to engage in this field. Those that are under the influence of drugs, coercion, under legal age or duress cannot consent to performing sex work in a safer, fully present manner.

Sexual freedom involves understanding, choice, safety and control of one’s body.

Organizations

Shift Calgary

Shift provides support services to adults currently and formerly working in the sex industry to improve their quality of life and achieve individualized goals. Their approach is based on a harm reduction and human rights framework. They recognize that sex work can be a choice for many, but that not everyone has an active choice in sex work, and so their services “will meet you where you are at – whether you want to stay in the industry, get out of the industry or anything in-between.”