elettaria: (Sloth debauchery)
A friend of mine spent many years working with sex workers, and is still very much involved in sex worker rights. I've ended up learning a great deal from her, and from sex workers who write on this topic. When we’ve discussed sex workers, I’ve often noticed the number of parallels between prejudice against sex workers and prejudice against people with disabilities. (For the record, I’m a disabled woman myself, with no personal experience of sex work, and I'm not trying to speak for SWs here.) Here are the ones I've thought of so far.

1. Multiple attempts at silencing.

2. Telling sex workers/people with disabilities that they are “not representative”. The people doing this seem to think that the most representative sex workers/disabled folks are the ones they would also treat with the most contempt, whom they would put at the bottom of the food chain, and whom they pretty much hope aren’t capable of speaking up at all. This conveniently saves them the trouble of actually having to engage with any sex workers/disabled people at all. With sex workers, the representative ideal coming from outsiders seems to be injectable-drug-using street-based sex workers; with disabled folks, the equivalent is someone very visibly disabled, for instance an amputee, and/or someone with a learning disability or similar which makes them supposedly incapable of coherent communication.

3. Assuming that anyone who isn’t this weird bottom-of-the-food-chain “representative” is too wealthy/middle-class/intelligent/educated etc., so that they shouldn’t be allowed to speak for others. The more empowered we are, the less they want us to speak. This, they think, gives them the right to speak up on our behalf instead. I've lost track of how often a social worker or similar has said to me, in disapproving tones, "You're very articulate, aren't you," as a way of shutting me up.

4. Trying to hide the supreme contempt and disgust that this attitude reveals by pretending that they are only trying to help sex workers/disabled people.

5. Telling us that they know what is best for sex workers/disabled people.

6. Coming up with legislation and so forth without making much, if any, effort to find out how it will actually benefit/harm sex workers/disabled people. And then going on to ignore protests from the very people concerned.

7. Trying to normatise poverty in sex workers/disabled people, so that it’s no surprise if such people are impoverished and certainly nothing worth changing society for. Acting with suspicion towards anyone who isn’t suitably poor and meek.

8. Making vague, occasional gestures towards acknowledging that such people are in fact human and have rights, but concentrating media focus instead on articles which are designed to shock and disgust: the weird obsessions with sex trafficking and benefits fraud, both of which the media make sound like the norm when they are actually very rare.

9. Feeling horror at the lives such people lead, and thus deciding that no one could possibly choose to live a life like that, and that it is not, in fact, worth living. This tends to come out in quite insidious ways, since it’s too shocking for many people to say outright.

10. Othering sex workers/disabled people. It’s always “them”, never “us”. Your average media article writes as if its audience is entirely composed of people who are neither disabled nor sex workers.

I originally wrote this a while ago in a comment to an article by the friend I mentioned above (it's excellent, go and read it), but it came up on Twitter recently, so I thought it was worth reposting here.


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January 2014

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