I've been a sex work activist for twenty years, first working on the edges in producing Know Your Rights seminars for Sex Workers. Though I advocated for decriminalization of prostitution/sex work, much of the work I did was based in harm reduction and anti-violence education. Over the past few years, I've focused my writing, event production, and media on spotlighting sex work as work.
I am now taking a position with Red Canary, as a core member to bring resources to the Flushing Community of Migrant Sex Workers working in massage parlors.
I will be producing media, fundraising, and organizing direct action resources and education for the Flushing Community of Massage Parlor Workers. If you would like to volunteer or donate, please contact me with subject heading "Red Canary Offer" at Yin.Quan (at) gmail.com
SAVE THE DATE: Nov 2nd for a phenomenal Red Canary/Kink Out fundraiser event!! More details TBA soon.
1. Sex work decriminalization is essentially about anti-violence and social inclusion.Currently, sex workers are unable to get justice when they report crimes committed against them to police. They are also not included in labor laws that could protect them from specific forms of exploitation. They are frequently harmed by police violence and corruption, and the prejudice and hate of neighbors. Furthermore, sex workers are excluded from policy conversations that impact their lives. Instead, charities that oppose the existence of the sex industry often select survivors who have exited the sex industry, to paint one uniform picture of their experiences, while suppressing the voices of other trans, migrant, black, brown, and Asian sex workers who are from the same communities as these "survivors," but have differing opinions and are still harmed by criminal laws governing their work. Giving sex workers the chance to participate in policy efforts to transform the sex industry is about acknowledging the basic humanity, voice, and human rights denied to this marginalized minority.
Some slogans of the global grassroots sex worker movement: "Nothing about us without us." "Rights not rescue." "Right not raids."
2. Sex work decriminalization respects the bodily autonomy and agency of women, trans and LGBQ people, and men who work in the sex industry, while constrained by the same intersecting forms of oppression that all people make choices under. Controlling women's reproductive and sexual choices is a systemic and historic oppression, tied to ideological values around sexuality, which portray women's sexuality as only a site of victimization and violence, rather than acknowledging the complex ways in which women negotiate sexual power. While sex work is not an ideal job for many, the majority of people who engage in trading sex simply regard it as a transient form of work. Like any other job, it is not always "empowering" or "happy", yet it tends to pay significantly better than other jobs available, and the majority of people who trade sex do so to navigate other systemic oppressions of global poverty. Sex work provides many people a way to access class mobility, and can be a direct transfer of wealth, without oppressive Capitalist intermediaries in garment factories, nail salons, Amazon warehouses, and other more coercive work environments that people seek escape from through trading sex. Decriminalization is necessary to eliminate coercive intermediaries in the sex industry, including the involvement of organized crime, which profits greatly from laws criminalizing sexual purchase. Labor regulations would be more effective than criminal laws, to actually protect against specific forms of exploitation, like long hours, low wages, or unhealthy working environments; rather than the overly broad stroke of criminal law that only inflicts more state violence and social stigma on the lives of sex workers.
3. Decriminalizing sex work does not decriminalize trafficking, violence, or exploitation, especially of minors. It does not eliminate the legal instruments for prosecuting any form of coercion, force, fraud; underage minors being sexually exploited; or any acts of violence or exploitation committed by customers or management. In fact, it will be easier to identify, prevent, and protect against violence and exploitation in the sex industry, when there are better labor standards across the industry, and when sex workers can report their mistreatment.
4. Decriminalization is not the same as legalization. Under legalization frameworks like the ones in Germany, Netherlands, or Nevada, migrants and many others who can't afford a license to work, are excluded from labor protections. Decrim in the New Zealand model favors full decriminalization of small operations with four or fewer workers, where no worker controls the time or money of another. Anyone who helps with scheduling or collecting money must register for an Operator's License, which regulates their involvement. Decrim is the first step in a longer process, which will require labor organizing to transform the sex industry, push out organized crime, standardize respectful treatment, and give sex workers the same labor, health, and financial protections as other workers.
5. Full decriminalization is the only way towards eliminating hateful stigma and prejudice against people who trade sex. In Sweden, where the purchase of sex is criminalized, social stigmas against buyers of sex have increased, and sex workers are frequently faced with eviction and loss of child custody, while forced to work in more dangerous conditions, with very few actual resources from social service agencies. Migrant sex workers are particularly harmed. According to several government reports, sex work has not decreased in Sweden since 1999, and human trafficking has only increased. The only way to recognize the dignity and equality sex workers is to listen to sex workers when they for the legitimization of sex work as work.
People who attack sex worker rights movements:
A. Those who do no not want visibility of sex workers in their neighborhoods, and believe that allowing for the presence of prostitution means also increasing the presence of drugs, guns, and organized crime.
>>> There are fine-grained ways to regulate street / sign visibility in the New Zealand model. Eliminating link to organized crime can only happen with full decriminalization.
B. Those who believe that most people in the sex industry are "forced to be there", and are trafficking victims harmed by the inherent violence of prostitutionl so they must be helped out of the industry, rather than be supported in continuing to do risky work.
>>> These are the people who are most readily moved by better statistics, research, and stories of sex workers. They actually care about violence against sex workers, and can be shown through evidence-based research by major global human rights organizations, that full decrim is essential for protecting this minority group from harm. They believe it's ethical to support sex workers as marginalized minorities, even when neighbors are made uncomfortable by sex worker visibility.
C. Those who believe that the existence of prostitution is a form of degradation that harms all women. That the sexual objectification of women through money / commoditization is inherently sexist.
>>> These are the most vocal and aggressive opponents of sex workers. They believe that sex workers are "traitors" to women and also simultaneously "voiceless victims." They also believe that it is okay to sacrifice "a few people", as a deterrent, in order to set a broader norm in society that sexualization of women is not acceptable. At heart, they believe they are superior to sex workers; they silence any who do not agree with them, and are willing to take actions that demonstrably harm sex workers' health and safety; while insisting against all contrary evidence that criminalization can somehow "end" the sex industry. (They refuse to believe women who choose this work exist, or matter, since these choices makes them uncomfortable.) They aggressively attack (and slander) any organizations that show support to sex workers, without regard for the repetition of false statistics, and they personally target organizers, politicians, and journalists whose opinions differ from them, seeming to reserve special hate and slander for George Soros.
Please also read this article, which we wrote for the DSA, preceding a vote that officially brought full decriminalization of sex work onto their national agenda: https://medium.com/@Redcanarysong/in-support-of-dsa-res-53-decrim-platform-8eb4d164588