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How do we quit sex work?

Some people want a world without prostitution and campaign for the criminalisation of our clients. I always argue that the criminalisation of our clients is not going to make us disappear but make our work more clandestine, more dangerous and potentially make us lose (part of) our income.

In fact, this measure is counter-productive in particular for the most vulnerable sex workers, those who precisely would want the most to quit sex work. In my view, working in a prohibitionist context means more danger, less income, and therefore having to work more and in more exploitative conditions: which is actually the opposite of what is aimed by this measure.

Worse, when clients are criminalised without sex workers being decriminalised, this means an increase of sex workers’ criminalisation. I say that because this is what happened in the UK since the Policing and Crime Act 2009 which partially criminalise clients.

In Sweden, the number of sex workers seems to have been always lower than in other countries, even before the law criminalising clients (1999). Perhaps, the difference is because street work is the only form of sex work which is observed by Swedish authorities. It has always been less important than in other countries, (even before the law), and that might be more due to the weather than anything else.

Another reason might be the big difference between the UK and Sweden: the welfare system. In Sweden, people have more rights that protect them when they are poor. What could be efficient about the so called Swedish model is actually not the criminalisation of clients but  their social housing or social benefits politics.

I think that the criminalisation of our clients is in fact a simplistic idea that stops looking at what sex workers really need to quit sex work when they want to. Of course, it’s easier for the government to send the cops, and it’s more difficult to give people’s rights.

This is the kind of measures that many sex workers would actually be happy to see implemented:

– free education so we don’t need daddies to pay our tuition fees

– consequent social benefits for single mothers and jobseekers

– good general welfare system

– efficient social housing politics

– equal pay between women and men

– shelter centers for LGBTQ teenagers who run away from their family and victims of domestic violence

– legal right for all migrants to live and work in the country

– decriminalisation of drugs and better harm reduction policy for people suffering addictions

– asylum rights for victims of trafficking/forced labour and any sexist/homophobic/transphobic abuse

– no criminal record for prostitution offences that make us unemployable

– access to non-judgmental and respectful career counseling and professional training

– access to free medical care for trans’ people transitioning

Please do that first, and then come back to us talking about criminalising our clients. Probably you will no longer need it.


Thierry Schaffauser 

Thierry Schaffauser is a sex worker and president of the GMB-IUSW, Adult Entertainment branch. He is also the NSWP Board member for Europe. You can read more on his blog.