Sex work should not be confused with sexual slavery. The difference is consent, as sex worker Madison Missina explains.
I was seven when Pretty Woman was released. I don’t know exactly what age I was when I first watched the movie but I was certainly young; it is a movie that I have grown up with. I also already had an inkling that when I grew up, I too, would become a prostitute (sex worker is our preferred term). And that is exactly what I did.
To me, Pretty Woman is love story, about a woman who meets a man and they fall in love and after just enough drama, they live happily ever after. Beautiful.
However just recently this beautiful story has been tarnished by accounts of sex trafficking, in Laila Mickelwait’s article The tragic reality behind the inspiration of ‘Pretty Woman’.
You can read the article here: The tragic reality behind the inspiration for ‘Pretty Woman’.
Mickelwait appears to have a created a life where she advocates and helps the victims of sex trafficking which is wonderful. Yet, in her article, Mickelwait has confused sex trafficking with sex work and has touched a raw nerve of the sex work community. In response, our community created the hashtag #FacesOfProstitution in protest.
You see, as a sex worker, it is offensive to be told that I’m a victim and that I need to be saved from an occupation that I freely choose and that I love.
Mickelwait’s article finishes with this quote
“Maria is a victim of sex trafficking. Julia’s role was indeed a fantasy. The reality isn’t pretty. Don’t believe the myth.”
It is incorrect to make this connection. Pretty Woman is the story of a sex worker, not the story of a victim of sex trafficking. Linking the two is like saying nearly every romantic comedy is a myth because arranged marriages still occur, or domestic violence still occurs so we shouldn’t believe the myth of romantic love.
It seems time and time again when the topic of sex work comes up, it gets confused with the topic sex trafficking. Whilst sex workers and the victims of sex trafficking both exchange sex for goods and/or services, there is one very important difference: consent.
Sex trafficking is a crime. It is forcing people to participate in sex work against their consent. The sex work community, like the majority of the greater community, is avidly opposed to sex trafficking.
A sex worker is a person who chooses to partake in sex work as a vocation.
In Australia, it is largely decriminalised or legalised and is a valid career option for those who choose it.
While it is difficult for some people to grasp, there are people in society who actively choose sex work. When you listen to our voices, we are saying that we are empowered, we largely love our professions and we are still fighting for our rights and to end the stigma of sex work.
And, yes, some of us dream as little girls to grow up to become sex workers. I know this is true because I was one, and I am not unique.
— Mandy Monroe (@mouthymandy) March 29, 2015
Confusing these two different topics – sex work and sex slavery – only hurts both sides. It further perpetuates the negative stereotypes and stigma of sex work. It creates confusion and silences us. It makes our fight for workplace rights and to end our discrimination just that little bit harder. And, importantly, it makes the victims of sex trafficking ambiguous.
Basically we end up with people with good intentions rallying to take away the rights of sex workers to prevent and help the victims of sex trafficking – without realising that they are two separate things. This means we are wasting time and resources trying to rescue those that do not need nor want rescuing, whilst perhaps not understanding how or who to actually help.
Read more: Brisbane sex workers tell of their G20 boom.
In Australia, sex work is largely decriminalised and legalised. In my career as a sex worker, I’ve never heard of an account of sex trafficking in Australia. I’m not going to say it doesn’t exist, but that in my substantial experience, I’ve never heard an account of it, despite what the media would like to portray.
Let’s just look at demand. If you were going to purchase a sexual service would you prefer your sex worker to be bruised, crying and appear unwilling and disgusted; or pampered, preened and ready to knock your socks off? The overwhelming answer is the later. We have forums set up where punters (clients of sex workers) review us and discuss how likable, how into it we were. There simply doesn’t appear to be a demand for forced sex workers in our country. Now returning to the question of the article: does Pretty Woman glamourize the sex industry? Well yes and no.
Do sex workers get swept off their feet by rich clients, fall in love and run away with them? Yes, it does happen. I have friends who are now very happy housewives and mums due to meeting their husbands in the course of their employment. But I also know of many sex workers who use their occupation as exactly that: An occupation that they use to build their lives, buy houses, pay their rent, support their children and pay for their education. Do we enter the industry seeking out husbands? I’ve never heard of a sex worker citing this as their reason for entering the sex industry – but is that even a bad idea? I’ve got friends who dreamed of marrying doctors so they became nurses, and it worked out well for them. Sex work is no different – it’s work.
Sex work is varied, there are sex workers who do have negative experiences, who are the victims of sex worker violence, just as there are sex workers who have wonderful experiences, and this is no different from greater society. I have been a customer at a shop and been held up at gunpoint. I’ve also worked in retail and been held up at gunpoint on one of my shifts – but this doesn’t mean that we should abolish shops.
Was Pretty Woman one of the deciding factors that led me to become a sex worker? I’m not really sure. But I do know that I spent many years as a child buried in history books learning about the first movement in female empowerment being the courtesans of Venice and the geishas of Japan. What I learned was that sex workers were the first women in history to be able live independently of men, to learn to read, to be the only women for quite some time to be allowed in libraries. That was my picture and I loved that.
Over my career as a sex worker, my experience has been just that, empowered and independent. Sex work is my dream and I love my life. But that is also my story. This is why the #FacesOfProstitution hash tag is so beautiful; it shows sex workers of different parts of the industry, who have different experiences. A collective who love sex work so much they are willing to stand up and put their face to an industry that is still so stigmatized.
So really that’s the point: Sex work is work.
It’s work that has been chosen. It’s no different from those who chose nursing or reception work. Anyone who identifies as a sex worker is saying they choose and consent to sex work.
We are not victims, we don’t want to be rescued, we want rights and the ability to operate our businesses and complete our work in a safe and unstigmatised society.
And really who doesn’t want a Pretty Woman moment where a handsome man feigns snapping our fingers as he gives us a diamond necklace? In reality, I would accept the necklace, love the man and then return to the occupation that I have dreamed of since I was a little girl.
I am proud to be a sex worker, I personally even love using the term Prostitute. I love my life, I love my clients and I love my industry. And lets face it, not all women want nor have the option to give up employment once they fall in love. And there’s nothing wrong with that either.