What You Need To Know About Sex Work
Sex work is the exchange of sexual services (sex, erotic dancing, pornography, etc.) for money or something of value. Sex workers all have different reasons for doing sex work. Some choose sex work among other well paying jobs; some are in circumstances where they resort to sex work even if it wouldn’t be their first choice; and some are forced into sex work and are survivors of human trafficking (a crime that occurs across many labor sectors).
Each state has different laws regulating sex work. Most states have a number of laws prohibiting prostitution. To make it more confusing, each jurisdiction has a different exact definition of what activities count as prostitution. In some states, BDSM, fetish, and other types of sexual play are explicitly included in definitions of prostitution, whereas in other states, they are not considered to be “sexual conduct” as defined by prostitution laws.
There isn’t a lot of good information in our education or daily news feeds about sex work. We hope these Frequently Asked Questions help to clarify decriminalizing sex work as you consider the issues before your state.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Four Basic Types of Prostitution Laws
DSW Supports the Decriminalization Model for Prostitution (and Sex Work Generally)
With prostitution laws, decriminalization is preferred, where criminal and civil penalties have been eliminated for both the consumer and the provider, regardless of whether the sexual services are provided by solo entrepreneurs in hotel rooms or private residences, or in licensed businesses known as brothels. With legalization, very often only brothels or regulated locales are permitted, which means sexual services can be legally provided only in specific locations by specific individuals and is therefore limiting to both workers and clients.
1. Decriminalization supports the health, safety, and rights of all. This ideal policy would remove penalties for independent contractors (solo practitioners who are akin to housekeepers, caregivers for elderly or disabled people, or home-based hair stylists) as well as businesses (which have owners, waged employees, and discrete locations).
2. Criminalization promotes exploitation. Except for the regulated brothels in rural parts of Nevada, prostitution and related acts are criminalized everywhere in the U.S. This widespread criminalization keeps the sex industry underground; removes the ability of workers to exert their rights or redress wrongs/violence committed against them; and places people in a cycle of arrest and incarceration.
3. “Legalization” doesn’t solve the problem. A law that allows only brothels (licensed businesses at specific locations only) is called the “legalization” model. This policy, which describes Nevada’s law, represents a partially good law that should nevertheless be avoided, because prostitution in the privacy of hotel rooms or bedrooms should not be criminalized. The partial approach of “legalization” is akin to arresting your hairdresser neighbor who styles your hair in your home instead of her salon, or allowing alcohol consumption in bars but criminalizing it in your kitchen.
4. The “Nordic” model is harmful. Another type of partial measure is the so-called “Nordic” or “Swedish” model, which imposes criminal penalties on clients but not sex workers. This isn’t even a compromise but rather a thoroughly bad policy, as it’s akin to allowing a store to sell alcohol but criminalizing the customers. (The result is that customers continue paying for sex in the criminal arena, jeopardizing the liberty of both parties and the safety of the community.)