From Google to Whorespeak: SF's activists fight a complex, uphill battle but keep the dream of decriminalization alive
Doogan is wary of any attempt to further regulate or criminalize sex work. She says that often, laws meant to deter prostitution trap people who may want to change occupations. "Women have to continue working in the industry because no one else will take them for work when they have those convictions on their record," said Doogan.
That may be the case with Lola, an occasional Erotic Service Providers Union volunteer who was arrested on prostitution-related charges outside California earlier this year. She moved to the Bay Area and is looking for a job, but after a promising interview last week, she's nervous that a background check will reveal her arrest.
"I'm waiting to hear whether that's going to be an issue or not. They could tell my landlord, and then I could lose my house too...all I'm trying to do is get a job," Lola told the Guardian.
THE WORK GOES ON
For most sex-workers rights activists, the long-term goal remains decriminalization. For now education, creative projects, and protest in service of that goal continue.
Members of SWOP-Bay Area have a program called Whorespeak that does outreach at colleges, and "we've also been speaking in classes for therapists about how to work with current and former sex workers and not pathologize them," said Williams.
According to Stryker, one of the most exciting projects happening now is Karma Pervs. The website, run by local queer porn star Jiz Lee, sells unique sex-positive porn and donates the proceeds to organizations like the Saint James Infirmary.
Then, of course, there's the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, when sex workers and allies gather to commemorate sex workers who have been assaulted and killed.
Sex workers often can't go to police to report crimes for fear of being locked up themselves, society retains a huge stigma surrounding sex work, and there is an insidious cultural myth that "you can't rape a prostitute." These all add up to put sex workers at high risk for assault and murder; serial killers, such as the Green River Killer in Seattle and a murdered in Long Island-area this past summer, are disproportionately likely to target prostitutes.
That's why, for Williams, "Our long-term goal is to decriminalize prostitution. But the real goal is to end violence against sex workers."
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