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By excluding prostitutes from the process of determining solutions, funding bodies undermine the efforts to improve the working situations and protecting workers’ rights of prostitutes. Djordjevic agrees, she purports that the way to address prostitution is not with authority from above but by changing the structures from within. She argues we should listen to the demands of prostitutes and sex-workers organisations. By challenging the stigma of sex work and tackling the attitudes embodied in the framework of society and state institution, we will enable sex workers to protect themselves, build their skills and eventually mobilise them into a place where they have enhanced choices of whether or not to remain in sex work, Djordjevic claims (2008: 161). Through legalisation of sex work, you re-establish the prostitutes place in society, bringing them back from the alienated and marginalised peripheries.
These arguments highlight explicitly the potentially harmful consequences for the prostitutes that can occur through the delegitimization of sex work. Although I strongly advocate illegalising sex work, there are obvious negative implications of such a policy, and I recognise the value of the pro-legalisation discussion. However, I determine that liberals settle to working within rather than challenging the wider structures of patriarchy. The quintessential reason I cannot advocate legalising prostitution is on the grounds that it fails to address the real roots of exploitation and patriarchy. By suggesting solutions and improvements of the conditions of prostitution within existing social structures, it falls short of tackling the heart of the problem. Some argue, however, that prostitution has and will always exist – implying we should try to improve on the existing situation – though this notion appears largely defeatist. Instead, I argue, that even if something has ‘always existed’, this does that mean that we should stop trying to prevent it. For example: slavery has ‘always existed’ – but over time, and through the power of social movements, acceptance of the practice is almost entirely eradicated. For the potential of real reform of the sex industry, radical feminist are inclined to supporting ideological, social and historical transformation of the gendered constructs framing our society.
Although advocating illegalisation of sex work, it is essential that such policies do not impinge on the work of successful, grass-roots organisations working alongside and supporting prostitutes. In addition – I claim that Swedish policies and legislation on sex work has been and is largely successful. Although the problem of prostitution is very small in comparison to many other countries, the Swedish approach has concentrated on addressing prostitution as a social issue. They outlaw sex work as ‘legitimate’ work and introduced measures which were supported with governmental funding, to provide a proper and permanent support system for prostitutes which offered counselling and retraining possibilities (Kilvington et al. 2001:83). In 1999, legislation was introduced which criminalised the buying of sexual services with the intention to target the clients who use the service rather than the sex workers (Ibid). Although I do not compare the Swedish sex work industry to that of countries within South East Asia, where sex trafficking and sex work is on a far greater, global scale (Remote Sensing: 2001), I endorse the Swedish approach for recognising the overarching social issues and patriarchal structures and which uphold and support the practice of prostitution. By targeting the men – the ‘demand’ for prostitution – the legislation attempts to tackle such structures. However, I recognise that censoring and upholding such prosecution is difficult in areas in which prostitution is endemic, yet this should be no reason to impinge change.
In conclusion this essay has discussed why sex work should not be considered ‘legitimate work’, nor as an expression of women’s ‘choice and agency.’ This essay has structured this argument on the grounds, as explained by Jeffreys and O’Connell Davidson, that sex work is inherently abusive towards women, both psychologically and physically. Sullivan illustrated how in instances of legalisation, instead of tackling the inherent violence prostitutes were subject to, it incidentally normalised the violence. This essay has also illustrated how in the majority of circumstances, the ‘choice’ of the women is not valid, since it tends to stem from desperate economic motives, and because even if women ‘choose’ sex work, their choice has potential harmful implications on other women. Finally, because sex work reinforces and upholds gendered sociological assumptions of society, instilling patriarchy, I advocate that it remain an illegitimate form of work. Nonetheless, as I have discussed, and as explored by Ditmore and Djordjevic, one problem circumscribed by advocating the illegalisation of sex work is that it forces the women working in the industry ‘underground’. This has harmful implications on conditions of the prostitutes and inhibits their voice in society. I conclude by suggesting that one possible way to tackle this is by recognising prostitution as a social problem. As in Sweden, we must recognise the gendered and patriarchal institutions that uphold prostitution and face the issue by delegitimizing and penalising those who use the service. The primary understanding that needs to be established for this perspective to be effective is that prostitution is not legitimate work.
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