By Dana Levy
Dana Levy is an Israeli survivor of prostitution and a passionate campaigner for the Nordic Model in Israel, where a Nordic Model-style law has recently been passed.
Can prostitution be a job?
Sex trade apologists claim that ‘sex work is work.’ Some of them say: “We just need a proper regulatory framework to make it safe,” while others insist: “All regulatory restrictions are harmful. Prostitution is not the problem; society is the problem. You are the problem! If we get rid of the regulations and stereotypes, it will become just like any other job.”
We, the survivors of prostitution who struggle against the sex trade, know the truth: prostitution is not a job.
The core harms of the sex trade are not caused by the stereotypes, nor by the ‘working conditions.’
Prostitution has three inherent characteristics that make its framing as ‘work’ fallacious.
1. Experience has zero value in prostitution
In any other field of work, such as medicine, law, cleaning, or sales, employers look for expertise. The experienced worker finds the job easier and receives higher wages.
Whereas in prostitution, experience is a disadvantage. A young woman who sells her virginity online can make a fortune, but a 40-year-old woman with vast experience will earn very little.
A punter who calls a brothel never asks, “Which is your most experienced employee?” but rather, “Who is the youngest girl?” or “Do you have any new girls?”
You could argue that a fashion model must be young, but even she must learn the job to make the best of her career. An inexperienced model usually works for free until she has an impressive portfolio.
Prostitution is different.
Pinning high prices on the young and inexperienced is closer to car hire than employment.
2. Actual labour is not necessary in prostitution
In every professional field, a worker produces products or actively supplies services.
A teacher teaches, a physician heals, and a waiter takes food orders. A lifeguard at the public swimming pool can sit without getting up for a full day but must be focused at all times on identifying swimmers who might be getting into difficulties or even drowning. A painter’s model can sit without moving for two hours, but she must be alert, concentrated, and responsive to the painter’s instructions.
In prostitution, there is a certain amount of labour and actual service – but it’s not a prerequisite for the deal. The minimum condition is only that you have body temperature.
You can be drugged or drunk to the point of unconsciousness, and you can still be sold.
You might participate, but you don’t have to. Your body can be used for ‘sexual acts’ even without your cooperation.
3. The preconditions for free consent do not exist in prostitution
Consent relies on three pre-conditions: the freedom to choose a sexual partner, the freedom to select the nature of the sexual activity, and the freedom to choose the timing.
If any one of these conditions is missing, sex is forced – for example, when someone forces their spouse to have sex at a time or in a way they don’t want.
In the context of prostitution, none of these three conditions exists. Women in prostitution do not choose their clients (except in fiction); they do not choose the timing; and, in most cases, they have hardly any freedom to determine the nature of the acts performed.
Non-consensual sex is an offense or, at the very least, an abusive act. It definitely cannot be framed as work.
Everyone knows this to be true
Survivors are not the only ones who understand that prostitution is not a job. The general public, including most sex trade apologists, share the same underlying assumptions.
Everyone knows that prostitution is different from other jobs, even from low-level manual ones.
Prevailing norms prove this.
1. Prostitution is not a task that the boss can add to your job description
In many workplaces, bosses sometimes ask employees to do tasks that go beyond their area of expertise. Sometimes you do it for extra pay, and sometimes just because the boss said so. For example, a boss might reasonably ask a secretary to serve coffee to business guests, or send a frontline worker to do the filing, or notify employees that the company is saving on cleaners so now everyone has to clean their own work station.
However, no company will tell employees, “Due to the recent company restructuring that changed your job description, you will now have to sleep with important customers.” No reputable company would consider this, even for extra pay.
2. No one wants their kids to go into prostitution
Sex trade supporters are often annoyed by the question, “Would you let your kids go into prostitution?”
Their typical response is that what their kids do professionally is not relevant and anyway they wouldn’t want them to be cleaners, shop assistants, or maybe even lawyers, either.
But this doesn’t really add up because no one would stop their kids working in cleaning or sales during the summer holidays.
Prostitution is the only ‘occupation’ that responsible parents would refuse to allow their teenagers to do, even for a limited time.
3. Job centres do not send women to ‘jobs’ in prostitution
In many countries, citizens are eligible for unemployment insurance, but they are obliged to accept any available work offered by the government job centre, including less desirable jobs. Nevertheless, no government job centre refers unemployed people to prostitution ‘jobs’ – not even in New Zealand or New South Wales, which have purportedly transformed the sex trade into a standard service industry.
In Germany, a young woman was referred to a brothel in 2005, and the negative response to this embarrassing but unique case continues to this day.
4. No other job requires extensive psycho-social rehabilitation
There are many physically and mentally challenging jobs, but none of them require tens of millions of dollars in rehabilitation budgets.
Here in Israel, there was only one issue that sex trade supporters and opponents agreed on: that massive rehabilitation budgets must accompany the Sex Buyer Act.
“I suffered when I was a waiter,” many young people say when they challenge the abolitionist approach.
But did they need long-term rehabilitation to start functioning normally? Probably not.
5. Researchers are unwilling to try out prostitution themselves
Many researchers and lawmakers are ready to expose themselves to occupations in various industries when they are required to make professional recommendations about those occupations and industries. Prostitution is an exception to this.
In recent decades, a battery of academics and lawmakers who insist that “sex work is work” has emerged. But none of them challenge themselves by actually doing prostitution for a month, a week, or even a day.
This article has not offered any information that was new to you. It has merely set out the obvious facts that everyone already knows to be true.
Prostitution is not a job. It never has been and never will be. Everyone knows this.
Please use the information in this article. Please share it and show it to your friends.
And don’t give up until the violent practice of prostitution has become extinct everywhere.
- Is ‘sex work’ real work? ‘If work is being slapped/beaten/told you’re a worthless whore… Then yes it’s work’
- No, Teen Vogue, ‘Sex Work’ is NOT Real Work
- Working as a receptionist in a legal brothel proved to me that prostitution is anything but a normal job
- A critical review of ‘Revolting Prostitutes: The fight for sex workers’ rights’ by Juno Mac and Molly Smith