Home Opinions Sex work should not be promoted on campus

Sex work should not be promoted on campus

Illustration by: Birmy Michelle | Staff Illustrator

Stripping is not all glitter and girl power. Sex work is dangerous and in many cases psychologically and physically damaging.

Of course, women should be able to do what they want with their bodies. It is every woman’s own personal decision if they want to dress provocatively or cover every inch of skin. A woman who has 100 sexual partners is no worse than a woman who has only one.

However, deciding whether or not to join the sex work industry is a more serious matter than issues of bodily autonomy. It’s not a morality matter, but rather a problem with how women in the sex work industry are being treated.

Young women in college are seeking to better their lives. Entering a sex work job may give women money, but it puts them in an environment where they are objectified, harassed and disrespected on a daily basis.

Sex work can be a viable career for many women who are willing to face the unbelievable and often terrible circumstances. But to offer such a hard and dangerous job to a naive college freshman as just an “easy way to pay off debt” is manipulative and a downright lie.

One study found 100 percent of exotic dancers had been physically assaulted in the clubs where they were employed. These attacks occurred not once, but on average three to 15 times.

The abuse does not stop there. There have been accounts of sex workers being raped, stabbed, forced to engage in degrading sexual acts, threatened with a weapon, kidnapped, stalked, verbally abused, tied up, tortured, beaten with objects and worse.

Many women often find it very hard to leave the sex work industry because of the stigma surrounding its workers. Encouraging college students to enter an industry that could hurt their chances of getting a job after college is completely inappropriate.

Groups attempting to destigmatize sex work do exist, however the way society sees the industry doesn’t change how people working will be affected by such an intimate job. Even if it will drop violent crime rates.

Many sex workers are severely traumatized by their jobs and even suffer from severe PTSD. Even if sex work is fully decriminalized in the United States, the detrimental, emotional and psychological effects of the job will remain much the same.

Women in sex work jobs often don’t have control over the money they receive when working within clubs or brothels and are often taken advantage of. This is not true autonomy.

No woman should be encouraged to enter a dangerous, manipulative, disrespectful and emotionally draining workplace. There are better, less intrusive ways a woman can pay off debt and move on to the career with her degree.


  1. It’s not easy to write a piece calling out the publication that prints your work but it needed to be done. As a former writer at the University Star, I was embarrassed when I saw that ad. I was even more embarrassed when it became a punchline on social media. I applaud this article for its well-thought-out message and for the stance taken by the writer.

    Keep up the good work, Madison.

  2. Dear Madison,

    I was motivated by your article in your school paper so I am sending some general ideas. I see that most of your emphasis is concern that the campaigns to de-stigmatize sex work result in glossing over the struggles. I can imagine that it’s a challenge for you to look around your community and figure out how to best support those who may be trying sex work, while promoting honest education about the realities of sex work. Here is some guidance:

    I am writing as a woman who was within the academic environment and wound up trying sex work… exactly as a means to pay debts, and because I was very curious. I think it’s important to recognize and respect that motivation also among your peers. That said, generally the diversity of motivations, economic choices and stories is key to this issue, but I am referring to the context of students and sex work.

    The warnings against sex work are extremely prolific in our societies. Also the glamorization is common and part of mainstream media, so the result is an emotional obstacle course. Then adding the criminalization and punishment of sex workers by society, and this is a very hard terrain.

    As a sex worker, on one end I confronted the sexist taboo that says that if a woman does it even once, she is a ‘whore for life.’ As a young feminist I resisted that taboo and wanted to prove that prostitution (or sex work) would not define and ‘degrade’ me.

    Although I see that you are concerned about the input of sex worker rights groups minimizing the struggles, there is much recognition and caring for our communities, for sex workers who experience the violence and stigma. One of the primary international movements brings us together to recognize and address these issues and dangers: http://www.december17.org/

    On the other hand, historically ‘warnings’ about the pitfalls of sex work served to make women afraid of being ‘sluts’/fallen women. Of course there is some bravado and defensiveness in for sex workers as we push back against the ‘soiled doves’ imagery.
    How do young people navigate these contradictions?

    – College communities can learn from being exposed to the widest diverse perspectives of those in sex work in terms of race, class, work context, gender and sexual orientation.

    – Don’t assume that your friends aren’t already doing sex work. They often won’t tell.
    I think choices are complicated, and it’s good to not be reductive. Creating a loving space of community acceptance, self-acceptance is a good basis.

    Some people might want to look at some of our videos which document sex workers lives, goals, arts and work. http://www.sexworkerfest.com/videos/ There is a broad range of international work.

    My book is actually an easy and interesting read, an introduction to sex work politics. http://www.amazon.com/Unrepentant-Whore-Collected-Scarlot-Harlot/dp/0867195843


    Carol Leigh

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