By Erin Wade–
If you were strolling about the lower level of Ekstrom Library last Thursday evening chances are you would have heard a rousing conversation coming from Chao Auditorium. Cards 4 Freedom, a student organization against human trafficking, teamed up with MensWork, an organization engaging men to take part in eliminating violence against women, to host a debate over the legalization of sex works in America. The panelists consisted of Dr. Kaila Story: Assistant Professor in Pan-African Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, and Audre Lorde, Chair in Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Lilian Little: Graduate Student in Kent School of Social Work, Rus Funk: Executive Director of MensWork, and Alisha Dawn West: Graduate Student in Women’s and Gender Studies.
Only one question was asked by the orator that incited nearly two hours of a rather toasty debate amongst, not only the panelists, but the audience: What would be the best legal framework for sex works that would also reduce violence and human trafficking? Dr. Story was up to bat first and she made the argument that it should be legalized and treated as any other profession and that with government regulated health benefits and safety standards it would ideologically be the most protective. West agreed somewhat saying that ideologically it would be the best option, but it can’t be ignored that most women are forced into prostitution through trafficking. Little in turn brought up research that said 89% of women were forced into the industry and would escape if they were able. The framework she suggested would serve to decriminalize sex workers, to treat them as the victims of the crime and penalize the pimps and clients. Funk had a similar stance in saying that the workers aren’t the problem; its men’s demand of women’s bodies and their sense of “entitlement.” His example of this entitlement was certainly one of the two most memorable of the debate; something to the effect of “Men feel that just because they have an erection they have the right to stick it wherever they want.”
Although that comment certainly had the ability to derail the conversation to another debate entirely, the attention moved to how exactly it should be regulated, in regards to the transaction, and whether or not such regulation could suffice in protecting the workers. Dr. Story, still in favor of legalizing, suggested that all workers and clients be submitted to a health screening and could then be licensed even. When asked about the transaction in terms of pricing and how one would go about it she responded (Spoiler alert: this is the other memorable moment) that it would be similar to going to a salon for a manicure and that there would be signs: blow job $4.99. Granted, I do believe she was being a little facetious (especially with that price). West and Funk still had doubt especially concerning government regulation. Can we really hold the U.S. government responsible to protect these workers? Dr. Story admitted it won’t be transformed into this magical, non-stigmatized profession overnight, but that if the law is in place, it would be just as effective as any other we have and if a worker doesn’t feel as if they have been protected under said law they can take the American route—and sue.
By the end of the debate, there were still questions unanswered and topics not covered thoroughly enough, but it was brought back into perspective that there’s still more research to be done and options to explore when it comes to legalizing sex works. What did seem evident at the closing of the debate was that these conversations need to be had. Though just sex itself may be seen as taboo or uncomfortable to talk about, it may be something we should remove this leering sense of shame from, for the sake of being educated.