“Nothing about us without us” became the slogan of the disability rights movement in the 1990s, but the message continues to reverberate today—particularly with sex workers. There have increasingly been calls, especially within progressive and socialist circles in the United States, to reform the criminal justice system’s approach to penalizing prostitution. Politicians like Julia Salazar, a Democratic Socialists of America-backed candidate for the New York State Senate, are pushing for sex workers to be fined rather than arrested, while others like former President Jimmy Carter have advanced what’s known as the “Swedish” or “Nordic” model of targeting managers and customers. But according to sex workers themselves, none of those reforms adequately address the challenges they face.

In their new book, Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights, United Kingdom-based sex workers and activists Juno Mac and Molly Smith examine the global fight for sex workers’ rights. Relying primarily on testimony from sex workers—and taking seriously that it is work—Mac and Smith critically examine various regimes governing prostitution around the world, including those in Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. They find that, while such models are better than the extreme criminalization common in most of the U.S., those regimes still push sex workers further into the margins. Revolting Prostitutes compellingly argues that true supporters of sex workers’ rights must put the voices, experiences, and welfare of sex workers first. In other words: Nothing about them without them.

Pacific Standard interviewed Smith and Mac about Revolting Prostitutes, the fight for sex workers’ rights, and how so many people have gotten it so wrong. As with their book, they wrote their responses collectively.

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How the fight for Sex Workers’ rights can put Sex Workers first by Arvind Dilawar

Nov. 2nd, 2018