It’s no wonder it’s so hard to get a rational discussion going about sex workers. Even for genuinely interested, well-meaning people, it’s hard to get any solid information. Before you can even start talking about solutions to the problems that sex workers face, you have to first have to correct the ideas of what sex workers are. Any conversation in the mainstream media about sex workers starts out with icons forged from sensationalism and half-truths, as we’ve seen from the coverage of the Spitzer scandal lately. The images of trafficked junkies who need to be rescued or decadent young women who have had their souls twisted by their lives of deception sell papers and television time better than a nuanced picture full of shades of gray does.
I wrote earlier about Sex Work Awareness, the new activist group founded by members of $pread, SWANK, and PONY to address this very sort of issue in the public consciousness. They’ve just launched a new blog called Sex Work 101 devoted to answering the questions that most people have when they’re just starting to look past the surface. Audacia Ray writes that the idea of Sex Work 101 occurred to her at this year’s Women Action and Media conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts:
I gave a talk at WAM called Sex Workers and Media Representation (click to see notes for the workshop), and questions during and after the talk made me realize that many people are curious about the sex industry and want to support sex workers in their struggle for rights, but they have no idea where to start. This site is an attempt to fill that gap in public education in an approachable, easy to understand, and engaging way – itâ€™s also the first public education project from Sex Work Awareness, a new non-profit in NYC founded by four $pread staff members. Sex Work 101 is meant to add to public knowledge about sex work and to encourage discussion about the issues sex workers face.
I think this is a great idea. We won’t be able to have a real dialogue about sex work until we have the beginnings of a common language about the subject, and right now we still talk about it in terms that are cribbed from pulp novels from the 1950’s. The first three entries start to answer questions like “What is a sex worker?”, “What is the sex industry?” and to describe the differences between words like terms like “street walker” versus “street worker.” These first few entries aren’t really a vocabulary; more like the beginnings of an alphabet for people who have never learned the ABC’s. But after the alphabet you start to build words and then string the words into sentences and before you know it, you’ve gone from the kind of baby talk indulged in by Diane Sawyer into the articulate speeches of an adult.