the SAGE project / great statement re: legalizing prostitution

fwd sarah l., londonfeministnetwork list

Standing Against Global Exploitation (SAGE)

“The mission of the SAGE Project is to improve the lives of individuals victimized by, or at risk for sexual exploitation, violence and prostitution through trauma recovery services, substance abuse treatment, vocational training, housing assistance and legal advocacy.”

SAGE was founded by Norma Hotaling, a woman who had experienced homelessness, addiction and prostitution, and in their own words: “Many of the STAR Center staff are survivors of sexual exploitation and/or are recovering addicts. Some of us also have incarceration experiences.”

Q: Does SAGE support legalizing prostitution?

A: Some individuals and organizations are promoting legalization based on the argument that it will be a good thing for societies and for individuals in the sex industries. Some of these initiatives have been supported or promoted by individuals who are in the sex industries and want to reframe prostitution as “sex work”. Most of these efforts have been funded and primarily initiated by pornographers, gambling industries and organized crime, and others who particularly are profiting from the use of other people in systems of prostitution.

We respect that individuals in the sex industries and survivors of sexual exploitation will have varying perspectives and approaches to problems of law enforcement harassment and abuses of civil rights, exploitation and abuse, and discrimination. Some proponents of legalization seem completely unconcerned with human rights abuses. Other people who favor legalization are clearly concerned with the impact on children and victims of violence, but presume that most prostitution either is or could be between adults who are not coerced. In other words, some people who support legalization argue that child prostitution and trafficking can be stopped or reduced by making the sex industries a legal economic institution, and that creating more legal prostitution will decrease abuse and violence.

We do not support legalization, because we do not believe it addresses the needs of most people in the sex industries, and results in increased harm. Our response to legalization is strongly shaped by our concerns about trafficking, child abuse, racism, imperialism and poverty as underlying causes of recruitment into the sex industries, an awareness of the extreme trauma and pain experienced by people who are sexually abused in the sex industries, and an understanding of why many men come to the sex industries seeking to buy sex.

Neither legalization or criminalizing everyone in the sex industries works effectively to prevent violence and exploitation. Debates about legalization have often deliberately ignored that these are not the only options. The criminalization of prostitution traditionally assumes that prostitution is first and foremost a crime against society—and everyone involved is a criminal. This approach rarely recognizes that people are victimized or exploited within systems of prostitution.

We also believe legalization doesn’t really work for the vast majority of individuals in the sex industries, for a number of reasons.

First, legalization campaigns have never reflected the leadership or beliefs of more than a small sector of people who are actually coming up against discrimination and violence in systems of prostitution. The most vocal proponents of legalization from within the sex industries have been adults, primarily white people from western societies, and primarily not people who represent the interests of survivors of trafficking and child sexual exploitation. We can’t support any approach to addressing exploitation and abuse which doesn’t adequately include the perspectives or have the support of most youth, peoples of color, or survivors of exploitation. We are looking for solutions which build on the strengths and knowledge of diverse populations and fully represent the most marginalized and silenced people in systems of prostitution.

Second, legalization presumes that more than a very small number of people will want to work in the sex industries consensually. Since the vast majority of the sex industries do involve explicit force, trafficking, child sexual abuse, or recruitment through extreme poverty, legalization does not effectively address the experiences of abused and exploited peoples, and masks the reality that for most people, the sex industries are not just another kind of “work”—or something that more than a very small percentage of people are willing to choose, given other options.

Third, in areas where prostitution has been legalized, “black market” or illegal prostitution has increased, not decreased. Many of the men who are the primary market for prostitution do not have or do not want to pay more money for regulated prostitution, and many are specifically seeking children or youth, or are paying for sex in order to have access to someone they can physically abuse and sexually violate. Legalization puts the focus on whether prostitution is legally legitimized, rather than how and where individuals are being abused, exploited or harmed.

Fourth, legalization actually makes it more difficult to prosecute rapists, perpetrators, and traffickers. Because the sex industries are more legitimized under legalization, there is no basic presumption that buying or selling someone else’s body is a crime—and therefore the burden on victims of violence to prove that they are experiencing harm or exploitation is increased. When sexual exploitation is legalized, sexual abusers can use excuses like, “she’s just a ho who wanted more money” to discredit anyone in the sex industries who tries to get legal support.

Q: What is SAGE trying to achieve relative to law enforcement and legislation?

A: We are working to educate legislators, law enforcement, and the general public to approach systems of prostitution from an anti-violence, human rights perspective. We support total decriminalization of people considered “prostitutes”—or who are working, bought, sold, or trafficked in any area of the sex industries. Further, we support increased legal protections, victim’s services, and social supports for people in the sex industries. However, an anti-violence approach differs from total legalization—we do not want to legalize or legitimize any forms of sexual violence or exploitation or trafficking in persons. We support legislation which recognizes and works to prevent or prosecute trafficking, pimping, sexual exploitation, child sexual abuse, statutory rape of youth in systems of prostitution, and violence or hate crimes against people in the sex industries. Our goal is not to support legalization of the sex industries as a whole, but to protect the rights of people who are abused and exploited or who are persecuted by the legal system, and to create an effective legal and social response to violence in systems of prostitution.

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