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Feminism and sex work: Why a porn filter defeats the point

| Wednesday, November 14, 2018

I initially chose not to respond to SCOP’s and the men of Notre Dame’s letter arguing for a porn filter on Notre Dame’s campus. Joshua de Oliveira’s letter so eloquently laid out the arguments against a porn filter, and pointed out many of the flaws in the men of Notre Dame’s reasoning.

There is one additional factor to consider, however, when examining the arguments and proposition made by the “men of Notre Dame.”

Their patronizing language of standing up for the “dignity of all people, especially women,” may come from a positive motivation, but it degrades women who choose to participate in sex work. While it is true that there is rampant sexual slavery throughout the world, and undoubtedly some of it filters into pornographic sources that Americans have access to, there are many other women who choose to enter sex work. These women made a choice based on free will to participate in pornography and can be empowered through their line of work. Safe, consensual sex-based work is a profession that is both stigmatized and consistently undermined by arguments like those made by the men of Notre Dame.

Every single person in the world can agree that human trafficking is inherently evil and must be stopped. Every single person can agree that the distribution of child pornography is disgusting and vile. Every single person can agree that all persons deserve fundamental, basic protections no matter what line of work they are in.

But not everyone agrees that sex workers are people with dignity, self-respect and deserving of the same compassion that everyone else is.

Many people, like the men of Notre Dame, who call pornography a “massive violation of human dignity,” assert themselves as the superior authority on morality. They fail to recognize the autonomy of female sex workers, and thus women in general. Pornography and sex work is a challenging issue to understand, and I do not believe that the men and women of Notre Dame have given it enough consideration. We must do all we can to protect those who have been victims of sex trafficking, but in the same light, we must do all we can to protect sex workers. The profession is not going away, and especially not because of a porn filter on our University’s WiFi.

Sex workers are people too.

The federal authorities shut down Backpage last year, a site which facilitates sex work. While it was shut down to protect those who are victims of human trafficking, it has unfortunately also shut down the main line that sex workers used to vet their clients for safety.  

It’s forcing me to go back the streets, walking up and down trying to find clients.” — Melissa, 32, Phoenix, escort

“People are panicking. Indoor workers are going out on the street. Some of them are disappearing.” — Dii, 26, Colorado, full-service provider

“We’re trying to figure out how many of us are literally dying because of this law that’s supposedly trying to keep us safe.” — Colette, 36, San Francisco and Los Angeles, dominatrix

These are the important nuances that must be taken into account when considering the issue of pornography and sex work. Shutting down sites like Backpage has put many consenting sex workers in danger. While the federal government clearly did the right thing in putting an end to ads that market underage women and promote sex trafficking, we must also consider what this does for people who choose to make sex work their profession. This problem extends far beyond issues of access to pornography or sex work itself. It is also vitally important to consider people who have entered sex work because they feel they have no other options. It begs the question of why there are members of our society who see no opportunities for themselves except to participate in sex work.

I understand that I have not solved, nor prevented a problem by writing this column. However, I am certain that a porn filter is not the solution to this problem. Instead, it promotes a simplistic and undignified understanding of sex workers. Rather, I think it would be beneficial for the students of this University to take part in a conversation of what human dignity truly is, and if it really does mean dignity for all people. To promote a new understanding of women who participate consensual in sex work. We must put our minds together to consider the ways in which we can protect all people: those who are trafficked and have been victims of evil, those who feel that they have no other option but to be a sex worker, as well as those who consensually take part in sex work.

Sex workers’ rights are human rights.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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