Revolting Prostitutes: the fight for Sex Workers’ Rights is a new book by Juno Mac and Molly Smith which puts the focus on the rights of sex workers. In making its point the book draws a distinction most of us are not familiar with, the difference between decriminalization of sex work and legalization of it. Legalization as it does in Nevada and the Netherlands means that sex work is legal within a context and is usually heavily regulated. The problem is that those regulations do not put the welfare of the sex workers as a priority. New laws may then be enacted which may not be to their advantage or reduce their independence by placing them under the control of a manager as it does in Nevada. Decriminalization means sex work is legal, period. From this framework the rights of sex workers can emerge, they can have the same protection as other workers, there is no special contexts, no special conditions. New Zealand has such a system. We are tending towards what is called the Swedish or Nordic system where the buyers of the sex service are penalized instead of the sellers. The authors see that as a system where in practice workers essentially end up with the short end of the stick. They may have to hide to protect clients, or lower their prices and while those systems may be better than the criminal models they still push sex workers towards the margins.
I regret the book does not address the issue of sex trafficking, or of how decriminalization would affect those sex workers. Still the issue of the rights of sex workers remains. The authors strongly argue that the voices, experiences and welfare of sex workers must come first which means they must be involved in determining what that welfare is. And if that can be accomplished, it would indirectly at least be of some benefit to trafficking victims.