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Sex workers deserve unbiased treatment

March 3 is International Sex Worker Rights Day, an important day to honor the legacy of sex worker activists past and remember how much further we as a community must go to secure our rights. The tradition first began in 2001 when over fifty thousand sex workers in a union in Calcutta, India organized a festival to celebrate each other’s struggles and achievements made in the community. Since then, sex workers and allies have come together on a global scale on March 3 to celebrate sex worker rights and to demand an end to our community’s marginalization.

March 3 is a day to remind the public of the human rights violations that are a daily reality for sex workers. Stigma against sex workers remains deeply embedded in our society, affecting sex workers’ mental health and ability to navigate social spaces. The criminalization of sex workers in New Jersey leads to dramatic health disparities and violence that continues to go unchecked. The ideals of the Stonewall Revolution that so many sex workers participated in have been all but forgotten as we criminalize and stigmatize sexual acts in the name of morality.

Yes, sex work is work. For clarification, a sex worker does not “sell their body,” they sell a service no different than a hair stylist or psychologist. To suggest otherwise, like the moralists who continue to stigmatize expressions of sexuality (usually only directed at female sex workers), is to perpetuate the overbearing presence of slut-shaming that exists in our society. As if a woman couldn’t decide for herself if she wanted to provide sexual services. The exploitation that sex workers face stems from the working conditions that they trade sex for, not from the inherent nature of providing sexual services.

Under New Jersey’s criminal code, police continue to arrest people for breaking “prostitution laws.” As the law currently sees it, anyone who engages in the private exchange of sex for something of monetary value is breaking the law. When sex workers attempt to report acts of violence or rape they are instead arrested for breaking the law. When sex workers attempt to protect their sexual health in their line of work, police continue the policy of “condoms as evidence” as they arrest people perceived to be sex workers for carrying condoms. I ask, where are human rights for sex workers?

On March 3, the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance (NJRUA) will be hosting an event for International Sex Worker Rights Day. This is an important day for the Rutgers community to come together and demand that these rights be talked about. We will be gathering at the School of Social Work between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. NJRUA is a new organization that promotes the human rights of sex workers living and working in New Jersey. The event will also be sponsored by the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights (CGHR) and the Rutgers Social Workers Advocating for GLBT and Gender-nonconforming Equal Rights (SWAGGER). We will be screening the film “Live Nude Girls Unite,” a documentary about the unionizing efforts of exotic dancers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The film will then be followed by a panel discussion from sex worker and human rights activists. There are no bad whores, just bad laws.

Derek J. Demeri is a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in political science with minoring in history and African studies. He is the co-founder of the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance.

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