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Sex Work vs. Sexual Exploitation

What is Sex Work?

Sex work and human trafficking cannot and should not be conflated. Sex work can involve sex and physical touching, webcam or phone sex, dancing, and many other consensual, sexual activities. The line between sex work and sexual exploitation is that line we love to talk about: consent.

Sex work is agreed upon by all parties involved, and any party can revoke consent at any time. If either the sex worker or the client were to try something outside of what was agreed upon, that would be sexual violence; if coercion, force, intimidation, or threats are used in lieu of open and honest communication, that is sexual violence. No one is saying that no violence or exploitation happens to sex workers, only that sex work is not inherently any more exploitative of workers than any other industry.

Sexual Violence

Sex workers of all types can experience sexual violence, including rape, harassment, exploitation, and any other form of violence that a survivor who isn’t a sex worker may have experienced. Sex workers can be assaulted while on the job or moving about their daily lives, just like other workers. Sex workers deserve the same dignity and respect that all workers deserve, and that dignity entails seeing sex work as distinct from sexual exploitation in the same way that we see sex as distinct from rape.

All sex workers get into their work for a different reason. Some of them love the work. Some of them love their clients. For some of them, the ability to set their own schedule is key. Others may feel like it’s their only option – but many workers all over the world only work in a certain job because they feel like it is their only option, so why should we pity sex workers who aren’t in love with their job? For every sex worker, there are dozens of reasons why they may choose to remain in the industry. If we are truly against violence, we must respect sex workers’ autonomy and trust their abilities to make the best choices for themselves and their families.

Exploitation has no place in any industry. Sex workers are some of the fiercest advocates to end human trafficking and support survivors of sex and labor trafficking. Anti-trafficking advocates and victims’ rights groups need to trust and empower sex workers to recognize trafficking in their own communities and help us end sexual violence and exploitation across the globe. At Verity, we do not criminalize sex workers or take part in “operation” that law enforcement may do.

Law enforcement will call us after an “operation,” and we will go ensure that everyone involved has access to our resources and knows to contact us should they ever need us. Sex workers can and do get sexually assaulted. When it happens, it is not the punchline of a joke; sexual violence is perpetuated across industries. We can end sexual violence by working together to promote consent and eliminating exploitation.

Next Steps

If your group, organization, or company would like a presentation about human trafficking, labor trafficking, and/or sex trafficking, give our Human Trafficking Victim Advocate a call at (707) 545-7270 x 20.

If you think that you or someone you know has been exploited, call our hotline at (707) 545-7273 any time of day or night.



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