Sex Work Matters

Issue section: 
(349)

Melissa Hope Ditmore, Antonia Levy and Alys Willman, Zed Books, £18.99

When sex workers speak it is often with anger, frustration or reproach. This is because, more than any other group of workers, they have been defined, pathologised and moralised at by others.

Sex Work Matters was a labour of love that emerged from a conference of sex workers held in New York in 2006. The result is a collection of essays by sex workers and academics and people involved in providing services to sex workers.

Juline Koken's piece provides a very useful overview of some of the ideological currents that have informed the sex work debate within the feminist movement. Giulia Garofalo's piece on sex worker rights activism is also useful. She doesn't place class at the centre of her analysis, which means she runs the risk of characterising sex worker rights as identity politics for self-identified sex workers. But she does paint a picture suggesting that, as a group of self-organising workers, sex workers have recognised their struggle is intimately bound up with a struggle for migrant rights, against labour exploitation and for freedom of movement.

The book is definitely not a call to arms and its horizons could only be described as modest. Garofalo's article aside, those horizons range from calls for sex worker involvement in policy-making and design of services, to research that is freed from the moralistic assumptions that have too often informed such studies.