I want to be clear now, for this piece I am not dealing with the terrible crime of trafficking here. For this I am concerned only with those who have used their own agency to enter into sex work. It seems no matter what leads a person to sex work it's more convenient for us to lump them in the same category. If we don't want to think of them as perverts we sympathetically talk about how 'damaged' they are. Which gives us an excuse to ignore any issues brought up by sex workers.
Sounds pretty sensible, right? A network of female, male and trans* sex workers who can communicate with each other and the police. Creating more clarity about consent, legality and the notion of a transaction regarding an act not a person is vital for safety, particularly when we live in a world where a Texan judge agrees that to shoot at an escort's car over $150 is justifiable. The commentary on this particular case showed the popular thought that those who do sex work relinquish all rights once money changes hands.
The sex worker as activist is not as new as we might think. In the bible (all translations of which use the word prostitute) there are cases such as Rahab, who sheltered two Jewish spies scoping out Jericho for a take over. Rahab hid the spies and therefore changed Jericho's future, with an invasion of the Israelites. Rahab is later mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.
Creating clarity about consent...and the notion of a transaction regarding an act not a person is vital...
There are other mentions of prostitutes in the bible seemingly being rather active (not a euphemism) in society. Probably because they were more independent than the wives ruled by their husbands.
One woman who used the independence being a whore could bring was Aspasia. There is a belief that Socrates was taught by the alleged brother owner and "harlot" Aspasia - some even credit the Socratic method to her. Aspasia is mentioned in the writings of Aristophanes and Plato and she was at the centre of the Ancient Greek thinkers world.
My personal favourite is Empress Theodora, who has some conflicting accounts about her all written by the same author - her contemporary the scribe Procopius. His writing The Secret History was not published for over 1000 years, which all sounds rather Mumm-ra and exciting.
Theodora was a Greek Cypriot who worked in a Constantinople (not Istanbul) brothel and by all accounts was very impressive and good at what she did. After a trip to North Africa it seems Theodora returned to Constantinople as a wool spinner and attracted the attentions of Justinian, heir to the throne.
Theodora was so liked by Justinian's uncle the Emperor he repealed the law forbidding government officials from marrying 'actresses' (former or not). So she became Empress Theodora, who saved the throne during the Nika riots. Theodora also prevented forced prostitution (although there is an account that this act was done by rounding up 500 prostitutes and confining them to a convent, we'll never know), established property rights for women and made rape punishable by death.
Do these women sound 'damaged' to you? Or like they needed saving? Or does it sound like throughout history women's rights have been rather championed by sex workers? I'm left wondering if in addition to the term 'thank a feminist' we shouldn't add 'thank a sex worker' to the mix.