written by Savannah Sly
In a complex world, simple stories win. Combined with fear and ignorance, simple stories can be powerful propaganda vehicles used to justify state oppression. Presently, an elementary theory of economics is encouraging increased surveillance and policing of people the sex trade. The market concept of “supply and demand” has inspired a new model of policing called “End Demand”, which has been deployed on the sex trade for the past decade.
The math of End Demand goes as such: Fewer clients means less prostitution. Less prostitution means less gender based violence. Or, so the story goes…
As the raid-and-rescue method of policing has lost public favor, anti-prostitutionists have had to adapt a new model of criminalization. Unwilling to have the much harder conversations about generational poverty, racism, homelessness, hunger, substance dependence, and immigration, contemporary sex trade abolitionists assert that increased policing of clients is the key to ending exploitation in the sex trade.
Based ever so loosely on the market theory, End Demand suggests that cutting off cash flow to the sex trade economy will discourage profiteering exploiters, and force sex workers to find “real” jobs. However, traffickers, pimps and sex workers – regardless of market situations – don’t respond to a reduction of business by simply deciding to “quit the industry” and go get full time corporate jobs with a company car and a full benefits package. The notion that tough times will motivate people who sell sex to simply move on to greener pastures is absurd, privileged, and fails completely to comprehend the reasons why people become sex trade involved in the first place.
In reality, End Demand is a form of economics siege that’s had catastrophic consequences on sex worker welfare. Ham fisted and reckless, End Demand tactics have increased instability and scarcity in the sex trade, fostering circumstances ripe for exploitation. It’s time to move beyond the simple math of sensationalism and examine the actual impacts and outcomes of the End Demand model of policing.
Supply-Side Ramifications of End Demand:
The theory of supply and demand is used to illustrate interactions between suppliers and consumers in a given market. Supply and demand curves determine the price and quantity of goods and services. Any changes in supply and demand will have an effect on the price and quantity of the goods sold, as well as incentives for producers and consumers alike.
The supply/demand theory is often used within the anti-sex work industry to suggest that if demand dries up, supply will simply wither away. This line of thinking objectifies sex workers as commodities, which they are not. Regardless of their level of autonomy, people who supply sexual services are laborers who bear the brunt of human suffering that accompanies market fallout. Victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex workers alike feel the squeeze then there is less money to be made.
Intentionally causing an imbalance of demand for services in the sex trade leads to a domino effect of disadvantages for people who supply sexual services, such as:
Lost Bargaining Power: Fewer clients in the sex trade economy means providers of services must work harder to earn and keep clients. End Demand fosters a “buyers market”, where clients have increased leverage to determine the terms of service. Lost bargaining power for sex workers can result in decreased ability to negotiate condom use, as well as what types of services are rendered.
Dangerous Encounters: It would be impossible to arrest and detain all sex trade clientele. So, End Demand relies on fear of legal consequence and social shame to discourage potential buyers. However, risks are unlikely to deter predators who already participate in crimes such as rape, assault, kidnapping, theft, blackmail, and murder. By removing safer clients from the economy, sex workers are statistically more like to encounter a predator.
Class Stratification: People who see sex workers are taking a legal (and social) risk. End Demand rarely discourages complete abstinence from the sex trade, but it does influence how risk taking occurs. Risk adverse clients will start visiting well-known sex workers, who are verified as “definitely not cops”. Some clients may decide to stick with a sole sex worker, as opposed to seeing a variety of providers. This trend negatively impacts new sex workers, young sex workers, sex workers color, sex workers who operate outdoors, and sex workers who actively try to fly under the radar. The end result is that privileged sex workers end up getting steady gigs while their less privileged peers hustle harder to make ends meet with more clandestine clientele. Over time, the resulting impact is that some sex workers become more stable than others simply because of how clients perceive them.
Client Skittishness: Vice stings are the bread and butter of the End Demand model of policing. Vice stings are intended to be broadcasted in the media, sending a warning signal to potential sex trade clients. This creates anxiety and paranoia amongst clients, who become less likely to yield personal information that sex workers use to assess safety. Client skittishness can result in reduced time that a sex worker has to negotiations terms of service. Paranoid clients are more likely to act irrationally and unpredictably. Psychologically, clients who experience stress under End Demand can end up blaming sex workers as the source of their suffering, leading to abuse and violence.
Scarcity Mentality: When people are in need, their stress and risk taking is likely to increase. Expanded surveillance, media scrutiny and law enforcement activity has deeply negative impacts on the mental health of people in the sex trade. The stressors of End Demand aggravates mental health conditions already common to people in the sex trade. Scarcity mentality in the sex trade can cause sex workers to work in deepened isolation, and to take on clients who they otherwise would avoid.
Displaced Advertising: A common End Demand tactics is to shut down websites where sex workers advertise their services. Shutting these sites down doesn’t cause the supply or demand for prostitution to go away, it simply displaces it. When displaced, sex workers and clients alike migrate to different venues in an attempt to find each other. Sex workers have been known to fish for clients on dating and modeling websites, as well as social media. Because sex workers are despised by the public, operating in more mainstream venues can expose sex workers to harassment, doxxing, blackmail, and violence. When advertising online isn’t possible, some sex workers migrate to bars or other establishments to meet clients. With no other available options, sex workers will migrate to the streets, sometimes for the first time in their lives.
Miscommunication: Surveillance culture and the looming fear of sting operations discourage clients and sex workers from discussing terms of service. The inability to communicate and negotiate increases the odds that a client will be dissatisfied with services, forcing sex workers to make hard decisions about boundaries that will impact their bottom line.
Competition Amongst Workers: Due to criminalization and stigma, sex workers have historically had to rely on each other for collective safety and prosperity. Dwindling financial resources in the sex trade economy creates friction amongst peers in the sex trade. If sex workers view each other as competition for scare resources, they will be less likely to share safety information, clients, tools of the trade, or tips for success. When sex workers can’t rely on each other, they are often left fending for themselves in a vulnerable state of physical and emotional isolation.
End Demand is a Form of Class Warfare
The End Demand movement has created a hotbed for exploitation. When workers have less bargaining power, and less ability to earn reasonable wages, they are more likely to be exploited due to their compromised circumstances. Consciously or not, the End Demand movement callously revels in the plight of the working class, who’s very survival depends on the ability to render salable services or goods.
The victims of sex trafficking that anti-prostitutionsts claim to be so concerned about also suffer the ill effects of End Demand. An abuser who is controlling someone for financial gain in the sex trade is unlikely to stop simply because of an economic downturn. If anything, more pressure will be put on victims to generate revenue, regardless of increased risk.
End Demand fails completely to acknowledged the lack of resources and social safety net that drive people to become sex trade involved. If poverty is a festering laceration suffered by society, End Demand is salt in the wound. Frantic efforts to “end sex trafficking” have resulted in a juggernaut of expensive law enforemcent initiatives and media campaigns that do everything but adhere to the demands for decriminalization and social services that sex workers have been making for decades.
In order to effectively address exploitation in the sex trade, society must get off it’s high horse of saviorism and listen to sex workers. In listening, society would learn that equitable distribution of housing, healthcare, childcare, and universal basic incomes would be the best remedies to combat abuse in the commericla sex industry. This is not a simple solution, nor is the sex trade a place of simple stories. Simple stories may capture our hearts and our minds, but they can devastate our most vulnerable communities.
Savannah Sly is a career sex worker, musician, organizer and sex worker rights who resides in Seattle, Washington. You can learn more about Savannah at savannahsly.com