On August 17th, 2023, the New York Times published an OpEd by Pamela Paul and the International Community fought back by writing letters to the editor and crafting an International letter to the editors that they refused to publish as of this post.
There was an astonishing amount of criticism for language used to describe the people who engage in the sex trade, regardless of circumstance, and we are extremely appreciative of the New York Times continuing to use the terms we have fought for so long. Its not immediately apparent how Pamela Paul managed to wiggle into a discourse that is clearly outside of her limited experience working with the remarkable human beings within these marginalized populations, but she should know that the amount of disrespect did not go unnoticed and we are going to use it as a chance to educate and inform about the real harms of your POV. The National Organization of Women in New York does not speak for all of us in the erotic labor market and they have certainty turned a blind eye to the evidence that contradicts their myopic view of how sex work and sex trafficking intersect and all of the problems associated with the End Demand policies it is falsely “branding" as decriminalization.
The International Community fought back.
Pamela Paul vehemently opposes the term “sex worker,” yet does not provide a formal definition of it.
Per the sex worker-led Global Network of Sex Work Projects, World Health Organization, UNAIDS, UNDP, and World Bank, “sex worker” refers to “… people (over 18 years of age) who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services, either regularly or occasionally… sex work is consensual sex between adults, which takes many forms, and varies between and within countries and communities.”
This definition recognizes the diversity of people’s experiences in the sex industry – bad, good, and in-between—while uniting them under the banner of “worker” to facilitate collective mobilization for rights and protections against harms, such as those Paul describes.
“Prostitution,” conversely, is a legal term for a crime; it carries stigma and underlying ideological assumptions and stereotypes about sex work, which are used to justify sex work criminalization laws. Rigorous, empirical research evidences negative impacts of social stigma and criminalization laws – which disproportionately affect LGBTQ+, non-white, and migrant people, and other marginalized people– on sex workers’ health and wellbeing and ability to partner with initiatives to help trafficked people.
Moreover, journalists systematically refraining from using the broader term sex worker would limit free public discourse on these issues, and accurate representation. While people in the sex industry should be able to self-identify using the terminology of their choice, the media should default to language that is aligned with principles of human rights, and conveys respect.
Sex Worker Advocates Coalition (SWAC) of DC, USA
Charlotte Latham, Decrim Now, UK
Christine Nagl, Projekt Pia, Austria
Cindra Feuer, AVAC, USA
Coast Sex Workers Alliance, Kenya
COYOTE RI, USA
Elizabeth Onyango, Coast Sex Workers Alliance, Kenya
Empower Foundation, Thailand
European Network for the Promotion of Rights and Health among Migrant Sex Workers (TAMPEP), Europe
European Sex Worker Alliance (ESWA), Europe and Central Asia
Exploitation Intervention Project, USA
Flavio Lenz, Coletivo Puta Davida, Brazil
Freedom Network USA, USA
Grace Kabayaga, Empowered At Dusk Women's Association, Uganda
Grace Kamau, Africa Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA), Africa
Josephine Aseme, Greater Women Initiative for Health and Rights (GWIHR), Nigeria
Kate Mogulescu, Brooklyn Law School, USA
Key Affected Populations Health and Legal Rights Alliance (KESWA), Kenya
Legal Aid Society, USA
Madison Zack-Wu, Strippers Are Workers
Melodie Garcia and Savannah Sly, New Moon Network, USA
Michael Gibbons, Omar Rana and aisha lewis-mccoy, UAW Local 2325, LGBTQ Caucus of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, USA National Ugly Mugs, UK
OTRASEX, Dominican Republic
Peers Victoria Resource Society, Canada
Raphael Oyeniyi, The Most Supportive Initiative, Nigeria
Red Light District by TW!O, USA
Reframe Health and Justice, USA
Ricci Levy & Mandy Salley, Woodhull Freedom Foundation, USA
Robyn Learned, SWOP-Sacramento, USA
Silvia Okoth, Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Program, Kenya
SWAP Hamilton, Canada
SWOP Behind Bars
SWOP Sacramento, USA
Whose Corner Is It Anyway, USA