Sex Work in the Information Age
By Chevy Swanson, UWCR President
In the famous manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future” otherwise known as the “Unabomber's Manifesto”, Theodore Kaczynski made a strong claim that the bad parts of technology CAN NOT be separated from its good parts. I feel that this assertion is most strongly portrayed in the rise of internet-based sex work. For all the good that the internet does, it has brought with it a massive change to the predatory sex work industries. It is now easier than ever to to anonymously hire prostitutes. Ungodly amounts of porn available on demand for free; more if you pay. “Personal” sex work like live chats and premium Snapchats have been created and have hit the mainstream very quickly.
When talking about sex workers, you will undoubtedly hear something amazing: the sex work advocates on the left will all proudly speak to the virtues of the free market. In their eyes, sex work is the free market liberating women from societal standards, the question remains though, is the free market freeing woman to be themselves, is it liberating them? Not only is such work the opposite of liberating, but it might also be the greatest example of the failures of the free market. In this case, the demand for such a product has created a monster that ruins lives and must be stopped. Sex work is not liberating, it simply acts as a more stomachable version of human trafficking that we look away from. The best quality of the free market is that it gives people what they want. The worst quality of the free market is that it gives people what they want.
All sex work that I will be referring to from this point onward (except when otherwise noted) will be of the various pornographic forms. All of this sex work is built on a foundation of exploitation that few will acknowledge and even less care about. Not many people make a career as an independent sex worker, working without a larger company or agency, so I will also not be speaking specifically about those people.
Most females in pornography work under a contract. These contracts should be treated as the human rights violations they are. Women must consent to years of future work, often right after turning 18. To claim that anyone is capable of handing over years of future consent to sexual acts on their 18th birthday would be insane, yet it's normal and accepted that thousands of women do just this. Defenders of sex workers will say that the contracts have clear outs, or that the women can revoke consent anytime and that it is followed. While this is technically true, how could massive porn companies exist on a model that flies their contracted stars to a studio, puts them up in hotels, hires production staff, and just throws that money away if the pornstar decides she doesn’t want to degrade herself that day? Simply put, they can’t. They have put “reasonable” protections into these contracts that protect themselves and their pockets, but subtly force the consent of these women.
If they cancel, they can expect to pay back costs associated: flights, hotel, etc. They also shouldn’t expect a paycheck. This isn’t just something that affects last minute or “mid-performance” revoking of consent, this is something that applies to any future booking. These women may have forced financial ties to shootings weeks in advance that would cost thousands to cancel. Is this something that someone can afford to keep up for the length of the contract, or will there be many times in which these people’s arms have been metaphorically twisted? Even cancelation of the contract requires your future bookings be paid off. How long can one expect to do this if they can’t gather the insane funds needed to quit? The most common figure I have been able to find is a contract length of 7 years. Who can come out of 7 years of regular public coerced consent sex (another word for this is rape) with the mental fortitude to endure a full happy life?
These are just the dangers and evils that lie in the legal loopholes. Once we forget legality and look at the inner workings of the porn industry, things get far more dire. In an interview that one pornographic performer, Brittni Ruiz, gave to VT, she said that “It was torture for seven years, I was miserable, I was lonely, I eventually turned to drugs and alcohol and attempted suicide. I knew I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to get out.” Important details are left out until the last minute. A performer may not know what she will be doing until the day of (and let's not forget that saying no costs you thousands). Everyone is on drugs, either to cope with the realities of their situations or so that they can do acts that they would never convince themselves to do while sober. Famous psychological studies such as “Rat Park” and others make a compelling case that such rampant drug use wouldn’t occur in a healthy environment. The Guardian reported an interview with another pornstar, Lisa Ann, who claimed that drug use was the result of the practices in the industry. “A lot of this new pain comes from these new girls who have to do these abusive scenes, because that does break you down as a woman.” If the porn industry is liberating, then why are all these liberated women becoming doped up zombies “consenting” to be filmed being degraded, beat, and abused?
If the obvious rape implications of the legal operations weren’t enough, VT interviewed another pornstar, Jessica Stoyadinovich, who highlighted a much more vicious incident that occured. “That thing where you log in to the internet for a second and see people idolizing the guy who raped you as a feminist. That thing sucks. James Deen held me down and f**ked me while I said no, stop, used my safeword. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore.”
The advocates and defenders who fight for “sex worker rights” fight for society wide acceptance of the work, but fail to recognize that such action only acts as advertisement for these big manipulative companies. Such campaigns have no place in the conversation until the fundamental evils at hand are addressed. They will point at the top porn stars who appear happy with their situation, or to some person they knew who paid for college with a side gig in porn then go on to pat themselves on the back for making a better world for woman, but leave behind anyone who has been hurt, tricked, damaged, or raped by these predatory practices that lurk in all corners of this industry. “Taking back women’s sexuality” has come with an army of drugged up women being raped and ignored. Claims that this is empowerment or tolerance are outlandish garbage. Claims that paint the porn industry as a moral and positive institution are riddled with ignorance and such defenses only serve the interests of these large companies and studios by increasing the allure of joining. Worst of all though, bringing these points up with the ardent defenders of the industry results in a mad scramble to find examples that counter this narrative, as though the few people who have carved out a non-exploitive hole in porn make the great destruction of so many others worth whatever small victory they claim.
No regulation can address these problems without being bold enough to topple the industry as a whole. The fact of the matter is that these companies couldn’t exist without these practices. It would be impossible to run a successful large porn company that doesn’t exploit women, that doesn’t use loopholes to coerce consent, or doesn’t trick women into creating the most degrading categories of pornography. We should be willing to topple the foundations that these companies have built upon with regulation that dares to challenge the assertion that current practices are sustainable or moral.
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