Anthropologist and author Laura Agustin calls out the media for stereotyping sex workers

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      A vocal ally of sex workers has written a lengthy essay that, among other things, criticizes the media for reinforcing clichés about this business.

      Anthropologist Laura Agustin, author of Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry, writes: "Editors who append photos to articles on the sex industry use archetypes: women leaning into car windows, sitting on bar stools, standing amidst traffic—legs, stockings and high heels highlighted. Editors do this not because they are too lazy to find other pictures but to show, before you read a word, what the articles are really about: women whose uniform is the outward sign of an inner stain."

      This article, entitled "Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores", appeared on the Jacobin magazine website.

      "Similarly, when writers and editors use the clichéd language of a 'secret world,' 'dark underbelly,' 'stolen childhoods,' 'seedy streets,' and 'forbidden fruit,' they are not simply being sensationalist but pointing to the stigma: Here’s what this news is really about—the disgusting and dangerous but also eternal and thrilling world of whores."

      Agustin, who goes by the moniker the Naked Anthropologist, states that the media's handling of violence against sex work "reproduces stigma with variation according to local conditions"—at great peril to those who work in this industry.

      "In Vancouver, Robert Pickton killed as many as 26 between 1996 and 2001 before police cared enough to do anything about it," she writes.

      Agustin has often made the case that the media, authorities, and what she calls the "rescue industry" dismiss the possibility that many women make rational choices to become sex workers based on an examination of the alternatives in their lives.

      She's long argued that sex work should be viewed as labour and that prostitution laws are designed to control and stigmatize women.