The Green Party’s Problems With Sex Workers, and Why It Needs to Matter


Atheists and skeptics have provided some great commentary in the past couple of weeks Jill Stein’s anti-science crankery. It’s much needed: Stein has been let off the hook for far too long as someone who may, at worst, be kind of naïve, but is basically decent at heart. But her attempts to pander to anti-vaxxers using the well-worn “I’m just asking questions” dodge, in addition to a truly bizarre rant alleging that WiFi is destroying our childrens’ minds, has made a lot of people look askance at her.  Even Dan Arel, who had previously supported her, finally threw up his hands in disgust.

But something has gotten lost in all the delightful fisking of Stein’s anti-science fear mongering, something which is at least as harmful, if not more: Both Stein and the Green Party have lousy positions on sex work.

I really became aware of the contrast when I wrote a tweet in response to New York Daily News writer Shaun King:

The response was that I suddenly got swarmed by Stein supporters demanding that I prove that she was anti-science. The part about sex work barely made a ripple. Sometimes silence can speak volumes about your values.

What Does the Green Party Believe About Sex Work?

The Green Party is very straightforward about their ideology regarding sex work. It’s right there in their platform:

We urge that the term “sex work” not be used in relation to prostitution. With the increasing conflation of trafficking (the violent and illegal trafficking in women and girls for forced sex) with prostitution, it is impossible to know which is which, and what violence the term “sex work” is masking. No source in existence knows which forms of prostitution comprise forced sex and which comprise free will or choice prostitution. Forced sex is rape, and it is a crime. An increasing number of experts think the percentage of choice prostitution is very small, leaving the larger number of women exposed to serious and often fatal violence. Much of what is commonly called prostitution is actually sex trafficking by definition. The Green Party calls for a safer world for women and girls.

I want to emphasize the first line of that passage again: “We urge that the term “sex work” not be used in relation to prostitution.The term was coined in the late 1970s by Carol Leigh, a longtime activist and sex worker herself. In other words, the Green Party is opposed to speaking about a marginalized community using the language created within the community itself and broadly embraced by its members.

That’s representative of a larger problem with the Green Party’s policy towards sex work: There’s no sign that they’ve consulted with actual sex workers about what their issues are and how they should be solved.

Brit Schulte, writing on the sex work blog Tits and Sass, gives a very thorough and exacting breakdown of why the Green Party’s platform is not only misguided, but an endorsement of violent policies against sex workers. I strongly recommend that you go to the site and read the entire piece, but I think this cuts right to the heart of the problem with the platform’s stance:

“With the increasing conflation of trafficking (the violent and illegal trafficking in women and girls for forced sex) with prostitution,” the GP platform continues, “it is impossible to know which is which, and what violence the term ‘sex work’ is masking.”

It absolutely is possible to know which is which, but that might require talking to actual sex workers, something the GP USA seems uninterested in doing. The Green Party stance on sex work demonstrates that sex workers are excluded from party policy dialogue. It also takes agency away from both consenting voluntary workers and trafficking survivors. It implies we cannot speak for ourselves, and we can. The platform ignores the damage the conflation of voluntary sex work with the term ‘human trafficking’ does to both consenting workers and trafficking survivors. Arrest, jail time, prison sentences, open records in Human Trafficking court—this is violence, and yet it’s what the GP USA calls safety.

The GP USA should know that even if the police manage to find actual victims of trafficking, rather than consenting adults engaged in sex work, in the course of their sting operations, their so-called rescue methods are carcerally violent. Trafficking survivors are thrown in cages just like voluntary workers, exacerbating their trauma, rather than being given the mental health care and exit resources they need. The purported threat of trafficking is used as a justification for the arrest and imprisonment of both trafficking survivors and consenting workers.

Why Does It Matter?

I’m not a sex worker, and I never have been, so some people might think that this is just moralistic grandstanding on my part, one more excuse to bash Stein and the Greens. But I think that this says something really fucking important about the Green Party and their values. Concern for sex worker rights is one of those things that I read as a marker of a person or organization’s character. When you’re surrounded by progressives, it’s relatively easy to stand up for a bunch of trees, or condemn racism, homophobia, or misogyny; all those things are assumed to be an inherent part of progressive agendas. No matter how much progressive groups fuck up the execution, any one of those issues is considered an essential part of left-wing identity.

coexist bumper sticker

Sex worker rights have made incredible advances in the last thirty years, but they still don’t have the universal acceptance among social justice activists that queer rights or feminism do. One of my biggest frustrations about left-wing thought is that you can more consistently find pro-sex work journalism in Reason than in The Nation. As much as I despise Reason‘s worship of the “free market,” they are more likely to let sex workers speak for themselves and critique the rescue industry than any major left-wing publication. On the left, sex work is considered an issue that’s up for debate — a  debate that usually takes place without contributions from the people whose asses are literally on the line.

So when a group that’s supposedly committed to social justice and equality takes a stand on sex work without consulting people from that community and supports policies that are more in line with what law enforcement organizations want than what actual sex workers want, it sends up a red flag. It says a lot about how far they’re willing to go in fighting for disenfranchised people. It tells me whether they’re more interested in a good bumper sticker motto than actually fighting for justice.

If the Green Party won’t do the legwork to bring actual sex workers in to consult when constructing their policy, then why trust them to fight for any other disenfranchised group?  The way that they’ve handled the sex work issue is one built on upper-class paternalism, not people who are helping get marginalized voices heard. And if they’re willing to use that approach with strippers and escorts, you can be sure that they’re willing to use it with others.

In fact, this does return back to the issue of Jill Stein’s pandering to anti-vaccine and anti-GMO causes: Both of thoseare largely prioritized by white, upper-class liberals. They aren’t big causes among people who are broke and powerless. For the most part, they have other things to worry about. Berkeley, where I live, is thick with educated, well-off white people and anti-GMO bumper stickers. I promise that’s not a coincidence.

My Double Standard On The Green Party & Jill Stein

Inevitably, someone will look at this and condemn me for my obvious hypocrisy. The Democratic Party, after all, hasn’t been good for sex workers either. Their politicians have been every bit as happy as Republicans to erase all distinction between “trafficking” and consensual sex work. They’ve supported carceral approaches to sex work that are destructive to sex workers and their communities. Most Democrats have, frankly been shit on sex work issues.

So Chris, aren’t you a hypocrite? Aren’t you holding the Green Party to a double standard?

To which I say: FUCK YES, I have a double standard for Stein and the Green Party. And I will continue to do so.

Stein and her supporters have been promising us great things. They’re not recruiting followers by telling them that the Green Party is just going to be the Democratic Party with a new paint job, a lower budget, and a shakier infrastructure. The Green Party is supposed to be revolutionary. Jill Stein is campaigning on the promise that she’s going to change everything. She is going to be the kind of President that I believed in when I was eight.

They’re promising to be better, and therefore, I expect them to be better if they want my vote, or even for me to take them seriously. As long as those words are in their platform, I’ll only be able to see them as another bunch of bullshit artists catering to the privileged.

Photo by msmornington

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The Green Party’s Problems With Sex Workers, and Why It Needs to Matter

11 thoughts on “The Green Party’s Problems With Sex Workers, and Why It Needs to Matter

  1. 1

    I wouldn’t call it a double standard, as much as holding people to the standard that they set by their own words. If you claim to be the “most progressive” then that’s the standard you should be held to. And yeah, I’m with you that the Green Party generally and Jill Stein specifically aren’t worth much of anything in practice, whatever you think of them in principle.

  2. 2

    The Greens here are very much in the sway of the European Greens who helped shove the so-called “Nordic Model” down everyone’s throat. There is a powerful element in what calls itself the left that would do with sex workers pretty much the same things as Lenin and Mao if given the chance. Their position on this subject is an abomination cooked up by a 1938-era pact between religious conservatives and radical feminists. The party platform shamelessly throws sex workers’ rights under the bus, supposedly in the interest of protecting them, when the real agenda of Swedish Solution backers is the abolition of all sex commerce at whatever cost to the millions of people around the world who depend on it for sustenance. Nothing is so revealing of the blind classism of the phony left than this cynical attack on a marginalized group mainly because their existence is an ideological affront to a small but determined claque of fanatics. If the Greens don’t eschew them, you can bet I will never cast a ballot in favor of anyone or anything that carries their seal of approval. And BTW, I’ve got red credentials I doubt anyone who is likely to come at me over this could hope to match. Anybody else here got ancestors who fought in the Russian Revolution or were beaten to death by the KKK or risked prison to resist the draft during the Vietnam War? I’ve watched in horror for decades as the left in this country has become a debating society over the least important of issues while neglecting to address the daily injustices that have made life nearly unlivable for most everyone not already a member of the upper 1%. Maybe that’s a thing to be considered when drawing up platforms that enshrine discrimination against marginalized groups just as thoroughly as anything that came out of Cleveland.

  3. 3

    I have always been in favor of legalized prostitution. Now my position is changed to some extent. The main problem now is FORCED child prostitution. All prostitution must be the willing consent of an adult woman, nothing forced and not children. The next problem is the spread of such diseases as HIV and Hepatitis C. Behind all of these problems is our Christianized society, where sexual pleasure is considered evil unless approved by a minister, preacher, priest or some other who “gives God’s approval.” It is important to consider these basic problems before a truly human solution can be found and put in place.

    1. 3.1

      Honestly, I’m not sure what your point is. Everyone is against forced prostitution (aka rape). There are no groups out there advocating for it. That’s a completely straw argument. I feel like it’s not even shaped well enough to make it a straw man/woman/person.

      Second, there’s your claim, “All prostitution must be the willing consent of an adult woman.” What about escorts who are men or nonbinary? You need to do a little bit more work on who does sex work and what it actually represents.

      Spread of disease? Decriminalization of prostitution is an excellent solution. As is stands, there are many places where sex workers can be arrested for prostitution for carrying too many condoms. (These laws are typically targeted against trans women and/or women of color.) Criminalization of sex work aids transmission of STIs, rather than hindering it.

      As for the last — huh? Are you saying that we can’t decriminalize prostitution until we have our secular, atheist paradise? As long as we have sleazebags like The Amazing Atheist around, that’s just not true.

  4. 4

    “Sex worker rights have made incredible advances in the last thirty years, but they still don’t have the universal acceptance among social justice activists that queer rights or feminism do.”

    I’m no expert on sex work or sex workers, but I gotta ask . . . exactly how have the lives of sex workers (in the U.S.) improved over the last thirty years? Prostitution is still illegal in all but a couple of jurisdictions. This leaves workers subject to arrest for working, and removes them from all protections offered to other workers. They can be robbed, beaten denied their wages with impunity. I believe this lack of legal status is a major cause of the conflation of sex work with slavery.

    1. 4.1

      First of all, let’s remember that “sex work” is more than just full-service escorting. It’s an umbrella term that includes stripping, porn, professional domination, adult modelling, and many other things, both legal and illegal. The decriminalization of prostitution would be an important step, but it’s not everything.

      That aside, I think that sex workers have made great advances. They’ve built up networks and organizations to support their communities that are much stronger and more complex than in the 1970s or 1980s. They’ve been able to destigmatize their work to the point that they’re much more likely to be heard in feminist and progressive circles than they would have thirty years ago. In the 1970s, the mainstream feminist agenda with regard to porn and prostitution was simply to eliminate it all. Now, there’s many more viewpoints at the table.

      Sex workers have also successfully organized to change laws in the United States and elsewhere. In my home, California, sex workers fought successfully to change a law that forbade rape survivors from getting state funding if they had been assaulted while engaged in prostitution. And there’s been a lot of work to stop cities from using condoms as evidence of prostitution. So yes, there’s a long way to go, but a lot of progress has been made.

  5. 5

    “Honestly, I’m not sure what your point is. Everyone is against forced prostitution (aka rape). There are no groups out there advocating for it. That’s a completely straw argument.”

    What do you call sex trafficking? Is that not forced? I disagree that it is a “completely” straw argument. Just what exactly is your point??

  6. Mab

    Cheri Honkala has been Stein’s vice presidential running mate in 2012. She was a sex worker (Myth of a Welfare Queen, David Zucchino). Their bias against sex work as a term warrants some discussion, as well as their inability to differentiate always prostitution from choice prostitution. I believe that in their views on poverty and class, that they would call into question what agency and choice impoverished people have in a world of alienated labor, misogyny, transmisogyny, lack of healthcare (work at fastfood vs. sex work a choice?, woman says that body is already objectified without pay, so why not get paid? (The Stickup Kids, Randol Contreras), or the fact that sex work is normalized in trans-experience communities as a way to transition and sometimes modify for the purpose of more lucrative sex work (KIKI, Sara Jordenö and Twiggy Pucci Garcon)). The most productive conversation we can have that involves white men who are not sex workers talking about sex work is to critically analyze the systemic state violence of incarceration that is purported against sex workers and people of experience with sexual misconduct as well as and not limited to undocumented people, whistle blowers (Chelsea Manning), Black radicals, the poor and the mentally ill.

  7. 7

    Stein and the GP have put themselves forward to run for the highest office in the land, so any criticism of their platform is legitimate. But I do have to wonder why so many people are fretting over the policies of a fringe candidate who will be lucky to get %1 of the vote.

    1. 7.1

      Probably because there is a small but vocal movement to depict her as the One True Savior of the progressive agenda. I don’t think that we need saviors in any kind, whether they’re Bernie, Jill, or Hillary. But this particular issue has another aspect to it, at least for me: It’s considered legitimate among progressives to kick sex workers to the curb and blatantly ignore their issues. This is bullshit, and it shouldn’t be allowed. For allowing this passage to remain in their platform, the Greens should lose all claim to radicalism, just as they would if they they opposed unions or endorsed segregation.

  8. 8

    Chris, This news may interest you. The new laws will allow local police to tap sex workers phones and gather information to arrest their clients. When it comes to sex, the US is a police state bent on preventing individual privacy and choice. It may be a blessing in disguise that T. is working hard to convert its inevitable decline into an imminent collapse. Other than a few theocracies, no other country is as as rabidly puritanical, and those countries cannot impose their laws globally as they lack economic and military strength. I have lived as an expat for decades but feel pity for my fellow countrymen. Would live to chat with you by email Wayne

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