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The term "sex work" was coined by long time
prostitutes' rights activist Carol Leigh as a
way to designate all those who work in the adult industry. What
sex workers all have in common is that they derive their income
from adult- oriented work, some of it legal and some of it not.
While all prostitutes are sex workers, not all sex workers are
prostitutes. What is the difference? In many cases, it is
difficult to explain the legal differences, differences that are
clear only to the courts and lawyers.
For example, while adult (porn) actors and
actresses make their living by having sex, just as a prostitute
does, the courts in California have ruled that as long as a
camera is present and the purpose of the sex is not for the
pleasure of the two parties involved but for the viewing
pleasure of a third person who is not present, this sexual
activity is protected under the First Amendment. If the sex act
is "live" in a theater, it can be considered prostitution and
not thus not protected "free speech." (Confused? You aren't
the only one!)
Many sex workers such as exotic dancers who have
sex with private clients do not think of themselves as
prostitutes. However, under the legal definition of
prostitution, they are. Even those who perform a "full body
massage," where the client is given an orgasm through manual
stimulation, are legally prostitutes. Because of the negative
connotation of prostitution in society, many men and women who
do this for a living do not want to be associated with the
"common street prostitute" who is typically portrayed as a drug-
addicted teenage run away with a pimp.
In fact, most people who work in adult
entertainment want to distance themselves from prostitutes,
because of the stigma associated with prostitution and because
prostitution is illegal in most parts of the US and still in
many parts of the world.
The laws which currently prohibit prostitution in most states (and countries) do not make a distinction between those who work on the street, those who are underage, those who are forced into prostitution, those who have pimps or those who work for themselves.
Sex worker rights activists know that there is a
stigma attached to prostitution and want to remove this stigma.
We are fighting for the rights of all sex workers, regardless of
how or where they work or how they perceive themselves. We know
that unless we can unite under a common goal, it will be very
difficult to achieve our objectives- to decriminalize all
consenting adult sex work and enjoy the same rights and benefits
as others do in our society in their chosen employment.
We believe that it is absolutely necessary
to distinguish between that which is work and that which is
slave labor, because we as sex workers know that there are those
who are forced into sexual activity against their will and must
be protected. This is NOT sex work- NOR is it prostitution. When
someone is FORCED into ANY TYPE of labor against their will,
it is slavery. This is already a crime and should remain so, and
those who "traffick" in persons in FORCED labor (whether it is
domestic service, picking strawberries, building houses, or any
other type of labor) must be brought to justice, and laws
against such slavery must be enforced evenly throughout the
The problem is that many so called "anti-
trafficking" organizations do not recognize a difference between
sex work and sex slavery. In their minds, it is one and the
same. Can you imagine if all non-marital ( and non-commercial)
adult sexwas categorized as rape, regardless of the consent of
both partners? How would we ever be able to help a real victim
of rape if all women were thought to be victims just because
they had sex and weren't married to their partner? And since
even a married woman can be raped by her husband, if she has not
consented to a particular sexual encounter, how could we help
those women who ARE raped by their husbands if we designate ALL
sexual activity as rape?
It would be impossible, of course. And when we
tell adult women who have chosen to engage in sex work
that they are victims of sexual exploitation, even when they do
not believe that they are, how are we helping those who truly
are victims of sexual exploitation? And imagine how a real
victim must feel if his/her emotional and physical pain is given
no greater importance and is said to be no different than that
of someone who chooses to engage in sex work? How insulting to
all persons who are true victims!
As you will discover from other pages on our site, we believe that there are better ways to help women and young girls who are the victims of "exploitation" than to give them an arrest record and put them in jail. It would be nonsensical to arrest the victim of a rape or assault or domestic violence to "protect them for their own good." It is very odd that some people believe that this is a proper solution for dealing with both victims of sexual slavery and those who choose to engage in sex work!
So here are the definitions- how and where they
work- of the categories of sex workers:
Prostitutes- since there
are numerous types of prostitutes, this is just the definition
of prostitution: (in most states) a lewd act for money or other
consideration. This may be worded slightly differently in each
state, but has the general meaning of the touching of breasts,
buttocks or genitals for the purpose of sexual gratification OR
arousal. Most states also include "other consideration" as
constituting payment for proof of a prostitutional transaction
(California courts have ruled that if someone mows your lawn and
then commits a lewd act, the mowing of the lawn constitutes
"other consideration" and therefore an act of prostitution has
taken place, so yes, if someone buys you dinner or a drink or
pays your rent or car payment and you have sex or just get the
other person sexually aroused, you are, under the law, a
Street Workers- prostitutes who ply their trade in public areas, usually standing on street corners or in front of buildings where their potential clients can find them. Upon making an acceptable negotiation with a client, the prostitute can either take the client to a nearby motel or other private room, or can take care of business in the client's car. Recently, a new variation of public sex work has developed. Inventive and highly motivated sex workers are plying their trade out of vans and small trucks, which they park in large parking lots (such as supermarkets) in anticipation of men, at the end of a work day, passing through on their way home. This allows the sex worker greater mobility and allows for a quicker get-a-way when the cops come around.
Another type of outdoor sex workers are those who find their clients at truck stops. Many truckers have a bed inside their truck cabins, which allows for privacy and thus lower overhead costs for the sex worker (no need to rent a room).
Prostitutes who work in public places are the most visible and the ones most often portrayed by the media as being totally representative of all prostitutes. Because they work in public areas and most of their clients are complete strangers, and because their work is illegal -which makes it impossible to report crimes against them- street prostitution is the most dangerous of all the levels of prostitution in the United States.
In countries where prostitution is not illegal and there are 'red light' districts, the crimes most often associated with street prostitution are less likely to occur. Police are able to patrol these areas and anyone who is abusive to the sex workers can be reported without the sex worker fearing arrest. Adult sex workers can turn in anyone who is trying to "pimp" underage young people, and are much more likely to report incidents of "trafficking." This can only happen when the police aren't your enemy.
The street worker is the most often associated with being a teenage run away, a drug addict, and having a pimp. However, there are street workers who do not fit that description at all. Some sex workers just prefer the outdoors to working inside. Anyone who has worked confined in an office for years at a time can probably relate to that preference.
In a decriminalized system, it would be possible for communities to regulate where street workers plied their trade and prohibit them from working in certain areas such as in residential areas or in front of churches or schools. There are laws which prohibit the opening of a restaurant on a sidewalk, and other laws which govern public commerce which could be applied to street workers as well. Further, it is not unreasonable for communities to demand that littering and tresspassing laws be obeyed by everyone, and that public acts of sex continue to be prohibited (which they are - whether or not money is involved). It is also not unreasonable to require that any home business not intrude into the lives of those who live in the area, through noise or inconsiderate persons patronizing the business, who park where they don't belong.
In some local Los Angeles communities, for example, small church groups meeting in private homes have become quite popular. The neighbors rightfully protest that these home/churches are inappropriate for their neighborhood, because the parishoners frequently park in spaces that belong to the neighbors, and there is noise associated with such churches (singing, Praising the Lord) that can be very irritating on a constant basis. If a neighborhood has any rights at all, it has the right to determine what can occur in its public places and shared spaces.
As long as the home/ church is not interrupting
life for its neighbors, there is not a problem, and the same
should be true for any other business, including home brothels.
If the neighbors would not automatically know what type of
business is being conducted in a home- because the sex worker is
being discrete and quiet- then it should not matter that it is
an adult business if the neighbors suddenly discover the nature
of the business through no fault of the sex worker ( i.e. he or
she is not outside in the nude meeting clients, and clients
don't arrive at all hours of the day and night or are drunk and
Pimps- defined by most US state laws as anyone who lives off the earnings of a prostitute (in full or in part). Usually portrayed by the media as a slick fellow who cons young girls and grown women into selling their bodies and giving him all the money. The reality can be far from that. A pimp can be male or female, old or young, good or bad.
For example, if a prostitute gives money earned from sex work to his/ her landlord, parent, child, significant other, friend, the bank or anyone else, the recipient is technically a pimp. Even if the prostitute willingly gives this money to another individual, the law against pimping is there to 'protect' the prostitute from 'exploitation.'
If the prostitute had decided to become an actor or actress, and gave his or her money to a manager or agent (or landlord, parent, child, significant other etc.), there are no laws to protect the actor or actress from similar 'exploitation.' It is believed by some people that anyone who becomes a prostitute is incapable of protecting him or her self, possibly because at one time prostitutes were thought to be feeble minded.
The pimp, therefore, must be an 'evil' person because they take money earned by someone who does not have the mental capacity to know they are being taken advantage of..... and so society must protect the poor, mentally defective prostitute from any relationship in which the other person benefits financially from the commercial sexual activities of the prostitute! This concept is so outrageous it is offensive, but unfortunately it is the prevailing view of most of society, of feminists and even other well-meaning individuals who wish to 'rescue' prostitutes from the clutches of 'pimps.'
Indeed there are unscrupulous individuals who take money from prostitutes against their will- including lawyers, police officers, courts and probation departments. And yes, there are people- men and women- who fit the stereotype of a 'pimp.' However, when someone takes money from another against their will, there are already existing laws to prosecute such activity. There is no need to create laws specific to protect the earnings of those who work in prostitution over the earnings of anyone else in other professions, especially if the adult prostitute willingly and voluntarily gives or pays a portion of their earnings to another individual.
Many well meaning persons think they should prevent prostitutes from having a relationship with a 'pimp' without knowing what a particular relationship entails or if the relationship is mutual and agreeable to both parties. Would anyone ever consider interfering in the relationships of the many actresses who get involved with totally unsuitable partners? And how should society prevent women from selecting potentially abusive husbands? Should there be some sort of governmental agency to sort out who, for its female citizens, is suitable as a boyfriend/ husband/significant other, to prevent unsuitable and potentially dangerous relationships? Clearly that goes well beyond what a government ought to do regarding the private and personal relationships of its citizens. Why then do some people feel it is their duty to stop a prostitute from having a relationship with someone, just because those people find the concept of a 'pimp' to be morally repugnant?
If there is abuse, fraud and coercion involved
(where all parties are adults), then the individual who is being
defrauded, coerced/ abused must have a right to go to the
authorities and demand that law enforcement put a stop to this
activity (although this is unlikely to happen as long as the
prostitute is an outlaw- in the current criminalized system).
Just as the police cannot barge into homes and arrest a husband
because the neighbors think he is being abusive, neither should
they be able to "intervene" in a prostitute's relationship with
someone they know nothing about. The police are reluctant to act
even when a wife reports her husband, although new laws mandate
the arrest of the individual(s) if, when the police arrive on a
domestic dispute call, they find that one or both parties have
been involved in violence. [It goes without saying that when
the person involved is a minor, different rules apply, but the
minor- if the minor is the prostitute- should NOT be
Most often, it is the laws which prohibit prostitution and situations in which the prostitute does not have any rights as a citizen that are most responsible for the proliferation of the coercive "pimp"- as percieved by society. The work itself does not mandate an abusive relationship with a parasite anymore than the marriage relationship mandates spousal abuse.
Just as the prohibition of alcohol in the US led to the proliferation of the mafia as we know it, prohibition of prostitution has led to a similar situation wherein some unscrupulous individuals have gained control of the working environment for some sex workers, who, because they are outlaws, cannot go to the police for protection. In some countries (and even in some places in the US) the police either are the pimps or act in concert with the pimp mafias. And then, because society does not want to hear about these problems and refuses to acknowledge consenting adult prostitution as viable employment, sex workers have no recourse whatsoever.
Brothel Workers- prostitutes who work in a building, house, apartment which is specifically designated as a place where prostitution takes place on a regular basis. A brothel can be an apartment jointly shared by numerous sex workers who only use the apartment for their work, or it can be a large building with many rooms specifically designed for adult entertainment.
In Nevada, there are brothels which are a group of
trailers joined together with a common area for greeting
patrons. Across the West, there are remnants of great brothels
which were mansions, palaces of pleasure. New Orleans once
boasted many streets filled with such houses, and these brothels
not only offered sexual entertainment but musical entertainment
as well. Many famous jazz musicians of the past got their start
by playing at these houses, which offered fine food, fine wine,
fine music and beautiful women.
There are brothels in every major city of the US- even though prostitution is illegal in every state but Nevada. Many brothels have operated under the protection of the local law enforcement officers, who exchange their protection services for sexual favors. (You can read more about this on our newsclippings pages)
The brothels of Nevada are often cited as a potential model for 'legalized' prostitution, which most sex worker activists oppose. Activists have nothing against brothels, but are opposed to having no other options for working in prostitution. Some sex workers do not wish to work in a brothel system. When there are no alternatives to working in a brothel, then brothel owners can impose working conditions on the sex workers who work for them- conditions which would be unacceptable for any other worker in other professions. You can read more about the arguments for and against legalization and/or deriminalization of prostitution and about the brothel system on other pages on our site.
Madams- Escort service owners-- are persons who supervise prostitutes or offer employment to prostitutes (management). Madams/ escort service owners can be male or female: madams can operate a brothel, a call girl/ call boy service, an escort service, etc. Under the law, a madam is also a pimp and a panderer. Pandering is defined as "encouraging a person to commit an act of prostitution." Because they work on commission, they derive their income from prostitutes, thus making them pimps.
Madams/ escort service owners are taking a bigger legal risk than the prostitute- who is usually only committing a misdemeanor. The madam and escort service owner are committing two felonies- first by "encouraging the person to commit an act of prostitution" when the madam/ escort service owner assigns a job to the prostitute to see a client, and the second one when the madam takes a percentage of the payment that a client makes for the services of the prostitute.
Although madams in legal brothels are not taking the same risks as those who work outside the law, there is overhead for the cost of operating the brothel, paying for security to protect the workers and the clients, for clean sheets and towels, etc. Typically, madams receive 40% of each prostitutional encounter. In legal brothels, this can even be as much as 50% or more, depending upon the arrangements the prostitute makes with the management (for rent, meals, etc). If a madam is running a call girl/ call boy or escort service, there are costs involved for advertising, the phones, and sometimes for drivers to take the sex worker to the assignment.
Escort services per se are legal, because theoretically the hired escort is supposed to "escort" the client somewhere. And yes, there are escort services which offer totally non-sexual escorting, but are very rare. The gray area makes it difficult for sex workers to know where they stand legally since often the local police require an escort service to be licensed and escorts to obtain a license as well. It essentially becomes a game between the cops and the sex workers, and unfortunately, in such a game, the sex workers will always lose (because the cops are going to keep their jobs no matter what they do!).
Since the internet has become such a popular way
to find clients, more sex workers are screening their own
clients so they don't have to pay the high percentage of their
income to a madam or escort service owner. Of course, they still
have to pay for the advertising services of whatever website on
which they post their ad, and many sex workers post ads on
Incall/ Outcall Workers- prostitutes who advertise (and usually work for themselves) who either have their clients visit them at their apartment or home (incall) or who visit their client at the client's home or hotel room. There are a variety of ways for sex workers who work this way to advertise- including on the internet, local weekly newspapers, monthly magazines, etc. Sex workers who advertise must screen their callers for undercover vice cops, as well as teenage boys who are daring each other to call a "hooker." There are many "lookie-loos" too, men who are not familiar with the protocols of hiring a sex worker and think they can bargain down the fees. Problems associated with negotiating with clients and screening calls are why a sex worker would prefer to work for someone else who does this for him/her.
Escorts- men and women who work for an agency which advertises in phone books, magazines, on the internet, etc. The escort agency advertises that it is offering the companionship of its' employees for a period of time, to "escort" the client to a function, event, out to dinner, etc. And escort services which offer non-sexual services are legal. (see the definition of "madam" above for more details on this topic)
Those employed by an agency are expected to be
available on a schedule established by the agency, and may be
required to use the services of a driver- someone who will drive
them to their date. The driver will ensure the ontime arrival of
the escort and wait for them outside the hotel, home, etc. The
driver will also be available if there is any trouble for the
escort, or if the escort does not leave the appointment within
the time agreed upon between the agency and the client. It is
usually the escort's responsibility to pay for the driver's
services, although some agencies pay the driver from the
agencies' commission. The commissions vary from state to state
and agency to agency. The best agencies to work for (agencies
are sometimes called "services") are those which do extensive
screening of the clients and have a large list of "known"
clients- those people who have used the service before and have
a good reputation for being fair, considerate and generous (and
not a vice cop!!!!).
Phone sex operators- persons who give "oral" sex
to clients who phone them- in other words, sex workers who talk
to the client in a very suggestive, sexually explicit manner
while the client (usually) masturbates. Since the client never
actually sees the person at the other end of the discussion, the
phone sex operator can give a description of him or herself that
is quite different from reality, and the client is none the
wiser. The sex worker does not have to be dressed, doesn't have
to drive anywhere to get to work, and can do other activities
while carrying on a conversation with the client. There
certainly are no sexually transmitted diseases to worry about
since no physical contact ever takes place. Older women who have
a young and sexy sounding voice can do this type of work without
regard to their appearance or their age. The only requirement
for working in this way is to have a large vocabulary of
explicit words and suggestions and the ability to know when the
client's 'buttons' have been pushed.
male prostitutes who work in any area of the prostitution
Call Girls/ Call Boys- people who work through a madam or for themselves- who have a list of clients - men (and women) who are known to them (not strangers) and the madam (or call girl/ call boy) makes an appointment with the client for (usually) a sexual encounter. If the sex worker does not work independently, he/ she may work for several madams so they can be assured of steady employment, as their particular qualifications may not be suitable for all the clients of one particular madam. For example, if a call girl is short, has long red hair and green eyes, she will not be suitable for a client who wants a tall, blue- eyed blonde, and vice versa. Since sex work is all about fantasy, clients are paying for their idealized type of companion.
Once a client finds the ideal (commercial) relationship, it is not uncommon for the clients of these sex workers to remain loyal to their sex care provider for many years. In the cases of long term commercial relationships, these often cross over the boundary of business and become friendships as well, although by nature of the origins of the relationship it is best for the sex worker if the client maintains the business aspect of the relationship, if a client still expects sex to be part of it. (The exception would be if the relationship develops into a love interest, and marriage or other long term committed relationship is the goal of both partners.)
Call girls/ call boys tend to be the most independent of all sex workers because they don't really have an employer and can make their appointments to suit their schedules. Working for the right madam can be very lucrative, and top- rate madams are highly sought after by those who want to be hired by the madam. (Contrary to the myth that such madams need to go out and seduce innocent young girls into the business, madams like Heidi Fleiss and the late Madam Alex of Beverly Hills, California, women schemed to meet them so that Heidi and Alex would hire them. If you had a client who knew either of those madams, you would beg the client to make an introduction for you! ).
Bar Girls- these sex workers find their clients by sitting at bars/ cocktail lounges and other places that potential clients frequent. Some bars will hire attractive women to sit at the bar so that lonely, single men will continue to buy drinks. Often, after enough drinks, the lonely single man is interested in much more than another shot of booze, and sex workers who work at the bar are more than willing to offer their services for the right price.
Working indoors and at specific locations is for many independent minded sex workers a much better option than working on the street or working for a service. It is possible to select your potential client by watching him at a distance for a long while before aproaching him, giving you time to "size him up." Sitting and chatting with him for a while also establishes his personality, and a skilled professional can spot a deadbeat (and a vice cop- often one and the same) a mile away. Perhaps for newcomers this might be more dangerous than working for an agency or madam, but over time, one develops skills that offer protection from a potentially dangerous client.
In-house prostitutes- are sex workers who are on call through a hotel, who work at the hotel and are referred to their clients by bellboys, concierges, etc. They may be provided their room(s) at the hotel in exchange for a cut (percentage) of their encounter. Sometimes in house sex workers will sit in the bar area of a hotel and find their own clients.
There are some major hotels which, in order to
discourage competition, allow undercover vice cops to conduct
sting operations at their hotels so that other sex workers will
avoid going to a known "hot hotel." The vice cops are well aware
that the hotel has its own sex workers and there is an
understanding that these sex workers will be left alone during
the sting operations. In exchange, the hotel provides suites and
room service for the vice cops so that unsuspecting "outside"
sex workers will not immediately know they are being set up.
While the hotel management itself usually does not require a
commission from the sex workers that it knowingly allows to
conduct business within its doors, the bell persons and
concierges do expect compensation. It follows that those sex
workers who offer the most compensation for referrals are going
to be the most in demand at that particular hotel.
Full Body Masseuses- people who massage a client's genitals at the end of a massage and bring the client to orgasm through manual stimulation. Sex workers engaging in this type of prostitution can either work for themselves- out of their homes or visiting their clients, or can work in a massage parlor. Massage parlors are perfectly legal as long as the masseuse does not touch the genital or buttocks area of a client's body- because those parts of the body apparently belong to the government and are off limits. The irony of giving a massage everywhere BUT the genital region is that, although one major purpose of a massage is to relieve stress- which an orgasm certainly achieves, the most stress relieving part of a massage is forbidden!
Of course, not all massage parlors offer the total
body experience, and certainly those who offer massage at a
resort or sports facility are not going to risk losing their
licenses by offering the total package, but it really is silly
to prohibit the best part of a massage- because of the moral
hang-ups of certain people in the community! Those people who
say that they are opposed to prostitution because of the
potential spread of sexually transmitted diseases are not being
totally honest because manual stimulation to orgasm is about as
safe sex as one can get outside of masturbation. Of course,
those people are most likely to oppose self-stimulation as well,
because they are generally against any type of sexual pleasure
if it is not experienced within the confines of a monogamous
marital relationship. We have no problem with those people who
feel that way, except when they try to impose their views on the
rest of us through legislation.
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Adult film producers
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