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We’re having the wrong conversation about sex work, and it makes Rush Limbaugh happy

In the United States, sex work has been illegal since promiscuous ladies still got Scarlet Lettered. But countries are moving towards legalizing the world’s oldest profession—and many women’s rights advocates aren’t happy about it. Just this month, the European Women’s Lobby called on the EU to make the act of buying sex illegal.

To get a handle on the legal sex work debate, we have to ask: just who do we protect by criminalizing sex work? Voluntary sex workers, the victims of human trafficking—or perhaps the strange brain babies of sexism? Many feminist advocates try to push that question aside by considering all sex workers to be unwilling victims. A European Women’s Lobby spokesperson told the BBC that “the most important thing to understand about prostitution is that imposing sexual intercourse with money is a form of violence.”

Generally, we see exploitation as the byproduct of bad governance, not as “violence.” After all, bust out your Dickens and you’ll find that when we don’t regulate industry, we end up with the abuse of workers’ human rights. Some advocates argue that there is no difference between sex work and other trades; sex work is a job, just as much as a spot on an assembly line. Jo Weldon, former sex worker and owner of the New York School of Burlesque, comments in her essay “A Sex Worker Reflects on Research:”

The one things workers talk about the most, and the one thing they show ...