When Kehlani dropped the video for “Can I” a few days ago, she didn’t just deliver another NSFW clip for the Covid-era, she also sent a powerful and important message in solidarity with sex workers.
In the video, Kehlani is shown watching various cam-girls and showering them with tokens to illustrate the fact that sex work is … well, work. The musician described the visuals as an “ode to sex work. honoring sex workers. uplifting their movement.” In the tweet below, she celebrates a number of trans sex workers included in the project.
At the end of the video, Kehlani highlighted a definition of sex work by the abolitionist Da’Shaun Harrison, which reads as follows:
“SEX WORK is a political term that covers and embraces: street-level prostitution, erotic dancing, camera work, adult film, agency escorting, sensual massages, dominatrix work, and all other occupations through which one sells their sexual(-ized) services to clients. It is a legitimate form of labor that must be decriminalized so as to function as a safe form of work for all sex workers. It is often the lives and livelihoods of those who do street-level work that is impacted by criminalizing policies and cultural stigmatization.
“Overwhelmingly, those folks are Black trans women, Black cisgender women, and other Black queer and trans people—including youth. Black people—as well as Indigenous people and other people of color—deserve to be able to perform sex work without any limitations or stigmas attached, and this means that everyone must commit to learning from sex workers about sex work and sex workers’ needs.”
In other words, sex work is labor and like any job, it should be safe and legal. Watch the video below and scroll down to find out more about the “movement” Kehlani mentions and how you, like her, can help uplift the cause.
Why should sex work be decriminalized?
The ACLU has outlined five key reasons to decriminalize sex work.
1. It would reduce police violence against sex workers. If sex work were decriminalized, sex workers wouldn’t fear arrest if they seek justice, and police would lose their power to use that fear in order to abuse people.
2. Decriminalization would make sex workers less vulnerable to violence from clients. Clients can take advantage of a criminalized environment where sex workers have to risk their own safety to avoid arrest. Legislation like SESTA/FOSTA banned many online platforms that allowed sex workers to share information about abusive and dangerous customers and build communities to protect themselves. Decriminalizing sex work would allow for better background checks, safer working conditions, and stronger support networks.
3. Decriminalization would allow sex workers to protect their own health. Sex workers often go without medical care out of fear of arrest and because the law doesn’t treat sex work as a real job, sex workers do not have access to employer-based health insurance.
4. Decriminalization would advance equality for the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ people of color, LGBTQ immigrants, and transgender people are more likely to be sex workers and current anti-sex work laws have dramatically increased their incomes. Trans women of color feel the impact of criminalization the most, whether or not we are sex workers. Police often press prostitution charges based on trans women of color based merely on clothing or condoms found in a purse. If sex work is decriminalized, police would have one less tool to harass and marginalize trans women of color.
5. Decriminalization would reduce mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The criminalization of sex work feeds the mass incarceration system by putting people in jail who are simply doing their job.
What can I do?
The coronavirus outbreak has been devastating for sex workers as they experience cancellations, job loss, and lost income, and the risk of infection — either via clients or through the prison system.
Donate to organizations like Decriminalize Sex Work, The Audre Lorde Project, and Collective Action for Safe Spaces. There are a number of other great resources listed here and a comprehensive list of emergency relief fundraisers here.
Don’t stream free porn. Pay for subscriptions through providers’ channels.
Demand the release of incarcerated sex workers. Learn more via the DECRIM Now campaign.