[PODCAST] Making Space: Some sex workers think they don't need saving
MANILA, Philippines – In the underground sex work industry, there are stories of abuse, but there are also tales of women struggling to be respected for their bodily autonomy.
The sale of sex is illegal under the 90-year-old Revised Penal Code, which holds that "women who, for money or profit, habitually indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct, are deemed to be prostitutes."
In 2003, the state adopted a more sympathetic view for prostituted individuals when it enacted the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, which saw people at the end of selling sex as victims. The Magna Carta of Women, signed into law in 2009, names prostitution as a form of violence against women.
This means that in the eyes of the law, people engaged in sex work are either criminals or victims.
In this episode of Making Space, Rappler's Michelle Abad speaks to Sharmila Parmanand, a PhD candidate for gender studies at the University of Cambridge who is writing her dissertation on sex workers in the Philippines. Parmanand argues that both perspectives on sex work in the law are problematic, as they deny people engaged in sex work from their political agency.
Parmanand noted that in her fieldwork interviews with over 100 sex workers in Metro Manila, many testified that they engaged in sex work as a rational choice among other precarious work environments like factories and house help, which were exploitative in other ways.
They said that the thing they feared the most was not their clients, nor their pimps, but the police. The police was "consistently" echoed as their biggest threat, Parmanand said.
Parmanand's research found that the highly stigmatized industry and the criminalization of selling sex has led to a distrust among sex workers and law enforcement, which leads to the reluctance to come forward when they are raped or abused. (READ: To cross coronavirus border, prostituted women abused by cops first)
The sex workers Parmanand talked to wished to be able to collectivize and advocate for themselves without stigma. These spaces, they hope, would also allow them avenues to report abuses when they happen, and respect their work when there are none. – Rappler.com
Making Space is Rappler's podcast on gender, health, education, social services, and everything in between. Listen to other episodes of Making Space on this page.