The Sex Work Decrim team focused on the importance of sex work decriminalization to highlight the ways in which criminalization and stigma contributes to the HIV/AIDS public health crisis in Massachusetts. This team produced a 25-minute educational film to contribute to the conversation around sex work decriminalization. The team then debuted the film at an organized symposium, complete with a panel of experts in the field to answer audience questions and create awareness about sex work decrim legislation.
The decriminalization of sex work is essential for public health initiatives, and this short documentary explores why from the perspectives of advocates, academics, and legislators. Produced in support of Massachusetts H. 1867, An Act to Promote the Health and Safety of People in the Sex Trade, GTZ MA Activist Academy’s 2021 Sex Work Decrim team aims for it to be a call to action for the Commonwealth and beyond.
Thank you to all who joined us for the DECRIMPACT symposium! Our goal for this event was to spark conversation and inform viewers about the fight to decriminalize sex work in Massachusetts. This event included panels with speakers addressing topics like public health and policy connected to sex work decrim and the lived experiences of current/former sex workers. We hope the community can check out our recorded Tea Time panel discussion, check out clips of audio from the Public Health and Public Policy panels, and view our documentary film exploring what decriminalization would mean from the perspective of academics, legislators, and former sex workers.
This panel discussed how the criminalization of sex work compounds barriers to access health, wellness, and healing. We wanted to center the term “health” in a comprehensive and holistic way that can encompass the totality of a sex worker’s experiences. Given the risk and vulnerabilities compounded by criminalization, sex workers benefit from receiving mental health care; however, we know that a constellation of individual, organizational, and systemic barriers limit care utilization.
Chauncey McGlathery speaks about how stigma creates communication barriers between marginalized communities and their health care providers.
“Stigma creates barriers, new barriers, additional barriers on both sides of the equation, right? So now, not only do you have a person who expects to be marginalized, who expects to be ignored, who expects her pain to be thought of as something we can tolerate — I mean, we have generations of physicians who believe Black people don’t experience pain at the same level. This is documented. There’s research that says this. We have generations of people with this experience. So you’re adding, anything that you add that creates more trust issues — whether it is perceived bigotry or discrimination, whether it’s based on race or gender or socioeconomic class or education, any of those barriers, it only extends the distance between the patient and the healthcare provider.
Shawn Vee identifies how the concept and legal protections around bodily autonomy in the US were never meant to apply to anyone besides cis, hetero white men, and continues to discuss to how the criminalization of sex work and the criminalization of marginalized communities feeds the prison system.
“You are an autonomous human being, you have the right to do whatever you would like with your autonomous body. But, that was never intended for certain segments of the population. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’. That didn’t mean me, as a Black nonbinary femme. That didn’t mean my cousin, as a Black trans woman. That meant cis, hetero, white males. You give everyone full autonomy and decriminalize sex work, you decriminalize sex work, what do you have to decriminalize next? When you criminalize everything that could possibly make a marginalized community better, their lives better, you give, you feed the prison system. They have bodies that they can enslave now, because ‘oh, we’re not gonna hold people in chattel bondage anymore, we’re gonna let them go’ but they never did. So all these things are connected, but we never think about them that way, because then we have to start looking at ourselves and examining our privilege”.