The Green Party’s Troubling Stance on Sex Work

Emily Pothast
Jul 29, 2016 · 5 min read

UPDATE: A response to this article from one of the national co-chairs of the Green Party of the United States has been posted below.

I know there are a lot of people who think voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party for president is the way to go this year. On one level, I don’t blame them. Just as I found the Democratic Socialism preached by Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary to be refreshing, I find the popularity of the Green Party an inspiring movement overall, even if I think there are flaws in the strategy of aiming for the White House before securing representation in local and state government.

On another level, I don’t think the Green Party is *quite* the Leftist utopia we’re dreaming of yet, particular when it comes to sex workers’ rights.

The Green Party platform on Social Justice and Civil Rights (link here) essentially states that it is in favor of erasing the work that many sex workers’ rights advocates have done for decades to destigmatize sex work:

We urge that the term “sex work” not be used in relation to prostitution. With the increasing conflation of trafficking (the violent and illegal trafficking in women and girls for forced sex) with prostitution, it is impossible to know which is which, and what violence the term “sex work” is masking.

An increasing number of experts think the percentage of choice prostitution is very small, leaving the larger number of women exposed to serious and often fatal violence. Much of what is commonly called prostitution is actually sex trafficking by definition.

Let’s unpack this a little.

1) Who exactly are these “increasing number of experts” who “think the percentage of choice prostitution is very small,” and who are they talking to to get this information?

Are these experts aware, for instance, of the well-documented “new prostitution economy,” and the increased destigmatization and normalization of digitally mediated sex work among millennials?

According to a recent article in Vanity Fair:

The most surprising thing about Miranda’s [sex work] story is how unsurprising it is to many of her peers. “Almost all of my friends do some sort of sex work,” says Katie, 23, a visual artist in New York. “It’s super-common. It’s almost trendy to say you do it — or that you would.”

So on the one hand, we have some “experts” who believe that entering into sex work by choice is uncommon, and on the other hand we have the direct experience of many young people telling us that this is simply not the case. It would seem that one of these contradictory perspectives must be at odds with reality, and since Vanity Fair actually bothered to ask some sex workers what they thought (and because their findings resoundingly match my personal experience of the young people I know) I’m curious how the Green Party came to this conclusion. Even if they countered with strong data on the prevalence of sex trafficking relative to “choice prostitution,” I still would not see this as a reason to ignore the voices of sex work advocates who have fought long and hard for that term as a way to define themselves.

2) According to the reasoning used in the Green Party platform, it is prudent to stop calling prostitution “sex work” because “Much of what is commonly called prostitution is actually sex trafficking by definition.”

To me, that doesn’t sound like an argument to strip sex workers of their agency to call themselves by their preferred nomenclature. That sounds like an argument to stop erasing the violence inherent in sex trafficking by calling sex trafficking “sex work,” or even “prostitution.”

Underneath this convoluted reasoning, there seems to be a belief that not many women choose sex work of their own volition, and even if they did, they shouldn’t, because patriarchy (also invoked in the GP platform.)

3) The belief that there are no women who choose sex work, or that their numbers are so few that their right to define themselves should not matter, is itself paternalistic and oppressive.

Let’s be clear: Capitalism makes us do all sorts of things we might not otherwise do. That’s why we all have jobs and (if we’re lucky) get paid money for the work we do. Painting sex work with a broad brush that conflates it with sex trafficking erases the experiences of thousands if not millions of sex workers who are just trying to make ends meet [no pun intended?!] in this increasingly inequitable economy.

There is much to be admired in the Green Party platform, and I can see why so many on the Left seem to think it’s a long-awaited utopia. But I also think Jill Stein and the Green Party would be well served to focus on sex trafficking, as well as the economic conditions that make sex work the only viable option for so many young people, but leave the erasure of the experiences of real people and their flimsy “expert” puppets out of something that is clearly outside their expertise.

As it stands, I can’t personally reconcile my feminism with the Green Party platform. I sincerely hope that changes in the future.

— — — — —


One of the national co-chairs of the Green Party of the United States has offered this response in the comments:

Hi Emily, thanks for writing. I am one of the national co-chairs of the Green Party of the United States, and we are aware of the fact that the language on this particular issue needs updating. We are right now attempting to convene a conference with SWOP to begin rewriting this.

It’s too late to get this change for the platform discussions this year, but we’re not going to wait for the 2018 cycle. We’re going to start getting state party co-sponsors to sign off on updated language ASAP. Our national convention is this week.

Would you like to participate in these discussions? Or do you have any questions? My Twitter is @andreamerida.

Andrea Merida Cuellar

National Co-Chair

Green Party of the United States.

Emily Pothast

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I write and lecture on art, media, politics, and belief. Contributor to The Wire Magazine, Art in America, Art Practical, and more.