Sex Work and the Law

Instructor: Jenny Logan
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

What is the work of sex? What legal, labor, and social standards construct and contest sex as a form of work? In contrast to most other forms of labor under capitalism, sex work throughout much of the world is highly regulated, if not outright criminalized. Whether dancing, escorting, hustling, or performing over webcams for subscribers at a distance, the so-called “oldest profession” is not only exceptionally liable to legal scrutiny with little to no concern for workplace safety and fair wages, it is profoundly entangled in moral and ideological discourses, often pitting feminists against one another and leaving the question of labor aside. What accounts for the intensive regulation of this particular industry? And how is the law itself culpable in shaping the ways we discuss sex work—whether to the detriment of sex worker health and safety, or as an instrument through which sex workers are able to advocate for their own protection and compensation? 

In this course, we will explore the contours and history of the legal regulation of sex work, in its many forms, in the United States and internationally, with an emphasis on sex worker-led advocacy and scholarship. Drawing heavily from Juno Mac and Molly Smith’s Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights (2018), we will ask what the law of sex work looks like, and how it operates, in a variety of contexts—from the regulated landscape of Nevada brothels, to demands made by exotic dancers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, to the “Nordic model” that decriminalizes workers while criminalizing clients. We will interrogate why, historically, the figure of the sex worker was such a potent threat to the ideology of contract following the abolition of slavery, and why, even today, the work of sex is so often polarizing among feminists. What links the regulation of sex work with the regulation of reproductive workers—from the “marital rape exemption” for wives, to rape exclusions in workers’ compensation laws, to the exclusion of sex workers from the protections of rape shield laws in criminal cases? Reading these threads together, we will explore the regulation of sex work as a form of labor discipline, a process of gendering, and a vindication of contract ideology. Throughout, we will be concerned to ask: what do sex workers themselves want? And how are they organizing for necessary change?

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 10 — July 31, 2024
4 weeks

$335.00

Registration Open

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