Survivor or Laborer: How Human Service Managers Perceive Sex Workers?


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Regardless of primary population served, human service organizations are likely to come into contact with individuals who have been currently or formerly involved in the sex trade. In the United States, social workers have had a fraught history with this population, either treating them like delinquents or like victims in need of rescue. Sex worker activists in the United States continue to decry the negative treatment provided by individuals in the helping professions, even as harm reduction, the practice of reducing the harm of risky behaviors, has entered the service provision lexicon as an antidote to abstinence-only services. This article uses qualitative interviews with managers of human service organizations in the city of Chicago to determine how they think about their work with sex workers and how they perceive the proposed solutions to “fixing” the sex trade: abolitionism and decriminalization. Findings show that despite the dominant discourse of abolitionism in the United States, most of managers in this project believe full decriminalization of sex work will best assist their sex worker clients. Future research needs to understand how this finding holds in different settings and how this affects current efforts to advocate for decriminalization.

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