A few weeks ago we posted a story about sex-workers rights, and some of the debate that is currently raging in the anti-sexual violence/feminist community
You can re-read the post here, or a quick recap of the issue: should activists “allow” sex workers to retain a sense of agency, or is the industry so degrading and dangerous that the feelings of individuals do not matter given the scope of the problem?
Well, the debate rages on…and now sex-work is back in the news in NYC.
According to an article posted on Jezebel.com, a former sex worker is being “unjustly punished for…revealing her past.”
The woman, who worked as a sex-worker and chronicles her experiences in performance art, and writing was recently removed from her job as an elementary school art teacher in the Bronx.
Although she is no longer a sex-worker, her decision to write about her past led to publicity, which of course led to the school having to make some sort of public statement. They chose to remove her from the classroom and place her on “administrative duty” pending a review.
While the author of the Jezebel article believes the school had no right to remove a competent teacher from the classroom solely for having participated in sex-work in the past, the comments attached the article vary considerably.
Some of the people seem to think a former sex-worker should not be allowed to teach children solely because it’s an illegal activity, and thus setting a bad example.
Other seem to think that sex-workers are likely to ‘taint’ their students due to their ‘deviant’ sexual history.
Overall, I think some really interesting points are raised by the article & the responses.
Although it’s rather unclear what type of sex-work this particular teacher engaged in, it seems possible from her comments that she “only” stripped while studying abroad in Mexico.
If that’s the case, I wonder if people will change their minds about her ability to be a role model and teacher.
Does stripping somehow seem more or less deviant than providing sex for money? (My guess is less ‘deviant’)
Does it matter that she began stripping by choice? Not out of true economic necessity or due to coercion/force?
Would people feel better about her past if she had been forced? (Again, my guess is yes)
Ultimately I wonder about the messages being sent by this entire situation.
Somehow it seems that shame is a necessary component for overcoming the stigma attached to sex-work, and that violence/coercion allows others to feel empathy instead of disgust when someone engages in sex-work.
While someone who engaged in sex-work due to violence should never feel shame, are we creating a new category of victimization by punishing those who were not forced?
I get the feeling that Ms. Petro’s long-term teaching career might be in jeopardy, and I have to wonder if sharing her story will change anything…?