In a place like Dallas, most of us just assume that sex work is a thing that happens here, in back-alleys and strip clubs. Of course, the actual reality of sex work in our city is much different, but it is rare that we are blatantly confronted with its existence. That is, of course, until the eXXXotica convention announced its arrival to Dallas with a massive billboard on the Dallas North Tollway, among other advertisements.
The event has been planned for months, and this week, the Dallas Women’s Foundation came out in strong opposition against the event. As Foundation President and CEO Roslyn Dawson Thompson told The Dallas Morning News that the organization opposes the eXXXotica event because “there is a huge correlation between pornography, sex trade, violence against women, and trafficking.” When you consider the thousands of women who willingly and autonomously engage in sex work every day, though, this rhetoric is as offensive as it is outdated.
First, it is nigh impossible to determine the extent of sex trafficking in the United States or any other country. Many statistics collected on the issue are vastly inflated, and come from organizations that don’t always practice the most scientific of methodologies. As retired sex worker Maggie McCall wrote in The Washington Post last year, “statistical malpractice has always been typical of prostitution research.” She further notes that “the incentive to produce it has dramatically increased in the past decade, thanks to a media-fueled moral panic over sex trafficking.”
It is true that sex trafficking does account for the majority of reported human trafficking cases, but sex work and human trafficking are very much not even close to the same thing. We will never know how many hotel maids, agricultural workers, and restaurant employees are trafficked into the country to work, often in horrendous conditions for unlivable wages. But that issue is not nearly as sexy and morally polarizing as sex work, in which actual, real trafficking victims — not just consenting sex workers — are frequently hauled off to jail for prostitution.
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And that happens right here in our fair city. The Dallas Police Department, as part of their Prostitution Diversion Initiative, is instructed to treat prostitutes as “victims” instead of criminals. When they are arrested, they are offered participation in a 45-day diversion program in exchange for reduced or dropped charges. A 2013 analysis by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition found that the Initiative was a success, but only in that it helped sex workers access crucial services, like healthcare and feeding programs. Of course, considering that the many sex workers on the street live in poverty, these interventions likely would have been a success even if the attendees of the PDI were not exposed to whorephobic rhetoric that blames them for the “effects of high-risk sex” on their john’s family.
This mentality, one that Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings has now co-signed, is rooted in an incredibly problematic opposition to sex work of any kind. For many people who share the Foundation’s belief, sex work of any kind is demeaning, because women couldn’t possibly enjoy sex enough to want to do it for money. In contrast, a 2013 analysis of actresses in pornographic films found that women in the industry had higher self-esteem than women who were not. Perhaps more notably, they were more satisfied with their own sex lives than women who don’t do it in front of a camera.
It is true that Texas is very generally a sex-negative state, which likely contributes to this mentality, which many sex-workers would describe as “whorephobic.” Most schoolchildren aren’t required to be educated about condoms, pornography, or anything other than the basic “don’t have sex” talk in the curriculum, and you couldn’t even buy or sell sex toys without calling them “novelties” until 2008, for fuck’s sake. As such, it’s really no surprise that a Dallas organization is clutching its pearls as hundreds of consenting adults plan to diverge on the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center with all minds on sex — casual, committed, or otherwise.
There is no doubt that sex trafficking and violence against women are problematic in Dallas and everywhere else on the planet, but setting your sights on an event that encourages consenting adults of all walks of life to come together and learn about sex, pornography, and the industry is aiming at the wrong target. As well-intentioned as these concerns may be, the eXXXotica Expo isn’t the problem, and neither is pornography or any other kind of sex work engaged in by women giving their enthusiastic consent.