It’s International Whores’ Day. Let’s talk about why strippers need better labor laws.
Forty-three years ago, 100 prostitutes occupied a church in Lyon, France, for an eight-day strike. With the help of the Catholic Church, they, along with women in five other French cities, took refuge in protected sacred spaces and spoke out against police abuses of sex workers. Decades later, June 2 is still recognized as International Whores’ Day by sex workers’ rights groups.
This year, sex workers in the US — in cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City — will focus their protests on the recent passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA-SESTA. The bills purport to fight websites that promote sex trafficking, but in reality shut down online venues that allow sex workers to safely communicate with clients and each other.
Even venues concerned with legal sectors of the sex industry, like stripping, went dark because their owners feared punishment under the law, which made websites liable for the “promotion or facilitation of prostitution” by third parties. The platforms don’t want to wait to find out how broadly law enforcement will interpret the law, so they shut down rather than risk a prosecution. The threat to online community has brought dancers into sex worker activism in huge numbers.
Strippers have long occupied an odd position in sex worker activism, which has traditionally focused on criminalized sex workers who are most vulnerable to being arrested on prostitution or related charges. While some strippers have always been aware of the fluidity of boundaries between legal and illegal sex work, others reject the idea that exotic dancing even falls under the umbrella of sex work. But strippers have always been targeted by the same laws and lobbies that want to eradicate prostitution, and they plan to speak out on International Whores’ Day.