Sex Workers’ Stigmatization and Victimization

The stigmatization of all types of intimate workers, including sex workers and exotic dancers, permeates all areas of society. They are often viewed and treated as disgraced members of the community, while their work is considered to be degrading and going against the values that society has constructed as acceptable. Sex workers are further belittled and disparaged by the broader public’s use of such names as “prostitutes,” “whores,” and “hookers.” These names are used in informal settings, mass media, the political space, and research studies on the subject. In addition, the stigmatization can be noticed in the positioning of sex workers as perpetrators of the greatest ills in society. This construct has led to their well-being being disregarded and society lacking understanding of the need for unionization for sex workers.

To better understand the topic of sex work and other associated intimate services, it is crucial to provide distinct definitions for various types of workers in the industry. Thus, a sex worker can be defined as an adult that receives monetary or other compensation in exchange for consensual sexual services or erotic performances. It should be noted that the definition can refer both to regular and occasional sex workers. A prostitute is a similar term to a sex worker, with it being used to define a person who performs sexual services for a fee. However, it has strong connotations of illegal activity, criminality, and immorality. In addition, forced participation in sex work is associated with the term prostitution. Meanwhile, the terms exotic dancer and stripper are used to describe workers who perform dances that include removing clothes to provocative music. All the mentioned terms have a strong implication of immoral behavior of individual workers and the industry as a whole.

It can be argued that most workers enter the sex industry in order to earn a living. For many sex workers, sexual or erotic services, including dancing, is the only means of supporting themselves and their families. The rates charged by the persons in the industry vary depending on the multitude of factors, including their age, looks, positioning in the market, and location of services. Furthermore, some sex workers note that the social interaction of their work contributes to job satisfaction, and various long-term aspirations can contribute to the decision to enter the sex industry. Overall, earning a living remains the primary motivation to join the controversial industry.

The stigmatization and victimization of sex workers have resulted in numerous campaigns demanding decriminalization of the profession, improved welfare for workers in the industry, and unionization. It is argued that sex work is like any other regular job, and the rights and needs of sex workers should be respected. Bias against sex workers prevents them from accessing health care and housing and leads to exposure to unsafe and inhumane working conditions. Moreover, the lack of recognized unions translates into sex workers not being protected against exploitation in terms of wages and working conditions. Thus, there is a clear need for sex worker unions to be established as labor unions have a long history of positively impacting disadvantaged workers, specifically women. The current conditions workers are exposed to in the industry and their stigmatization justify forming labor unions within the industry.

The fact that governments and society continue to make laws and regulations that go against the rights of the sex workers without their involvement is undesirable in the modern world. Sex work is regarded as one of the oldest professions in the world, and society should admit that it is an important part of it. Individuals who engage in sex work are adults who have the right to make decisions that concern their health well-being. As such, there is a need for sex workers’ unions to champion their agenda and fight for their rights just like other recognized professions. Governments, therefore, should embrace measures aimed at solving the problems facing sex workers rather than criminalizing the profession.


Chun, Sarah. “An Uncommon Alliance: Finding Empowerment for Exotic Dancers through Labor Unions.” Hastings Women’s Law Journal 10, no. 1 (1999), 231–252. Web.

Open Society Foundations. “Clearing Up Some Myths About Sex Work.” Open Society Foundations. Web.

Pitcher, Jane. “Intimate Labour and the State: Contrasting Policy Discourses with the Working Experiences of Indoor Sex Workers.” Sexuality Research and Social Policy 16, no. 2 (2018), 138–150.

Vanwesenbeeck, Ine. “Burnout Among Female Indoor Sex Workers.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 34, no. 6 (2005), 627–639.

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