Body PoliticsSex & GenderStrength in Struggle

Black Women Sex Workers Deserve Respect, And Protection Too

March 10, 2022

In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act – collectively known as FOSTA-SESTA – in an effort to combat online human trafficking. 

According to Blavity, under the Trump-approved law, sites ranging from Facebook to sex directories like CityVibe became responsible for allowing content that seemed to facilitate sex trafficking.

Unfortunately, at this big age, America still can’t tell the difference between consensual sex work and trafficking. So the law has led to as much – if not more – disruption to the livelihood of sex workers than it has to the illegal sex trade. And it’s actually made sex work more dangerous by removing the ability sex workers had to pre-screen potential clients or even share reports about people known to do harm to sex workers, Prism reports.

For women of color, particularly Black women, the ongoing criminalization of sex work compounds a host of other issues, including a history of sexual violence that can be traced back to slavery, when the sexuality of Black women was “deeply embedded in the formation of capitalism,” as professor and researcher Rokeshia Ashley writes, due to the fact that the children of enslaved Black women would, in turn, become a sellable commodity as slaves. 

Following the abolition of slavery, many Black women turned to sex work due to a lack of employment options. But there are records as far back as the 1920s and 30s of women engaging in sex work as an artistic expression or even to fulfill their own sexual desires. Unfortunately, that did nothing to remove the negative connotations associated with their work. 

The stigma around sex work remains the driving force behind its criminalization in America. It has also created an environment that bolsters police-orchestrated sexual violence against women, more so for “Black women, who are over-policed, impoverished, and live in racially segregated communities, are marked as prime targets,” says Amnesty International

As the industry has shifted to the internet for safer and sometimes more profitable work options, Black women have remained disproportionately impacted by racial capitalism. This became even more glaring during the pandemic when in-person or “full-service sex work” became almost impossible, and sex workers were not granted access to the same relief funds as other freelancers and business owners. 

“The fact of the matter is that when we talk about racial capitalism, race, the size of your body, your body type—all of that is going to affect what kind of money you have and what level of clientele you have,” says Chicago-based sex worker and advocate femi babylon.


As the world marks the 21st anniversary of International Sex Worker Rights Day, it’s time to shift the dialogue to not only decriminalizing sex work, but to destigmatizing it as well, in an effort to create safer and more equitable conditions for the women who view themselves as “daughters, mothers, and wives; as workers; as pleasure-seekers and givers; and as religious and spiritual beings.”

Image credit: Jennifer Marquez