Sex work, broadly defined, is the exchange of sexual services for money or goods, including housing, food, drugs, or basic necessities. It may involve working independently, with others, or for a third party. Individuals may engage in sex work regularly or sporadically. Sex workers include people of all genders, races, and ages. Some forms of sex work (the exchange of sexual conduct for money or goods) are prohibited by prostitution laws, while other kinds, such as stripping or erotic dancing, are regulated by laws such as zoning or alcohol laws, and are not criminal, per se.
Work in the sex sector/sex trades occurs in many different forms and settings, including street-based or web-based settings, escort services, and video camera work, among others. Of the forms of sex work covered by prostitution laws, street-based sex work tends to be the most precarious because it is the most public and visible and therefore the most subjected to harassment, policing, and criminalization.
This issue brief uses the term sex worker to describe a person whose labor or livelihood includes the selling or trading of sexual conduct for money or other goods of value. Using the term “sex work” reinforces the idea that sexual labor is work and supports the discussion of applying labor rights and concern for the conditions of work to sex work. However, while the term was adopted by persons within the sex trades as a self-designation, not everyone who participates in the sex trades identifies as a sex worker.
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