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Some celebrate “sex work” as an inherent human right and, in particular, as a women’s right of sexual expression and an arena in which women can exercise disproportionate control over men.
In a world where everything is for sale, activities such as lap dancing, which were once viewed as oppressive to women, are now accepted as mainstream leisure opportunities.
At the same time there was widespread revulsion at the murder of five young women working on the streets of Ipswich in 2007.
This combination of increased visibility, normalisation and brutal violence has revitalised a debate about how to respond to prostitution and the sex industry, about whether sex workers are criminals or victims, and whether the industry should be tolerated, reformed to improve women’s lives or totally opposed as the institutionalised oppression of women.
The debate on “sex work” has divided the trade union movement.
While the GMB has tried to organise women who work in lap dancing clubs, in 2009 the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Women’s Congress voted against a motion which supported the decriminalisation of the sex industry and the unionisation of sex workers.
Some contemporary campaigners go beyond arguing that “sex work” is a job like any other and argue that “sex work” is actually superior to other jobs that are available for women.