Guest post: Does anyone else notice that linguistic legerdemain?

Originally a comment by Josh Spokes on “We hope discussions on trafficking would not disproportionately focus on sex work”.

The reversal of meaning that’s happened to the word “stigmatizing” in this context is disturbing. I think it’s worth unpacking. I also think well-meaning people are accepting a perverse use of the term because it’s become de rigeur. Please reconsider.

“Stigmatizing sex workers” in a harmful way has always been understood to include things like:

  • calling women whores and streetwalkers
  • jeering at prostitutes
  • treating them as unrapeable
  • Trying to sweep them away like untidy garbage (you know, like how we do the homeless)

I think most of you would agree that this is a sensible, ordinary use of the term.

But look at how it’s being used here, by contrast:

  • Advocating for an end to the conditions that force women into prostitution
  • Calling the sex trade what it clearly is: Exploitative, and almost always paid rape. (Notice the “almost always” before you comment, anyone, because I won’t be nice if you gloss over it for a chance to ‘correct’ me)
  • Urging other liberals not to ignore the rape and exploitation of the vast majority of women in prostitution. Urging them not to sweep it under the rug because some more well to do Western women had a lark doing lap dances for money in a choosy-choice way

Does anyone still think that this is a reasonable way to frame “stigmatization” of prostitutes? Does anyone else notice that linguistic legerdemain, and how insidious it is?

I hope some people will contemplate this and change their minds.

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