The Topic of Sex Work: Still a Breaking Point

Source: Umut Güner, “Seks İşçiliği Meselesi, Hala Bir Kırılma Noktası,” (“The Topic of Sex Work: Still a Breaking Point,”), 15 January 2014, 

The People’s Democracy Party, Şişli Municipal Council pre-candidate Şevval Kılıç evaluated the topic of sex workers’ demands in regards to their profession, health and security problems, and the importance of creating employment opportunities for the trans community.


What kind of problems are sex workers experiencing in Turkey? In other words, can you please describe the concept of “Sex workers’ civil rights issues”?

Even though sex work looks like it is regulated in our legal system, the majority of sex workers fall outside the registered sex work industry and this subgroup is left open to illicitness and exploitation. The law, instead of protecting sex workers from exploitation and mistreatment, criminalizes them. As a result, discrimination against sex workers is being fostered. I think the only way that sex workers can benefit from democratic rights is if sex work is considered as a legitimate form of employment. The increasing trend in religious conservatism is another threat, because sex outside of marriage is considered adultery according to [Islamic] religion, and this especially angers the conservatives. Although they cannot call this adultery as easily, they oppose sex work as it is against morals or they consider all sex workers as victims. This negative image that is formed around sex work blocks both the recognition of sex work as a form of employment and the process of seeking civil rights. Even amongst many leftist, feminist, rights and labor groups, the topic of sex work is still a breaking point.

Sex workers’ identity profiles are changing. Are their problems changing in tandem as well? In other words, do the problems of trans, gay, and heterosexual sex workers differ from one another?

Up to now the politics of sex work have always been carried out around the discourse of biological women; however, this expression lacks competency in this day and age. The concept of sex workers should include all gender expressions. Different violations of rights and problems should be analyzed and evaluated in regard to each particular group. I believe this will also dissolve the rhetoric of oppression that sex work results in degradation and exploitation of the woman’s body.

How can we differentiate between transphobia and the discrimination and violence that sex workers are experiencing? Can we say that trans sex workers are subjected to more torment and bad treatment? If yes, is it possible to say that the main problem is not sex work but transphobia? 

I would differentiate both but would not compare them. Discriminatory attitudes toward women are already embedded in this region. The difference between an innocent and an impure woman is a clearly defined boundary.  In the case of trans-women, as a result of the discrimination they experience in employment, they are often forced to participate in sex work, and this in return fuels transphobia. But it became a little bit like the “the chicken or the egg” question. Both fuel one another; they experience discrimination because of their trans identity and the fact that they are only recognized as sex workers multiplies the discrimination.  I think that these problems will decline dramatically the day that everyone who wishes to pursue sex work as a form of employment can do so without rights violations and trans individuals who do not want to be sex workers are provided with other career opportunities.

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