Victoria Hartmann, executive director of the Erotic Heritage Museum Las Vegas, is a clinical sexologist and certified mental health counselor with more than 15 years experience providing therapeutic and educational services at rape crisis centers, academic environments, medical centers and in private practice. She spoke with the Sun about sex workers and the #MeToo movement.
Do you feel as though sex workers have been included or excluded in the #MeToo movement?
While I was pleased to see sex workers included in this years Women’s March, as a whole, sex workers are still severely underrepresented in feminist movements and in the media, including the #MeToo movement. Some feminists, including Gloria Steinem, believe prostitution is rarely a choice. She has been quoted as saying, “I’ve listened to prostituted women and girls—and a few men—from Las Vegas to New York, from India to Australia—telling their personal stories of what made them risk body invasion by a stranger for money.” Just look at the language she uses to describe sex workers and sex work—"risk body invasion by a stranger for money"—which not only paints an inherent picture of danger of performing sex work, but also vaguely implies sex workers have no agency and are always victims. Sex workers are robbed of their agency at every turn. This mentality fuels the attack on sex workers that we see today. Sex workers who report sexual assault to police can be laughed at, ignored, accused of lying, arrested or worse—even when the assault didn’t necessarily happen on the job.
How can the #MeToo movement become more inclusive?
We as a society need to recognize our biases against sex in general, and more specifically examine how we perpetuate stigma against sex workers. We should support women’s choices—with their reproductive health, their sexual choices and their life choices. We need legislators who will support laws that decriminalize sex work. There is some strong evidence to suggest that decriminalization can protect sex workers, and all women, from violent crime. Rates of rape dropped dramatically after the state of Rhode Island decriminalized indoor prostitution for six years. In fact, the 31 percent drop in number of reported rapes is so significant that the researchers reconfirmed the data with three separate statistical methods. After Germany decriminalized sex work, rates of violence against sex workers in that country similarly decreased.
What are some misconceptions about sexual harassment and sex workers that need to be cleared up?
One of the largest misconceptions is that sex workers cannot be assaulted or harassed by the very nature of the work they do. In other words, sex workers are seen as at best offering a sexual service and by doing so, always assumed to be receptive to sexual attention, and at worst dehumanized into objects who have no human rights and no agency. Providing a service does not take away any person’s ability, or right, to consent or not to consent, to sexual activity or attention. Also, consensual sex work is not to be confused with sex trafficking, when people are forced into sex work by violence, threats or other forms of coercion.
Anything else that the public needs to know?
I’d like to see more of a conversation around pleasure. In Germany, where I grew up, the conversation around sexuality, even in my youth, was centered around pleasure. I have met several sex workers who’ve told me sex work brings them pleasure as well. Where are their voices? Sexuality and sexual activity seem to center around biology or power. While both obviously are big factors in the topic of sex, pleasure should have an equal footing of importance in the conversation.