Monishka Jhaveri is a junior double-majoring in sociology and philosophy, politics and law. She spoke to Pipe Dream about her ongoing thesis research, which focuses on the stances regarding the legitimacy of sex work and sex workers’ choices.

Pipe Dream: Can you give us a summary of your research paper?

Monishka Jhaveri: My paper delves into the two main positions in this discussion about sex work policy: the sex-positive stance and the abolition stance. The abolition stance is held by most government and nongovernment institutions. This stance sees sex work as a harmful practice that exploits women’s bodies for the benefit of men. Due to the violence enacted upon women through sex work, it should never be seen as legitimate and should be abolished. The second stance, the sex work position, or as I call the “sex-positive” position, demands the normalization and legalization of voluntary prostitution and sex work. It acknowledges the underlying reasons that give rise to the structural violence and coercion that sex workers face. It redefines and gives focus to the barriers that cause women to have to resort [to sex work].

PD: Why do you support the sex-positive stance in your research?

MJ: I think the reason why women and feminists take [the abolition] stance is due to the violence that women have to endure when practicing sex work. But this erases the subtleties that the sex work stance realized. These women have lives, they depend on sex work to survive, and to take it away is harmful. Criminalization only shifts the blame from pimps and clients to the government and law enforcement. By supporting abolition, you’re trusting these systems to know what they’re doing while the reality is they never have people in mind. They only perpetuate the current system, and in this system, it’s beneficial for women to be sex workers.

PD: Is there an example that you can give to support the sex work stance?

MJ: Yeah, in the book ‘’What’s Love Got To Do With It?” by Denise Brennan, one of the cases addresses the women from the Dominican Republic, Sosúa. These women rely on sex work as a way to escape their current situation by selling sex to white European and North American men to leave their city and find better opportunities. [Brennan writes,] “This sex-for-sale system circumvents the asymmetry of power that turns Sosúa into a space of opportunity rather than a space of exploitation and domination … by the foreign owners who have taken control of Sosúa.” To completely abolish sex work, which is in a way exploitative toward the white man, disrupts this ecosystem. It questions the agency of these women as a whole.

PD: What to you is the ideal law, the ideal kind of regulation for sex work?

MJ: To me, the point isn’t even that sex work is legal or not. It is to create a society [where] women [don’t] have to resort to sex work in order to provide for themselves. But in order to do that, you have to consider the sex-positive stance. To abolish is to take away the jobs that sex workers currently have. So, to get to this society that I’m speaking of, being pro-sex work is a stepping stone to get there. We’re already here: women already have to sell sex to survive. So ideally, there should be more social programs dedicated to protecting women who choose to engage in sex work. There should be free and easily accessible health care, such as Plan B, condoms, STD tests, etc. It should not be a chore to work in this field.

PD: Is there any kind of ending, or conclusion, question you want people to think about regarding this topic?

MJ: I think one thing to understand from this whole topic is criminalization only shifts the abuse and exploitation from pimps/clients to the government. And the question is not, “Should this one act be allowed?” but the goal is to create conditions for women to do what they want to do and not have to resort to sex work. The abolition stance is not nuanced enough. It’s too rushed of a solution to take care of all the problems women face.