Open Society Foundations
Challenging Dominant Narratives on Sex Work
Application Deadline: 15 June 2018
The Open Society Public Health Programme calls for letters of intent from organisations, informal groups, and networks in France, Spain, and Sweden to apply for funding to challenge dominant narratives about sex work.
Narratives about sex work shape the way we perceive and treat sex workers, the way we formulate law and policy on sex work, and the way in which sex work is policed. In Europe, narratives about sex workers have shifted significantly over the past decades. In the past, sex workers were typically construed as criminals, moral degenerates, or vectors of disease. Today, however, an increasingly dominant victim discourse shapes narratives about sex work. Overly simplistic characterisations of prostitution as violence against women, and a conflation of consensual sex work and human trafficking have led to equally simplistic and harmful laws and policies.
Efforts to eradicate sex work altogether by ‘ending demand’ for sexual services has become particularly prominent across Western Europe. Criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services and activities related to sex work, including advertisement and sex workers working together, has led to laws and regulations that push sex work further underground and increase stigma, but has little impact on the supply of sexual services. In France, a study from 2018 showed that the ‘end demand’ law in that country led to 42% reporting greater exposure to violence, while 70% experienced no change or even a deterioration in relations with the police. In Sweden, which pioneered an ‘end demand’ law almost 20 years ago, sex work is far from been eradicated. A government report on the extent of prostitution in 2014 showed an exponential increase in online sex worker ads from 304 in 2006 to 6,965 in 2014. In addition, the Swedish police has reported an increase in sex work venues as well as an uptick in younger clients of sex workers.
Victim narratives are also prominent in media and popular culture, which further perpetuates marginalisation and stigma. Depictions of sex work tend to be sensational and lacking in nuance, and the voices and experiences of sex workers themselves are often absent altogether. At the same time, art and popular culture present opportunities to challenge dominant narratives about sex work by introducing new voices and greater nuance.
Learn more and apply online.