There is no neutral position on whether sex work is work
The latter interviewee went on to explain that, in practice, members of the organization were pragmatic: they focused on helping victims of trafficking rather than those who voluntarily engaged in sex work, so their opinions didn’t matter to their work. They ultimately stayed out of the debate.
Not much has changed in the years that have passed. There are always a lot of organizations that seem like they don’t know where they are at, or try to hang out all over the place at once, or just do their best to avoid the conversation. This tends to be justified in pragmatic terms: by striking the right balance, they avoid both the Puritan fanaticism that is sometimes associated with opposition to sex work and the controversy that would certainly come from an endorsement of decriminalization. In addition, it also has the advantage of isolating anti-trafficking organizations from potential changes in government policy. If the laws governing the sex trade change, it is less likely to harm your relationship with the government if you do not have a clear position.
These calls for pragmatism are often linked to funding concerns. Many governments favor faith-based organizations with a long history of charitable work, and therefore award contracts and funding to established organizations with politically “secure” profiles. A good example of this broader dynamic is the Salvation Army’s position as the UK government’s preferred service provider for the National Referral Mechanism, which deals with suspected cases of trafficking. For charities and service providers, proximity to government and a reputation for neutrality can be a major competitive advantage in an environment where non-governmental organizations struggle to survive. For example, the Salvation Army replaced another organization, the Poppy Project, which closed shortly after.
In addition to concerns about funding, I have also been told that “staying out of this” allows organizations to focus more effectively on the needs of victims without any “distractions”. According to this logic, to abstain from the debate on sex work is to take morality.
“To stay out of it” means to become a spectator
There’s a lot more going on below the surface. One of the main problems with these calls for “neutrality” is that they reduce political and personal issues related to the status of sex work to an intellectual abstraction. “What to do with sex work” becomes a hypothetical moral question that may seem personally important but carries no real weight. The claim that staying neutral allows organizations to focus on the “real work” of victim services reinforces this approach.
Yet this understanding of the problem is anything but neutral. He accepts the anti-sex worker premise that abstract questions of morality and specific views on feminism are able to outweigh concrete safety concerns. In doing so, he argues that the political debate on sex work should not be centered on sex workers‘ livelihoods, their safety and their rights as workers, but can also be about what ‘we’, as a society, let’s think we are “good”.