Development, Sex Work and Sexual Exploitation

Until a couple of years ago, I’ve had a very narrow view of how sex is sold. When I was fourteen, I read a book called Sold, by Patricia McCormick and I’ve been fascinated with the industry and all of its complexities and implications since. In the last year I’ve been working to localize my attention on sex work to the Main South neighborhood in Worcester, MA. Right now I’m an intern at a local women’s shelter called Abby’s House Worcester, and I’m looking at the connections between sexual exploitation and homelessness. Before further introducing the direction I want this blog to go in, I think it’s really important to give some working definitions that can help to break down the differences between the many different kinds of sex work. These are only the words that I’ve been told are the most respectful and accurate by advocates and sexually exploited women in Worcester, but I’m also aware that these are probably not the words that a lot of people find most comfortable.

Sex work– Describes a wide range of selling sex and sexuality, including pornography, prostitution, in some cases stripping etc. The term “sex work” usually implies choice and autonomy.

Prostitution– The industry and the act of selling sex. It’s important to note that prostitution is a term that many people who sell sex don’t identify with, and there are varying forms of selling sex- the ‘streetwalking’ archetype is not the only way that sexual acts are sold. Online communities of selling sex, ‘call girls’, people who exchange sex for material goods or only sell sex to certain people etc. all fall under my working definition of the term prostitution. Another important clarification is the difference between the terms ‘prostitution’, which describes the act and industry, and ‘prostitute’, which is increasingly being seen as a degrading term.

Prostituted people/sexually exploited people– Someone who is selling sex, but not by their own choice and are usually not easily able to get out of the life. There’s been a shift from using the term “prostitute”, which many see as degrading, to “prostituted person”, or “prostituted woman”.

The life– From what I can tell, using “the life” to describe involvement and the experiences of selling sex is a localized Worcester term.

Human trafficking– The illegal buying and selling of persons. It’s often associated with sexual slavery, but extends to many more forms of coercion and industries.

Pimps– Someone who controls sex workers and profits off of them, often both physically and emotionally.

Johns– Someone (usually a man) who buys sex.

Sting– A police sweep of a known area where sex is being sold that almost always targets arresting sex workers.

Learning more about the current situation of Worcester’s sexual exploitation has been really interesting- from what I’ve seen so far it’s very unique from other typical models of prostitution. Over the next four blog posts, I’m going begin by  looking at the industry of sex work more globally and then move locally to the Main South neighborhood of Worcester.

I want to compare case studies of sex work with sexual exploitation, and look at the demographic makeup of both groups. There have been recent movements among sex workers in Latin America to unionize and legitimize sex work, and I want to look at the complexities of those initiatives and the possibility of their applicability in other contexts. Within Latin America, I also want to look at the impact that human trafficking has on sex work.

International aid often comes with conditions, and there’s frequently a clear quid pro quo between cracking down sex work and receiving international aid. To give a bigger picture of the global discourse around selling sex, I’m going to be using some UN reports, and analyses of international policies. I also think it would be interesting to look into the societal relationships within countries that have legalized prostitution.


Most of the articles that I’ve been looking through on larger news sites write about sex work as a degradation of society, which is unfortunately a common perception of sex work and sex workers. There’s also a common erasure of sex workers who aren’t women, which I’m interested to look more into. I’m going to be using writings from news organizations such as Latinamerican Press, BBC, and some articles from my Sex and Development class. My following posts will hopefully help readers to get a better picture of sex work both globally, as well as in the neighborhood surround Clark University’s campus.