Sex work can be defined as any form of employment that falls under the sex industry. Forms of this may include exotic dancing, prostitution, sex operators, pornography actors and actresses, and more.
In Michigan, prostitution is referred to as an act of offering, performing, or consenting to sexual conduct for payment. Solicitation, however, is the act of seeking sexual services for hire with the intentions of payment. In Michigan, both acts are prosecutable crimes.
“In Michigan’s current law … there are no protections for sex workers due to the illegality of the work,” says Rochane Barnes, an advocate for Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) of Michigan. “Because of this, many sex workers are often put in dangerous, harming positions. Our mission is to prevent this.”
In Michigan, although forms of sex work, such as exotic dancing is allowed, prostitution is not. According to Michigan Penal Code, Act 328 of 1931, this difference is set, due to the difference in participation in a lewd activity.
“For me, the difference between [exotic] dancing and prostitution is that a dancer teases a fantasy, while the prostitute actually makes that fantasy come true.” says Emory, an adult entertainment dancer in South Lansing. “So … because of this, it’s not like a bad thing — in politics.”
According to Barnes, because of the social stigma that surrounds the sex industry and occupations, such as prostitution, this prevents legitimization. Prevention of legitimization leads to no regulations, which can eventually lead to dangerous, and even demising, results; especially since many sex occupations overlap.
Lt. Chad Connelly, of the East Lansing Police Department, also informs of the overlapping of many sex work occupations.
“Although stripping is legal, prostitution is not. However, it is extremely important to note that there are people, whether men, women, and people of the transgender community, who engage in prostitution on the side,” he said.
Connelly continues by telling although many circumstances of these situations are different, many are done by force, abuse, or pressure of another being.
“Because I am a part of the law enforcement, I cannot give too much reasoning.” says Connelly. “But, the best decision for any person, sex worker or not, who is engaged in any type of interactions that include prostitutions or abuse, is to try to get out, and seek safety.”
“[For our project] the best thing we believe we can do is educate and decriminalize,” says Barnes. “We advocate to educate our policymakers and the public opinion on the harms committed against sex workers, and advocate for healthy and safer alternatives to lessen these [harmful] results.”