coercion, review boards

When Being Reviewed is NOT a Choice

terAlthough sex workers disagree as to the effectiveness of review boards, all sex workers agree that being reviewed should be a matter of personal choice. 

Because sex workers are diverse individuals, there are a variety of reasons why one might opt for a no review policy.  Some sex workers find public discussion of intimate moments to be commodifying whereas other sex workers find the online bragging in descriptive reviews to be distasteful.  However, the most important reason is because the discussion of intimate sexual acts is evidence of having once done sex work.  Because the life of review boards extends beyond the career of sex workers, there is always the potential that online reviews will compromise the future life/career choices of an individual sex worker.

Some review boards, most notably The Erotic Review, take away the choice of individual sex workers to decide for themselves whether or not to be reviewed.  To them, the right of the client to review supersedes the right of the sex worker to personal discretion.  This all-consuming power is based upon the myth that the threat of a negative review is the only thing that ensures that a client will receive quality service from a sex worker.  Not only does this inaccurate notion reinforce the stereotype that sex workers are inherently unethical but it also implies that sex workers cannot discern that providing quality service will result in increased business.

Because The Erotic Review will not allow sex workers to opt-out of being reviewed, some sex workers have taken creative measures in an attempt to be de-listed.  Recently, a sex worker deliberately created a “client” handle and submitted a fake review for herself, in the hope that breaking the board’s review policy would get her banned and, consequently, her reviews deleted. 

When The Erotic Review discovered that she had successfully written her own review in an attempt to be de-listed from the site, they refused.  As the sex worker keenly observed, with no penalties for writing fake reviews, it incentivizes others to also write fake reviews on their website.  As it stands today, by not upholding their own rules, The Erotic Review has not only discredited itself but has also diluted the quality and veracity of all of its reviews.  No one – not even clients and sex workers who rely on reviews for information and/or marketing purposes – can trust the reviews on The Erotic Review.  Now, anyone can write a fake review with impunity. 

However, to me, the most disconcerting part of the story remains the inability of sex workers to freely choose whether or not to be reviewed.  When the decision to be reviewed is made by clients and/or review board administrators, then it reinforces the stereotype that the sex industry is not only coercive but that it is also an unequal power dynamic which favours men.  Whenever the consensual sex industry upholds coercive stereotypes, then it becomes more difficult for sex work advocates to argue that sex work is legitimate work which should be decriminalized. 

Remember, the internet is a public forum.  Negative stories about the sex industry will inevitably reach the ears of anti-sex work groups who will use examples of coercion within the consensual sex industry to argue that sex work cannot be legitimate work.  When this happens, it not only sets back the cause of sex worker rights and decriminalization of the industry, but it also might prompt the powers-that-be to crack down on the sex industry.  There might be more efforts to curb sex work through stings against clients/sex workers and more regulations which impede freedoms. 

We should never forget that everyone in the sex industry is on the same team: clients, sex workers, and third parties.  If we are not working together, then we are working against one another.  When that happens, we all pay the price.

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