Book Review: Lia Scholl’s “I <3 Sex Workers: A Christian Response to People in the Sex Trade"

I Heart Sex Workers: A Christian Response to People in the Sex TradeI Heart Sex Workers: A Christian Response to People in the Sex Trade by Lia Claire Scholl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First, I will tell you what I know. This book gives a wonderful, accessible introduction to systemic oppression and anti-oppression work in general. These ideas are both critically important and really tough concepts… and this book is a great place to start, with straightforward definitions and examples to explain. Scholl also has some wonderful instruction to give on basic pastoral care: active listening, being truly present to someone, and helping to empower people simply by acknowledging their agency and treating them as children of God.

Now, what I don’t know. I do not have the expertise to say that the book accurately portrays sex work, or that it addresses the needs and desires that sex workers have for their allies. Only those folks who work in the sex trades can do that. I can tell you that a lot of what I read here is congruent with what I hear from sex workers. I can tell you that Scholl clearly loves the people she has worked with, whose lives she attempts to give a glimpse of here. I get a strong impression that their humanity and the complexity of their lived experience is being respected.

Scholl articulates her main point as this: Christians can be allies to sex workers by doing three things: fighting the isolation sex workers face, fighting the stigma sex workers face and being more accepting, open and affirming, and striving for economic justice in our society and world. At another point, she boils her thesis down even further: the only solution that works for every person in sex work is “acceptance and advocacy for increasing personal choice.” Because of this agenda, Scholl is able to invite to the table – with a fair amount of success, in my opinion – readers with a variety of opinions on the inherent moral rightness or wrongness of sex work. She does focus part of the book on those who want to leave sex work… partly because the social stigma that touches each person in the sex trade makes it difficult to leave if they wish to. But “rescuing” sex workers, especially from sex work, is not a goal of this book. Scholl centers her work around us all supporting one another’s agency and personal choice. She mentions those who like doing sex work. She contextualizes sex work as being like any other work, with a range of enjoyment, resentment and ambivalence among the workers in any field. She discusses at length the dangers inherent in sex work that come not from the work itself, but from societal treatment of it, like police misconduct toward sex workers, various legal models of sex work and how sex workers feel these models affect their lives, and the deep harm of and multiple layers of victim blaming. Scholl wants to improve the lives of those who engage in sex work by offering relationship, respect, and solidarity in fighting against unjust systems. Her focus is not on ending sex work, but on fighting systemic oppression that disproportionately affects both those who trade sex and the populations most likely to be in sex work.

Her focus, ultimately, is on embracing those in the sex trade as people who deserve “all the rights and privileges that come with being a child of God and created in the image of God.” (p.150) I believe she does real work here to unpack what it means to honor someone’s agency, resourcefulness and dignity… work clearly rooted in Christ’s admonition to love one another. I am so very excited to have this resource.

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Published in: on April 13, 2013 at 5:35 pm  Leave a Comment