“End Demand” is a slogan coined by groups who advocate for the total abolition of all sex work. They want to do this by greatly increasing the number of people arrested on individual prostitution charges, and by intensifying the criminal penalties for either offering or agreeing to trade sex for money, even if both parties are consenting adults. If you think the End Demand strategy sounds a lot like the failed War on Drugs, you’re correct. It is also ruinously expensive, based on moral propaganda rather than fact, and it also destroys people’s lives for no purpose.
No one wants human trafficking, or for minors to be forced into prostitution. Yet conflating consensual adult sexual behavior with these real, terrible crimes only muddies the problem. Rape is wrong, and it is an extremely serious problem in our society, but too often women who file complaints and seek justice for rape are ignored or silenced. While their rape kits sit untested, End Demand-ers want to direct limited public resources finding and incarcerating people who did consent to sex, because they consented for the wrong reason?
The basic assumptions of End Demand are simply wrong. Most sex workers began sex work as an adult, and because of economic necessity, but not by force or coercion. Sex worker rights advocates do not say that sex work is a perfect job that’s always fair and positive. But you know what else isn’t a perfect job? Working at a fast-food restaurant. Driving for Uber. Cleaning toilets. Standing outside Home Depot, hoping a builder picks you up. Sex work is about labor, not about sex, and any labor system has the potential to be exploitive. But as income inequality rises, and criminal justice systems remain heavily tilted against the poor, arresting someone because they’re trying to pay their bills is both misguided and cruel.