He explained that most research into sex work is drawn from samples of people leaving the profession or those in the criminal justice system, which fuels stigma.
“Most of the people I interviewed were just trying to get along in the world, but no one stigmatizes businesses that don’t pay a livable wage. This is a job on a spectrum of jobs they are willing to do, but ones they’ve tried before didn’t pay enough. They are trying to enrich their human experience and pay the bills,” Fowler said, adding that he did not interview workers who were being trafficked.
Stigma also limits access to resources.
“They can’t call the police if they get attacked or they must falsify their stories to doctors. From a narrative criminology standpoint, it’s our impressions that limit them. For example, digital sex workers generally rigorously screen potential clients, including asking for real names, banking information, and references from other providers. It goes against the cultural perception of sex work where a guy pulls up in a car and the worker gets in,” Fowler said.
“These workers are preemptively making sure they are safe. The ability to create a digital and virtual community that spreads information and best practices is crucial to them,” he added.
The impact of the pandemic is the focus of a chapter in “The Rise of Digital Sex Work.”
“There’s been an explosion of people using digital platforms for sex work. Porn is the new reality of an inflated cost of living. I revisited three workers and asked them to speak to changes since COVID. One worker used to do different types of sex work and then when the pandemic hit, they moved to video. They are making more money now sitting in their living room than they used to,” he said.
Fowler’s research reveals that sex workers want a seat at the table where policies and programs that affect them are formulated, but they are generally opposed to decriminalization.
“They consistently said, ‘Stop telling me and start asking me.’ They are a marginalized population so when regulations are passed, they aren’t consulted. The criminalization of sex work obfuscates the difference between victims and people who are agentically running their own businesses. They make money because this is taboo, but they are also speaking from a place of privilege,” he said.
Fowler’s research into digital sex work began with his doctoral dissertation, which described how sex workers use internet technology to circumvent traditional social institutions and create new resources for their community. He also focuses on deviant subcultures, particularly how they create and sustain culture in digital spaces to identify problems and address them. He has examined the subculture of incels and how they share perceived realities to bolster their ideology and how police use institutional language to absolve themselves of wrongdoing.
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