In the light of the recent global protests resulting from the killing of George Floyd in the United States, the conversation has rightly turned to the need for both individuals and wider society to engage in a moment of critical self-reflection to grapple with how we all contribute to systemic racism and oppression, and importantly, how we can begin to deconstruct this.

With this in mind, it should be incumbent upon all of those who object to and actively fight against racism to recognise that this societal poison runs rampant through the global commercial sex trade, and consequently, should be challenged there too. By this, at CEASE UK, we mean that it is no good to simply try to separate “good porn or prostitution” from “bad porn or prostitution” on the grounds of racism, but that both industries ­are fundamentally built on racist attitudes, stereotypes, and exploitation.

If we examine prostitution, for example, research in the US found that African-American women earned the least comparatively to their white counterparts (who earned the most) within escort-prostitution.

These women are not only economically exploited as a result of systemic racism, but prostitution also propagates and entrenches racism as punters seek out women based on their race and ethnicity to act out racist fetishes. When quizzed on his “preference” for different women, one punter in Amsterdam stated:

“The black girls are pretty much down for anything, and the Eastern girls are eager to please. You learn who’s good at giving blowjobs, and who to avoid. [Being with colored girls] is exotic in its way.

Racism underpins both the economic oppression within prostitution and also the social oppression, where punters can discriminate and objectify based on race, while paying the women less simply because they aren’t white.

This is also a reality within the porn industry. As our blog last week explained, and similar to prostitution, black women are often paid less than white women simply because of their race. Further to this, the porn industry thrives and profits from extraordinarily racist material, including titles such as: “Wife in the kitchen with a n***er”; “N***er getting pissed on in public”; “Sara Jay fucking her black slave”.

In 2019, “Ebony” was the 10th most searched for term on Pornhub (having risen from the year before). Looking at wider examples of racism, three of the other ten most-searched-for terms were “Korean”, “Asian”, and “Japanese”, the latter topping the list.

Evidently, racial stereotyping and categorisation play a huge part in shaping the content that is produced, as well as increasing the profits for Pornhub. The industry cannot simply be separated from its racist elements, because the industry is founded on this racism, and untangling the web of hate-speech, misogyny, and violence against women from different racial demographics would mean changing the very nature of the porn industry itself.

Both porn and prostitution industries function by utilising intensive sex, race, and economic class stratification to oppress and exploit the most marginalised and vulnerable in society, by capitalising on a toxic combination of their economic vulnerability and their pre-existing racial marginalisation. By doing this, exploitative pimps, punters, and porn producers can pay the women less due to their perceived “lower” status as women of colour, while simultaneously profiting from the fetishisation of the women’s race as a “unique market product”.

As one pimp in Amsterdam stated:

“The girls who work here are good at what they do, but [racial preferences and stereotypes] help get clients through the door. How do you say in real estate? It’s a buyer’s market.”

At CEASE, we strongly urge all of those who are rightly adding their voices to the groundswell of activism that seeks to challenge racist attitudes, to include the commercial sex trade within their critique. Racist stereotyping and exploitation is a central feature of these industries. It would be a moral and political failure to simply ignore the issue because it raises uncomfortable questions about the true nature of “sex work”. Do the women and men subjected to racist abuse within these industries not also deserve the same human rights as those outside it? At CEASE, we firmly believe that they do.