International Sex Workers’ Rights Day

Posted on: 2 March 2021 by Dr Gemma Ahearne, University Teacher in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology. in Blog

Gemma Ahearne providing a tour around dance clubs
Dr Gemma Ahearne undertaking a tour around adult entertainment venues.

What is so special about the 3rd of March? Well it happens to be International Sex Workers’ Rights Day (and my birthday). It also marks 19 years of my own involvement with the sex industry.

This particular celebration can be traced back to 3rd March 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India despite attempts from prohibitionists to stop them. The event was organized by Durbar Mahlia Samanwaya Committee a collective of over 65,000 sex workers, more details can be viewed on the Durbar website.

Each year sex workers and activists organise protests, lectures, art shows, and raise awareness of the work being done to fight for the rights of sex workers globally. Covid presents an urgent need to support those selling sexual content, find out more in the Sex Workers and Covid 19 blog.

Gemma Ahearne giving a talk on sex workers in prison and stigma.

Being based in the School of Law and Social Justice solidifies my passion for pursuing social justice with sex workers. Those working in the sex industry have diverse needs and requirements, but what they share is the stigma that society reserves for those who have transgressed the boundaries of socio-historical notions of ‘respectability’ and ‘decency’. Much of the violence and discrimination that sex workers experience is underpinned and legitimized by this stigma. The media is often a vehicle for this deviant identity, with sex workers presented as being ‘dirty’ and a contagion, or as victims who must be forcibly saved.

My Ph.D interrogated the experiences of women sex workers in prison and used poetry and creative writing as a research method. Hearing the raw and authentic voices of marginalized women is important. Sex workers are presented as inherently ‘vulnerable’ in policy yet simutaneously often have that vulnerability erased in the criminal justice system. There are no bad sex workers: just bad laws.

Gemma Ahearne Craftivism Barbie workshops

I have facilitated Craftivism Barbie workshops where students ‘played’ with the ideas of regulating women’s bodies and demonstrated a strong awareness of how to theoretically account for the bodies and experiences of excluded women. The photos here depict dolls that the students adapted to show messages in support of women’s bodily autonomy and rights. One doll holds a sign saying “still not asking for it” with students denouncing the victim-blaming attitudes to sex workers who experience violence, the other doll has a sign saying “£20 a dance” with students commenting on how dancers’ worth is not the price they charge for a service in the club. Students have a critical and impressive recognition of the need for sex workers’ rights.

I am a passionate advocate for creative and innovative pedagogical approaches, and have a commitment to public criminology. You can read and subscribe to my criminology blog, which includes a wealth of sources on the sex industry:

Image of Dr Ahearne delivering a walking tour to a group of people

Gemma commissioned by FACT Liverpool as part of the Real Work exhibition

Dr Gemma Ahearne delivering 'Sex Work City Walk', commisioned by FACT, in 2019.

SOCI349 Crime, Justice and the Sex Industry

I am proud to have designed my research-led module SOCI349 Crime, Justice and the Sex Industry as part of our undergraduate courses. This is an innovative course that guides students through the various facets of the sex industry whilst engaging critically with policy, law and the lived experience of sex workers.

To find more details about the module, please visit one of my other blogs on Crime, Justice and the Sex Industry


Dr Gemma Ahearne is a University Teacher in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology (SSPC) and leads a number of modules including SOCI349.

You can contact Gemma via email, twitter or her blog.