Ashley Judd’s Anti-Prostitution Crusade Angers Sex Workers: ‘You Are Harming People’
The actress and #MeToo trailblazer has come under fire from sex workers for her broad anti-prostitution platform.
Ashley Judd is one of the actresses at the forefront of the recent reprisal of #MeToo and the Time’s Up movement. Judd’s activism predates The New York Times’ Harvey Weinstein exposé that upended the entertainment industry, but she’s perhaps best known for her 2017 Women’s March speech and her work on the board of Time’s Up.
In 2011, Judd joined the leadership council of the International Center for Research on Women. At the time, the ICRW applauded Judd’s “passion for empowering the world’s most vulnerable populations—especially women and girls—and focusing on grassroots solutions to transform their lives.” The actress is also a chairperson of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project: Curbing Abuse, Expanding Freedom. Her Twitter profile proudly notes that she is a Global Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.
On Friday, the “feminist social justice humanitarian” promoted an event on Instagram, writing, “Join me LIVE in about 30 minutes from Paris, France for this powerful discussion on intersection of the #MeToo movement and prostitution.”
This is not a departure for Judd, whose anti-trafficking activism often seems to erroneously conflate sex trafficking and sex work. Judd also serves on the advisory council of Demand Abolition, which is “committed to eradicating the illegal commercial sex industry in the US—and, by extension, the world—by combating the demand for purchased sex.”
Daily Mail coverage of the Paris panel reported, “At the meeting women from across the globe who identify as ‘survivors of prostitution’ met to share their experiences alongside Ashley.” Judd captioned a post-event Instagram, “Proud as hell and fiercely humbled to stand with #survivors of #prostitution who are saying #MeToo.”
“Listen to my HERO Rachel Moran in this short video absolutely break it down,” Judd continued. “Decriminalize girls and women, Criminalize men who purchase sexual access (which is different from sex, which is mutual and consensual. And btw, the presence of cash is the proof of coercion).” Moran is an “anti-prostitution campaigner” who has previously contested Amnesty International’s call for decriminalizing the sex trade. In a 2015 New York Times opinion piece, Moran claimed that “prostitution cannot be disentangled from coercion.”
Judd’s social media was quickly inundated with criticism, causing Judd to double down on her anti-sex work platform. Kate D’Adamo, a sex-worker rights advocate and partner with Reframe Health and Justice, called her out, tweeting, “Congrats, @AshleyJudd, on your hard work trying to make #MeToo a space where those most likely to face and harm are unwelcome and unsafe. #sexworkerlivesmatter.” Judd eventually responded to D’Adamo’s thread, writing, “Hi, Thanks for your perspective. I disagree. I believe body invasion is indeed inherently harmful, and cash is the proof of coercion. Buying sexual access commodifies something that is beyond the realm of capitalism and entrepreneurship: girls and women’s orfices [sic].”
D’Adamo summarized Judd’s platform to The Daily Beast as, “All sex work is inherently harmful, and increased criminalization of the sex trade, focused on buyers and everyone around sex workers is the response.” She continued, “This perspective only works if you think about the sex trade as entirely divorced from ideas about sex, bodily autonomy, capitalism more generally, and the impact of policing and surveillance on communities of color. It also only works if you don’t listen to the people who would actually be experiencing what you’re advocating for.”
Reacting to Judd’s calls to criminalize “men who purchase sexual access,” D’Adamo countered: “We have the data—in places where they increased policing of only clients/johns, violence increased, the level of violence people were willing to endure before they reported it to police increased, and people end up seeing more clients for less money. It’s not a question mark anymore. This is willfully valuing an opinion over someone’s life.”
Unsurprisingly, real-life sex workers took issue with Judd’s numerous assumptions (she seems to be implying that all sex workers are women, and all clients are men) and assertions (that sex workers cannot give consent). @BrookeBrou was a vocal participant in the thread, tweeting, “You are harming people with your ignorant ideas about what sex work actually is.”
When reached by The Daily Beast @BrookeBrou, who asked to be identified by her Twitter handle, explained that, “I find [Ashley Judd’s] posts rendering a SW to her orifices incredibly disgusting. I mean, I’d never see a client who is like that. I’ve never even seen a client who sees me or other girls or any woman in that way. They understand we are real people with autonomy and intelligence.”
She continued, “What is apparent is that Ashley Judd is not only misguided, but also simple-minded. Her posts mix up a few different anti-SW perspectives—in some posts/events she’s staunchly abolitionist, and in her last Instagram post she mentions the Nordic model and hashtags decriminalization. Both of these stances are pretty different, so from my POV it looks like Ashley lacks the cognitive ability to fully grasp the complexity of both of these perspectives…Or she’s just too lazy to fully educate herself and listen to the vast number of SW voices and experiences.”
“Sex work is undeniably a complex structure, much like any kind of job industry,” @BrookeBrou added. “Ashley Judd’s position only allows for people who are victims of trafficking or were victims of poverty to share stories of assault. It doesn’t allow for SW to say they still love doing SW but sometimes the job can be tough or complicated, but most of the time it’s great.”
“At best it sends a confusing, conflicting message when a celebrity uses the #MeToo movement as a way to support their anti-sex work crusade. At worst it gives everyday people wrong and harmful information about SW, while also missing the mark on what consent truly is.”
Another respondent, who asked to be identified as Alex, wrote in the thread, “These celebrities trying to use their platforms could at least do some fucking homework first… I really wish somebody like you would at least try to talk to sex workers before they try to understand the business just because they have a vagina. You couldn’t be any more further from the truth and seeing as though all of us are speaking up against you, we can’t ALL be wrong.”
Still, Kate D’Adamo told The Daily Beast, “I actually don’t care much about what happens to Ashley Judd; every minute we spend dragging her is another moment spent centering her.” She cited @thotscholar and Tamika Spellman, a peer advocate and policy fellow at HIPS, as examples of people who talk about sex work “and deserve bigger platforms.”
“I think feminists would do more to uplift voices of people whose lives are impacted by the conversation on sex work,” D’Adamo concluded. “Judd’s opinions on sex work should be given as much time and space as the Pope’s opinions on period cramps.”