Emerging Trend: English For Sex Work Purposes

Get ready for a new type of English for very special purposes in London: according to the Guardian Education section, there is now class which offers sex workers, many of whom are immigrants, the opportunity to learn a range functional language useful in their profession. (TESall.com spotted this gem of an article before I did.) Not unsurprisingly, many sex workers face exploitation by bosses and clients and may be at a disadvantage in various negotiations.

The Guardian interviewed “Alice”, who is an ad hoc English teacher, a sex worker and also a post-graduate student (in post-colonial theory no less!). The idea to organize classes occurred to her when she herself was selling sex and realized that “some of the migrant women she worked alongside, both those in debt bondage and those working independently, were unable to talk their way out of sex acts they did not want to perform” or to insist that, for example, the client use a condom. She sometimes ended up giving impromptu English lessons as they all waited for bookings.

I have to say I find this extremely bizarre. There is something undeniably humorous about imaging an EFL class to improve the negotiating skills of sex workers, but I do think there is a serious side to it which should not be ignored.

Of course, the idea that your language skills improve your negotiating ability is a topic I’ve posted about here and here. And while the dynamics of the sex work industry (and why people remain in it) do boggle the mind, lack of English language skills may be one very real factor preventing some sex workers from moving into different work, or in fact leading to their exploitation. I feel certain that learning English will help in some sense…but I wonder if providing such classes plays a role in legitimizing not sex work itself but an industry build on something like human trafficking?

Find The Guardian Education section article here.