Discussion Guide: Sex Workers and their Current Fight for Legality in North Carolina

Format for Deliberation

Before the Deliberation

1.  Read this document’s Background, Shared Language, Expected Outcomes and Conversation Agreements section.

  • If you encounter words or concepts that you are unfamiliar with or have questions about, refer to the Shared Language section that provides some discussion and definitions of key terms related to gender and sexuality

2. (Optional) Review the sources listed in the footnotes of this document

During the Deliberation

  1. Shared Language – 5 mins
  2. Expected Outcomes and Conversation Agreements – 5 mins
  3. Introduction and Personal Stake – 10 mins
  4. Gaps and Solutions – 30 mins
  5. Reflections – 10 mins


From North Carolina Prostitution Offenses and Penalties

Prostitution is the act of “performing, offering, or agreeing to perform vaginal intercourse, any sexual act, or any sexual contact for the purpose of sexual or another gratification for money or other consideration.”

It is important to note that this law has only been updated twice in recent history: once is 2013, and the last time being 1919. As such, there is archaic language and traditional marital roles present within much of these laws. For instance, one can be charged with “patronizing a prostitute” with anyone “who is not his spouse.” Not only does this assume older individuals seeking sex workers are married, it assumes they are male. On top of those assumptions, it assumes they are heterosexual as well. Making the clarification of “vaginal intercourse” instead of simply stating “intercourse” clearly demarcates how some legislators define sex as vaginal intercourse between a man and woman. Additionally, even if the participants were heterosexual, it excludes anal intercourse from this specification. Still, the wording and referring to the readers as “his” indicates a misogynistic viewpoint that only men pursue prostitutes.

From Safer Sex Work – NC Harm Reduction Coalition

The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition defines a sex worker as someone that “provides sexual or sexual related services in exchange for money, drugs, other favors” explicitly as a form of income/work. This article addresses the myth that “all sex workers are women” or that “sex workers can not be raped.” In this page, the coalition also gives advice on avoiding STIs and date violence all while using common vernacular to explain their reasoning. 

Shared Language- 5 minutes

Language to Consider Adopting/Preferred Terms

  • Intercourse
    • Intercourse can be the emotional or physical acts of engaging in sex. It is not limited to vaginal intercourse and is not dependent on the participants’ gender or sexual orientation. 
  • Sex worker > Prostitute
    • Prostitute is a notoriously derogatory term for sex workers and is similar to “lady of the night.” It demeans their work with a socially negative connotation and falsely separates sex workers in categories between prostitutes (physical sex workers in cities) against pornography stars or strippers. 
  • Sex Trafficking versus Choice
    • While it possible that many sex workers acquired this profession via sex trafficking, there are many individuals that chose this line of work and being respectful of this choice is imperative to continue. 
  • Solicitor > John
    • While the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition refer to all sex worker clients as “John,” to avoid gendered language it would be beneficial to use “solicitor” or “client” instead. Calling all clients “John” ties back to the heterosexual myth that all sex workers are women and their clients are all men; both sides come with a range in genders. 

Dynamics to Consider

  • Many sex workers consider “prostitute” and “lady of the night” to be demeaning terms. These terms are also gender-exclusive which is why saying “sex worker” is preferred to the former options. Not all sex workers are cis gendered women, so it is imperative to use this distinction.
  • Despite the rise of technology, and the increasing use of platforms such as OnlyFans, we will only be discussing sex work when it comes to physical intercourse, stripping, and pornography. Although OnlyFans is new, its complex interface and user interaction are too expansive for this discussion. 

Expected Outcomes and Conversation Agreements- 5 minutes

Expected Outcomes

Given the complexity and religious as well as economic nature of this topic, the purpose of this forum is not to come to a formal agreement or declaration about any policies related to the legality of prostitution within North Carolina. Instead, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition will take ideas generated from this forum to be utilized in committee meeting discussions and planning for future political decisions and lobbying.

Conversation Agreements

In entering into this discussion, to the best of our ability we each agree to:

  1. Be authentic to our experiences and be respectful of others’ experiences shared.
  2. Be an attentive and active listener for all parties involved–whether or not you agree with their stance on prostitution.
  3. Be a purposeful and concise speaker. 
  4. Approach fellow deliberators’ stories, experiences, and arguments with curiosity, not hostility.
  5. Assume the best-and not the worst-about the intentions and values of others, and avoid snap judgements.
  6. Demonstrate intellectual humility, recognizing that no one has all the answers, by asking questions and making space for others to do the same.
  7. Be open to answering others’ questions to the best of your ability; however, be aware it is not your job to educate others.
  1. Critique the idea we disagree with, not the person expressing it, and remember to practice empathy. 
  2. Note areas of both agreement and disagreement.
  3. Respect the confidentiality of the discussion
    1. When referencing specific individuals, whether part of the sex work industry or not, no names or identifying remarks will be shared outside of this group
  4. Avoid speaking in absolutes (i.e. “All people think this,” or “No educated people hold that view”).

Introduction and Personal Stake- 10 minutes

  1. Who are you, how old are you, what are your pronouns, what do you do for work, and what do you hope to gain from tonight’s discussion?
  2. What about the legality of sex work is important to you personally and for our broader community? 
    • If willing, please explain sex work’s economic impact on your livelihood.
  3. What immediate issues, if any, do you see regarding sex work in our current North Carolina social sphere?

Gaps and Solutions- 30 minutes

Gaps (15 minutes)

1. Based on the background materials or your own personal experiences, what do you think are the most pressing needs related to the sex work industry in North Carolina?

2. Living in an idealistic world, what would sex work look like in North Carolina in the future if we adopt change?

3. Now more realistically, what goals do you think are most achievable in the short and long term?

Solutions (15 minutes)

1. What solutions do you think have the greatest potential for positive change in North Carolina? Do you think these solutions can be applied nationally? Why or why not?

2. Which proposed solutions do you think would have a detrimental effect and/or negative unintended consequences? Why are you concerned about them?

3. Many of these actions will require different levels and combinations of time, political influence, and broad institutional support. Do these differences factor into your priorities for change, and if so, how?

Reflections- 10 minutes

  1. What was your biggest takeaway tonight?
  • How do these conversations begin larger discussions in the political atmosphere?

2. What perspectives aren’t in the room that would be important to consider?

  • What perspectives would be best to lead these conversations on a legal floor?

3. Is there any other future step you would like to take related to tonight’s discussion?