Sex workers are real people, worthy of protection.
(@miakhalifa / Instagram)
Born in Lebanon, 27-year-old Mia Khalifa is a sports commentator, model and internet personality. She lives a full life with her husband and her dogs. She’s also a retired pornographic actress.
The virality of her career as a sex worker is shocking, considering she only gave three months of her life to the industry as a then 21-year-old. Although she stepped away from the job years ago, her name remains in the top rankings as her small collection of videos nears 800 million views.
It’s estimated that Pornhub has made over $50 million off of her content alone. Unfortunately, views don’t guarantee appropriate compensation in America’s exploitative pornographic industry.
Gen Z has recently resurfaced and propagated Khalifa’s past career, but for all the right reasons.
After telling her in-depth story to HERO Magazine, the internet-savvy generation has helped shed a light on the injustice through online platforms such as TikTok, where Mia claims she’s had a more welcoming experience in comparison to the criticism from her Instagram following. While Mia has been desperately trying to have her voice heard for six years, the aid of a younger demographic may have been the key.
When asked by HERO Magazine what rights she has over any content created during those three months, she responded “Zero. Over the photos, the videos, everything. They have full control over that, and they refuse to give me my domain name.”
Despite owning the trademark, the revenue she’s received from Pornhub adds up to an inadequate $12,000. And that’s pre-tax.
In a clearly unfair situation, why haven’t people been rushing to Khalifa’s defense? She thinks it has everything to do with the taboo surrounding the porn industry in general.
“People just write women off when they complain about being taken advantage of by saying she’s a slut or a whore, or, ‘Well you shouldn’t have said yes and had sex on camera in the first place, this is on you,’” she said. “But it’s so much more than that, and there is a level of intimidation underneath it that they just do not understand. I think that in any other industry, people would be fighting for the worker and not the corporation.”
The reluctance to speak out against these misconducts stems from our willingness to dehumanize these women. It’s easy to turn a blind eye when you degrade these actresses to objects for consumption rather than seeing them for what they are: human beings and professionals.
Gen Z has no issues speaking out, however. They’ve even launched a petition demanding justice for Mia Khalifa and it already has over 1 million signatures. After fighting for the Black Lives Matter movement, K Pop stans are now fighting for justice for Mia, as well.
So, in a new age with the powerful gifts of technology and young voices, what does the future hold for sex workers?
Well, for starters, it wouldn’t be too radical to look to other countries for guidance. Prostitution has been legalized in many European countries such as Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Not only has it become an essential part of these economies, but it has also eliminated a black market that perpetuates health concerns and sex trafficking.
According to the ACLU, there are lots of reasons as to why giving these workers more bodily autonomy is an overwhelmingly positive thing.
The debate of decriminalizing sex work isn’t new, however. It’s just riddled with puritanical high ground that has no place in legislation. The morality of the industry comes into question far too often, especially in a country where we cherry-pick which aspects of the practice are socially acceptable.
It is both pride and shame, both victimization and liberation. While the experiences may be varied and complex, the solution is straightforward. Sex workers, past and present, are human beings. Legitimizing their existence and giving them the power to self-govern their bodies without fear is an important next step in America.
Madeline Murphy is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She’s currently studying Journalism with a minor in Women’s Studies. Madeline can be found making Apple Music playlists, trying Nigella Lawson recipes and binging SATC. She’s fiercely passionate about social justice and the power of words.