Exit Services for Sex Workers

This is something I hear the Nordic Model parade bang on about all the time. I agree, exit services should be readily available and free at the point of access. They should be offered to everyone who wants to leave sex work. Doesn’t this sound brilliant? It’s something I have always wanted myself; a programme wrapped up in a neat package, so that when I enter, I get from A to B and then that’s it, I’ll stop being a sex worker forever! If this was a thing, I’d be travelling the country promoting it and perhaps offering it myself if I could. Sex work is crap and awful at times, the right to leave sex work should be an option. Wouldn’t it be nice if it came with a gift-wrapped bowtie too?

Exit is a difficult term within itself because you can not measure if someone has exited sex work. If you try and count like a revolving door then you will skew the numbers of those exited if I leave each week and then return. Also, if I tell you I’ve left and you’re guilting me into staying away from sex work, I will not tell you I’ve returned so you can’t accurately measure it. What if I stopped sex working 5 days a week and only did it near Christmas, or reduced to 1 day every 2 weeks, what then? What if I hang up the lingerie for 6 months and then an unexpected bill comes in and I work one afternoon – am I still a sex worker?

Why isn’t it so easy: Money

I have often said sex work feels like a trap because once you’re in, it’s extremely difficult to get out again. The allure of the money keeps you coming back and if you’re a drug user, the never ending cycle of money keeps you funding your habit without having to shoplift. Money makes the world go round; it’s what keeps us clothed, fed, housed and ensures basic survival. Basically, we can’t be without it. Once you become a sex worker, particularly a street sex worker, you become dependent both physically due to withdrawal and financially upon the money. When I worked indoors, I lost concept of money because the money I spent didn’t matter. I would tell myself ‘oh I can just earn that money back’. In your normal job, you budget ahead and get paid once a month, in sex work, every day is payday if you want it to be.

This isn’t simply just a financial problem, but your whole life may have been lived this way. You may never have worked in a 9-5 job or have spent decades living this way. You can’t just snap out of it overnight. My local sex work project runs groups on budgeting for basic things such as food shopping and your bills because this mindset runs deep. If like me, you’ve spent years worried about being skint or for others, living close to the breadline then the thought of being skint is what drives the urge to sex work to begin with. Even if you remove the financial need for sex work by replacing heroin with a methadone prescription, you have not removed the need for housing, water, gas, electric, food, clothing, furniture, transport etc. All of which have been previously resolved by sex work.

Unless you remove poverty, you will not remove the financial drive behind sex work. Giving up sex work is useless if you’re then going to live your life in abject poverty. It is usually that same abject poverty which resulted in becoming a sex worker to begin with. Why would you voluntarily walk into a life of hardship with harder solutions? Sex work isn’t the solution, but it is a solution. What is an exit service going to do? Removing a sex worker and providing them with basic housing and plonking them on Universal Credit won’t stop them sex working. How do I know this? Because this is the exact scenario of the majority of street sex workers and is one I found myself in. I was on UC and living in a hostel, but I was still working street.

Why isn’t it so easy: Drugs

Sex workers take significantly longer to enter and exit a drug service than other service users. Sometimes, this can take over a decade if not longer. Drug using sex workers also have some of the highest drug tolerances I have ever seen, and this is reflected in their methadone prescriptions. It is high because they can afford to pay for it and so the cycle continues. You quickly lose the buzz of heroin and you begin using simply just to feel normal and to function. In the end, you simply use heroin or crack just to stop yourself from becoming unwell; muscle cramps, projectile vomiting, diarrhoea, sweating through your sheets, unable to sleep, restless legs. Sounds awful doesn’t it? Heroin stops that from happening, and I assure you, you would take it too.

Sex work is caked with stigma, but even more so if you’re a drug using sex worker, you’re considered the lowest of the low by society, by your fellow sex workers and by your peers sometimes. However, as I wrote in a previous post, exiting sex work when you’re a drug user is incredibly difficult because it is that very same stigma that forces you to make close relationships with your fellow sex workers. You have no one else but each other when nobody else cares about you; when services refuse you help; or when you have nowhere to sleep that night. The stigma is so strong, you find acceptance within each other. Leaving sex work as a drug user isn’t just leaving drugs – it’s leaving your support network, your friendships, your sense of community and solidarity.

Everyone who knows a drug user or supports them will tell you that you can not force someone to quit drugs. You may beg, plead, force them into rehab or punish them but unless they want to quit for themselves, they won’t. Drugs still occur in prison, in hospitals, and have notoriously torn families apart as the addict beg, borrows, steals and does what they need to get by. People have had their children removed, split their families apart, neglected their children, damaged their own health and whatever else in the pursuit of drugs. They aren’t selfish, they’re addicted. However, unless they sit down and say right, it’s time to quit, they won’t. The motivation needs to be internal. Therefore, you can snatch a woman away from sex work but unless she wants to quit drugs, she won’t. You will however, end up snatching away her income, driving her further into poverty and desperation.

Why isn’t it so easy: Housing

Street sex workers notoriously have housing problems. In fact, when I was in the complex needs hostel, everyone was a sex worker. I met one lady who had been in and out of hostels for over 20 years. Simply put, when you are homeless, how the fuck are you supposed to progress? If you have no where safe to sleep, no where to call your own, to feel safe or plonk your ass at night and watch shit tele, what do you expect a sex worker to do but work for survival? Street sex workers in particular are vulnerable to exploitation by third parties who often offer shelter in exchange for money, who then may turn violent. Alternatively, they may live with an abusive partner and leaving them will leave them homeless.

Returning to exit services: are you going to house everyone? I hope you do, but even if you do, you still haven’t solved the issue. Landlords are notorious for kicking out sex workers and council associations are also hesitant. If we sex work from home, we are booted out for apparently running a business from our property. If someone makes a noise complaint and there are heroin needles in my bedroom, you’ll find me quickly back on the street again. Unable to afford private accommodation, you can easily find yourself weaving in and out of the system. Many sex workers say going to prison is a relief for them because it means they have a roof over their head, and that they are no longer chasing shelter each night.

I was shocked by those even with housing who would go out begging and sleep on the streets. I didn’t judge but tried to understand why they did this when they had somewhere to sleep. They told me that they felt safe on the street, it was where there friends and community are and they miss them. Although it’s not the life I live, it’s completely understandable that they feel a sense of belonging on the streets; a place they have called their home for several years perhaps. The issue isn’t them, it’s that society has made it so that they feel comfortable living this way, and it is preferable. Homeless people also deserve to have a sense of belonging and friendships too, even if they are unconventional.

Why isn’t it so easy: Services

Accessing services is notoriously difficult for sex workers. So difficult in fact, services have developed to bring themselves to the sex workers rather than the other way around. On outreach vans, sex workers access the needle exchange, support workers, sexual health, emergency housing and make appointments for services they need at 10pm at night, not 10am. There are many barriers to accessing services and one of the simplest ones is that sex workers work at night and sleep in the day, when services are open. Other barriers include simply not being able to afford the transport to get there or living too far away. At least with outreach, they’re in a concentrated area and guaranteed to access support.

Shame and internal whorearchy cuts deep in sex workers, myself included. Accessing a service and telling them I am a sex worker is difficult, and even harder when you say you are a street sex worker because you know what is running through their mind – you can see it on their face. I have been barraged with questions, accusations, asked if I was sexually abused as a child, what was the most traumatic thing that has happened to me and find myself defending my decisions. This isn’t what you need or want and can be quite a traumatic experience. Nobody should have to defend their existence when they seek help.

Fundamentally, the biggest issue is discrimination, prejudice and outright inaccessibility. Counselling and therapy services are well known for their distaste of sex workers; accusing them of having Stockholm Syndrome; told they’re re-enacting trauma; told to leave sex work or they can’t work with them any longer. A further barrier is drug use, counselling services do not see drug users, but particularly drug using sex workers. For many, we are simply considered too complex to work with. The result is that we are unable to access adequate support, help or the services that we both need and desperately deserve.

You can drag a sex worker to all the appropriate services you find would be beneficial in leaving sex work, but they will be refused at the door. The problem isn’t sex work, it’s the services. Some services outright exclude you such as Women’s Aid/Refuge on the grounds that you will apparently be a risk to women and children – where is the evidence?

Why isn’t it so easy: Employment

This one is self-explanatory but something people don’t think about. The longer you are a sex worker, the bigger the gap in your CV, the harder is it to explain away. Some people have never had a 9-5 job and have only been a sex worker and thus, they have no employment history at all. How do you ever get a job when you’re 40 and never worked, or haven’t in 15 years? It’s a vicious cycle because it leaves you relying more and more on sex work. There are sex workers who never finished school or left early. I know many sex workers who can’t read or write or read a clock, and they feel too dumb and embarrassed to try and put themselves back into education. If you are in this position, you are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to the job market, and takes many years to get to understand basic numeracy and literacy.

With the rise of online sex work, there has been an equal rise of sex workers being fired from their jobs due to ‘bringing their employer into disrepute’. Again, this leaves people relying more and more on sex work fuelling the cycle. Being sacked from your job has longer implications as it means you may be refused a job reference for future jobs that you apply for. I also know a sex worker who quit street sex work, got a job in a department store and a client recognised her. The client told her employer and she was sacked on the spot. Overnight, her life fell apart, she went back to street sex work and then using drugs again. Years of progress destroyed overnight. How are exit programmes going to resolve these issues?

Even if you get a sex worker into a job, it likely they will enter the job market on a minimum wage job. Although there is nothing wrong this with, it is an issue when you’re used to earning £400 a night – something that can be achieved working street quite easily on a busy night. I can’t imagine my friends going to work for £9 when they know they can earn £20 in a 5 minute blowjob. Also, they are so used to being their own boss; working when they want to; answering to nobody but themselves and telling people to fuck off who question them. I can understand why they will find it difficult to say the least to work 9-5 in a minimum wage job. Why should they?

The Government

When coronavirus hit, the government didn’t help out sex workers. Instead, we were left to sink and the Scottish government awarded local charities a meagre £61,000 which didn’t touch the sides. The funding also excluded essential sex worker orgs such as Umbrella Lane because they did not support the VAWG agenda of sex work, and were rights not rescue. What on earth makes you think the government cares enough to fund sex worker exit services, ones that will take years to produce results? They actively put in policies which harm the very sex workers who need their help by criminalising street solicitation. The Nordic Model doesn’t solve this as it will continue to criminalise other sex work related activities such as working from home and brothel-keeping.

It is the result of government policies that have resulted in the rise of survival sex work to begin with. It was the fact that Universal Credit pushed people into poverty layered with bedroom tax, cuts in child tax benefit coupled with funding cuts in the very services that sex workers need such as drug and alcohol services, domestic violence services, social housing, benefit system and things such as EMA or youth centres. These services are strapped and at max capacity, they need a huge injection of funding as it is, and even more so if they are to now take on exit programmes. The government has little concern on the impact of such on sex workers and outright denied that survival sex work was caused by their policies, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Even if a socialist government comes in and suddenly decides exit programmes are a great idea and hugely funds these services, governments change and then so do priorities. Although, like I said earlier, you can fund all the services you like but if they exclude us or we’re not ready to access them, then it’s useless. I do not understand why are entrusting the lives of sex workers to the hands of the government when in reality, they are the cause of much of the harm we face. Do I truly believe Boris Johnson cares about me fucking a guy for £30 to pay my bills? No, he isn’t. He is more concerned that I didn’t do better in life to afford to pay the gas bill to begin with.

You can argue that exit services can be funded by charities but there is no way on this earth you can garner enough funds to house, adequately fund, feed and clothe sex workers whilst simultaneously creating and fully funding the essential services that we need, and then ensuring they will see us as service users.

There isn’t anything new

All the things needed to help leave sex work already exist, but they exist poorly. People do leave sex work all the time around the UK, many of whom dip in and out of the industry as of when they need to. It is increasingly difficult to leave sex work when your alternatives are continued poverty, lack of employment, reliance on Universal Credit, lack of training and education or continued housing problems. The Nordic Model or their supporters have not thought of anything new. There are structural issues that need resolving, not sex work. Sex work is the sometimes the solution to a desperate situation. My aim is to remove the desperation, not sex work.

There are already services out there such as my local sex work project that helps sex workers leave but they do so by tackling other issues in our lives such as mental health, housing, addiction and whatever else we present with. There is no point dragging a sex worker away from working but not resolving the issues that are surrounding them, otherwise they will simply fall back into it – not always by choice, but circumstances. Ensuring their life is stable means long-term success and less chance of going back to sex work as an option if there are sustainable alternatives. They work with sex workers day in, day out and listen to the troubles they have and what they want from the service.

It is naive to think there are exit programmes that are as easy as taking a re-education course at your local college. Sex work can consume your life, especially if you’re wrapped up in a drug, sex work cycle and facing multiple marginalisations. How do exit programmes tackle systemic issues, discrimination, inequality, lack of social mobility, austerity, poverty?

Have I exited?

Yes and no. I have left and restarted sex work many times. Every time an issue was solved in my life, I temporarily stopped sex work. When I was housed, I stopped working because it was one issue less to contend with. When I stopped drugs, I again stopped working because the financial need for that was less also. However, the financial need has never left me. I haven’t worked in a month and money is running low, and I know the return to sex work is inevitable at some point. I have applied for many ‘vanilla’ jobs but I am not hopeful. We are in a pandemic, a recession and there are many things in my life that are chaotic right now.

I never tell myself I have left sex work, only stopped. Once it has been an option once, it will always be an option. Even if I haven’t worked in 10 years, I may find myself skint one Christmas and quickly stepping back into sex work. Like I said, you can’t measure ‘exit’ so it is useless to try to. However, I won’t punish myself for it either, it is what it is. Ultimately, I know myself, my life, circumstances and what is best for me more than anyone else. If I decide to sex work again, that is because I know that is best for me at the time, even if it’s not what I may ideally want.

Survival mode still hasn’t switched off for me, and perhaps it never will and therefore, I will never ‘exit’ sex work. I panic before I am even close to my overdraft and that is more than enough to get me working again. Financial insecurity scares me more than anything in this world – I’d rather be punched or tackle my fear of heights. I won’t even allow myself to get close to £0 because I will have already gone into overdrive by then.

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Taking a Break

I was going to delete my Twitter, but I have been bombarded with over 300 messages and it has been lovely. I haven’t replied to any of them, so please don’t think I am ignoring you if you are one of them. It is a mammoth task of getting back to you all, but I will do eventually. I still wish to delete my account, but due to financial necessity, I realised I would be shooting myself in the foot by doing so – particularly this blog and my PayPal.

This week was the tipping point as I got shouted at three times and told to go therapy, that I should just quit sex work by a sex worker, I’ve been called a SWERF and generally I’m exhausted fighting my own community. Sex work is dominated by happy hookers with the most to lose, and they punch down, hard. They do this because they don’t want the narrative and advertising that they have built up to be challenged. They don’t want someone saying clients are pricks, sex work is shit and is simply a financial necessity, not a fucking intimate, sensual, tantric or whatever fucking word experience.

It pisses me off because this is NOT the reality for the majority of sex workers up and down the country, especially street sex workers. Many of whom dislike their job and do it out of sheer necessity, and often desperation. I have not been as explicit about how I feel about sex work as I would like to, but it has messed with my head aplenty. Last Thursday, I went off the rails and drunk myself into oblivion and my support worker took me out to sober me up a few hours. I am person too!

It’s annoying because I sit and listen to women who tell me sex work reminds them of being abused, how they learned to disassociate from sex due to such abuse and that’s why they’re a good sex worker. I listen to women tell me they scrub their skin with bleach because they feel dirty, shameful and disgusting. My good friend often uses language like selling her body, selling her fanny and whatever else. I dislike it, but she has every right to say it and I am not here to police her or how she thinks and feels about it. I honestly think the majority of sex workers would feel uncomfortable in the same room with the unhappiest of sex workers who talk explicitly in detail about the horrors of their job.

The happy hooker discourse is toxic positivity and I believe is the main cause of exited sex workers becoming Nordic Model supporters, because the community likes to shut out the bad voices and experiences. They like to say shhhh be quiet, don’t say it felt like rape or you was robbed. You know what, I don’t blame them either because if someone rejected me consistently when I wanted to speak to my fellow sex workers, and then someone comes along and says you’re thoughts and feelings are valid and then love bombed me, I’d fall straight into their arms and see my ex-colleagues as annoying happy clappy people who deny the reality of sex work and my experiences.

It’s not just me. I’ve watched sex workers rip apart other sex workers for their feelings of sadness and desperation, including absolutely destroying a sex worker who did bareback in a booking once due to financial reasons. We should be wondering why they felt the need to do that instead of 15 sex workers with HUGE followings quote retweeting and shaming her. The sex worker rights movements isn’t about the normalisation of sex work, it’s about safety, opportunity and protection for those who do feel desperate enough to do bareback. Yet, we are quick to destroy the reality of such instances.

I have faced criticism and shame for my rates, prices and even when I’ve had dodgy clients. Again, you wouldn’t stand a chance working with unhappy sex workers who say they feel like shit having sex for £10, or when they’re rattling so hard they exchange whatever they can do for drugs just to feel normal again. Sex work is a fantasy for the client, not the fucking sex workers themselves who often fall through the cracks, are failed by services and found themselves doing the best they can with very limited resources and getting by. Their resilience, strength and fortitude of character is admirable, but they’re torn a new asshole because of their situation without seeing them as a person.

Sex work seems to be the only job where we can not talk about the negatives, which then flies in the face of the sex worker rights movement. If we continue to project the idea that sex work is sunshine, daisies, lots of money and happy advertising then no prick is going to think we need rights if we seem to have cushty lives. Your advertising and marketing is not more important. In no other walk of life would be try to suppress people talking about being raped, robbed, abused, exploited, being scared or whatever shit that happens in our job. After all, it is a high paid job due to the danger element but then we go on to deny that danger exists, then say we need rights to stop the dangers. It doesn’t make sense.

How can you be happy when you and your friends have low rates of life expetancy, when your life is dominated by injecting and you feel caught in a horrible cycle of sex work and drugs? How can you be happy when you are refused counselling because you’re a drug user but can’t tackle the trauma without drugs, and nobody will give you a chance? How can you be a happy hooker when you’re constantly on edge, fear a client driving away with you or you are financially forced to return to sex work after being raped, because otherwise, you will become homeless?

The nicest messages I’ve received have been from those who have said they have learned a lot or felt more confident to talk about the reality of sex work because of my posts. Thank you. We can’t say sex work is like every other work and then turn around and talk about how much we fucking love our clients, when in the crew room in McDonalds I would spent 95% of my lunch break slagging them off.

Worst of all is sex workers saying they supported me, and then throw it in my face when they disagree with me. I literally wrote a blog last week about financial abuse and this was the prime example I used. People who want to help do so without condition and without strings attached. They do not weaponise it and throw it at you to try and make you feel guilty, or as though they have some sort of right or say in your life. Accepting help is very difficult for me, but I did it because I had little choice but to, otherwise I would have sunk. It hurts like shit to have people throw it back at me and then you scream that I need therapy.

On a more personal note, it is exhausting to keep giving and giving. Nobody made me, but I enjoyed doing it because I was fed up of the stigma and whatever else. I also enjoyed talking to other sex workers and having those difficult discussions, but it doesn’t make it any less exhausting. I never intended to be known as a sex worker, my account was made in 2009 when I was 12. I have of course, never been client facing, and just spoke generally about my life and sex work and then it grew and then it was too late to hide my name. It has then made me a target in real life, especially being known for working in the Managed Zone. It’s been a high personal cost unfortunately.

Anyway, this could go on and on, but I won’t do anymore damage! I’m taking a break, but if you wish to help street sex worker directly, please consider donating to the Basis Outreach Van: https://www.gofundme.com/f/basis-outreach-van?utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_na+share-sheet&pc_code=ot_co_dashboard_a&rcid=008b6c171012464a92e7974d12887b63

Becoming a Sex Work Abolitionist

If you go back 18 months, I was an abolitionist. I was angry at myself, my situation, upset at the circumstances of myself and friends, disillusioned by the dire consequences of sex work and overall, I had had enough. I decided that prostitution is not a good option for anyone, and it really fucks with your mind, body and soul. I had few sex worker friends at the time because I would try to not be seen when working street by both women and support services. Also at this time, I had no idea about decriminalisation and in fact, I didn’t even know the legal status of sex work in the UK. I didn’t care because I just needed to get by. I also knew nothing about feminism and was an angry soul.

It was a long time before I got to know about decriminalisation, and especially feminism. I began very reluctantly talking about sex work on Twitter and started talking to sex workers who were earning well and happy in their jobs. This made me even angrier because I couldn’t fathom why someone would become a sex worker, and be happy about it, because I was pushed by socioeconomic circumstances. Even now, I sometimes struggle to understand sex workers who become sex workers without financial duress because it is something I couldn’t imagine doing otherwise. That is not to say they don’t deserve the same laws, rights and safety and nor is their work any less, but it boggled me for ages. It’s my own attitudes and experiences that are the problem however. I no longer think this, but just more angry at the whorearchy, not so much the sex workers.

I wasn’t a Nordic Model supporter, I was an outright abolitionist. I wanted prostitution to end entirely and never be allowed. However, I also knew criminalising something doesn’t stop things from happening because after all, my brother was a drug dealer…

The feminist abolitionist

If you want to know what a Nordic Model supporter really wants, it’s not the NM, they want to get rid of sex work entirely. They know by cutting demand, it should (hopefully) starve the supply. Although, sex workers are not a market commodity, it is people’s lives you’re playing with and not the stock market. You’re ignoring the supply is caused by poverty, austerity, a poor job market, drug addiction, and whatever else. It is not driven by demand for sex. The difference between an abolitionist and a Nordic Model supporter is what comes out of their mouth. They say similar things and unite together – the radical feminists are quick to jump into bed with right-wing christians who are anti-porn because it suits their mutual wants, even if their ideologies elsewhere are in conflict.

The reason why a feminist would not declare themselves an abolitionist is because that means criminalising the woman. A feminist could not be seen to be doing such. This isn’t because they’re not carceral feminists – quite the opposite – but they don’t want someone they see as a victim being arrested. History has shown time and time again that arresting, slapping sex workers with fines or throwing away the key doesn’t work. All this does is perpetuate the cycle of poverty, criminality and barriers to leaving sex work, making them further dependent on sex work. However, we should also know that throughout history, sex work has survived every economic crisis, war, humanitarian crisis, pandemic and whatever disaster. It has done so because you can not and will not stop it, providing the conditions are there and two consenting adults are happy to facilitate it. I imagine disasters actually result in a rise in sex work due to the poverty and scarcity of resources.

Ironically, the Nordic Model is not feminist. If it was feminist, you would listen to the sex workers who know what is best for them, know the first hand impact of it and champion their voices. It removes the financial freedom of another woman and forces her to rely on the forced hand of charity, or the forced hand of an abuser. You leave the sex worker with fewer choices, and push them further into poverty and therefore, even less able to leave sex work. NM supporters haven’t thought of anything new either. They talk about exit programmes which include counselling, drug services, accommodation and good jobs but these things already exist. If it was that easy, sex workers would be exiting and re-entering their jobs week in, week out. It has taken me years just to get to this point. Also, these services exclude and discriminate against sex workers – especially counselling services. What are you solving here?

Like I said in a previous post, unless you are going to personally hire a homeless heroin addict in your rescue charity then don’t cut off their income.

Sex workers create Nordic Model supporters

This sub-heading sounds shocking but it is something I have heard time and time again from sex workers who have left the industry, largely due to awful experiences and then had sex workers shout at them. I have had it happen to me before; people told me to be quiet about the bad stuff about sex work in fear of retaliation of the radical feminists. I’ve been told to cheer up, just quit if I’m unhappy or whatever else. When I write a blog post, my DMs are silently filled with sex workers telling me they read it, relate to it, scared to talk about it and would never do so publicly in fear of backlash. My response is usually that I understand, but never apologise or defend your experiences, and particularly how you felt or thought. Nobody can take those away from you, and nobody has the right to tell you otherwise about them otherwise – they are yours.

When I first started talking about sex work online, it was in January. I was street working, had recently been assaulted and was really down on my luck. I was angry, pissed off, and when I tried to speak about it, people didn’t want to listen and even blocked me. Although I think sex workers are becoming (slowly) more tolerant about discussing bad clients, I do not feel we have quite broken past the stigma of accepting the violence in sex work, the mental health impact, times when we have been raped, robbed or whatever else. I tell myself this is not from a place of malice because I am sure few sex workers would intentionally be like piss off, shut up and you’re wrong but they feel they need to be quiet to defend the collective.

I can understand this reaction and it is my knee jerk reaction when I see Julie Bindel going off on one about the Managed Zone, and I find myself being like shut up, I’m sick of you pedalling the same shitty stories and stereotypes!! However, I have had people email me from this blog who were extremely upset and angry at sex work and together, we hashed out all the anger, hurt and I agreed with them. I used to rage at ex sex workers online about the Nordic Model but I found myself fuelling their fire, because the more I shouted, the more they said that sex workers hate them. The truth is, we have more in common than we would perhaps like to admit and are both angry at sex work, but our paths took a different route. I think glorifying clients and not having room to slag them off is an issue in sex work because that really is not the reality for many sex workers. They are clients, not knights in shining armour.

Ex sex workers becoming Nordic Model supporters is never something I like, but I can understand why. Although I feel the anger is misdirected, the anger is still very much real and hurtful. I don’t dislike these exited sex workers because they use their experiences as an excuse to support it, but simply because they support the NM. I can not tell them how to feel, or how sex work felt to them and if it was awful, then they have every right to talk about that. However, the more we shout at them, the further we push them into a radical feminist’s arms who lovebombs them, tells them their experiences are valid and then promises them the world, and to rid it of evil. They then drag them around to hash out their traumatic experiences under the premise of doing good.

Above all, I also feel like an ex sex worker advocating for laws that they will not be impacted by, or campaigning against laws that once benefitted them is oozing with privilege, and is very much a stab in the back. This goes deeper due to the intense mutual aid support within the sex work community and solidarity – it is a fracture.

Changing direction

I often tell my support worker that I am a radical feminist conference speaker’s wet dream; I hate sex work, often talk about the bad sides of it and have experienced the awfulness first hand. Like I said, I have much more in common with a Nordic Model supporter than differences. However, it’s exactly that – MY experiences, that are unique to ME. They are not a reflection of the lives of everyone else and just because I had bad times, it doesn’t mean I wish to remove the choice for other sex workers. In fact, it pushes me more towards decriminalisation than ever before because we deserve safety, support, equal access to services and ridding of the awful stigma. Any form of criminalisation maintains stigma, and the Nordic Model is just that. However, NM supporters thrive off such stigma because it’s what they shame you with to stop you sex working anymore. If there’s no stigma, what’s stopping you doing it freely and you wouldn’t feel shame by doing so.

Throughout sex work, I have found myself swinging wildly between decriminalisation and abolition and this is largely down to how I feel at the time. My heart says abolition but my mind says decrim and then my heart follows. Abolition isn’t a rational response, and neither is the NM. I am fed up of people talking about NM from a theoretical perspective when really, they should be listening to the sex workers who work in a country that has it. Twitter is full of theorists, but never lived experience and that suits NM supporters because they know sex workers will fear coming forward, in fear of being kicked out by their landlords, their education courses or being subject to violence themselves. As a result, theory plugs the gap and not sex worker voices – perfect conditions for a radical feminist.

I did not become a support of decriminalisation the moment I exchanged sex for money. I became a supporter when I got angry and experienced discrimination, stigma and listened in solidarity to the hardships of other sex workers. I wanted better for us all, I was fed up of the fear of reporting to the police, of the internalised shame of being a sex worker, the dispersal of sex work due to criminalisation and seeing people arrested for getting by or for safety – e.g. brothel laws. I had many difficult and rage filled conversations with sex workers, support workers and anyone who would listen to me if I’m honest. I appreciate all of these conversations because it allowed me to put my anger towards the conditions that result in survival sex work, and not sex work itself. I thank the sex workers who reminded me that it’s okay to dislike clients, to not be happy and to vent.

The Nordic Model is quick fix plaster to a complex socioeconomic situation, but the plaster doesn’t stop the bleeding, it just covers up the wound.

I usually put a link here but I’m trying to raise money for an outreach bus for street sex workers, so if you liked this post, please donate if you can or share it: https://www.gofundme.com/f/basis-outreach-van

thank you x

Financial Abuse

A form of abuse I feel is extremely underrepresented and not spoken about, but, I am yet to find a domestic violence victim who was not financially abused. In fact, one of the main reason why your transport to a Refuge is paid for is because they know you will unlikely have access to a bank account, money and withdrawing money could put you at serious risk. How do they know that? Because of the experience of thousands of victims who have been put in this awful situation. I meet many sex workers who became sex workers due to such situations, relationships and being left financially destitute. It is worth noting, financial abuse comes in many forms and not just by relationship partners but your brothers, sisters, children and whoever else.

What is it?

When people think of financial abuse, they think of someone simply controlling the money of the house but it is much more than that; it is stopping your partner from getting a promotion; constantly getting them pregnant so they have to stay at home; causing drama at their work in the hope they get sacked; talking them down your career or education aspirations and taking out loans in your name, unwillingly. Some people enjoy having financial control over people, and giving them money makes them feel, quite literally, in their pocket. We all feel that guilt, pressure and tip-toeing around when we owe someone money, and they thrive off that. Money talks, and money makes the world go round, so if they have the control over that then you’re fucked.

There are many ways to identity financial abuse and here is a few:
– trying to gain access over your assets
– forcing you to take out debt in your name, and also not paying you back
– having double standards with spending
– demanding that you hand over all passwords and bank PINs
– guilting you into bailing them out financially
– deciding where you can work and what hours
– giving you an allowance, which is also likely unrealistlic
– making large financial decisions without your consideration
– having to ask for permission before spending money

There is a longer list and many signs, but here is a more comprehensive guide:
https://www.verywellmind.com/financial-abuse-4155224

The problems

The reason this is so damaging is because money is fundamental to freedom, and they know that. If you have no money, you can’t leave the relationship, and especially if you have children. It stunts your entire life, education and career and worst of all, if they decide to leave, they can very quickly leave your homeless, unemployed with no qualifications and many children. This is exactly what happened to my Mum, although she decided to leave him, she took a great risk because she had nothing. It is very hard to get a job when you’re in your 40s and haven’t been allowed to work for over 20 years, had no formal education and having to start over again with a financially manipulative person trying to take advantage of your situation.

My brother wanted a piano so asked my mum to buy it on finance in her name which she did, and then he never paid her a penny towards it. The end result was that my Mum ended up with a County Court Judgement in her name and it ruined her credit score. What happened then? She unable to buy anything for herself on finance, which is very difficult when it comes to buying things such as carpet, sofa, TV or a car, and especially when you’re a cleaner. For others, it may leave you in hostels, shelters and forever be perpetually poor as a result, and will likely be unable to retire as they can’t afford to. Unfortunately, some may have swindled your retirement and you’re truly on your own. The consequences also included impacting your physical and mental health too.

When my parents divorced, they had a large amount of joint debt and loans. However, my Dad rung up all the providers and got my aunty to pretend to my be mum and then signed himself off all the debts, leaving them entirely in her name. He then declared himself bankrupt so they could never be re-attached to him. A real dick move. The next 8 years meant ignoring final demand letters, removing yourself from the electoral roll and trying to make yourself invisible & we moved house several times. It also meant being unable to buy things unlike you bought it one go, so it came expensive to save up for the big items. The wasn’t the issue in 1910, but today’s society is not set up like this.

Not having money, as many of my reader audience who are sex workers will know, is crippling. It takes away so much from you, ruins your mental health and leaves you back at square one. Being in debt can destroy your mental health; drive you into desperate situations; leave you unable to work your way out of your situation, because you don’t have the access or resources to do so. It perpetuates the cycle of poverty and if you’ve never been given the opportunity to flourish, retrain, get a degree or even do a part time course, then you will struggle to move past entry-level or precarious jobs, especially if you are over 40.

Ulterior motives

We all like to help out when we can, and by and large, most people do so out of a place of kindness and genuine compassion. When things go wrong, we don’t mind helping out a friend in a tight spot. After all, life happens! Lending money to someone is something that is rising, particularly parents giving to their children who are disproportionately impacted by the current economic climate. However, what do you do if you don’t trust their intentions or you fear they may use it against you? What is if comes with emotionally taxing pre-conditions and pulling the strings of your life and relationships?

In my personal experience, one of the biggest red flags for someone with ulterior motives is that they offer to give you money without even asking for it. Money is enticing and you’re likely to say yes because why not? Especially if it’s a love one. You say yes because they seem like they’re being kind, genuine and just wanna help you out. They do not act manipulative and are actually in fact, quite charismatic. The likelihood is, they don’t demand the money back either and are not chasing you for it. Again, this feels like a win-win situation for you, but in many other ways, this isn’t the case.

When people hold money over you, they feel like they have greater say and control over yourself, decisions and finances. They will quickly pull out the card ‘why you buying that when you’ve got no money’ or will feel entitled to make decisions and comments about your life, because they gave you money. It’s coercive, and you wouldn’t put up with this is any other context, but they know you feel bad and won’t want to fall out with them because you owe them money, or they’ve ‘helped you’ out. If this wasn’t money and someone helped you moved house or with your mental health, you’d be saying ‘yeah they helped me move house, but it doesn’t mean they get to do this’.

People who want to help you out, do so without expectation and because they likely personally enjoy doing so as well. They don’t use it as a manipulative tool and if you argue, they shouldn’t throw it in your face. Although they may ask for their money back in fear of not getting it back due to falling out, they wouldn’t use it to guilt trip you, shame you and get personal about your life. If someone does this, it isn’t okay! Having a lack of money is caused by so many factors and it shouldn’t be something to feel ashamed of, and definitely something someone shouldn’t use against you.

I’d like to include in here the abuse that takes place by food banks and other ‘helpful’ services who push their motives in return for food. I have heard anecdotes of women being forced to pray before receiving a food parcel, or justifying themselves just to be able to eat. I have listened to people tell me that services were conditional on quitting sex work and they wouldn’t hand out food vouchers otherwise. This is unacceptable and is also a form of abuse laden with ulterior motives. Just because a service offers some form of resource, it does mean they are good and in fact, can do further damage. You should not have to beg, prey or justify yourself for basics, so they can soothe their soul with poverty porn at night.

Long-term impact

Although I can’t speak on behalf of my Mum’s thoughts and feelings after 20+ years of this, I can speak of how it has impacted me from the outside looking in. In addition, my Dad used money as a weapon over me when I went to University, and I watched him do it to my siblings, who have all become enmeshed due to this unusual dynamic, and it’s not healthy. I cut him off when I was 19 and my family was then flooded with rumours that I had taken £1000s of him and then turned my back on him, and that he was actually continuing to give me money despite not speaking to him. Neither of this is true because I closed my bank account so he couldn’t even try.

I grew up in a home which meant Mum stayed at home with the 8 children and Dad went to work, so there was no role for the woman in the workplace. When my Mum got a job, he sabotaged it and she was forced to leave, after lumping her with £10,000s of debt. People call this a brilliant and traditional upbringing, but it was the furthest thing from pleasantries for those involved. My Dad enjoys giving money out and I truly believe he does it because he feels if he doesn’t do so, then he will not feel wanted.

I remember telling my counsellor that it was years of watching and putting up with this that significantly contributed to me becoming a sex worker. Why? Because I couldn’t think of anything worse than someone controlling the purse strings of my life and stunting me as a result. At least with sex work, the money is mine, is not directly paid into bank unless I pay it, can be kept secret if needs be, and has helped me in horrifically desperate financial situations. She was shocked and said this was quite the statement, and was quite taken back. I didn’t see it that way, I saw it as a fierce way to have greater control over my life, finances and whatever else. I was in a bad place anyway, but the last thing I then needed is someone controlling me via money. I would rather be a sex worker than borrow money from family.

This has contributed to me being an unhappy hooker who hated accepting help from people on Twitter or perhaps even starting this blog. Even now, it makes em feel uncomfortable and almost accountable to people, and there have been times where people have come @ me for such. I quickly remind them that giving me £10 does not mean you have any say in my life, or how I live it because after all, it’s my bloody life! I live it 24/7, not you! It’s also why I fear getting a joint bank account, because the other person have leverage over your life. I know I will perhaps never trust a partner in a relationship because I am acutely aware of how quickly can turn, and leave you in such dire straits.

It was dire straits that made me a sex worker, and it will be the same dire straits that will keep me in sex work. My main goal is to transition away from sex work, so I would rather be a stubborn, untrusting person than live on edge and in fear of throwing myself full on back into sex work in 20 years time. I know by now this probably sounds irrational and that I am the last person you’d want to date but I can assure you, I will contribute happily, but you’re not having equal control and I will not have control over your income either. I wrote a blog about living in survival mode, and how hard it is to switch off. I will perhaps never switch it off, even if I manage to control it better. As a result, I will never intentionally put myself in a situation where I run the risk of going into survival overdrive again.

Financial abuse in sex work

Spongers! These are people who get into a relationship with a sex worker and get them to work to pay for their drugs. There is a fine line here between earning money to pay for drugs for both you and your partner, and your partner getting you to work to pay for drugs and I’ll be honest, the line is often blurred. I know a few women who are in these types of relationships and hate it dearly, but the overriding acceptance of drug use between them is integral to their relationship. Their partner would ring them up all night asking how much they had earned, asking when they were coming home and would occasionally wait in the car nearby for them. No reason other than to watch them.

It used to always annoy me that my boyfriend would earn exactly half of what I’d earned. Yet it was me sucking somebody’s cock, not him. That rankled in the back of mind, but when you’ve got a bag of heroin, you don’t want to ruin it by arguing… They’re not really boyfriends but because you’ve got a little bit of back up, got support, you think you’ve got love.

Millie, Hull: Untold Stories

One of the worst and saddest examples I’ve ever heard of this was women getting young and vulnerable women into heroin. They would give it to them for free, and keep supplying them until they were addicted. Once they were hooked, they tell them to go out and work because they ‘owe’ them and turn abusive.

Resources

If you are experiencing financial abuse and would like support, please contact the charity Surviving Economic Abuse: https://survivingeconomicabuse.org/resources/

Women’s Aid on Financial Abuse: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/what-is-domestic-abuse/financial-abuse/

Halifax Banking support on financial abuse: https://www.halifax.co.uk/helpcentre/financial-abuse-support.html

Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert: https://blog.moneysavingexpert.com/2019/06/martin-lewis–financial-abuse–joint-accounts-and-managing-money/

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Consent and Choice in Survival Sex Work

I write this blog because these are the two most used words I perhaps hear from sex workers, radical feminists, abolitionists and Nordic Model supporters. I am constantly trying to tell people that the two are not the same, particularly in survival sex work.

‘Is sex work a choice if you’re poor?’

What a loaded question that is geared towards the intention of you to say no, it isn’t a choice, so then someone can scream sex work must be rape if you haven’t got a choice. It is true that the poorer you are in sex work, the less choice you have over clients. Despite this being so obvious, people still continue to support the Nordic Model. This is quite ironic considering they are the ones who say we need more choices, but then actively cut our income, making us poorer and thus, having less choices over clients. Meaning we are less able to say no, because we need the money. Even if that includes bareback, drunk or dangerous clients.

Sex work is a choice, even when the circumstances are dire. I met many poverty stricken drug users who never became sex workers. Why? because they chose other options such as shoplifting, theft, burglary, begging or fraud. If I robbed your nan then burgled your mum, you wouldn’t be decrying that I had no choice, you’d be calling a scumbag and calling to throw down the gavel and throw away the key. I’m not arguing in these situations that sex work is the best choice, but it is a choice and sometimes the lesser of the two evils. I would rather have sex for money than get a criminal record and be barred from most jobs, or education.

I support greater choices other than sex work for people are drug users or who feel pushed by the desperate hand of poverty, of course I do. However, I chose to get into a client’s car, and I then chose to the ring the dealer.

Sex work is paid rape

Despite antagonists arguing that choice is the key tenet of rape as mentioned above, that same argument is not used outside of sex work discourse. No, rape is all about consent, or more correctly, power. Choices and consent are used whenever it seems to suit the narrative, but the two are not the same here.

It’s important to make the distinction between ‘I had no choice’ and ‘I had limited choices’. I am not including people in this who were forced by a third party, because that is outright exploitation and therefore abuse, and not consensual sex work.

Consent however, is about what happens and what I agree to. My limited choices may have led me to this decision, but it doesn’t give anyone the right to mistreat me whilst I’m here. I chose to get into a client’s car, but I did not consent to unprotected sex for example. This is where consent and choice are not the same, because I didn’t choose for him to hurt me, because I didn’t have the options, even limited ones.

One of the key reasons I have an issue with the ‘paid rape’ attitude is because it conflates genuine abuse with consensual sex work. When you blur these lines and I am genuinely raped, people will just view it as normal sex work, if they think it’s all the same. It reminds me of the attitudes when people say ‘well what did you expect to happen, you’re a sex worker?’ as if it just all merges into one thing.

The issue with radical feminism is that they can no see the difference between consensual sex work and abuse, which causes issues between consensual workers who do experience abuse and those who are abused outright. Rape and given consent do not go hand in hand, and neither does consensual sex work and abuse.

People say sex work is rape, but nobody ever says rape is sex work.

Socioeconomic resources

The less you have, the less you can acquire, the less you can invest for the future. When you have less, you are living for the moment. Not in a cute Tumblr way, but in survival way. You are not thinking 6 months ahead; you are not making investments; you are not even thinking about next month’s rent, because you haven’t even got this months, or last months. The bills are stacking up in the ‘forget reality’ drawer.

When you did not finish your GCSEs, was a heroin addict, or perhaps have a criminal conviction, your choices are now suddenly infinitely narrowed; you may not even be able to move country, or get into further education. Right about now, you should be getting the impression that you are skint, are financially stressed to the eyeballs and worst of all, you have little choice to decide what happens next. You sit down and job search for months but to no avail, or you may not be able to work at all because you’re an addict.

Now, you are on the edge of homelessness, your bills are insurmountable, you can’t find a job and worst of all, your children are going back to school soon and need new uniform. This pressure is IMMENSE. You have no one to turn to for financial help, your Universal Credit isn’t stretching and nobody is getting back to you about a job. So you become a sex worker. Why? The money is quick with no barriers to entry, but it is certainly not easy.

I agree that sex work isn’t the best solution, but it is the best solution for some, especially in times of survival. Again, the choices are narrowed, but it isn’t rape.

Nordic Model

Although there are many safety implications of the Nordic Model, I am here to talk about consent and choice. Despite radical feminists arguing that both are essential to feminism, and I agree, the NM does not help this.

If like me, you are a sex worker, your income is solely dependent upon such. You may have spent years gaining regular clients which keeps you safer due to more trust and knowing a lot of information about them, which you can use if something goes wrong and you need to report them. Now, suddenly, the Nordic Model comes in, but your outgoings are still there and perhaps your drug dealer needs paying. Regardless, you will still withdraw and rattle from drugs and that isn’t going away either. Your good clients have gone because they don’t wanna get arrested.

Now, your choices are limited again as you spiral further and further into poverty because you have just chopped off my income. Financial independence gives freedom, the two are best friends. With little choice, it leaves me with little resistance towards those who do not respect consent, or perhaps I have to lower what I am comfortable with. Why? Because I have less choice over clients I can see, and therefore, even if he doesn’t respect my boundaries, I have little choice but to deal with it because I need the income. If I have little income then I’m not going to be able to get out of poverty either, it’s a lose-lose situation.

To all the ‘rescuers’ of these women who say they need a job that isn’t sex work, brilliant, I agree with you to an extent because it is a cycle that is hard to break. However, nobody will hire heroin addicts, and nobody is going to pay their bills for them either. Above all, nobody is going to pay for their housing. If you think Universal Credit is the answer, then you need to reconsider because UC is a key reason why people become sex workers to begin with.

If you want to rescue them, I suggest you have them working for your organisation directly because that is the only way you will have some success. If you are unwilling to employ homeless drug addicts, or pay their entire living costs, then I suggest you don’t chop off their limited way of surviving.

Children

I only include this section because sadly, child trafficking and sexual abuse are dragged into the sex work debate. No sex worker supporters either of these things – it is absolutely vile. In fact, some of us have experienced it ourselves so of course we don’t support it. A child can not be a sex worker either. Children cannot consent to sex, and they most certainly do not have choice in the matter either.

I remember when children were called prostitutes when in fact, they were victims of CSE. This is why conflation of consensual sex work, exploitation and trafficking is harmful because people end up merging them into one. Teenagers were written off as ‘common prostitutes’ because people thought it’s the same, when it absolutely isn’t.

Poverty

There is absolutely a conversation to be had for those who do have limited options, who do feel forced into sex work due to poverty. I absolutely believe there is space to discuss this, and this includes exited sex workers who support the Nordic Model who felt as though it was rape due to the reasons mentioned above. People think I disagree with exited sex workers because of their experiences, but that is not true. I dislike the conclusions they reached and their rejection of active sex worker voices, and then accuse us of having Stockholm Syndrome. However, I can’t tell someone how to think and feel about their life.

It is important to note that poverty was the key reason I became a sex worker and I begrudged it, and still do. I hate that I can’t leave as easy as what I would like to, and am still in sex work for economic reasons. However, I am angry at the reasons which led me here, not sex work itself. I dislike poverty, austerity, Universal Credit, inequality, cycles of poverty, capitalism, wealth accumulation, inherited wealth and many other things that have structurally resulted in me being here. This is even more so if you are a group that are faced with systemic racism and discrimination, further reducing your choices and exacerbating poverty. Sometimes, you are pissing against the wind.

I’m not even going to sit here and argue that decriminalisation is the answer here, because there is more to it than that. It is immigration and economic policy, propaganda and attitudes towards the poor, the current government, the overriding system of neoliberal economics, chronic underfunding of drug and alcohol services, as well as youth services, child benefit and tax amongst many other things. You will not eliminate prostitution, even when poverty has been eradicated, but you will significantly reduce or abolish those who feel forced for economic reasons. At least, you would give them greater options.

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Sex Work and Mental Health

I always believe sex work is a blessing or a curse, and sometimes both, and this extends to mental health impact of the job too. However, like most bad topics in sex work, nobody likes to talk about it in fear of being told we’re fuelling the SWERFs. However, we can not deny there is sometimes truth to what they say. I’m not agreeing with the debunked Farley PTSD statistics they throw around, but sex work can truly take a toll on your mental health. This is never more so true than for survival sex workers, who feel they have less choice, more anger and feel more entrapped in what I call, the trap of sex work.

I recently read the Untold Stories project book, which is a collation of words, stories, pictures and poems by street sex workers from Hull. I loved it because they told it ‘like it is’ and that includes all the awful shit that comes with sex work, or the impact it has on yourself. They cut through all the sex work debate and quite rightly, spoke about how they think, feel and of their experiences. As I read it, I felt myself nodding my head at the worst bits, knowing full well I perhaps couldn’t be publicly honest about agreeing with these things. I worry that sex workers will get angry at me because I am giving SWERFs what they want, but equally, it’s quite exposing putting your mental health out there for anyone to criticise. 

Another fear is that I will be seen as a victim again, and by extension, so will sex workers. Victimisation of sex workers is something I hate, when in reality, sex workers are very resilient and resourceful. In the same breath however, we can’t just act like everything is fine. It gives the wrong impression and demonstrates that we have to be extremely strong, brave and bottle everything up. This causes even more damage to your mental health. Speak about how you feel or what you experienced without worrying about a radical feminist might say. We are constantly chugging out the marketing machine when it comes to sex work, and is far from the reality of how it can be for some people. 

Breaking down the empowerment model

We all know describing sex work as empowering is irrelevant, because no other job would be described or justified as such. However, when it comes to mental health in sex work, we swing the other day. Sex workers reel off how sex work allows them to manage their mental health, but little room for the opposite discourse. There have been time where that has also been true for me, and if that works for others, I support that fully. I have been able to seek counselling, pay for it and find time for it because of sex work. I have also been able to afford lots of psychoeducation books, and have the time to read them because of sex work. I know when I worked in a civvie job, I was unable to manage, afford and have the time for all of this. 

However, it may be worth bringing the topic back as to why I sought counselling in the first place, it was because of sex work. My local sex work project has a mental health worker and also have a relationship with the local women’s counselling service, which I am part of. I often have mental health problems myself, including ignoring my support worker when she knocked on the door because I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. I didn’t want to to discuss sex work anymore; I had had enough. I’ve spoken openly about how much I dislike sex work, how it has impacted my mental health and why it is perhaps one of the main reasons I wish to leave. Although, it is rarely a topic I speak about publicly.

I posted on Twitter ‘can we talk about how sex work can actually be detrimental to your mental health too’ and was met with a strong response. I felt like I was tipping my toe in and testing the waters, because it’s not really a topic sex workers like to discuss – at least the negative side of it. The responses echoed mine, that it was the empowerment discourse that prevented people from talking; the feelings about serving abolitionists; fear of being attacked for speaking up; the deeper mental cost of sex work and being honest about the bad side. I also had private messages speaking of similar experiences, and it is quite disheartening. 

The sex work community prides itself in mutual support, but we are quick to suppress topics and censor each other, because we fear the opposition more. A sentiment that was echoed by Ginger Banks who recently tweeted that many had spoken to her about abuse in the industry, but they were scared to talk about it because they didn’t wish for the anti-sex work groups to use it. I fiercely reject this and believe anyone should talk about their experiences, and the issue lies with the people who weaponise that, not the person who spoke about it. I can understand why people do it, and I can’t imagine people do it out of sheer malice, but we’re coming down hard on the wrong person. 

Is there truth in what SWERFs say?

The short answer is yes. Sex work can be awful for your mental health. Of course, the discussion is more complex and nuanced than that, and it is wrong to apply the same concept to all sex workers. Many say sex work is their saving grace for their mental health, and therefore, they have their own experiences which doesn’t ring true to this article. As a result, we shouldn’t apply broad statements to all over work. Also, the statistics radical feminists throw around about PTSD and what not is heavily debunked. They would be better talking to actual sex workers and their experiences. 

I particularly love Deborah’s input into the book, largely because she is direct, straight and is very honest. Sex work is work and deserves the same rights as any other worker, but it isn’t quite like other jobs. I know I will get accused of being whorephobic for saying this, as though I am ‘othering’ us. Although I do partly agree, we have to recognise that sex work is different in many ways. In no other job do you face the being killed, have flashbacks of being raped or take a copious amounts of drugs to numb yourself out to cope with your job. I sometimes feel it is an insult to compare to a ‘civvie’ job because it downplays all that comes with the job – from the stigma, danger, risks and the history of it. Also, nobody is excluded from services simply because they are a therapist, engineer, bank manager; it’s discrimination that is specific to sex workers. Finally, sex work is notoriously difficult to leave, and there are no barriers to entry either. I appreciate this may not be a common trail of thought, so I welcome conversation about it. 

Untold Stories: Hull

I used to sit with women smoking crack before working, and myself using drugs before working because we knew what was ahead of us. None of us liked working. We were at times assaulted, raped, robbed or beaten. How can this not impact your mental health? How can we not be angry that we watched our friends die from overdoses, were drinking themselves into oblivion or those who had a friend killed. We all had solidarity in fear, and knowing the danger of our jobs. It was an unspoken truth about what it entailed. Being constantly on alert doesn’t do much for your mental health, and neither does taking substances to dampen it help either. 

Survival sex work can be even worse for your mental health because you feel less able to escape. For most sex workers, high income can give them the opportunity to fund education, driving lessons, therapy or perhaps training courses for a specific job. Having money allows you to have more freedoms and opportunities in life. When you are being consumed be survival, you simply can’t get to the next level. When you are working to fund a drug habit, that is survival within itself, but worst of all, you have nothing to show for it. The cycle continues, and it can break you down and makes you feel shit. Survival sex workers generally don’t sit down with a bit of paper and decide to become a sex worker, they are pushed by desperate circumstances; poverty, addiction, immigration status, systemic discrimination or structural inequality. For some, they watched their Mum be a sex worker and it was natural for them to become one. I’ve spoken in previous blogs posts the impact survival mode has on you, even after you are no longer in that anymore. The effects are long lasting. 

We must also remember that some radical feminists were sex workers themselves. The crux of their argument and experiences is that it was awful to their mental health; they felt they were being raped and don’t wish it upon anyone else. Although I disagree with their support of the Nordic Model, I am not here to speak over their experiences. The more we shout at them and say you’re lying or that’s not true, the more they argue that we freeze them out and ignore their experiences. They would be right. In fact, I’ve sat and listened to women saying they felt like a piece of meat or have scrubbed their body with bleach because they felt disgusting after working. Who am I to tell them they’re wrong about how they feel? I sit and listen, and try to build their confidence rather than telling them that’s not okay, or support them in the best way I can.

So what does this mean?

Well, first of all, we need to stop the gatekeeping of what experiences we can or can’t talk about, or topics. I find this a lot and it is something that angers me so much about sex work. Although, more importantly, we need to break down the stigma that surrounds these things, and the stigma of sex work itself. This includes services not going into panic mode and pressing the ‘they must leave sex work’ button whenever we disclose sexual violence. Support us in the same way as anyone else, because leaving sex work is difficult to do and you’re fundamentally asking them to give up their income. You also have no idea the efforts they may have put in to doing that themselves. Why should we be treated any differently when we experience violence? 

Sadly, sex workers are often excluded from mental health services. Or like myself, had a counsellor who said hurtful things about sex work and told me her personal opinion on it, making the relationship between us futile. Therapists argue that there isn’t much point engaging with a sex worker if they continue to work, because that means they are actively re-traumatising themselves or not reducing harmful behaviour. As a result, these attitudes stop sex workers ever talking about how they think or feel about sex work. All therapists should practice unconditional positive regard, and allow you to speak about topics in your own way without expectations or judgement. Before you moan about sex workers not seeking help, it might be worth checking as to why – they likely already have tried but met several barriers along the way that need breaking down first. 

If sex work helps your mental health then I absolutely support that. I wish everyone can find a job that is suitable for the mental health, and if that’s sex work then I am happy for you too. This post is not to disregard these people or that they should shut up – quite the opposite. We should just all be able to talk about what is good/bad for us, without being squashed or force ourselves into censorship in fear of anti-sex work lobby. I’ve done it myself, or depicted a different picture of my situation to suit the more dominant narrative, or when a radical feminist has jumped on one of my posts. I realised how damaging this was when a friend of mine became a sex worker and it ruined her mental health, I then also noticed that I had spent weeks saying it was good my mental health when in reality, it wasn’t. People watch sex workers online talk about the positives, when they should also be presented with the reality or the negatives too. 

I will finish this post with a poem, written by Millie, a street sex worker from Hull, called ‘I Will Devour Your Soul’

I will offer you peace for your turbulent mind
The inner tranquility you can’t seem to find
I will soften the edges, lines not so defined
Your everyday turmoil left so far behind

I will take you from all those you adore
Broken relationships you can never restore
Warning bells ringing that you chose to ignore
Anything to score just a little bit more

You’ll practice my ritual again and again
Hollowed out, darkness, all that remains is your pain
No longer your life, this is your domain
Kneel before me I roar my disdain

I’ll scar your heart til there’s barely a beat
Your life stops, judders; then is stuck on repeat
Total surrender, my deceit now complete
Dead inside – now will you admit defeat?

Your future’s not written, but I hold the pen
Your slow suicide, but I’ll decide when
Your body a commodity – for sale to all men
Your misery resplendent, you’re alone, what then?

I will destroy your life and devour your soul,
Spinning kaleidoscope, out of control
Ripping you apart so you’ll never feel whole
Worshipping me is your only goal. 

Written by Millie. 

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Why isn’t everyone a sex worker?

I was laughing with my support worker, asking her why wasn’t she a sex worker when after all, it is better pay and she knows the support, safety, laws and everything else like the back of her hand. After years of supporting sex workers, why did she never make the jump after saying it has crossed her mind? As someone who put my thoughts into actions, I often wondered why more people didn’t. At uni, I would often listen to my mates talk about becoming a sex worker or sugar daddying for money, but very few, if any of them, make the jump and put their words into a reality. In recovery groups, I listened to people talk about being in absolute destitution, that they had no money, were desperate, rattling and were close to being homeless. Some would speak about becoming a sex worker, but again, they never made did it, but why?

Sex work can be enticing, and if it wasn’t, nobody would be a sex worker. Perhaps I jumped into it with a lot of naivety.

Stigma

Listening to my friend talking about how desperate she was, I was thinking in the back of my mind that sex work could cure her ills she was talking to me about. However, I didn’t mention it, because I didn’t wish to plant the seed. Sex work is work, but I would never be the person to encourage others, especially when I know someone is feeling desperate. It just doesn’t sit well with me. A week later, she rung me up saying she was thinking of becoming a sex worker (she didn’t know I was one). I offered safety advice, resources and charities to contact, but out of nowhere, she said ‘No, I could never be that desperate to actually become a dirty prozzie, there must be another way’. I was taken back, and everything in me wanting to unleash a barrage of information about stigma and stereotypes, and tell her I was a sex worker – but I didn’t. There are times to pick your battles, and that wasn’t the time. The last thing she needed was me ripping her throat out to add to her troubles.

Survival sex work is very much a thing, but even the most desperate still reject becoming a sex worker. I don’t blame them, it’s a personal choice. It’s not for everyone and I respect everyone’s decision not to. However, I can’t deny that social stigma is one reason for rejecting it. As demonstrated by my friend, the thought of becoming a ‘dirty prozzie’ was too much. Although I reject what she said, there is no denying that by becoming a sex worker, you take on these stigma and stereotypes, whether you like it or not. This was a line too far for her and she didn’t wish to be branded as a ‘prozzie’ which she associated with as being ‘dirty’. It upset me that she thought that, and I did eventually tell her I was a sex worker and she didn’t take it very well. Social stigma runs deep in sex work, despite knowing someone as a friend, sex work it too much of a barrier to overcome. Children are rejected by their family, friends turn their back on each other and loved ones shame you.

I describe stigma like a weight you have to drag around with you at all times. You can’t get rid of it, and depending on what country you’re in, the weight is heavier. I’d see it as a weight that surrounds your entire body, because you’re constantly having to deflect and it is integral to you. Why would anyone want that? My support worker knows well how badly stigma impacts you, much more than I did before I started working. I didn’t realise it would lock me out of services; be refused mental health support; have people assume I’m dirty or full of STIs; nor did I anticipate people expecting I was sexually abused as a child, or something went wrong in life ‘to end up’ as a sex worker. Stigma runs deep personally also and is reflected in how I present myself, how I act and how I feel about myself. I can’t deny I try to present better than how I feel in fear of being judged for being a sex worker. I carry the social stigma myself, and is a heavy burden on my mental health. Every once in a while, the heavy weight collapses in on me.

Violence

I later reflected on the conversation I had with my support worker and realised that although she knows sex work perhaps better than I do, there are reasons she never became a sex worker. Many of the reasons are possibly personal, but I also realise that she sees the bad side of sex work a lot more than me. I have my own personal experiences, but her entire role is supporting sex workers who have experienced sexual violence and are going through reporting to court. Unlike me, she would enter the sex industry with all the knowledge in mind – I can’t imagine that’s easy. I think ignorance can be bliss sometimes, because I did not have the same experiences before entering, and was quite naive. Although we always offer safety advice, we don’t tell people horror stories of awful attacks on sex workers (rightly so), but it can be a reality for some.

In fact, the idea of violence is a core reason people don’t become sex workers. For some, they almost see sex work as synonymous with sexual violence, and deem that it is inevitable. I reject this idea too, but again, we can’t deny violence does happen in sex work, whether that be rape, robbery, exploitation or any other form of abuse. The blame lies with the perpetrator, not with sex work itself however. It is a hard reality to swallow that these things do happen, and it is something people need to think of when becoming a sex worker. Violence is the core reason sex worker orgs push safety information, because it does happen. It’s the reason why we screen clients, have Ugly Mugs to warn other sex workers and why working with a friend is integral, even if it is considered illegal due to brothel-keeping laws. For those such as my support worker, they know this all too well. Even the small risk of this happening isn’t worth it, and I completely empathise and understand that.

I’m quite open about my bad experiences in sex work. Although I don’t reveal everything, I think it is important for people to realise that there is bad amongst the good, and sex work isn’t all what it is marketed to be. I will always be critical of those who try to silence those who have had bad experiences, in fear of abolitionists weaponising it. Let them, it should demonstrate why we need safety and decriminalisation more than ever. We can’t keep up the marketing facade when we are offering safety advice, or when someone is thinking about becoming a sex worker. We have to be realistic about what can be the realities of it, even if it hasn’t happened to you personally. Yes, you may earn lots of money in a short time span, but you could also be raped, robbed, abandoned on street, or ultimately killed. It’s why sex work is high reward, because it’s high risk.

The reality of sex work

One of the reasons I don’t talk about sex work is because I don’t like to encourage people. If I start talking about the money you can potentially earn, you quickly find people salivating at the mouth at the thought of the idea of a quick fix. They become so blindsided by the thought of earning a lot of money in a short space of time, they forget the actual reality of sex work. I am speaking from experience; I confided in a friend that I earned money from sex work and I didn’t realise just how interested she was. I didn’t brag or glorify it, but I forget how enticing it must seem to others. I sometimes feel I have to quickly balance this out by reminding people if they aren’t ready emotionally and physically ready to be a sex worker, as well as the challenges that comes with it, then don’t take it on if you can avoid it. She became a sex worker without telling anyone, and she hated it. When telling me about this later, she felt that it burst her bubble of what she thought sex work would be. She quickly stopped working.

The truth is, sex work isn’t what the marketing makes it out to be. There is a reason I love following anonymous or shit-posting sex workers on Twitter, because they’re generally the ones I relate to the most. They’re anti-client and talk about the crapness of sex work in general. In fact, there are times where sex work can really shit or take a toll on your mental health, and it has mine. Sometimes, a client can make my skin crawl, or I have a panic attack when they do certain things or I feel generally uncomfortable with them. As mentioned above, I swallow the stigma and stereotypes myself and I feel the internalised whorearchy too. All of which have an impact on how I act, respond or feel about myself. Also, sex can be very personal to some people, and they don’t like the thought of sharing something they feel is so personal with others. There is nothing wrong with this either.

Sex work can also be quite boring, lonely and stressful. There are long periods of time when you may not get work, and you don’t see anyone other than other clients; resulting in you feeling isolated and stressed about money. If you work from home, you may find this difficult to separate work and personal life, which is a challenge for me at times. The reality of sex work is that it can be as dull as any other job, except you deal with clients who message ‘hi’, which they wouldn’t do to any other service provider. Sitting in your lingerie in a hotel room all day on your own, trying to weed out the time wasters is not as fun or glamorous as it perhaps looks.

You need some guts

It isn’t easy being a sex worker, especially when you first start out. I remember one of my first jobs, and I was extremely nervous. I told myself not to go but couldn’t afford not to. It was a sex worker’s worst nightmare. Client arrived and he was about 6’6 and a hefty guy, he told me was schizophrenic and sometimes snaps, that his wife is bipolar and due to their mental illnesses, she pays for him to see escorts four times a year. What a brilliant opening job, but I didn’t feel as nervous as this scenario sounds. I must have hidden my inner thoughts and worries that he might ‘snap’ as he described it because he left me a good review. I wasn’t really deterred by this, and kept going without too much worry. When I recount this to others, they are horrified and can’t believe I didn’t run for the door due to his height, size or mental health disclosures. To be honest, I’m glad he told me, although like I said earlier, sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Let’s be honest, it can take some real guts to be a sex worker. You are meeting complete strangers, sometimes inviting them into your home, to have sex with them. There is a lot to manage such as the conversation, expectations, firm boundaries, getting rid of them at the end and safety. When you’re a sex worker, or have been for a while, you do these things naturally without thinking. When you first get into it, it’s a lot to manage especially if you’re anxious. Even when I stopped working and restarted, I still got nervous again and the butterflies in my stomach came back as I arranged my first booking. The job isn’t for the faint hearted because once you’ve handed out your postcode or full address, that’s it, you have to deal with whatever comes after. You are also balancing stigma, potential assault and not knowing what to do if something goes wrong – the police aren’t your friends, and a local sex work charity is a postcode lottery.

Street sex work takes a lot of courage or desperation, often both. It is not uncommon for street workers to smoke crack (if they are drug users) before they start working because it gives them more confidence to do the job. You get a lot more shit off punters and passers by when working street, and it really is not an easy place. Unlike indoor, you are completely exposed both to clients, the abusive passerby and the elements. You can’t hide your face, and discretion isn’t your best friend in this situation, even worse if the police are following you when you get into a car. Street workers often risk getting a criminal record, or slapped with a fine. Not to mention the higher dangers and stigma that comes with it. I don’t believe anybody walks down to the local street sex work areas for the first time without questioning their guts to do it. I used to deliberately distract myself or listen to music so I didn’t have to think of the practicality and reality of it – they’re not nice thoughts.

Losing your job

This one is quite simply explained in the title. Being a sex worker means you can risk losing your ‘civvie’ job. Although I would argue this is discrimination, many sex workers who have been fired from their jobs do not feel comfortable tackling it with their employer, and I understand why. I empathise with that because it’s not easy to bring up sex work at an employment tribunal and have your whole life scrutinised. Even worse is when they say you have brought the company into disrepute due to being a sex worker – how disgusting. Morality clauses are the enemy of sex workers, and this is largely due to stigma.

I know a street sex worker who left sex work, she got a regular job but was recognised by a client, who then subsequently told her employer. She was fired on the spot for something she did years ago. Despite having spent years building her life back up from drugs and sex work, she found herself back at square one and even more entrenched in sex work. It ruined her entire life, and she was so proud of her little job. It gave her a life and stability she craved. Firing employees for sex working only pushes them further into sex work. You are forcing them to rely on it even more so as it becomes their sole income. You are not helping anyone in this situation. You can’t either support sex workers, or want to rescue them, if you fire them.

Many fear that a small time in their lives will come back to bite them. Almost like revenge porn. Where for a few months of your life you sold nudes, videos or was an escort, but years down the line, it comes out. Suddenly, you’re sacked from your professional job, been humiliated in front of your colleagues who you’ve worked with for years and hide yourself in shame. Once again, this only fuels the cycle of sex work further. This is also true if you have a job alongside escorting and is the main reason people cover their faces in pictures, or online. It has serious financial and mental consequences. It can truly flip your life upside down. This is even worse if you are a porn performer and it is uploaded to a popular porn site.

Personal reasons

I have met some of the fiercest sex worker allies tell me they could never be a sex worker for personal reasons. I respect all their reasons, but I challenge them to really consider how true that is if you have children at home, the bills are stacked high, you’re about to lose your house and your kids are hungry. I wonder how enticing sex work, which has no barrier to entry, would become their reality. In fact, single mothers are a large majority of sex workers. Many of which work in the margins because they have the most to lose, as they fear losing their children due to their job.

Ultimately, sex work is up to you, and whichever reason you feel is not worth it, that’s absolutely fine, and requires no justification. I would never encourage someone, nor would I bombard them with all the positives. I am a sex worker who made the jump of turning my thoughts into my job, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect those who don’t do the same. I wrote this blog post because I found it interesting to listen to people from the other side, who weren’t sex workers, or feel they could never become one. It also helped me reflect on sex work itself, and actually, how difficult it can be. Sex work, like all jobs, if you find the negatives outweighing the negatives, or it is having a detrimental impact on your life, stop if you can.

To other survival sex workers who feel they are unable to stop, I recommend speaking to other sex workers. Get it off your chest how you feel, rant about how fucking angry you are, how trapped you feel; how you’ve had enough; how much you dislike clients; how you feel money has a hold over you. Speak about your life, your experiences, what bothers you about sex work and be unrepentant when relaying how it makes you feel – either good or bad. Cry about it if you must, scream into a pillow or write it all out. I recommend putting on angry songs and singing as loud as you can – it ain’t easy! But I recommend Cranberries – Zombie.

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What Do I Like About Being a Sex Worker?

I’ve never claimed to be a happy hooker and actively talk about the bad sides of it. So much so, sex workers can sometimes get annoyed because they fear I am playing into the hands of abolitionists. Yet, there is no pretending sex work is always fine and dandy, especially when working street, or driven from a place of desperation. However, there is a lot I do like about it. If it was 100% bad then I wouldn’t keep doing it. Although I’d say more bad than good, the goods can be very good and that’s what keeps me coming back, even if it does sometimes feel like a trap. Sex work can be a true blessing for some, and there has been times where it has felt like exactly that to me.

Money

We all know this is perhaps the main reason for becoming a sex worker, at least, it has been in my experience and that of friends. Money makes the world go round; gives us freedom; allows us to have greater choices in our life. I am not in love with money, but we all need it and enjoy having some – I am no different. Working indoor, I was blown away by the money at first, I couldn’t believe it. I began questioning why doesn’t everyone do this? It seemed like a very quick solution to a problem that has effected me my whole life – poverty. Although the fear of being chronically poor has never left me, I know the option is forever there to prevent destitution.

I studied International Relations at University because I was interested in the connections between states, the history of how we got to where we are today and who made it that way and why. However, the more I dug deep, I realised just how fucked I was as a poor person. Book after book reminded me that poverty is structural, and very few escape it. To rub salt in the wound, they say that social mobility has never been so bad and the rich rely on the poor, thus, there will be always be poor people. Growing up in a large family of eight, I was aware of my socioeconomic status in the world, and it wasn’t good. Sex work felt like breaking free of that. I was no longer chained to the feeling of being poor all the time, because I knew I could simply just earn more money.

As every sex worker will tell you, the thought of going back to a ‘normal’ job feels daunting. Why? Because in no other job can you earn £80 in half hour, or £130 an hour. The thought of going back to a job we don’t enjoy, with colleagues we secretly detest, dealing with work politics and not having much time for a personal life isn’t very appealing. Capitalism works in opposition to sex work in some aspects. For example, capitalism demands you work more and more, in which you will be rewarded greater. Sex work on the other hand, means I can work less and be rewarded equally. Isn’t this what we all want? Of course, there is much more complexities between capitalism and sex work, but it flies in the face of the dominant discourse of get a degree, get a good job, work hard, ruin your family life, retire rich.

This isn’t perfect of course, and there are many jobs I’d happily do other than sex work. The issue is that they don’t pay as well. The critique is of capitalism, not of the workers.

Money feeds largely into the topics below, particularly freedom. Money dominates everyone’s lives, it is the common theme for us all. If you don’t feel it dominates your life, then question why you have a job to begin with, and then imagine yourself having no money and high debts – the thought should induce panic. It does for me too, and is exactly why I became a sex worker, because that panic was constant and wouldn’t switch off. It kept me awake at night, left me in more desperate situations and feel worse off for it. It ruined my sleep, my health and general wellbeing, sex work solved that feeling.

Freedoms

This ties closely with money, but sex work gives me a lot of freedoms. The freedom to be financially independent is the most important to me. Nobody is controlling my income, and I am not accountable to anyone either. I can spend what I like, and regardless of whether you see sex work as work or not, it pays my bills, keeps me housed and fed. I don’t feel accountable to anyone, and provided I have enough to pay my rent and what not, then I’m okay. Anything else is up to me. Money gives you freedom and choices, and I have been grateful to have them. Whether it was during a time where it saved me from absolute destitution, kept me away from an abuser, or allowed me to buy a sofa. This is why I will never support the Nordic Model because regardless of ideology, I do not believe in restricting anyone’s income, because it harms their freedoms, autonomy and choices.

I have so much freedom with my time, and this can feel quite liberating. It has been a long time since I’ve felt rigid and tied down to something, and feeling like I have to commit to anything. This allows for so much spare time, because I don’t have to work often to earn the same as I would full-time elsewhere. I never appreciated this before, usually because I was so busy with other things that were bad. Now, I have time to pick up hobbies, I spent time doing counselling, I now have a part time flexi job. I catch up on my housework without pressure, am able to cook my meals rather than batch cook for the week. I can grab things I need without it being a big chore to do after work. I love it, especially cause the shops are not as busy in the daytime.

For the first time in my life, I have bought houseplants. Before, I never bothered because I didn’t have time, and if they died, I didn’t care. I never used to read, do hobbies or actively take time to look after myself. Now, I have the time to do these things and I know sex work is to thank for this.

Health

Like a fair share of sex workers, I have a chronic health condition, one that puts me in hospital from time to time, and is at times difficult to manage. Becoming a sex worker allowed me work my life around my medical condition and when I ended up in hospital, I had nobody to add to the stress. I didn’t need to bring myself to ring my boss, riddled with anxiety, to tell them I can’t make it to work because I am currently in hospital and will be for the next 2 weeks. I had nobody to answer to, and I loved it. Of course, I wasn’t thinking this at the time, but in hindsight, I am grateful for it.

The biggest benefit was, I also didn’t have anyone pressuring me to go straight back to work either which I did in previous jobs. I allowed myself to heal, recuperate and generally get back on the bandwagon when I felt comfortable to do so again. Although I was poorer for it, I had made my mind up that my health was more important at the time. It was worth it, and I don’t think I’d have been able to allow myself 2 months off work for an adrenal crisis and sepsis recovery in any other job. This may not sound like a big benefit of the sex work, but imagine yourself having to ring up your boss and tell them bad news about your health, and that you can’t work. Then, whilst you’re off, you’re being pressured into returning, or being involved in work stuff when you’re supposed to be at home resting.

Health extends to mental health, and at times mine has been awful. I do feel sex work is partly to blame, but I was having problems long before I became a sex worker. There are times when days are bad, and that’s okay, but it means I don’t have to work when those days happen. I don’t lye in bed feeling horrific, and then think about commuting to work when I would rather crawl up in a ball. I can manage my work around my mental health, rather than the other way around. It also allows me time to schedule in counselling sessions, attend my GP appointments and various other things with regards to health. The opposite is trying to squeeze these things in after work from your 9-5, or letting things get so bad until you finally have to see someone, because you neglected it due to work.

Community

A sense of belonging is important to everyone; it’s almost fundamental. Whether that comes from being part of a family, a friendship group, a religious group or hobbyists. Being a part of a community is even more important when you’re stigmatised, and you know you can’t be open about it with others. This is what I love about sex work. I have met some incredible people who I truly admire. I have seen brave sex workers out themselves in the hope of making better services for others, in the hope of breaking down stigma. I’ve watched support workers relentlessly advocate for sex workers, be the first in the line to defend us against some of the nastiest vitriolic abuse. Above all, sex workers themselves are usually the first to lend a hand.

Internal stigma is a thing, and something I will admit to having. I held it deep and dearly, nurturing it more than I ever wanted to. However, I started meeting other sex workers for the first time and it was like a breath of fresh air. Before you know it, I’m slagging off clients left, right and centre and we’re laughing over sex work *whoops* moments and blowing up condoms. I can’t do this with anyone else, they just wouldn’t get it. They would find it weird, not be able to relate and perhaps keep their distance from me. The stigma feels less when it is shared, and we can laugh about it. Not being judged by your peers is important, and gives you a true sense of relief.

There is a solidarity amongst sex workers, and I believe it’s because we have had to rely on each other for support, as we are often excluded from others; whether the ‘others’ are services, counselling, friends or pushed out by our families. When COVID19 happened, it was SWARM and allies who set up the Hardship Fund to help sex workers. It was during some of the most difficult times in my life where sex workers were the first to help me. In fact, I wouldn’t have been able to do street sex work without the friendship and kindness of other sex workers. They looked out for me and my safety; they mothered me a lot; I was taught all the best places and punters; and they helped me find my unleash my inner anti-client.

I didn’t even know what feminism was until I became a sex worker, let alone the different types of feminism. The sex work community has taught me so much and sits at the heart of my politics. Never have I learned so much about theory, feminism, politics, Jess Phillips, borders, states, immigration and whatever else. I am grateful for it, because it has shaped who I am, what I believe and what I am passionate about. I was always a left-winger, but never for the reasons that I am today.

Overall

As much as I bash sex work, I will always find myself coming back whether I like it or not. It’s not because I love the job, but because it solves a problem and gives me a practical solution. Until you put money in my hand, give me an equally paid job, ensure I will never be poor, or pay all my bills, then I will never turn my back on it, or listen to an abolitionist who wants me to leave. It has helped me when nobody else did, and sex work has ultimately got me to where I am today, even if it has been a shitty journey! When my sofa arrives and I feel carpet under my feet, when I buy my favourite dinner or meet my friends in the daytime, I have sex work to thank.

I always keep blog posts free but if you wish to support me, please consider:

PayPal.me/gracesumner22
or

patreon.com/graceyswer

Switching off Survival Mode

In a recovery group, we recently covered the topic of motivation. The group worker asked us what motivates us, and immediately I said fear. It wasn’t fear from someone else, or fear of not being perfect but rather, fear that things will collapse if I don’t keep going. I explained that if I don’t do my job, the world around me will cave in and the thought of that is too much to bear. I’m not sure this resonated as much with the group, who met my negative response to motivation with blank stares. This isn’t fear of losing material items, but my home. Similarly, I told my GP that I didn’t care what happened to me, as long as my rent was paid then anything else in life is simply extra. She had to remind me that food, clothing and utilities are not extras, but are in fact, essential.

These feelings aren’t new to me. Growing up, I remember my mum always making sure rent was paid, and any other bills were secondary. Drilled into our mind from an early age was that provided there is a roof over your head, the rest can be sorted after, and that rent should always be paid first. For most people, they likely include their utilities and food bill in this ‘essential’ category, and anything left after is for yourself. This isn’t the case when you are living precariously and you know starving and having no food is not as important as having nowhere to sleep, there is no extra for yourself. These attitudes were reflected in my conversation to the GP, because going hungry doesn’t matter provided you are warm and protected. It’s difficult to get across to people just how ingrained in my mind this is. I would happily eat ice cubes to soothe hunger pains knowing full well my rent is paid.

Motivation

As the recovery group continued discussing motivation, we spoke about positive and negative motivation. Positive motivation is when you do something because you believe there is reward from it, or perhaps by doing something it will make you feel good, such as volunteering. Negative motivation on the other hand, describes when you are motivated because you fear the loss of something, or to run away from the pain by not doing something. This is where survival sex work comes in, why you can’t stop, even if you want to. I have never said I am a happy sex worker and it is these awful attitudes that have kept me chugging along. It is why I cry about how much I wish to leave, but wipe the tears away and get on with it, because I know if I don’t, I will fall back again. I told my support worker this week that I would rather kill myself than go back into the hostel. So, for me, it feels like keep working, or kill yourself. This is of course too simplistic, but I’m running from the fear of the hostel, of killing myself, of being homeless and being without.

People often talk about surviving vs thriving, and it can sometimes feel like a cliché style of phrase. However, it is very accurate. Maslow’s infamous Hierarchy of Needs demonstrates that physiological needs are core, and these include shelter, clothing, water and food. However, if you are constantly chasing the basic necessities, or you simply don’t have them, how do you ever climb the hierarchy? The thought of even considering things such as friendship, self-esteem, or self-actualisation are not even a thing because they don’t matter. I have lost significant respect, status, sense of belonging and relationships at the expensive of trying to sustain the bare minimum. It makes me sound really brutal, but the top of the pyramid can all be sacrificed when you’re desperate. I would argue it’s why addicts steal from their loved ones – it’s not because they hate them or wish them harm, but it’s because their basic needs aren’t being met. Despite the shame they may end up feeling, it doesn’t matter because survival is number one.

I hope you are never in the position but I can assure you, you will hurt you loved ones if you are withdrawing from drugs, or you are so financially desperate to the point your water is cut off and you can’t cook, bathe or even drink.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

I have spent years in this awful cycle of survival. I realised that I have never had the opportunity to pursue positive motivations because I have been too busy running away, keeping my head afloat. Most people go to University for positive motivation, because they believe it will get them a good job and they can see the long-term benefits. For me, I went simply to get away from home. I chose the University the furthest away from home that would accept me and vowed never to return to my hometown, no matter what happened in life. I endured any difficulty because I could not return to what I had left. This is exactly what negative motivation is. I don’t actually care about my degree, and I never did because it was the distance I craved, not the prospects at the end.

All of my siblings had their route to escape home, and mine was education. Some of us got into relationships and moved out as quick as we could; some got a job and took on the burden of poverty by taking on rent we couldn’t afford; some spiralled into crime to earn money to get away. Home wasn’t safe, I was constantly trying to flee. It was this negative motivation that pushed me through my A Levels, which were undertaken during one of the most difficult times of my life. I cried my heart out on a bench on my own on results day because I made the grades to go to Uni. I cried because I knew I was finally free, not because I was overjoyed to reap the rewards of my hard work. I thought about pursuing a masters degree, but I am no longer fleeing so it’s a different motivation this time, and I don’t feel confident or equally motivated.

Sex work

Unfortunately, this survival mode is so entrenched that it naturally intertwined with my decision to become a sex worker. Money is a fundamental motivation in everyone’s life, it’s why we go to work. I was so swept away by the money I was earning at first that it felt like a cure the fears I had been harbouring for so long. I knew it would give me the financial security I could only dream of, so I kept going, even when I didn’t need to. However, as any sex worker will know, this soon came crashing down when I realised just how unreliable the income is. Instead of stopping and working out other streams of income, I kept going instead. My motivations kept changing – from survival, to thriving, to drugs and addiction, to housing security. Sex work has truly saved me from falling off the edge when I have been so close. However, it sometimes feel like a trap because I know I couldn’t now be without it.

It is argued that the term ‘survival sex work’ should be removed from the language of sex work. I disagree. It serves it’s purpose and describes well the differences between those who are scraping by, and the sex workers who have greater choices, financial stability, do not live chaotic lives or facing homelessness, drug use or other disadvantages. People argue that it causes division among sex workers. However, we can not be lumped into one group. The needs of certain sex workers are different, and this needs to be appreciated. If we remove the term, we are not doing justice to tackling the reasons why many felt they had to turn to sex work such as drugs and poverty. Otherwise, it assumes sex workers are a homogenous group who are all facing the same issues, we are not. You can argue that we are all surviving, but that isn’t the reality for those who are at the middle to top. All sex workers work for income to live, but not all are having sex for drugs or for £10.

Above all, survival sex workers are at greater risk of sexual exploitation because they have less financial ability to say no, because they feel they can’t. We all know abusers exploit the most vulnerable or the most desperate. It’s also one of the core reasons why the Nordic Model does very little to help the people they say will benefit mostly from it, because removing income removes choices. When you remove or restrict people’s choices, they make desperate situations such as unprotected sex for more money. I know when working street, the other girls get angry at those who do unprotected sex, but there is also an unspoken understanding as to why, because they are rattling from drug withdrawal and we all empathise with that. Nobody holds a grudge. For me, financial freedom is fundamental to me. I am so scared that without it, I will find myself relying on abusive people again, because I crave security more than the fear of abuse.

As I wrote in a previous blog that financial abuse is my one of the main reasons why I keep shooting myself in the foot, doing things I don’t want to as the fear of being financially insecure is worse. Without financial freedom, you find yourself being controlled by the person you may find income from such as a partner, charity or even your children. When you ask a sex worker why they keep working when they don’t want to, don’t think it’s because we just love doing it. As a street sex worker, I’d get asked that all the time by clients and sometimes by services. It used to make me angry because they are making the presumption that I am deliberately making the worst decision for myself, assuming I am incapable of knowing myself, or acting in my own best-interest.

Switching off

I am housed, my biggest fear has been alleviated. Yet, the fear hasn’t. I still think someone is going to ring me up and tell me they made a mistake, telling me the flat isn’t mine and I have to leave. I still haven’t felt the homely feeling as I walk through the door, because I am too scared to get attached to the thought of having a home, just in case it is ripped away from me – emotionally protecting myself. Chasing money to find a place to stay has gone, the constant anxiety and weight on my chest has slightly lifted, although it’s not gone and I keep expecting it to drop back on me. It’s worse this time though, because now I know what to expect and remember how awful it was, whereas before, I was just making my way through a difficult time, and clinging onto hope that things would get better.

This is learned behaviour, I haven’t reached these conclusions by accident. It is because I have been constantly living on the edge, in a high-stress situation where my fundamental needs have not been met. Needs that are core and essential but I’ve been given no resources, instruction manual or tools to meet the need. How can I ever thrive, or expect myself to when I haven’t even got a foundation to fall back onto? I sound irrational ringing up my support worker and telling her that although I’ve paid my rent this month, I still need to find more money just in case something ever happens, and I have to up and leave and start again. She reminds me it’s not irrational and is to be expected given everything that has happened in the past few years, but I am angry that I can’t shut this nagging in my mind.

As I sit here, feeling relatively safe as it’s past 5pm so I know nobody from the council is going to ring me up tonight to tell me to leave, I ask myself what now, and how do I switch this off? I don’t want to punish myself by not doing so, because that’s counterproductive. I can’t expect myself to change my behaviour when history has shown me how engrained it has been over many years. However, sitting down and realising why I am this way is awful. It reminds me of every bad situation I endured because I was driven by an invisible fear in my mind; of every angry conversation I had with services because they didn’t understand why I was this way; how much I have neglected myself and my health in pursuit of stability; each time I questioned my own sanity because I didn’t understand why I kept doing something I hated.

Last week, I sat watching a documentary, and there was nothing in it that was particularly relevant to myself or my life, but I found myself in floods of tears randomly. I try to explain to people it’s like grief. One day, you are making dinner and you realise you don’t need to get a second plate out because they are no longer there. Before you know it, you’re on the floor in tears despite your loved one having passed months ago, and the sense of loss feels fresh and raw again. These things come out of nowhere, and catch you when you least expect it. Being chronically poor or having chronic instability takes its toll on you. I am forever torn between not wanting to seem ungrateful to have my flat and realising how bad things have been, and hating that I now have the time to sit back and reflect on it from a place of relative safety. When I was in constant fight and flight mode, I didn’t have time nor care to look back because I had to keep going forward or end up worse off.

Tackling your emotions can feel scary. I am sure anyone can relate to when you feel low or bad about yourself, suddenly everything you’ve felt bad about floods your mind, making you feel even lower. It’s why we avoid it. However, I implore people that if, like me, you find yourself crying as you’re walking to the shop because a random memory has popped into your mind, seek help. It’s one of the first signs that your mind is telling you something is wrong, and you need to deal with it. Therapists tell clients that it is only when you are safe does your mind also feel safe to revisit these memories and tackle them. If you keep pushing them down, either by locking them away or downing 2 bottles of wine a night, they’ll continue to eat you up inside. It’s what kept me in the cycle of addiction.

What now?

The truth is, I haven’t switched off survival mode and I don’t feel ready emotionally ready yet to say I have a home. It would be unrealistic of me to expect so much from myself so early on. However, I am recognising that I feel this way and learning why. I am also seeking mental health support, reading lots about c-PTSD and general self-help books. It’s not much, but I’m making an effort and realising that I am this way is half the battle. You can’t resolve something when you don’t recognise there is a problem.

I am no longer a survival sex worker in terms of working to reach the basics anymore. Although I still work to pay my bills, and buy basic furniture. I am no longer on the edge anymore, and I have a foundation. I am still not thriving however, I am stagnant. Although, many may argue this means I am still a survival sex worker. I continue to have the mind-set of a survival sex worker – the fears that come with it, the memories which keep you fuelling that cycle too. My support workers always remark on how little I live off, they encourage me to spend more on myself, to enjoy money and treat myself. However, I can’t, I keep feeling as though I need reserves because an unexpected bill will throw me into an awful spiral again.

There is a lot to be done, both mentally and physically, to get myself out of this mindset. I know I need to allow myself to relax, but rationally, history tells me it’s not okay to and therefore, I need proof first before I can relax. Although, I need to define what the proof is, otherwise I will keep justifying this feeling of survival. Once I have carpets, a sofa, and have lived here for 6+ months, got a job and put my roots down, or lived here long enough for condiments to expire, maybe then will I emotionally allow myself to call these walls my home.

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Complicated Feelings About Sex Work

Sex work is a blessing or a curse, and sometimes both. The alleviation of poverty is a blessing, but always knowing it remains an option for yourself may be a curse, if, like me, you dislike sex working. It is a psychological crux that I can not switch off, and it drives me up the wall. The feeling of survival, even when it is no longer needed, hangs over your head like a horrible reminder of how quickly your life can change. It is this drive that keeps me accepting the next job, because I fear another might not come, because I worry about needing enough money just in case my life uproot itself again, or I find myself back in a hostel. I got into sex work for the wrong reasons. Even when I know I don’t want to do it, I always know the consequences are worse if I don’t.

Like all jobs, I get on with it, taking the good with the bad and accepting things as they are. But the lows are so low in sex work, and this hit me hard in January. The cold bites hard, I’m wearing tights under my leggings, my thickest socks, a rape alarm in my coat and hand warmers in my gloves. I am not happy, and I cry my heart out on the outreach bus for 2 hours. I felt too cold to carry on and went home. The next day I was assaulted, and signed myself off sex work forever. I announced online I had quit, wasn’t going to do it anymore and simply couldn’t cope. I have to ask myself, do all those around me want to be here either? No, no they didn’t. Who really wants to be doing this? I’m sick of lack of choice being batted around as a justification of sex work being rape, when the choice was removed due to poverty or addiction, not the client. If you handed me money and told my energy provider to fuck off, I wouldn’t be there. Also, choice and consent are not the same – choice is in the context of socioeconomic resources available to me.

Of course we all know there reasons that led us here that need resolving; Universal Credit, multi agency support with DV, drug and alcohol services, harm reduction and whatever else we may need. But the reality is, sex work felt shit, especially on the street. I can’t paint a good picture of it, I can’t sit there and say we are happy hookers, that we are empowered, that we are all proud to be sex worker either, because we don’t feel that way. In fact, I have gone home crying because of people driving round, shouting and spitting at me, throwing stuff at me, pretending to puke, and generally harassing me. Internal shame, stigma and general feelings of worthless plague me too. You feel extremely exposed on street too – there is no protections against this stuff, and I worry about things like whether they will mount the pavement and run me over.

Working indoors gives me less relief from the crappy thoughts and feelings. I dislike the job even then, and perhaps more so because the emotional labour is higher. At least with street, there is less expectation and I would argue, it is less personal. It’s been a while since I was sex working regularly and I started against recently, and it made me realise more than ever just how much I dislike it. My mind sometimes reels with clients asking me to do things I didn’t want to, only to be met with ‘well I’ve paid so you sort of have to’ and it wasn’t anything particularly bad they asked for, just something I was uncomfortable with. It’s easy to say to me ‘just say no’ but it really isn’t that easy, I am not that confident, and I’m constantly weighing up the punters temperament and assessing if it’s easier to just get on with it or risk him flying off the handle or maybe rob me.

Above all, I have moments where I have existential crisis moments; where I sit there and think what the fuck am I doing? There are times where I sit there and really think about the dynamics of a client asking me about his daughter problems, a daughter who I am younger than. When I started working again, all I could think about was what am I doing as the client was clutching me closer – my senses heightened, my skin crawled, my face couldn’t hide how much I disliked the smell of his aftershave, a smell which rubbed off and lingered on me all day. My mind can’t cope, sometimes I can feel a lump in my throat because I am on the verge of crying as I feel like shit. Not just that, I’ve got my own mental heath to be dealing with and the high emotional labour is extremely taxing on my own. I can leave a booking feeling emotionally exhausted, wanting to crawl up on the sofa, watch tele and not talk to anyone for a few days.

Sex work is work, it is a job, but we can’t deny that it is an extremely personal job. One that can sometimes leave you wanting to peel your skin off; scrub it with bleach; not want to sit in your own bedroom because you worked there; scream because you can’t relate to anyone else around you, feeling isolated. When I went to the Sex/Work strike, I felt out of place because nobody around me looked like the people I worked with, it felt like a place of empowerment, one that I didn’t belong to. I feel very out of place in sex worker circles talking about how crap it is, how it was driven by survival, how there are times when I am really fed up with it. In fact, I sat and cried to my counsellor on Monday, telling her I wanted to leave but felt I couldn’t financially, and the drive for survival overrides that of anything I feel. She didn’t know what much to say – she is a pro sex worker counsellor, and she doesn’t suggest to leave or quit, but it still feels frustrating to be having the same conversations.

On Twitter, there is so much baiting and back/forth with SWERFs and sex workers themselves. I can get so caught up in it that I forget about the job itself. I don’t give a flying fuck what Bindel or Glinner are thinking about, tweeting from the solace of their homes when I’m working. I think people don’t appreciate how much your mind is fixed on sex work. In fact, I discovered Twitter long after becoming a sex worker and didn’t know nothing about the politics behind sex work. There are many times where I wish I didn’t because it’s just another layer of things to take on, and sex work politics itself can be a very hostile environment – I don’t regret it, but there are downfalls, and ignorance is bliss. Whether its because it’s been your lifestyle for years, one that you have heavily invested in both emotionally and financially, and that extends to debates, activism, policy making etc. It becomes so integral to your every being, and sometimes, I would give everything to get rid of it. I hate the fact sex work has become a bigger part of me than I ever wanted. I feel exposed and rubber stamped.

If you’ve read to this point, you’re probably worrying that I have become a radical feminist conference speaker’s wet dream; that I am picking up the cuffs and pushing for the Nordic Model. It is this very attitude that prevents me from ever really talking about my feelings about sex work because the backlash I get from sex workers who say I’m fuelling abolitionists. I really don’t care, this is how I feel about sex work. It can be, and is shit, but that doesn’t mean you have to call for abolition or the Nordic Model; I am not that selfish and ready to throw my fellow hookers under the bus like that. You will not be catching me on a podium addressing a radical feminist conference anytime soon. But why not if I hate it so much? Well, no matter how I feel about it, no matter how much I hate it or that it makes my skin crawl, it doesn’t mean it didn’t solve a lot of other problems in my life, nor would it resolve what led me to become a sex worker. It certainly doesn’t mean I wish to stop it for everyone else because I had a bad time.

In the face of that, I also know criminalisation does not resolve any of the problems I mentioned above. Criminalising the client doesn’t remove my need for money, it doesn’t stop his aftershave making my skin crawl, it just means it will be a riskier client’s aftershave instead. Not just that, there are pros of sex work, primarily financial. I am forever grateful for sex work being an option when I needed it in my moment of need, a solution I would not wish to remove for anyone else. Whether it is right to wrong, or even how I personally feel isn’t relevant, because it will happen anyway. I can’t even begin to imagine the situations I would have ended up without sex work – I would likely have killed myself by now because I wouldn’t have been afforded the economic dependence I have now. There were reasons I left home, reasons why I refused to ask for help, why I decided to make it through life on my own. Without sex work, I know things would be worse. Why would I restrict someone else’s choices when I benefitted from these decisions myself?

Not just that, I have learned so much as a sex worker that I would not have anywhere else. In no other job have I learned so much about myself and others, the dynamics of relationships. In activism, I meet people whose courage I admire, whose passion for safety I hope to harness, and the knowledge sharing is immense – politics, society, (anti-)capitalism, economics, feminism, labour, states – all learned outside the textbook. Above all, I have forged friendships in true solidarity, ones that have come to save my ass when working, who have warned me about clients, and despite the whorearchy and at times, very spiteful sex workers, it really is a lovely community. I argue this is because we are used to mutual aid, relying on each other and supporting one another. Despite how abolitionists paint us, sex workers have been first in the line of people who have reached out their hand to help me, and I wouldn’t be here without them. Sex workers themselves were the first to step up when coronavirus devastated the incomes of their colleagues.

I admit, I sometimes struggle with myself when I see workers being so pro-empowerment and that’s not because they’re wrong, they can think and feel what they like, but it’s because I feel so far removed from that – it’s just not my experience. Regardless, I always support their right to work and be safe, and to tell people what being a sex worker is for them. It may not be mine, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, when someone first told me they just wanted to be a sex worker, I was really taken back because I always assumed people did it for a reason or circumstance just like me and my friends. However, this is a bigger reflection of my narrow minded thinking, and who am I to tell them what to do or be, it’s none of my business, it is a collective responsibility that they’re safe though!

Sometimes, I can’t help feel that sex work is a trap. It is high income, sometimes quick too depending on nature of how you work – even working outdoors can be high finance per hour (at great risk and cost). It is for this very reason why I will never be able to ever turn around and rule it out, and I hate that. I almost feel it has control over me, or perhaps my finances do. I know there is a lot to do mentally to tackle this feeling, and to tackle why I feel so strongly about working even when I don’t need to, because I am so scared of becoming poor again that I go into overdrive. It’s a horrible cycle really. Constantly living on edge is not a life to lead, living in fear of when you may run out, be without, even when you’re not and that no more jobs will come and you will be in a hostel again. On the flip side, I have done a lot of work on myself recently – counselling, self help & care, reading and general wellbeing which I know would not have been achieved slogging 40 hours a week. Something I’ve never been able to do before, and I am glad for.

Will I still cry when I listen to A Team by Ed Sheeran? Yes. Because it reminds me of so many of the women I grew to love, depend on, share life and laughter with, as well as the hardest times of my life. I think of them often, how they are and how sorry I am to have left, cut away from it all and moved away. It reminds me of the times I listened to it whilst getting ready, perhaps in self-punishment for how crap I was thinking and feeling. This feeling will unlikely ever leave me, as well as the awful thoughts that come with it, but I wouldn’t be without it. There is a lot of crap in sex work, and it’s these nuances that need to be appreciated. It’s okay to recognise this, be angry about it, upset about it and recognise it’s not what I want, but appreciating why it’s there, the need which led to it and the solutions it gave me.

I always keep blog posts free but if you wish to support me, please consider:

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