The Mental Health Residue of Sex Work

It’s been some time since I was regularly sex working. In fact, I was working daily before the pandemic, and doing various forms of sex work – literally working both day and night. When I wasn’t working, I felt immense worry that I was losing money and should be working. The pandemic broke this routine for me, but my mind was still in panic and overdrive. When I moved into my flat, I was no longer homeless, but again, the panic never left. I began sex working day and night again to pay for furniture, carpet, paint and whatever else I needed.

In a conference last month, I said that sex work itself saved me from sex work. By this I meant, sex work allowed me the money to get me away from sex work permanently, and it’s been my saving grace many times – who knows where I’d be without it. However, I can’t deny that at times, it’s been the thing that has sent me into emotional downturns very quickly, even when I didn’t realise it at the time. This week, I cried and pleaded to my support worker that I couldn’t go back to sex work anymore, but I didn’t realise how upset it was making me.

Although much of this post will be about me and my own experiences, I know some of these people relate to. I think it’s good to have these conversations, even though they are difficult to have. We often mute ourselves in fear of abolitionists using it against us, but it is wrong for them to use our lives for their fodder. We should control our own narrative, instead of constantly defending. For me, sex work and mental health are intertwined, because you aren’t just buying a service, my body is there too. With that body comes my mind, thoughts, emotions and whatever else. I am a human being, not a mindless sex robot.

Irrational thinking

Sex work can truly alter the way you think about a lot of things, and one main thing for me has been money. You either have none of it or loads of it, and there is rarely an in-between in sex work when you’re caught up in the thick of it. Sex work income is sporadic and is not continuous and reliable, unless of course you have a strong base of regulars, but that takes years. How you think about earning and spending it also changes, and I would argue is one of the hardest things to grapple with when it comes to leaving sex work and transitioning away. I always tell people who start sex work to always keep an eye on their money and a foot in the vanilla world, because you simply can’t compare it to normal earnings, and not because of the way you earn the money.

One of the things I have been so grateful for with regards to sex work was for the first time in my life, I didn’t have to check the prices of things in the supermarket and I could buy the little luxuries without guilt. This wasn’t and isn’t because I am rich, but it’s because I know the money can be earned back. When I used to spend £200 on something, I would feel immediate panic but soothe by telling myself I can just earn that back tomorrow in an hour or so. Money used to go through your hands very quickly, particularly when caught up in the cycle of drug use because money was easily accessible. I used to work out how much things cost by blowjobs, what clients I could see and when the money could be earned back. Most people work out their income by their hourly wage, and budget on a monthly income and work out big expenditures out by either saving or working overtime.

When it came to leaving and moving away from sex work by going into a vanilla job, it took ages (and continues) to adjust to the fact that money couldn’t be earned whenever I needed it and actually, to buy something. I told my mate that when the times comes to buy a car, I will just simply sex work to buy it because that’s what I know. It’s my answer to a big purchase, because the concept of putting aside 10% of my income doesn’t come naturally to me. Even when I had money and no longer needed to sex work, I still did it. I was so scared of being homeless again, losing out of money or fearing that due to the erratic nature of sex work income, I will never find a job again so I must take advantage of it now whilst I can.

Sometimes, it is only when I talk to people who have never done sex work do I realise how irrational I sound. However, when you’re so absorbed in that life all the time, and your peers around you might think the same or do the same, you don’t realise how odd it is.

Men

I would be lying if I said sex work didn’t change my opinion of men. However, I didn’t realise how much other people noticed it. I recently went for a job as a homeless outreach worker, and I passed the interview with flying colours. However, when it came to the outreach trial shift, they said I didn’t pass because I was incredibly jumpy and almost disinterested. It’s not because I have 0 compassion and empathy, of course I do. I realised that on reflection, I shut off around men and in fact, they do scare me, particularly when they’re walking towards me. After all, I probably wasn’t the right person for the job and maybe it turned out for the best. Although, this is the first time I ever thought about how I interact with men but it was because I was forced to, and I felt almost embarrassed that other people noticed it because I thought I had myself under control, and my personal life didn’t impact my professional life.

I always have my guard up in sex work around men. I am constantly expecting them to do something; remove a condom, grab me, pick me up and always need to have safety in your mind. Putting your guard down isn’t an option, you have to be control and show no weakness. I have reasons to be this way, because it happens. I’m 5 foot tall and weigh 7 stone, and men remark on how they could ‘just pick me up and snap me’. I’ve had men rape me, push me down, remove condoms, drug me, push boundaries and whatever else. I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t effected by these things, and to be honest, it helped fuel the drug use and it became an excuse to use.

I spent many hours listening to men tell me their woes, worries and slag off their partners. I listen to them tell me horrible things, but know I can’t argue with them cause the power dynamic and I need their money. Sex workers are very often untrained therapists, whereby men have emotional problems but find sexual and mental release confiding in a sex worker who is not qualified to grapple with this, and the power dynamics are inappropriate. I know men cheat on their wives, I know they’re shagging someone else on their lunch break; I know they’re sleeping with women younger than their daughter; I know they feel no shame or guilt about it. The thing is, their partners have no idea and would be none the wiser.

People like to say that it’s different, not all men are like this, but they are. You have no idea who buys sex, and it’s estimated that roughly 1 in 10 men do. I’ve seen everyone from the anaesthetist, to the urban planner, to your local plumber, taxi drive and your stair fitter. You can’t say which men it is, and therefore we must assume all men. You can’t pick a client out of a crowd, and many would be perplexed to find out that their friend, father, brother, colleague or son was sending escorts abusive messages on advertising platforms, stalking or raping them, but it happens every day.

The feminists

This was a paragraph I never thought I’d ever write, and something as a woman myself, never anticipated. However, the feminist arguments over sex work are absolutely gruelling, exhausting, personal and nasty. Often, sex workers are blamed for violence against all women – this suggests we are either not part of the women they’re talking about, or that we are to blame for our own violence. This is victim blaming, and the only people responsible for violence, are those who commit the act themselves – not sex workers. I am not the cause of my own assault, and this wouldn’t be acceptable to say to anyone else.

Although they deny it, radical feminists hate sex workers and would like to see the back of us. We are not the aspirational women they are fighting for. They want women in the board room to challenge men, they want women in STEM. They don’t want women sucking men’s dicks, flashing their tits and appealing to men for money. Instead, they want us to be fierce and financially independent from them. I know this because I’ve sat in meetings where they say that yes, the Nordic Model may cause violence and murder against sex workers, but it is for the betterment of all women in the long-run, and perhaps it will be a deterrent for sex workers. We know this is bullshit because even serial killers were out targeting sex workers, they still went out and worked.

It is no mistake that they praise people such as Julie Burchill who famously said ‘When the sex war is won, prostitutes should be shot as collaborators for their terrible betrayal of all women’. Sometimes, the masks slips and they really say what they really mean.

For people who say they really care about us ‘prostituted women’ who are victims, they do a brilliant job at degrading us, using the language of our abusers, and speak over us. They say nothing about us, without us, unless of course you’re a sex worker. I’ve been told by people who have never met me that I am ‘very deeply damaged’ and ‘injured wild animal’. The impact of these things are awful, and I’ve sat and cried over it many times, and the things they’ve said or accused me of. I was sent messages from the local radical feminist group in Leeds that were reported to the police, after they said they were watching my sex work on the streets and hoped I would ‘get raped so bad’ that I ‘never go back to prostituting myself’. Alongside this was comments saying that I was a ‘dirty prostitute who men dump their cum in’. Like I said, they use the language of those who abuse us.

Recently, I had complete burnout. The Managed Zone in Leeds was shut, and I went down the day before the news broke with a friend. I didn’t work, but I wanted to look out for her safety as much as I could. Quickly, our lives were made national news, and once again, we were the focus of every feminist with an opinion. That week, my friend died of an overdose, I was working with friends who were returning to sex work and overall, we were all struggling. Instead, I felt the barrage and abuse of feminists who were ideologically focused, with no personal investment. Karen Ingala-Smith named her DV refuge Daria House after sex worker, Daria Pionko, who was murdered in Leeds. Our lives seem to be political fodder, with no concern about the sex workers on our doorstep.

Over time, I’ve realised to remove myself from these conversations, walk away. When you are arguing with someone over ideology when it’s your life, your friends, the people you love and people you’ve lost, you’ll never win. You will only walk away hurt. There have been many times I’ve thought that I’d rather just lay on my back and shag a client and get paid, than have to listen to the verbal vitriol of feminists.

Sexual violence

Of course, this is not unique to sex work. I find it really difficult talking about sex work in my mental health appointments because I am cautious to not paint the tale that sex work is the cause of my problems, but rather sexual violence, not sex work itself. It is not sex work that is the issue, it is sexual assaulters. I can’t deny the risk is higher in sex work, then compounded with that is struggles to report or seek adequate support without judgement, shame or stigma.

One of the hardest things I find about sex work and sexual violence is having to return. Rape is horrific, and for many they take time off work, push it deep out of their mind, turn to the bottle or avoid the entire act of sex itself. These are all natural responses, but if you are sex working and you are raped, you will likely need to return to it, and that is more damaging. Sometimes, you have to return to the same client because you have no money, and if you have a drug problem then you have to go back out the next day or soon after. Eventually, your mind numbs out and despite everything in me that says otherwise, I just put it down to an occupational hazard and move on, despite being on the front-line arguing that rape is not something we have to accept as ‘part of the job’. Of course we don’t, it’s vile and nothing to do with sex or work, but power. However, you couldn’t go on if you didn’t compartmentalise it and store it away for another day.

We can’t deny that there are men who specifically target sex workers to harm. When there are serial killers, they tend to kill sex workers or other marginalised, vulnerable women. People find it easier to harm us because society sees as disposable, the bad and immoral woman and the stigma fuels the shame. Lowman’s research on ‘discourse of disposability’ showed that when people used language like ‘clean up the streets’ then in turn, violence and murders of sex workers went up. When you don’t investigate until an ‘innocent woman’ is murdered, you are simply fuelling the stigma, and reminding us that we are not worth even putting resources in, especially in death. It’s vile, and you internalise this too. I am already prepared for ‘prostitute murdered’ being the headline.

It does take a toll on your mental health and your body. In January 2020, I was assaulted whilst working and the next morning, I had sepsis. I was rushed to hospital with 40c temp, had an adrenal crisis, lost almost a stone, spent a week in hospital, but only to return a few weeks later. I was in urinary retention and they put a catheter in, strapped to my leg for 6 weeks. I couldn’t work, and never felt so low. I remember feeling so fragile coming back from hospital, I got in the bath and felt disgusted at how skinny I was. I laid in the bath and the catheter bag was floating on the water, slightly tugging at my bladder as it drifted away. I couldn’t help but cry, and felt so depleted. Years of dealing with this stuff had taken a toll not only my mind, but my body. I was born intersex so surgical scars used to rip, instead of taking the doctor’s advice to have a break and heal, I used to slap on numbing cream and power on, at great cost.

It takes years to grapple with these things, and I find myself randomly crying at the most silliest things. I realise that the smell of a mens aftershave can set me off, and I can’t sleep in my own bed after a day of working from my home. I watched a police documentary about a sexual assault last week thinking I was fine, and by the end I was weeping when it mentioned the court case. This is because I have my own court case coming up for rape, and I imagined what it would feel like if he plead guilty and didn’t have to drag me through the added trauma of court; having to relive it all, be ripped apart and make out that I’m lying.

Relationships

I have never imagined myself in a relationship because I can never imagine myself even getting close to someone like that. Not just that, but in my mind I think, why have sex when I could get paid for that? When I have sex, I go into work mode and that isn’t normal. My mind switches off, I’m not paying attention and I just want it to be over. People say sex with your partner is different and I’m sure it is, but for me it’s all the same and I can’t separate the two – this might be because I’ve never had a relationship, even before sex work. The thought of sex itself is just not appealing to me, and I would happily go without it forever.

After years of dealing with men in various capacities, I realise that I don’t like and am scared of them. I have seen men turn very quickly, and just when you think you know them, you realise you don’t. Nobody knowingly walks into an abusive relationship, it happens over time. If they flipped out in the first month, you’d be running a mile, of course you would. I just see that all men have the capacity to be violent, manipulative and use abusive. For me, it’s just a big no no. I don’t want to invest my time and life with someone, just for them to finally show their true colours and realise, I’m in too deep emotionally.

I couldn’t think of anything worse than sharing a bank account with my partner. For me, financial independence is crucial to avoiding abuse. It is nearly impossible to leave someone if you are economically enmeshed together. One of the reasons I became a sex worker to begin with was to get away from bad situations like that, and to ensure that I was financially independent from everyone and anyone. Of course, addiction got in the way and messed that up but the fact still remains true to this day, sex work allows me to move away if I need it. I know in relationships, this wouldn’t be possible, there would be trust issues, arguments and above all, they would ask that I stopped being a sex worker.

Although I appreciate that there are sex workers in relationships where their partner is okay with it, but these are not common. The ones I do know of, their sexual history and job is either fetishised or used against them in arguments. I have no time for that, I have no shame in who I am or what I’ve done, and I refuse to be someone’s sexual fantasy in a relationship for being a sex worker. Even the relationships I know that are stable whereby they’ve been in a relationship for some time, their partner has made comments about them several years in, or suddenly expressed they are unhappy when they see clients. No thank you, not for me.

Overall, I know I can not be in a relationship. I am not mentally ready, and I am aware of that. I do not want to get into one knowing full well that I will be the problem, and constantly feel that I am the burden for my partner to deal with. I know I can’t handle sex well, that I can’t handle rejection well either and have my own problems with trying to trust. I see relationships as giving someone a key, which has the capacity to fuck up your whole life – mentally, financially, emotionally etc. and just trusting them with that key not to do that. It’s a big risk, and the damage can take years to heal from.

Years of watching men cheat on their partner puts you off to, and despite what people say, sex workers are not here to heal people’s marriages or sexual intimacy problems. Listening to them speak about how they are in long term unhappy marriages, are physically unattracted to their partner etc. It does put you off, because you know these things do exist, and you’re surrounded by them every day. Men get infatuated with you, stalk you and ‘fall in love’ with the person sitting infront of them, which isn’t me.

Vicarious Trauma

Sex work can be really difficult, and this is sometimes the experience of other sex workers. You absorb this, especially when you’re constantly surrounded by it. We forget this, and as a community, we can’t switch off or put in place in professional boundaries. We are a marginalised group that often only have each other to rely on for rape crisis support, mental health, food and shelter. We can’t just switch off at 5pm each day because it is not professional work, it is our friends! Sitting in the hostel living room one evening, we were all casually talking about extreme violence – speaking of rape, having hair ripped out, beaten almost to death, teeth pulled, water thrown on us etc and in the moment, I took it all in. It was only when I sat in my room did I think my god, that was a lot.

Although I have my own experiences which are challenging, you find yourself supporting others, and this can be difficult and triggering itself. I am not the best person to talk to about rape at times because my mind immediately goes to my own traumatic experiences, and this doesn’t make me the appropriate person to support others. Equally, as much as I love working with homeless sex workers, I am often reminded that I was in that position just over a year ago, but also never far off being back there myself. I then feel I over-relate to them, and it can bring back experiences of how I felt.

Of course, this is my own stuff to manage and deal with, and this is why I argue that at times, sex workers are not always the best people to support other sex workers. Although mutual aid is invaluable, I always liked that my support worker has never been a sex worker because at times, she brings me back to reality and gives me an outsider’s perspective which I appreciate. Also, exchanging sex for money doesn’t immediately make you a good practitioner either, and I’ve met many sex workers with appalling attitudes towards drug users, homeless etc.

It is hard to switch off and put in professional boundaries, and I have often imagined a time where I have to temporarily remove myself from everything sex work for a long while, for my own mental health. Vicarious trauma can end up giving you compassion fatigue, and at times, almost make you insensitive to serious things. It can also make me switch off if it feels too close to home, because I’m aware that it’s setting me off, which doesn’t help the person I’m supporting.

I often feel with sex work, the community carries vicarious trauma because we are so excluded from services, society and having to continuously defend, resist and be resilient. It is exhausting, and you can’t remove yourself from it because it is who you are, how you live, where you work etc. You’re having to make mutual aid, unionise informally, give out safety information, condoms and whatever else. It’s not just the work itself, but it’s the nature of the exclusion you’re managing.

Overall

Sex work is what it is and despite it all, it’s made me who I am today and I wouldn’t be here, on my table, writing this blog without it. However, I can’t deny the impact it’s had on my life in a short period of time, and not always for the better. I often tell people that I wish I never became a sex worker, and I stick by that. I wish I never met the feminists who hated me for existing; I wish I never discovered sex work twitter and got involved in sex worker rights; and I wish I never felt such levels of desperation. However, I wouldn’t remove it for others because it was a solution when I needed it, although I work overall to create other avenues for people who feel they have very little choices. I can’t leave it now, but I often feel that ignorance is bliss, and I envy the sex workers who go fuck it, and walk away forever. It’s not me, I feel there is so much that needs to change for people I will never meet.

The baggage of being a sex worker is immense. It stops you from getting jobs, fucks with your head, pushes you to your edge, brings out personas you never imagined. I describe it as though you’re carrying a weight with you at all times, but it’s evenly spread throughout your body. It makes your entire movement difficult, and it’s an effort to move forward and in any direction. Once you’re a prostitute, you’re always a prostitute; whether that’s because it’s what you’re known for locally, it’s what gets you sacked, or it’s because you’re so heavily involved and impassioned by the sex worker rights movement. I can’t ever imagine sitting in my armchair at 70, having lived a life of pleasant quiet away from the protests. You instantly relate to another sex worker, regardless of the length of time when you last hung up your lingerie – there is just an instant connection and understanding that requires no discussion.

It’s not all been bad. Growing up I hated my body, being intersex made it very difficult and I thought my body was disgusting. I’m not saying that I am happy with it and it’s amazing, but I’ve learned to accept it and above all, realise it wasn’t as bad as what I thought it was. Meeting other sex workers made me realise that bodies are so normal. One of the best things about being a sex worker is other sex workers. I have never met such a resilient, diverse, incredible, resourceful and overall, generous group of people (with exceptions ofc!). When shit hits the fan, we turn to each other, because we have nobody else. I wouldn’t have been able to leave sex work without other sex workers.

I recognise a lot of this shit is for me to deal with, but 2 years into therapy, I’m still working on it. During these years, things happen which set you back too. I also realise there are things I will never change such as capitalism, poverty and exclusion. However, I will have to learn how to manage how to constantly fight that wave without hurting myself. There is a little understanding or support for those with mental health problems who engage in sex work, because so often it is put down to sex work = bad and bad = traumatic. Rarely is there room to understand the nuances, the complex issues and very often, sex workers end up educating the professional or society so they can be understood first. This within itself, is exhausting.

In solidarity with the sex workers out there managing their own shit, whilst simultaneous holding up others x

If you want to support my blog that would be great. All of my PayPal’s have been shut down because I’m a sex worker of course. However, my cashapp is £graceyswer and my patreon is: patreon.com/graceyswer

Why Homeless Women Are Being Failed By Services

I write this blog as a woman who has been through drug services, homeless GP practices, charities and whatever else, but it isn’t about me. I did a conference recently, speaking about the problems sex workers and more broadly, women experience when engaging in services. I was astounded by the overwhelming positive response, but many messaged to say they were glad someone was finally ‘saying it how it is’ and was brave enough to say what everyone was thinking. I know people are scared to upset their commissioners, but the result can be incredibly damaging for the people you are there to serve and protect.

When I lived in a complex needs hostel, I listened to my new housemate talk about her 6 year old son. He was born on Christmas Eve, and you could tell she was full of both joy and sadness when talking about him. She gave birth to him in a car park. I can’t even think about it because it makes me upset to think of how desperate she was, and how she must have felt to have done that. Can you imagine that? You can’t imagine it because you’ve probably never considered the fact that simply disclosing you’re pregnant could cause you unspeakable trauma by the hands of others and services.

Traumatic services

Did my friend love her baby any less than anyone new mother? Absolutely not. I don’t know many women who would go through what she did, trying desperately to keep her child, to not have them removed. Removing a child is perhaps one of the most profoundly traumatic things you can inflict on someone, and pregnant people are well aware of the power a service holds. However, it feels as though most services are more concerned about the unborn foetus than the bearer of the child.

We remove the child and then tell the parent we left behind to get better, but we don’t give them the resources to do so and to add insult to injury, services will say things like ‘if you loved your child, you’d do x, y and z’. If you don’t do it in time, they put the child up for adoption and you won’t see them again, so all your hard work has been for nothing anyway. Instead, they just added to trauma and potential drug misuse problems. I have absolute admiration for the parents have after child removal.

Women with multiple children removed are looked down upon even more. I have listened to both women tell me and professionals say things like ‘why do you keep having more’ or ‘all you’re doing is putting your kid through what you went through’. They vilify the woman who has had 8 children all taken from her and put into care. What they didn’t think is, she kept doing it because she was holding out hope to keep this one, because she wanted something or someone to love, care for and be responsible for. They see it as a good thing that her children have been removed, even if it destroys her mental health. Even if it means she uses more drugs to cope, and therefore has to sex work or rely on abusers for drugs. We don’t support both mother and child until they are able to be united again, instead we quickly adopt because newborns are more desirable and we have already given up hope that the mother will change.

All services love to say that are trauma-informed and person centred, but when that person is forced to engage in your service then this can’t be true. How can you be person-centred if they don’t even want to be there, and if they don’t, you’ll call safeguarding, remove their drug replacement prescription, report their children or write letters to the court calling them non-compliant with treatment? The power dynamics within services are profound, and if you’re engaging in the Family, Drug and Alcohol Court, probation or rely on your service for health, condoms or food then it can’t truly be person-centred. How can it be when they’re too scared to say anything, put a complaint in, argue and stand up for themselves when you hold the paddle?

I relapsed last year, and finally got stable again on my drug treatment in February. I got a job in March as a homeless outreach worker. The very same day, my GP practice called a safeguarding concern stating that I shouldn’t be in that job. The consequences were dire, and I wasn’t informed they were going to do this. I had a mental health crisis, lost my job, returned to sex work, briefly relapsed and it completely shattered my confidence and self-esteem. They tell you to get better, get out of sex work, but when you do, they are the first ones to pull the rug because it hasn’t been done in the way they wanted it to.

Hidden homeless

Meeting after meeting I sit in about homelessness and I often think, where are the women? Where is the discussion about women, and why are we clumping all homeless issues together when women do not experience it in the same way. Roughly 130,000 children are homeless in the UK, living in temporary accommodation, and alongside those children are their mothers. We tend to gain homeless statistics by street outreach counts and in turn, this translates to funding and commissioning in these areas. Although, this leaves out the majority of homeless women who are much less likely to engage in rough sleeping.

Homeless women will engage in many things to avoid street sleeping, this can include engaging in sex for rent, getting back with abusive ex partners or for sex workers, staying with clients. However, as you can imagine, we are not going to ring up Housing Options at the council and disclose any of this. Often, the people we opt to stay with turn abusive, rape us or outright exploit us. When the time comes to try and leave, we will be told we are intentionally homeless. This is because we likely told the housing team that we are staying with a friend or family member, so it looks as though we are making ourselves homeless. By doing this, you won’t get housed because they argue it’s your choice.

What are your options in this situation? You are, as I describe, between a rock and a rock. You either make yourself homeless and end up in a hostel, street homeless or you stay in the abusive situation. Those fleeing domestic violence often get refused from mainstream services such as Refuge, especially sex workers and drug users, on safeguarding grounds. In fact, 60% of people were refused last year. If you end up in a hostel, you are not getting the same, appropriate and specialist domestic violence support that other women would get. If you end up street homeless, you will likely be assaulted – the risk of rape and physical assault is much higher. Alternatively, you begin trading sex for shelter.

Homeless women will sleep on friend’s sofas, in hospitals, on the bus, train lines, toilets etc. As a result from all of this, we are out of sight and out of mind and therefore, nobody thinks to tailor their services to us and little funding goes towards female homelessness. Often, homeless women are put into mixed gender hostels, which is not always the best environment but there is no option. When they leave, they are again told they are intentionally homeless. You can’t seem to win here? If you are picked up by housing options or outreach services, you then are faced with years of temporary accommodation, which in itself is stressful, traumatic and is what I describe, the perfect conditions to become a sex worker.

When I moved into a hostel, there were 8 beds in total and 7 of us were street sex workers. Throughout the year I was there, women would come and go – sometimes for weeks, days or months. However, you are on Universal Credit and can’t get a job because housing benefit goes to the hostel. At 22, I was on £250 a month and surrounded by other sex workers. You are vulnerable, desperate, no money, possibly at your lowest point in life and mood, and seeing other women getting money, drugs and you take advantage of being there, and going out on the local beat with them for safety. I saw many women become sex workers in hostels, or return to it, such as myself.

Mental Health

You can not be homeless and not experience mental health problems. I challenge anyone on this argument. If you are not even able to reach your core needs such as food, shelter, hygiene or drugs when you’re withdrawing then the toll on your mental and physical health is immense, and they’re intertwined. I wrote a blog earlier this year about hard it was to switch off what I called ‘survival mode’. It’s absolutely exhausting just trying to reach your basic needs every day, and when you don’t know if you can even get there. I know many who have told me they try to go to prison just for a break from the daily grind of survival. When they come out, they say they miss being able to see a doctor, have routine, 3 meals a day and a roof over their head but above all, not having to worry or arrange those things either. Prison isn’t the answer, and it’s sad society is this way, but I understand why they feel such.

I remember sitting with my drug worker who gave me the best advice I could ever wish for, and it has since made me a better practitioner. We discussed how difficult her job could be if people constantly come in screaming or angry. She explained that you have no idea what is going on in their lives before they walk into your appointment; they may have just taken a beaten, called a shit mum by their kids or facing rent arrears. I realised most people are probably scared, have hard fronts or frightened. However, most services get angry and respond in worse ways, treat you as difficult and overall, have compassion fatigue.

If you’re a drug user, you’re often turned away from mental health services and it becomes a chicken and egg situation. Although there are dual diagnosis teams in drug services, these are limited, usually for the most severe mental health and is conditional on you engaging in the service. Counselling services in general exclude on the grounds on both consent, and it’s not appropriate as they can’t distinguish whether their mental health is due to drug use. I’ve had therapists say to me that they won’t ‘go into things’ with me in fear that I rely on drugs even more, which aggravated me a lot. What’s the point? A friend of mine was told they wouldn’t work with her whilst she was actively engaging in harmful practices, i.e sex work.

There is also a lot of stigma and shame around sex work, and for many they end up having to explain or defend themselves to the service. By this I mean, they have to explain that sex work is not always traumatic or the horrible stereotypes it’s portrayed as. Sex work isn’t traumatic itself, abusers cause trauma. More often than not, the drug use and poor mental health came long before prostitution, but the latter was used to fuel the former. This is not to deny that sex work can be traumatic, but you shouldn’t have to keep defending or justifying yourself and experiences to a service, because they do not understand mental health in the context of sex work. When you then talk about rape within sex work, it is always seen as differently and you either get people look down on you and ‘what do you expect’ attitudes, or the complete opposite of total pity which is patronising.

As mentioned before, those fleeing domestic abuse often get refused specialist support too, even just to get crisis mental health or told it wasn’t their fault, and for someone to explain it’s natural to feel the way they do. Overall, the picture is that there is very little provision in general, but especially for homeless populations. Adding to this, they are then further excluded and this just adds to compound trauma, and pushed further to the edges of society. Would this be acceptable for anyone else? If you was raped, you’d be signed off work and likely seek trauma therapy. If you’re a homeless woman, you’re expected to return to the abuser for housing and excluded from services that you need, that can help. However, you are then penalised if you use heroin, but you have nothing else or the resources for anything else.

Little investment

The most marginalised and excluded women in this society are failed the hardest. Despite being the very people who have the most needs, and require the most support, we are still working on philanthropic, Victorian-esque models of ‘help’. Homeless services and charities are incredibly under-resourced, underfunded and due to the nature of commissioning, the lowest bidder often wins. The end result is, your support worker is being paid minimum wage, and is driven in the job by desire to create meaningful change and genuine desire to help. This isn’t the fault of the worker, but it means they are underpaid, not invested in, but expected to deal with the most extreme forms of trauma, exclusion and poverty that people can grapple with.

In the end, you end up with an overworked, exhausted, low paid work force. Quickly, their burning flame goes out, along with their original passion, which was taken advantage of to keep them in the poorly paid job. They still want change, but now they’re a pay-packet away from being a service user at the hostel with me. They may have loved their job, but they’re not given what they need to do it well, but they still need to pay their bills. Despite the incredible work these frontline workers do, their burden is high when it should be shared. We need counsellors, adequately funded drug services, community mental health teams, housing support and tenancy sustainment support, education and employment help, and so the list goes on.

Two years ago, I reported a rape and as a result, I was assigned an ISVA. Their role is to help you from reporting a crime until the court date. However, she ended up being the most incredible support worker, but her job role was severely flexed. She helped me with budgeting, housing, leaving sex work, employment, benefits, mental health, sexual health, domestic and sexual violence, and the police. I am 1 of 15 people on her caseload, and she is so lovely that I imagine she is doing the same for the other 14. This is not to knock her because I can’t fault, but the burden shouldn’t be just down to her. There needs to be adequate support all around; she shouldn’t have to be my therapist, my DV worker, my ISVA and life coach.

We tend not to invest in homeless people. The government leaves that up to the charity sector, and as a society, we accept that, rather than holding the government itself to account. We do that because us homeless people should be grateful for the bare minimum; for the tuna sandwich we don’t even like; for the mouldy and infested flat; for the minimum wage job, because at least it’s not homelessness, right? People are perplexed when they realise that homeless people choose to go back to the streets after they get into a tenancy, but is it really that surprising? The alternatives aren’t that appealing, and nobody else would be expected to be thankful for society’s leftovers.

We are not invested into because we are not seen as worthy investments. We die young, sex workers get murdered, we overdose, we don’t get jobs, we take benefits, spend long times in hospitals, have children removed which cost the state, get locked up and cost the state. The language used makes us disposable to society. Research has shown when you use language like ‘clean up the streets’, violence and murderers against sex workers increases because… people feel that’s okay, that we are to gotten rid of.

Why would governments want to invest in people that cost them a lot, die early, and deemed unproductive and undesirable? It’s why they they put in workhouses and gave the responsibility to charities. Now, they support whoever costs the least, at great expense to the incredible workforce who deliver the service itself.

Overall

I’ve painted a very bleak picture, but it’s because it is. The current system isn’t designed for those who need it most, and we know this because they are the ones excluded in the first place and each day, we work to include them in policies and procedures that never thought of them to begin with. Being in a service is not easy, and quite often, you are bounced around or forced to be there. Services themselves can result in more harm than good, and don’t end up truly serving the needs of the community.

Sadly, politics, money and red tape is often plastered in services but in my experience, you have to cut through all this because the homeless woman you’re supporting doesn’t give a shit about any of that, and it hasn’t helped her has it, otherwise they wouldn’t be sitting in-front of you? Services were made by people, they can be changed by people. However, many fear change, don’t see the financial cost benefit immediately (and that’s what they measure it on), and many fear backlash if they stray too far from their counterparts, they’ll scare away their commissioner.

Things at the top need to change, and more involvement of those with lived experience at every decision making level. Things are the way they are for a reason, and it’s worth remembering that when we say things have always been done this way, because it hasn’t. You simply CAN NOT stick to the rules when working with sex workers, because the rules were never made with us in mind. Stop trying to change us to suit you and your service.

Homeless women deserve better. They are the strongest, most incredible, resilient, and resourceful women I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I am amazed at their ability to live and survive each day, but they shouldn’t have to. Being strong because you have no choice is not a good thing.

We have more in common with the homeless woman than the rich woman.

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Alternatively, please give money directly to a homeless person and not a charity

Mutual Aid in Sex Work

Mutual aid were words I had never heard in my entire life. It sounds as if you give to get back, but I realised it actually meant helping the community to which you live or exist in, which in turn benefits everyone. I suppose in working class communities, this isn’t called mutual aid, this is just called helping someone out. It doesn’t always work out that way though, and my views of it were tainted when I was young; my little sister died suddenly and the taxi drivers done a ‘whip around’ to help us with the funeral costs. The man who collected the money ran off with it all the way to the bank. He got his reprise, but I grew up with the idea that selfish pricks exist everywhere and helping others means there is someone who will be selfish or steal.

Writing this blog now, I googled what the actual terminology is for mutual aid and quickly became disengaged when I read that it is an organisation theory, because I hate the concept of theory and it never fits my experience. When I discovered sex work twitter, I was gobsmacked. I was in hospital with sepsis after infection caused by an assault from street sex working. I was taken into hospital wearing tight skinny jeans, but I left the hospital with a catheter piss bag strapped to my leg which couldn’t fit over the bag, and I had no means of getting home. People were offering to give me money to get a taxi home, and I couldn’t understand why – they didn’t know me, I was not a charity and what were they getting out of it? I also felt stubborn accepting help, as if it defeated the very reason I became a sex worker to begin with.

Strength in mutual aid

I thought this was just people helping me out, but I quickly realised this was common in marginalised communities and the longer I stayed on Twitter, mixed with the pandemic, I continued to see fundraisers for trans people undergoing surgery, for single black women struggling to feed their children and for sex workers often left destitute and desperate. You often found these were the very poorest communities in society, the most discriminated against or live on the fringes of society. I was told about the concept of micro-financing in black communities, where everyone puts in a little bit of money and gives the total sum to an individual for a purpose, and I thought it was an incredible concept, but also saddened that this was a recognised need.

When BLM movements swept across social media, we saw the need to support black owned businesses and reflected on the financial extraction from such communities. The impacts were immense; I watched a fundraiser reach $3,000,000 to house 40 homeless black trans women, and Melz Owusu reach almost £150,000 in her fundraiser for the Free Black University. There is nothing better than giving people money in their hands to create their own solutions, to create resources for the communities they know, serve and exist in. Policy change takes years, societal attitudes take decades and local and national representatives are often white, and do not reflect the areas or people to which they serve. Funding is a political game, to which marginalised groups are already on the backfoot. In the meantime, immediate needs need to be met.

Marginalised people can not rely on people in power to help them or find solutions, because these very people in power have created the conditions which have made them marginalised, poorer or more at risk.

Mutual solutions

When I moved into my home on the 2nd of June 2020, I stared at the exposed floorboards realising I didn’t have anything. I slept on a single, plastic wrapped bed given by the council, and was awoken at 4am by the sun because I didn’t have curtains, nor any black bags to cover the windows. I posted a picture on Twitter to say how beyond happy I was and immediately, people reached out to me wanting to help me. They were people I never knew, met, had spoken to or will never meet. They were simply anonymous or unknown people online. A sex worker sent me £600 out of the blue, and I was gobsmacked – that’s a lot of money and I had no idea who she was, she didn’t want it to be known publicly and never said a word to me afterwards – I couldn’t understand. I immediately bought a mattress and washing machine, two things I feared the most buying due to their high cost.

What was the human impact to this? Well, first of all, I cried a lot. I was really touched by people’s kindness but above all, it kept me out of sex work as long as possible and soothed my mental health a lot. It is frustrating to hear all the time that sex workers who push for decriminalisation are called pimps, abusers and that we have a vested interest in women becoming sex workers – that putting up a friend who is working makes you a pimp by law, and your home now a brothel. However, it is these very people who are supporting you and we are barraged by abuse by radical feminists for being sex workers, but they never put money in our hands to stop us working.

The truth is, I owe a lot to the sex work community. I owe a lot to the women who were there for me when mental health services weren’t, to the fellow street sex workers who warned me about dangerous cars, the safest places and would raise the alarm if you was gone too long, or wait for you to return. I used to believe ‘fuck off, it’s my money’ but I think drug use and poverty entrenched this way of thinking, but I realise it isn’t mine, it’s ours – I wouldn’t have made this money without them. When I work with homeless sex workers, I often find they are sleeping on the sofa of another sex worker, and it is sex workers who give each other condoms, lube and at times, drugs when you’re withdrawing.

A change for good

The concept and practice of mutual aid has changed my attitudes to the world around me, in ways I never expected. For once, I realised people give to help others, rather than to give to help themselves. A friend helped me move into my home, she brought her colleague with her who had never met me. He turned up in his van, moved my stuff over, brought over his power tools and put up my curtains for me, and I have never seen him since. I couldn’t understand why he did this, but he explained he just wants to help out and has been doing things like this for years.

I used to refuse to give money to homeless because they might spend it on drugs, but now I argue against the opposite – you should give people money, especially if they spend it on drugs, because they will have to find the means of getting it somewhere else and this leads to exploitation, and people taking advantage of their desperation. I think overall, it made me reflect on my own thoughts, experiences and criticise the upbringing I had and the ideology of those around me.

Sex workers and other marginalised communities are so used to holding each other up, but it can be exhausting. The financial and emotional burnout is high because we know that without it, people are directly hurt and harmed – they go homeless, without food, clothed or sadly, take their own lives which you see more often in trans communities. It is us, it is not just me, it is we.

Remember to give back

I am in a better position now, and it’s important to remember to give back. Mutual aid works where people are up and down, but those on the up should give to those on their way down to lift them back up again. I’ll be honest, I never imagined myself being in this position, because I always feared there are those who would abuse the system, and I know people who do, but I also think if someone feels desperate enough to try and milk the system, then it’s the circumstances around them that are broken, not them – and I can’t get angry about that. I get it.

As I watched Stormzy face criticism for opening a black scholarship fund, a £500,000 donation and £10m commitment over a decade to help black students from disadvantaged backgrounds, I didn’t understand the backlash – it seems to me that he was working to address not only the financial barriers, but giving equity rather than equality to black students. For me, this was the purest example of something I truly believe – when you’re on the way up, bring people up with you.

Myself and Kate Lister are currently fundraising for a street sex worker for dental implants, after she lost her teeth in a violent assault. Although the fundraiser has been shared amongst the sex work community, I have not posted it online as she wishes to remain anonymous, and fears being identified. Any money made from donation from this blog post will go directly to the fundraiser, which I am pleased to announce it currently is on £1710 as of writing, with the goal of £5000. Thank you to sex workers and allies for making this become a reality ❤

To donate: paypal.me/graceyswer



Do you ever really ‘exit sex work’?

The idea of exiting sex work is exceptionally controversial. The word ‘exit’ itself is considered odd to use, because it wouldn’t be used in any other form of work. Nobody ever exits their job, only the premises. I don’t particularly like the word much myself, but I will use it for the purpose of this blog post because it is the word that most people use, and is itself used in policy, ideological debates and whatever else when it comes to prostitution.

The goal of the Nordic Model is to support women to ‘exit sex work’. We are promised exiting routes, transitions, and support to leave the industry, packaged up nicely as a concept. This idea means that sex work is bad and must be eliminated, otherwise, you wouldn’t need to leave or exit it. How can you exit your job when you need money to survive, or have to pay your bills? Nobody can live without money, and you are asking me to stop being able to do this, simply because you don’t like how I do it.

What is exit?

There was a time in life where I was doing street sex work, working at an agency and doing independent work. At times, I was working literally all day & night. Now, I work when I need or have to, no longer work street and largely do independent work as the agency is closed. When it re-opens, I’ll stick only to agency. For me, this is amazing progress because I was on the mental drive all the time to work, in fear of ending up homeless, or relying on abusive third parties. I haven’t ‘exited’ so to speak, but I am really proud of myself, and so is my support worker. However, despite this amazing progress, if I was being pushed to exit, then I’ll still be penalised and told this isn’t good enough.

A friend of mine was a street sex worker for several years. Now, she works indoor with a few regulars she used to see and trusts. I think this is a great improvement and has significantly improved her safety too. Like most sex workers, she had a long gap between working, but would she be seen as having ‘relapsed’ into sex work? I would argue no, because I don’t think she ever exited. I also know a sex worker who used to work for several years, and despite having a full-time job now, she still occasionally sees clients for a top-up of cash. She hasn’t done sex work full time in perhaps 20 years, so you can argue she has both exited or never left sex work.

Exiting is notoriously difficult to measure, and you can’t accurately establish when someone has. If I work with a sex worker who works when she needs a bit of cash, is it fair to bash her with a stick because she hasn’t ‘exited’ in the way you want her to, which is complete abstinence. No, it isn’t fair.

There was a recent Independent Review on the Managed Zone recently which tried to establish whether the current model did in fact help women to exit sex work. They also found it difficult to measure exiting, and how can you measure against something you can’t establish. Exiting is not a concrete term and measure, it is different for each sex worker.

Why exit is useless

As discussed, because it can’t be measured, you can’t prove whether outcomes are successful or not., As a result, how can you ever work out if what you did actually worked? If I start an exiting charity, but I can’t actually define what is an exited prostitute, when how do I ever get proof of what I did was the right thing? You can’t, and each sex worker is different, with different motivations for working, with their own unique circumstances which sustain their reasons too.

When you support sex workers and your goal is to help them exit, they will never tell you if they’re actually still working. Why would they when you’re going to shame them for it, or tell them it’s not good enough? As a result, they’re at greater risk and unlikely to reach out to you for support, and it means they’ll be scared to go to sexual health services and speak about being a sex worker. In turn, you inadvertently do more harm than good, because you force them back into the shame closet.

The reason why exiting is useless is because it ignores the surrounding socio-economic factors. How can you ever leave it when the pre-existing conditions which resulted in you becoming a sex worker are still there? This could be poverty, addiction, disability, criminal record or struggling to work in the mainstream economy for various reasons such as being a single parent. If these issues aren’t resolved, how can you be expected to leave? Situations in life are often temporary, especially when you already live in the margins of society. People relapse, people end up in debt again, people face ill health and relapse in poor health, including mental health.

It would be pretty cruel to put the blame and shame on the individual for not exiting when they are faced with or have to repeatedly experience the contexts which keep them in sex work to begin with – why should we blame them for finding a solution in a shitty situation with poor economic choices, which wasn’t even caused by them. I quit sex work on 20th January 2020 after being assaulted, I decided that was it. I ended up in hospital, had sepsis and had a catheter in for 2 months. However, when it was removed, I went straight back out to street sex work because I was skint. Moving in an out of sex work is nothing new.

Once a whore

Once you became a hooker, you either are one or an ex hooker – it’s something that sticks to you forever. For many, it’s a part of their identity, community and it would be cruel to deny their experiences. Even when the time comes when you decide to leave the sex industry, hang up the suspenders and turn your hand to something something other than dick, sex work is always there as an option, and we can’t deny it! Once you’ve done it once, there is no reason why you can’t do it again, and especially if the same circumstances arise which led you to becoming a sex worker to begin with.

I always tell people that no matter what, I will always be a sex worker because I know it will be something I do if I ever find myself skint. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know for certain that if one Christmas, I find myself with children who need presents, or the washing machine breaks down, or an unexpected bill drops through the letterbox, I know I will turn to sex work to resolve it. One of the biggest things that keeps me in sex work is the fear of becoming homeless again, so I do everything I can to avoid that. I know if I got even just close to becoming on my ass skint, I’d start working full time again until I felt I was out of the red.

Recently, I’ve been struggling more and more to sex work itself as the negatives are heavily outweighing the positives, but this would all be disregarded the moment the balance tips again or there is an immediate need for money. Whilst there is the need for money, there will be the need to sex work and unless I win the lottery, then sex work will always be there as a solution for me and many others. If I relapse on crack or heroin, I know sex work will be there for me too.

I know sex workers in their 50s who have vanilla jobs and used to sex work in their 20s and 30s, but they still occasionally see a client here and there for a quick £100. How do we measure if they’ve left sex work?

Love it or hate it

It’s safe to say I have a love/hate relationship with sex work; I don’t like doing it much anymore, but I love the financial freedom it gives me, and it means I don’t have to work 40 hours a week, which at time during drug recovery is bliss for me. I still enjoy going to drop ins, women’s projects, groups and the ability to wake up and think fuck it, I can’t bring myself to work today.

No matter what happens in life, sex work will always be my security blanket – the thing that has been most stable in my life, always produced results and kept me afloat. I don’t recommend anyone become a sex worker, but once you’re here, it’s hard to leave, and it’s even harder to remove your security blanket from you forever.

Even if I’m not physically sex working anymore, it doesn’t mean I’ve completely left because I know in a heartbeat I’d be back if I need to be.

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Sex Workers Have Been Left Behind by Feminism.

When we think of the word prostitute, a wave of negative connotations come to mind. A prostitute is a desperate, poor, broken woman who, throughout history, has been depicted as dirty, immoral and the ‘fallen’ woman. It is true that for a lot of sex workers, it was a last resort but equally, it was something that saved their lives and kept them from destitution. However, this isn’t always the case, but we take pity on the prostitute selling sex for £10 because we recognise, she is desperate and has nothing else. As we conjure up all these ideas and imagery, it is clear that society has made their mind up about sex workers – we are pitied women, with noting to give but ourselves.

Growing up, my aunty was a sex worker and I was told to keep away from her, ignore her and she was ostracised from the family. From a young age, it was made clear that I should be better, do better and not end up like her. The idea is that women should strive to be better, and we fought hard to have the opportunities to do so, but where does that leave the women who are deemed as ‘undesirable’?

Feminist movement

The feminist movement has come along leaps and bounds within the past 50 years, although prostitution has been around for much, much longer. There is still a lot to be achieved, but it is safe to say that in the West, the lives of women have improved and societal views have been openly challenged. Although there is so much more to move towards, it is clear that modern feminists are struggling to achieve the same incredible achievements such as equal pay, access to the contraceptive pill, maternity leave, abortion, sexual harassment laws etc. All of which were truly historic feminist landmarks for the history textbooks in the fight for equality.

You would think women would focus on mass female incarceration, sexual, domestic and physical violence, the regulation of women’s bodies in detention centres, the vile mistreatment of female refugees, enforcement of equality laws or above all, pour their efforts into improving the rights of women around the world who are still constrained by abortion laws, gender discrimination, FGM, or archaic marriage laws. Instead, they revert inwards and begin policing women themselves, weeding out those they see as undesirable and counterintuitive to the feminist movement. One group of women who are seen as such, is the prostitutes. This is because we are deemed to be positioning ourselves to profit from the male-gaze and deliberately over-sexualising ourselves for men.

Women have fought for years not to be seen as sexual objects by men, and something they can do whatever they want to. We have fought to be seen as equals, by reducing the overt sexualisation of women’s bodies and for women to stop dressing, acting and behaving in ways to suit men. Historically, our lives have been focused on how to find the right husband, how to support him from the home, rear and raise his children and sexually please him when he comes home from work. Aren’t prostitutes the opposite of all of this? Aren’t we deliberately playing into the hands of men, and profiting from it? After all, I don’t sell pictures of my myself in favourite cashmere roll-neck, and I don’t invite men in my house for a nice knitting session.

The answer is no. Sex workers are still not sexual objects, nor something men can do whatever they wish with. We are equals, and are not overtly sexual – we don’t walk with out tits out in the high street, or whip our fannies out for fun. I am actually incredibly shy sexually, and quite vanilla. Sex work is exactly that – sex and work. We do not submit to all the whims, moans and demands of men. If we did, we wouldn’t bother screening clients, and I wouldn’t report them after arguing with them either. We do not suit our behaviours to match men, but rather, existing to survive, and earn money for ourselves just like everyone else.

There is much to say here that prostitutes are seen as devious women, especially by other women. We are the women who supposedly break up families, steal your husband and his money. We are stereotyped with not being able to have relationships, sleeping around all the time for fun and not having children. All of these things are considered unfeminine or immoral, so prostitutes are already demonised by feminists. Internalised misogyny is a thing amongst other women which we are fighting against, let alone wider society. Why would other feminists want to carry us with them, when they don’t want us included in the fold to begin with?

Forgetting intersectionality

The feminist movement was, and is, largely led by white, middle class women. All the leaps and bounds I described are only usually afforded to such women. Black women are heavily discriminated against in the workplace, are fetishised, and have fought their own fight to be treated as equal to the white woman. The first contraceptive clinic was opened by Marie Stopes, a supporter of eugenics. She publicly opposed abortion, but privately supported it to prevent a society becoming ‘racially diseased’, believed that those she described as ‘half caste’ should she sterilised at birth, to save them from passing on the same genes. All I have to say is, good riddance. However, her views didn’t stop her serving white women, and they were happy to not say anything if it meant being able to access her services. Such attitudes would clearly exclude black women from being afforded the same equal rights to contraception.

Working class women are often forced to face the brunt of inequality. If they are dismissed for getting pregnant, which is clear discrimination, they might not have the resources or time to legally challenge this. If they are a single parent on a low income, do they really want to be taking on a court case against a company? No. They may not also have the resources to do so. Stopes also believed in forced sterilisation of women deemed unfit for parenthood and that would include destitute women, especially prostitutes. Even today, a different reaction occurs when a working class women, who may be described as a chav or loudmouth, is sexually assaulted compared to a well-educated, respectable, professional woman. Wherever there was a right achieved, working class women came lagging behind – the right to vote, the right to abortion and the right to contraception. All of which, were first afforded to married women, or those with money.

Socioeconomics is important to remember, as well as history which is deeply engrained with racism and misogyny. Not all women are the same, and we do not move as a collective. A victory for all is really just a victory for some. Equally, a harm against all is not at all, for example the benefits cap disproportionally impacted women, but not middle-class women. The feminist movement, as a result, does not care for the inequalities amongst women because it is too busy moving forward on the premise that it is an achievement and impact for all women, to which it is not. When I hear that prostitution impacts all women, it is an insult. It is my life at risk, and it is my body, mental health, home, finances and sexual health that is impacted. It is not the middle-class woman who is not impacted, and in fact, she probably doesn’t even think about me because she doesn’t see me.

The Whore with nothing more

If we see sex workers as desperate, or having nothing to give, then we recognise they are stuck. In society’s eyes, they can not get any higher, climb the social ladder, or claw themselves out of their bottomless pit of desperation because they’re clinging on. We have condemned them to lowest rung of society. It begs the question, why would anyone want to be a prostitute? It seems like a place of horrible mess, despair and truly everything that isn’t feminine. However, after a financial crisis, benefit cut or austerity, the number of us continue to rise. Does this mean there are almost 100,000 women who just have nothing going for them, and if so, how did things get so bad? No, and it isn’t our fault either.

As I was watching Notting Hill the other day, I noticed it was only after someone compared Anna to a prostitute, did William react, because it was deemed that was a step too far. It was Paramore who quipped the lyric ‘once a whore, you’re nothing more, sorry that’ll never change’, and in the future 2021 quiz, becoming a prostitute was an option because it was considered bad. It is clear that it something people see as the worst, and therefore, nothing to aspire to be. When I became a sex worker, and met other sex workers who told me they always wanted to be one, it confused me. I couldn’t believe someone would actually want to do this, and grew up wanting to? I realised I was holding onto my own misogyny and I was coming from a place of desperation and anger. Also, who am I to tell someone they are wrong for what they want?

For me, this reflection made me think that prostitutes, in the eyes of feminists, fly in the face of what they have striven towards. Women are not supposed to be in the home anymore, but we should be doctors, lawyers, politicians, respectable, equals, and work our way up in the male-dominated industries. We promote women in STEM, politics and introduce deliberate thresholds to ensure women are employed, and not just to be the receptionist and secretary. Only if we physically show ourselves out there, working with men, then we can be considered equals and it’s a big win for society. This is bollocks because Thatcher had an all-male Cabinet, and she was absolutely not a feminist. I felt I had fallen by becoming a sex worker, because I was always told to do well, get a good education and get a good job. We applaud the first female anything, because it’s considered a gain. The female CEO is just as representative of the ills of capitalism.

Where does this leave the poor women, who aren’t engaging in respectability politics? Where does this leave the sex worker? I see sex work as a failure of capitalist society, and survival sex work is the purest demonstration of the failures of state, society and the punishment of women. Radical feminists see sex work as male violence, abuse and being a victim of gender and patriachy. We are seen as the women who have fallen through the cracks, and haven’t been caught by the feminist net of respectability. It is why we are pitied because we are seen as less than, victims and almost hopeless. Most people think the best we can do is get a low income job, and we should be satisfied with this because at least it isn’t prostitution. In fact, some of us are ‘rescued’ then forced to work in factories or labour intensive jobs.

Politics and feminism

The personal is political, and sex work is absolutely personal, and political. In fact, I had no idea of the politics and debates behind prostitution – I just did it without little thought whether it was legal, moral or whatever. When I discovered it, I was both angry, engrossed and found myself confused as to why my life was being debated so much. There are very few topics that can divide women quite like sex work, and this is why it is naive to assume women’s struggles are a collective, or that we move as one. If we continue to depict women as less, or that we are better than them, then it gives way for other women to act on their behalf as they think they know better. This happens time and time again, and the reason why Julie Bindel seems to represent sex worker voices, rather than sex workers themselves.

Sex workers push for better work protections, and are extremely critical of sex work, the praxis they work in, capitalism, and are fully aware of the reasons what led to their decision to become a sex worker – often not taken lightly. In law, we push for decriminalisation for safety, so we take our bosses to court for mistreatment against us and ensure we can stop being prosecuted for brothel keeping. Above all, to stop the harms and the deportation of migrant sex workers, who are nearly always conflated with sex trafficking and as a result, have their autonomy stripped. Brothel raids and deportations are extremely traumatic and are truly life changing. We push for material support to avoid sex work even being a thing to begin with such as housing, a stable job and income, access to justice, and this is seen by the extensive mutual aid that sex workers provide for each other.

Radical feminists however, are more focused on the concept of gender, and prostitution being violence against women, whereas I see capitalism as violence against women. This can be easily shown by their fixation on female sex workers, and the complete dismissal of male or trans sex workers. Their language in politics focuses on women being submissive, and prostitutes being victims of men. This discourse doesn’t really help sex workers, and we can speak for ourselves. Also, there is a difference between sex work is male violence, and sex workers experiencing male violence. It is a privileged stance to have, where your only concept of prostitution is focused around gender rather than money, lack of housing, safety provisions, trauma or steeped in inequality or racial discrimination. Gender is not the only oppressor. Whilst you’re talking about prostitution always being exploitation, you’re doing nothing to tackle as to why you feel I’m in this position.

If you’re taking pity on women selling sex for £10, see us as victims and sex work as a desperate last resort, then how is focusing on the gender helpful? Shouldn’t you be focusing on tackling the very causes that result in survival sex work? The answer is often no because the same women who take pity on us, are the same women who don’t want to dismantle or challenge these systems because they benefit from it. Usually the same women who say things like ‘if I can do it, so can you’. There is a discussion of gender in prostitution, absolutely. It would be naive to ignore the role of gender and patriarchy in sex work. However, this is often lost in the feminist debate and rarely nuanced. For people who are so transfixed on gender and prostitution, radical feminists seem to forget that transgender sex workers exist, and their gender means they experience disproportionately higher levels of violence than cis female sex workers.

The Bad Choice

I work backwards in terms of sex work. I believe in fighting to provide the resources to avoid sex work, which impacts the present situation of many. The Nordic Model, and it’s radical feminist supporters, work forwards. They want law to prevent the trade of sex going forward, rather than working on the timeline which resulted in such. If we do not resolve the things that came behind, we can do nothing going forward and all efforts are futile. This is why tackling any social problem with criminalisation is useless, because it does not tackle the root cause and instead, punishes those caught up in the system – often victims themselves. For example, locking up those for knife crime does nothing to stop knife crime, and they are often victims of circumstance, gang grooming and by extension, capitalism and pursuit of the individual, rather than collective.

Whatever people’s reasons are for sex work, it will never be eradicated. No law, country, philosopher, male or female has ever found a way to stop it, and the Nordic Model won’t either. So, why try when it just makes it more dangerous? We must also recognise that sex work is a perfectly viable and fine option, regardless of reasons. Although I personally struggle to understand why people become a sex worker when they’re not pushed by circumstances, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the right to be one, or be supported and protected. Sex work shouldn’t have to stop, because as much as I am an unhappy hooker, this isn’t the experience of everyone.

To want to get rid of something means it is bad, and if it is bad, it means we give the government and society full power to legislate and morally degrade, both of which significantly harm the lives of sex workers. We do this because we want to keep it as unacceptable in society, and ensure there is reprise for those who do bad things. By saying something is unacceptable, we give power to those above us who have the power to right these wrongs and by doing so, we ignore the voices of those impacted. We can say the sex industry is bad, but that doesn’t mean workers in the sex industry are bad, and when you legislate against the industry, you negatively impact the workers.

Always remember the Nordic Model’s end goal is abolition of the sex industry, but simply with a feminist mask on. They can’t be seen to be criminalising other women, and especially victims. Instead, they strangle us out in the hope it stops, even if it does put in at greater risk. In their eyes, it’s a good thing because that should act as even more of a deterrent.

What can feminists do?

Stop pushing the idea that women must be good women, in good jobs, to be respected. We do not have to be in male jobs, be well-educated, or take advantage of our right to vote. By doing this, we turn on ourselves and where does the line stop, and who is the gatekeeper? We can be loud-mouthed, wear short skirts and call you a cunt, and still be equally respected. Include ‘undesirable’ women in feminism because women deserve the same rights just for being women.

Always include sex worker voices, rather than people sex worker’s say aren’t representative of them. I make clear, that means actively working sex workers, as they will directly impacted by any change of law or moral crusade, as they simply can’t remove themselves from it. There is nobody better than those with lived experience to be at the front, and within that group should always be black, trans, street, brothel, survival and migrant sex workers rather than just white, middle class women who sex work for the same reasons, or have it full of dommes.

Stop seeing sex workers as poor, vulnerable women who do it simply as a last resort, or are unable to do anything else. This gives way for people acting on our behalf who see themselves as a better voice, as of course, the poor little sex workers don’t know any better, and need someone else to better advocate. It also means people have little expectations of us, or think we are less than others. We do not need to be anything else other than sex workers to be respected and equally treated.

Stop seeing sex work as simply violence due to gender. There are too many complex and interwoven factors that are included in sex work and the discourse around it. These attitudes result in the exclusion of male and trans sex workers, because the focus on feminism becomes solely on cis female sex workers, because prostitution is framed in the ‘violence against women and girls’ sector. This also ignores intersectionality and material needs which are essential in sex work discussion.

Recognise sex work as sex and work, and nothing more. There is a divide between the sex worker at work and home, the two are not the same. Sex work is work and is fuelled by the same needs as everyone else – to pay bills, rent, food, feed our kids, pay for drugs and keep us clothed. If you wish to eliminate sex work or see it as exploitation, then I ask you to tackle low paid jobs, zero hour contracts and push for greater worker’s rights, recognising that exploitation in work is not unique to sex work. Sex worker right’s movement wants the same equality in law, and the right to hold our bosses to account and demand the same working rights.

Stop the conflation between sex work and sexual exploitation/trafficking. This means when we are genuinely abused, raped, exploited or trafficked, we are not believed because it is all considered the same. Also, it assumes all migrant sex workers must be trafficking victims, rather than just sex workers in another country, with the same needs as me. There is overlap between trafficking and sex work, but conflation just harms both of us. If you don’t think conflation is harmful, then think of the time when society thought victims of CSE were prostitutes, and they had to fight to make clear they were victims, and not consensually having sex. Sex workers have autonomy, and know the difference between abuse and consent.

Listen to what sex workers want and need, and recognise you do not know more than us because of a feminist you listened to, a theory you know, or a textbook you read. Theory and practice are not the same, and you should listen to those who are impacted by such. The war on drugs sounded great in theory, but it wasn’t in practice and significantly harmed the Black community and resulted in mass incarceration. The Nordic Model sounds good too, but in reality, it causes great harm to sex workers and our safety. If you’re too blindsided by text and theory rather than experiences, then remove yourself from the discussion.

Support decriminalisation of sex work, and not the Nordic Model.

I always keep blog posts free as breaking down stigma is my main goal, but if you wish to support me, please consider:

paypal.me/graceyswer

or

patreon.com/graceyswer

The Value of Support Services

Let’s rewind 10 years and I would have never imagined myself accessing a ‘service’. This word wasn’t in my vocabulary and I thought charities were for the really poor children in countries I had never visited, or for the badly bruised and beaten children I couldn’t relate to on tele. I thought you had to be at your lowest and most desperate ebb in life for someone to help you. In fact, it wasn’t until I met a counsellor when I was 21 did she tell me about services because she had worked in them, and still, I was hesitant to access them. I was so reluctant in fact, when I saw the outreach workers, I would hide and specifically work hours when they couldn’t see me. I should add, the counselling service was the first time I had ever used a service in my entire life. I thought life was a free-for-all, and then you die.

This is perhaps why I was, and remain, very reluctant to accept and ask for help. I was stubborn to admit that I needed help, because I never thought it existed in the first place or wasn’t for people like me. By admitting I need help meant that I was at the most desperate ebb in my life, and who likes to say that about themselves? I ended up within a short space of time, accessing several services, largely out of force; I was told I had to seek help, or I would be booted off my course or likely be dead. It wasn’t smooth sailing and I had no idea what to do, and asked people to make the arrangements for me because I didn’t know where to start. Within a year, I was having around 4-5 appointments a week with a variety of services, attending drop-ins and taking courses around DV, sexual violence and self-care.

Starting out

I remember making my first contact with the local sex work project and I completely lied to the outreach worker, in fear of giving away who I really was and what I was doing. She later admitted she could see straight through it and was the reason why she gave me her contact details, and asked me to email her. For the first time in my life, I had someone who actually asked me about my life and wanted to help me, and I never had this before. Suddenly, they were asking about how I’m living, how am I, whats my mental health like, what’s troubling me, what do I need help with? I didn’t know what to do, say or handle it. I remember going to drop in for the first time, nobody knew me and someone made a cup of tea and I couldn’t believe it. It was the scariest thing I ever did, and my counsellor couldn’t believe I had done it when we spoke next.

Next, I met my drug worker and in my first appointment, I sat there crying and she asked if I wanted a hug and I told her to fuck off, similar situation happened the following week. A few weeks later, I asked to leave the service because I was angry at their mishandling of my treatment, but agreed to continue working with just my worker. I went to groups for the first time, and remember the facilitators asking me if I had ever done anything like this before and I cried as I said no in front of a room of strangers. I admire the determination of these workers because they saved my life, and I have a lot of time and respect for all of them now. By the time I had left service, I wrote a thank you note to my drug worker that got sent to the CEO.

Barriers to service

These words come out my mouth all the time, it’s almost on brand for me. It is something that frustrates me more than anything, because it helps people going on in life like I did – sink or swim. As a sex worker, I’ve faced a lot of shit when accessing services; I even had a homeless charity tell me that ‘best be careful’ who they house me with, because *wink wink* – I never went back. In fact, there is another sex work charity that I struggle to access due to their preconceived notions, and the ethos of some of those who work there. Which is a real shame, because they have a lot to offer, and do a lot of good work. I once opened up a bank account, told the lady I was a sex worker and was bombarded with questions, and told ‘no offence, but I’d be distraught if my partner slept with a prostitute, because no offence yeah, he might catch something’. I hope he does hun x

Barriers to service are preventable, and completely unnecessary but it often comes down to the attitudes of those you can encounter. You have no idea of the worker you will be allocated, and you certainly haven’t a clue what they think about sex work until you discuss it with them – this is never more so true for women’s charities who have a strong divide between radical feminists, who are rescue based and intersectional feminists, who are rights and autonomy based. Sex workers historically have a relationship fraught with conflict with core women’s services such as Rape Crisis, Refuge and Women’s Aid. I couldn’t access Refuge due to being a sex worker, they said I might be a danger to other women, bring men back and harm children. What a presumption, they’d never met me. I can’t access the service like other women – I am not the perfect victim.

I’ve watched friends with children, who are also sex workers, refuse to tell anyone they are a sex worker in fear of having their child removed from them. It is oxymoronic because they work to feed their children, and give them things they couldn’t have themselves. Many sex workers are mothers, it really isn’t uncommon and are incredible, strong and resilient women, working hard for their children in sometimes difficult circumstances, or as a single parent. I’ve seen migrant sex workers completely hide from services in fear of being conflated with a sex trafficking victim, and being deported from the UK. As a result, they lose access to essential services like sexual health, housing and even the police if they need them. This makes them more vulnerable.

There are multiple reasons as to why someone may struggle to access a service – whether it be transport, being in a domestic violence relationship, being transgender, the views of the service, historical conflicts, or whatever else. If you truly wish to help the most vulnerable and marginalised in society, you should try yourself to overcome these barriers, and not expect us to. Take your service to the sex worker, provide outreach or make yourself openly known as a sex worker friendly service. You haven’t got to slap it on your front-page but have specifically trained staff or have a red umbrella up in service, or put an olive branch out to the local sex work service and make yourself known.

What happens in Leeds?

I am very lucky to live in Leeds; there are services galore and many specifically set up to help sex workers. Many of these services actively break down the barriers to service and come to us, this includes coming to our house to do sexual health screening, or having the local council’s housing options team on the outreach van at 10pm. We are provided with needle exchange, access to emergency accommodation, sexual health, drug workers or whatever we may need at the time. The support workers spend most of their time ringing up services, helping us with benefit claims, making appointments, taking us there, ensuring that no matter what, we access what we need. Housing options also come to our drop ins to help us find temporary or permanent accommodation.

Currently, I am with a GP practice that specialises in inclusion health, meaning they only work with sex workers, vulnerably housed, homeless, refugees or asylum seekers. They have many specialist workers who are trained in substance misuse and again, bring the service to us. On Thursdays, the GPs go out on an outreach van to see sex workers, wherever they are at the time. They also go to the support services. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing this is, and so bloody needed. Many sex workers have other health conditions such as COPD, DVTs, poor circulation, abcesses from injecting and whatever else. It is really hard to access healthcare when you’re a sex worker because it is laden with prejudice and discrimination. I moved to this GP surgery after my previous GP said something exceptionally victim-blamey with regards to sex work. Many find you too complex and difficult and simply don’t want to treat you.

They are also familiar and not scared to tackle issues like sex work, mental health, domestic violence and the difficult realities of desperation and poverty. It is such a weight off my chest when I walk into my GP appointment, and they already know I am a sex worker, and whatever baggage that comes with me and they both accept it, happy to tackle these topics and don’t give me shit for it either. Today, I told my GP about my existential crisis as I stared up a ginger man’s hairy asscrack with his balls on my chin, wondering why am I here, what is the meaning of life? I openly talk about the mental health impact of sex work, and she doesn’t tell me to quit or try and rescue me. Instead, we have open and honest discussions about topics that most GPs do a bee-line for. Previously at my former GP, I turned up to apt after being assaulted and the GP who saw me didn’t even ask me what was wrong as I cried throughout the whole appointment, (dangerously) prescribed me Zopiclone and then told me to leave.

Sexual health attends drop in once a week, we have a red umbrella scheme set up where we show a debit sized card in the clinic with the umbrella on, and you get an appointment with a doctor ASAP – usually within a few hours. There are also specific sex worker slots that you can ring up and book in advance, but you won’t have to wait long for an appointment and they’re usually an hour long. There are specific sex worker outreach nurses who attend our support services to take all our swabs, provide contraception and whatever else. They go to your home or set up outreach clinics to access if you’re unable to, and they’re also very lovely women! I have laughed and cried my heart out to them, and I love having a natter with them and putting the world to rights each week. I have all their phone numbers, and someone is generally always available to help me with something, set up an appointment or ring me.

Our local drug service has specific recovery workers who work only with sex workers across the hubs around the city, and one located in the GP practice too. As a result, we all get to know each other, and it breaks down all the crappy stigma. Again, I have laughed and cried my heart out to my drug worker, laughed about and slagged off my clients. They see you as a whole, not as a drug using sex worker and also advocate on issues such as housing, health, inclusion etc. and you’ll also find, they work hard helping you access other services. In your assessment, you are directly asked if you are a sex worker so they can appropriately match you with a trained, experienced drug worker who isn’t going to shame you, or ask you to rehash traumatic experiences and then rescue you.

Finally, we have the only Sex Worker Liaison Officer in the entire UK. Her entire role is working with sex workers – she is not just a sex worker trained police officer. We can report any offences directly to her, and again, she will not drag you down the police suite but instead, come to your house, your place of work or meet you at a support service. She doesn’t come wearing her police uniform, has no interest in arresting you, works collaboratively with local services but for your interests. Her main role is to ensure sex worker’s safety, be available to us should we report to the police and also be an advocate for us. I have reported several times to her, because I would never report to the normal police, because I know they don’t give a shit, won’t believe me or come into the meeting with prejudices, stereotypes and like discriminate against me. It took her a LONG time to gain the trust of sex workers by attending drop-ins, working to support us and advocating.

The impact it has

For the first time in my life, I felt like people gave a shit and that people cared about wanting to help me. It was an alien feeling for me, and something I’ve never experienced before but at the ripe age of 23, I am finally talking about things I’ve buried for so long because others have gained their trust with me, had those difficult conversations and above all, supported me unconditionally. I am less stubborn to ask for help, and more likely to accept than ever before. I no longer feel so alone in facing the world, or feeling as if I have to sink or swim all the time. This domino effect has been immense, and has helped me a lot in terms of my mental health – I really appreciate people being honest with me, even if it is difficult at times.

I never heard of the word autonomy until I was 21, and had to ask the counsellor what she had spent 10 minutes talking about. It was something that was never spoken about, or had been respected. I realised that I do have a say in my life, and how it should go and being told what to do all the time is counterintuitive. It changed how I think and thought about myself, and that I have a say in my own life rather than waiting to be told what to do, and then getting upset when others criticised me. I had a hardened exterior because I feared ever letting on that I was struggling or needed help, whereas now, I feel more comfortable talking about these things and allowing myself to be vulnerable. I am still working on this, however.

Although I was in the hostel, people were ringing me, asking me how I was, getting supplies to me. It was my support worker who came and visited my flat with me for the first time, and it was a really lovely time in my life that I will always remember. I am so grateful for her giving up her time, and want to view it with me because she wanted the best for me – I cried a lot that day because it meant so much to me. It felt like a celebration, but one in which I could share the happiness. I got excited sending her pictures when I bought furniture, painted the walls and turned it into my home. I was very touched when my sexual health nurse said she did a collection of donations from her friends when she heard I was moving.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help and support of the many people who were committed and determined in helping me. Without them, I can’t imagine the dire and difficult situations I would have ended up in, because as usual, I never would have told anyone and just dealt with it alone. In times, I did end up in bad situations, but I felt brave enough to tell them and knew they would try to help me. They bought me a cooker, a fridge, arranged my appointments, sat with me as I cried my heart out and shared in all my achievements, and were genuinely happy for me.

It may not sound like much, but as someone with very little self-worth, it feels odd when someone wants to help you, and it makes you feel that you are worth helping. I still feel uncomfortable with compliments. However, I live alone and have no support from elsewhere; estranged from my family so having someone tell you that they want the best for you, want to help you, enjoy talking to you and share life’s little achievements with you – it really means a lot.

When you are bombarded with shame and stigma, it is nice to have someone in your corner, remind you that you are worth it, not awful, immoral or to blame. Someone who is a genuine advocate, has your best interests at heart and ultimately, who you can trust. I met other people in the same if not similar situations to me and it made me feel less alone – there is nothing better than mutual aid or speaking to someone who ‘just gets it’ without having to explain yourself.

Going full circle

When I’m not being a whore, I work to improve services, work in them or criticise them. I spend a lot of my ‘professional’ life training services, meeting with sexual health commissioners, and challenging services on their attitudes. I openly call out CEOs who are too far detached from their service users, who shy away the complex women they can’t be bothered to deal with. I also recently took up a Trustee role in Rape Crisis to heal the wounds, and ensure sex workers are included in services and policy in my city.

I am currently working on a both a student toolkit and a stigma toolkit in the hope of scrutinising services for their poor attitudes, and hope to eventually empower sex workers so they can challenge this attitude themselves if they feel confident to. My next aim is to challenge professional bodies like the RNC and GMC who disallow student sex workers who are training to become nurses and doctors, as it is bringing ‘the profession into disrepute’. Although, they’re more than happy to fuck us, and treat us, but we can’t be them! Morality clauses are the bane of a sex worker’s life.

As I said, I’m very lucky to have the services I do, and hope to ensure others do too. It can be done, but people just can’t be bothered with whores, and they know it. I do a lot of work trying to break down stigma, shame and prejudices and even meeting with radical feminists to find middle ground, or get them to see a side that isn’t so one sided. Stigma kills, and this is for many reasons but one main reason is being locked out vital services and it is unnecessary, preventable and is not the fault of the sex worker. I aim to ensure all sex workers have access to a sex worker specific trained GP, drug worker, housing officer, sexual health nurse, and whatever else they need.

I like to think I put my money where my mouth is, and practice what I preach. Making yourself known as a sex worker comes at great risks, and a lot of abuse, but I hope it works out in the long run because I am fed up of having the same shitty conversations, and also hearing the same challenges from sex workers. People see as a homogeneous group when we are not, and also experience things like domestic violence and equally deserve help, appropriate support and equal access. My proudest moment was getting a national domestic violence charity to take down their page about prostitution, which was full of things saying most sex workers experienced child sexual abuse, and were teenage prostitutes. I’d like to say this shit doesn’t exist today, but it does. How is that relevant to helping us with domestic violence?

I’d like to bring people with me at every opportunity. I want to break down barriers for black, trans or migrant sex workers also, but I am not the person to talk on it, or speak over them. I am none of these things, but I welcome being pointed towards resources written by those with lived experience, or work collaboratively.

What can you do as a service?

  • don’t be a dickhead
  • bring your service to those who can’t access it
  • listen to sex workers, don’t speak for them
  • have a laugh with us, stop being so serious all the time
  • don’t rescue us
  • be guided by us, don’t treat us as one big group who all have the same needs
  • recognise the barriers, and respect them
  • don’t ask us intrusive questions, or ask to rehash traumatic experiences
  • respect boundaries!!!

Here is a more detailed blog post I wrote about working with sex workers in support services: https://street-hooker.com/2020/04/28/working-with-sex-workers-in-support-services/

I always keep blog posts free as breaking down stigma is my main goal, but if you wish to support me, please consider:

PayPal.me/graceyswer

CashApp is £graceyswer
or

patreon.com/graceyswer

They are just trying to live

Sex workers and their lives are not up for debate. I do not care about your opinion, and I certainly do not care about what you think makes me safe or not. I don’t care because it is not you. When you quit sex work and move on, you no longer hold the torch and you should, rightfully so, pass it to working sex workers. Laws, life, stigma and society changes and what also changes is what makes us safe. A sex worker who stopped working in 2005 will not have a clue have what makes us safe online because it has advanced. Also, stigma and society changes and this heavily impacts on how sex workers react. For example, Client Eye is publicly advertised compared to say, in the US where blacklists are hidden for safety reasons.

The Managed Zone is constantly up for debate by people who have never even driven through the area, let alone worked there. Many of whom comment from the comfort of their homes, with the heating on, tweeting from their new phones. To make it worse, they earn money from punching down hard and slagging off sex workers and trampling all over their voices. Yes, I mean you Julie Bindel and Dr Jess Taylor, amongst many others. Commentators who are so far removed from sex work, even if they once dipped their toe in the industry. Shagging a bank manager for a loan doesn’t mean you have lived the life of a sex worker. If this was a true reflection of sex work, I’d be a millionaire from all the loans I’d get from clients.

What is it really like then? Actually, despite sex workers constantly calling it boring, which it is sometimes, it is downright dangerous at times. In fact, it is one of the most dangerous jobs you can ever do. Working street isn’t fun and I’m not here to paint a pretty picture of it either because it’s cold, lonely, boring, dangerous and I’m 5ft and get intimidated by clients sometimes; especially when they say things like ‘I could just snap you, you’re so small’. Fucking your bank manager won’t get you the same crap either and it certainly hasn’t meant you’ve lived your life anonymously because of the stigma associated with it; in fear of giving your real name out because you fear being evicted or arrested. No.

I am fed of commentators and people thinking sex worker’s lives are for public discussion when we are not, we are just trying to live. Many of us live on the breadline, living just enough to get by in life without falling on our face. Some, the true survival sex workers, are out there having sex because they’re unsure where they are sleeping that night so they need money for a shelter. Some trade sex for food, drugs and other essentials. They have no fucking idea what it is like to sit in-front of a counsellor and cry your heart out and tell her you have sex for money because you’re so scared of being brassic again and ending up homeless. No. Instead, they write about us, as if they know better than us.

These ‘feminists’ say they champion marginalised women and their voices, but not sex workers. Would they do this to domestic violence victims who have faced exceptional levels of violence? If a victim said ‘I don’t think this law will help’ or ‘I know what would have made me safe’, would we have said ‘oh shut up, you’re too traumatised hun, we know better than you’ and then go on to call her a wife beater, pimp or whatever else? No, we fucking wouldn’t. It would be a disgraceful and you’d lose your job. However, when it comes to sex workers, we are apparently exactly that – too fucked up and traumatised to speak for ourselves.

People who haven’t had dick in the mouth like Julie Bindel think they know better about sex work, male clients and safety than me – the person who puts dick in their mouth for money and has grown and eye in the fucking back of my head because of safety.

Online, people call me ‘something to ejaculate into’, ‘cum dumpster’, ‘piece of flesh’ or whatever disgusting, vile, degrading language they use. Their justification is that this is what men call and think of us. In all honesty, no client has ever called me a piece of flesh. Even if they did, this is NOT an excuse for you to use the same vitriolic language as them, in fact, as ‘feminists’, you should be challenging this language and not using it yourself. They say we are constantly being raped and if they think that, why do they find it acceptable to call a rape victim a ‘cum dumpster’. Believe me, if you said that in a SARC, you would be dragged out by the ear – and rightfully so. These people are so anti-men that they apparently find it acceptable to use their ‘alleged’ language against me as well.

If you knew a woman who was constantly called a piece of shit by her husband every day, would you then refer to her as a piece of shit? No.

I have been more degraded by radical feminists in their language and little consideration for me, my life, experiences and voice than any client. I would rather sit in a room with a shitty client than a nasty radical feminist. At least the client pays me to feel like shit.

The sex worker rights movement MUST be led by sex workers, and predominantly actively working sex workers. The influence by people who fucked their bank manager, or Bindel, who as far as I know has never even touched a dick are disproportionately platformed than actual sex workers. Would white people be at the front of BLM? No. Would white, British born people be at the front of immigration rights movements? No. Would I ever be at the front of Thai decriminalisation of sex work? No. I can support these or even have adverse opinions but it is not my place to dominate.

I would LOVE to give greater voice to the other women who work in the Managed Zone but I am also very well aware of the shit they would get because of it. Sadly, they have so much to say and can say it for themselves but they’re scared to, or at times unable. I fiercely safeguard them in this sense because I desperately want to bring them up with me, but at the same time, I don’t wish to bring them into the place where they are open to such abuse. I saw what the BBC documentary did to vulnerable women who were complex drug users, and I would never replicate such exploitation of them and their voices for gain. It becomes a horrible cycle in which they are silenced, and then the void is filled by people who haven’t a clue.

These women are fierce, loving, resourceful, resilient, and despite the absolute hardships some of them have faced, they get up every fucking day and get through it. They have more courage than I will ever have and I admire their strength in the face of true adversity. I challenge anyone to live their lives and despite the low status they hold in society, I know many would struggle to get through the same situations they have, especially on their own. I admire their courage, bravery and their ability to push through every day, even when they feel like they can’t. Some have dire circumstances and actively work with very little to get by. People are so quick to write them off and yet, I know these very people wouldn’t stand a chance in their shoes.

I am fed up of the politicisation of sex work when in reality, you are talking about people and their lives. These are not up for debate and are not some sort of ideology you can fuck around with. Policy really hurts people, it has direct impact on the ground. You find many of those who are at the upper echelons of policy, activism, or whatever else are no longer sex workers, or never have been or think they know everything from at textbook. Activism with in itself is a privilege that I think people forget. The women working the streets do not give a fuck about the political debates that rage behind the scenes because they are just trying to live and get through the day. Does my friend Alicia care what Bindel thinks? No she doesn’t. She’s worrying about where she is sleeping tonight, how she is going to eat and how she is going to find the money for heroin and crack tonight.

Until I discovered sex work Twitter, I didn’t care either and had no idea. Ignorance is bliss but it took me many years to find the debates behind it and even now, I struggle to grapple with much of it.

Personally, I could not give a shit about the morality debates behind sex work and I refuse to engage with those people because they are simply irrelevant. I do not give a shit if you think I’m a slut, immoral or whatever else because you are not feeding me or paying my bills. Also, survival does not care about labels and names. I assure you, there are many more immoral things that occur in this world in sex work that root in greed, abuse and power but they are socially acceptable, left unchallenged or silenced. If your argument to eradicate sex work is based on a moral premise, then you have no standing to be at the table because unless you are Jesus Christ himself, then people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I have also likely fucked their husband/son/dad somewhere.

I’m not really sure the point of this blog post, but it is my ramblings. I am fed up of the same shitty arguments that I am sure people have had for years. I’ve had enough of Eaton shagging her bank manager and then running commentary on sex work as if she knows it all. I wonder if her PayPal, Monzo, AirBnB accounts have been frozen from her disclosure of sex work? I wonder if she sat in a hotel room in lingerie dealing with text messages saying ‘hi’ all day. Probably not. Has Bindel even touched dick? Probably not. Sex workers should lead sex worker rights movements, policy making, personal accounts and it should not be lead by those so fuelled by feminist ideology, writing policy in the comfort of their income, housing, safety and warm, and at times, luxurious homes. Sex work just isn’t about that.

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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.

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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.