I sell sex on the street, but I don’t need saving

The debate rages as to whether sex workers need rescuing from apparent abuse, or whether they deserve to be safe, or if the criminalisation of soliciting sex should continue. A rescue organisation is, generally, an anti-trafficking organisation which claims to save the victim from an abusive situation. This sounds brilliant, and I support this. Trafficking victims deserve support, providing it is done with full respect and autonomy of the victim themselves. However, most of these organisations target consensual sex workers. You usually find these organisations are anti prostitution entirely, not just anti-trafficking. The one thing I struggle with however, they do not target indoor sex workers as much, particularly those who work in their own homes. They do not rescue the dominatrix either, who has a chain around her client and her foot on his head. They instead, target the most vulnerable of us all, the street sex workers. However, despite being the very people they want to save, I don’t want their help.

I have been at the hands of a rescue organisation. In my post ‘Prostitution Facilitators’, I explained how when working one Sunday evening, I was approached by a Christian outreach group who grabbed my arm whilst working, said a prayer over me and left. Before I went home, I went on the van for a drink but was instead, bombarded with dogma. I was told I was better than this; given photos of the damage of a lady’s groin from injecting; she asked me what had happened in my life for me to have fallen so hard and be out here. If I wasn’t enraged enough, she then handed me a bible and told me to work on my relationship with Jesus. I later found out their aim is to sell Christian detox and therefore, they prey on vulnerable sex workers who are often excluded from communities, and looking for help. I felt so degraded, I vowed to stop sex working on Sundays.

Sex work ‘rescue’ charities

Beyond the Streets are an organisation who work with women in prostitution. However, you wouldn’t guess this by loading up their page. They boldly state they are a charity to support those who face sexual exploitation. Of course, I support their aims of helping women leave sex work, facing domestic violence and drug abuse. However, if I was searching for help online and I came across this website, I’d click off because as a sex worker, that does not mean I’m being sexually exploited so I wouldn’t relate to it, or assume the service is for people like me. I don’t agree with how they act on achieving their aims, or the language they use to describe us. Even more damaging in their website is the following quote:

Prostitution is commonly viewed as a choice that women have made, but many of these ‘choices’ were probably decided upon when they were under 18 .

Beyond the Streets

They are unable to recognise that there is no such thing as a child prostitution, therefore their use of the word choice here is irrelevant, because it is not a choice. Also, this charity is to support those currently engaged in prostitution, which means they are over the age of 18. Therefore, this quote only seeks to peddle stereotypes and stigma of sex work. You have to ask, what are they gaining from including this in their website? It is hard to shake the victimisation you face when you’re a sex worker, meaning people are more likely to act on your behalf, assuming you are unable to make decisions yourself. These types of quotes do not help.

This is another example I found on the website of A Way Out, another charity that works with sex workers. The language is degrading, the image is horrific, and a poor representation of sex workers. It assumes that it is awful, violent, and everything else in between. Using language like ‘sell her body’ is exactly the kind of thing sex workers themselves fight for people not to use, because it is inaccurate and fuels stigma. I would like to think sex worker charities have our best interest at heart, and shouldn’t use language that we don’t use ourselves, or have used against us.

The following story talks about Katie’s life and like most rescue orgs, uses the trauma of sex workers for their fundraising goals. We are not trauma machines where you can churn out our lives so you can tell everyone how awful it is for us. In addition, these are bold and wild statements. For example, being exposed to domestic violence does not mean you will also be exposed to paedophile. The language is bleak: ‘restore hope to the hopeless’ is vile, and along the lines of ‘I am a voice the for voiceless’. Just because we are sex workers, does not mean we have are hopeless, or voiceless. It is these kind of attitudes that society attach to us, we don’t need those who are trying to help say this also. Katie may need a friend, but she also doesn’t need judgemental, degrading comments either.

To make matters worse, they ask for donation and say it will provide access of support for women exploited through prostitution. Crikey.

A quote from Helena Croft from Streetlight UK

I could write a whole article about the damage quotes like these cause, particularly from Streetlight UK, a charity that works with sex workers. Again, it is something sex workers fight against. It ignores the lack socio-economic resources we have, or the fact the no little girl dreams of being of a HR manager or admin officer either. There is nothing wrong with these jobs, they’re just jobs that nobody expected to be doing when we were a little girl – I wanted to be a 100m olympic sprinter, I now couldn’t think of anything worse. I then wanted to be a translator, but would prefer to be a sex worker. These are quotes usually said by sex work abolitionists, who shouldn’t be using harmful language against us. Finally, why does it matter if sex work is a career? It is an income. I don’t want to climb the ladder and became a manager – I’d be arrested for being a pimp!

I would describe these charities as ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. This is biblical term, which ironically describes a lot Christian led ‘rescue’ charities. Of course, not all are like this, but a fair proportion are. There is a term called ‘co-production’ which involves actively engaging service users and their voices in the service development itself. By doing this, you adapt and change your focus depending on the most pressing needs of the service users. This is a brilliant example of working in cohesion and most importantly, for the service user themselves. Rescue orgs do not do this. The reason why they don’t is because they generally advocate policies which sex workers do not support, such as the Nordic Model. Services and workers should work to support us in the best way they can, but you can’t do this if you do not involve us, or listen to what we need or would find beneficial.

Respecting autonomy

A rescue charity argues that the sex worker needs rescuing because sex workers themselves are unaware of the abuse they are facing, thus, they need saving from themselves. This is white knight, damsel-in-distress type saving that I dislike the most. It assumes that we are dumb, unable to know the difference between consent and abuse, or unable to make our own decisions. You are stripping us of our autonomy, arguing that what we are doing is wrong and should do something you consider better. It is really infantilising to hear that just because I am a sex worker, I can’t make my own decisions because they are considered wrong or immoral, and I need to be told by someone else what they should be. I actually don’t care if you think I’m moral or not, rent is more of a pressing concern for me.

I am not stupid. I am aware of my vulnerabilities. I am more than aware of the danger I am or the risks I can face at work; I deal with it all the time, and it is me who deals with the impact of it. I don’t need a charity to come along and tell me about my own life, my job, how I live my life or dictate what is best for me. I did not become a street worker for no reason, it wasn’t something I woke up one day and decided, took myself to the Zone and started working. Like many other street sex workers, I don’t like working either, but I realise the barriers that prevent me from doing something else. Whatever reasons put me here, it was still my choice to become a sex worker, I could have done something else but likely would have been criminalised for my alternative options.

The reasons for sex work are diverse and sometimes complex, but the motivation is simple: money. A rescue charity is arguing that I am making the wrong decision in how I fund my drug habit or pay for my food and rent. In reality, this is based in judgement rather than support. Other sex work charities who advocate rights not rescue support the sex worker to tackle issues such as homelessness, Universal Credit, drug addiction, or whatever our reasons are. However, the big difference is, they also don’t judge us for sex working, because they recognise that although it may not be the best way, it is OUR best way. They respect my autonomy; my right to work or not to work, to quit or train as something else. Respect is fundamental because I’m not asking you to agree, I am asking for basic understanding.

I know what is best for me in the context of my own life, and my own situation. Although sometimes my choices are not ideal or what I want them to be, it doesn’t mean I’ve chosen the wrong option. Nor does it mean this option should no longer be available either.

Sexual exploitation and survival sex work

This was a tweet from a radical feminist, who did give time to listen to sex workers – to an extent anyway. When discussing that sex workers are not a homogenous group, and in fact, we don’t want safety too, they said this:

Conflating survival sex work with abuse and trafficking

I want to be forgiving and say they mean well, but they have not done a lot of work or research into sex work. However, I realised, most people by and large don’t in general, unless it’s a topic that interests them. Can I blame them for having these opinions, if after all, they’re repeating what they’ve been told? Well, yes, I can. I don’t make bold statements on topics I know nothing about or vulnerable groups to which I have little knowledge of. I may have an opinion but I recognise that it is important to listen to those who are the topic you are discussing, not talk for them. They also were evidently interested and, discussed it often but continued to conflate survival sex work with abuse and trafficking. Do not lump us all into one big group, we are individuals with different experiences.

The conversation needs to be turned on its head and instead of assuming survival sex work is abuse, ask by who are they being abused by? You will usually find it is not usually the client, but the systemic and structural failures that led them me to make this decision. This is why I do not advocate rescuing me, but instead, I wish for you to re-direct your efforts into tackling underfunding in drug and alcohol services; the chronic cuts in domestic violence services; the destruction of social security and Universal Credit, or how poorly sex workers are received by services, who pass comments which stop us from engaging further. There is no point telling me my life is awful, that I need to stop having sex for money to buy drugs or to feed myself when you’re not bothering tackling why I’m doing it. Don’t judge me for the solution I found, judge the reasons as to why I thought this was my solution.

Migrant sex workers work the street too, however, they are instantly assumed to have been trafficked. This results in migrant raids that are exceptionally distressful for the sex worker. They can be mishandled and as a result, they lose contact and trust with sex worker organisations who aim to support them. The devastating impacts of this can not be underestimated; migrants sex workers already face risk of being trafficked, but due to raids, they no longer wish to engage with the police. As the raid demonstrated, it did nothing to reduce migrant sex work, but it did make them more hidden and therefore, at greater risk. I work alongside migrant sex workers and they do the same job as I do. Being born in another country does not remove your ability to make decisions about your own autonomy.

Survival sex workers can not be separated into the category of sex workers who are abused. It is insulting. The risks are high working the streets, we already know this. Therefore, when we do report abuse or exploitation, it needs to be taken seriously. If you assume all survival sex work is abuse, how will I ever be believed? In fact, I had a recent example of this and I requested that the police be informed of the situation. By doing this, it allowed them to know me, what was and wasn’t okay for me, and when I needed help and when I didn’t.

Don’t save me

Please don’t insult me and assume that because I am a sex worker, I need a flurry of support workers, need to be taken away from my source of income, or that I need counselling for the abuse it supposedly causes. Listen to me instead and what I want and need.

I got the help I needed; not because I was rescued, but because services worked together holistically to support me, respected my wishes, reasons for working, offered harm reduction and appreciated that I knew what was best for me. After all, all my workers only saw me for a few hours a week, they only have a snapshot of my life. Telling me what is best for me makes me want to tell you to fuck off.

Don’t ignore the benefits of sex work either in your quest to save me, because it is these very benefits that are the reason I continue to work – I don’t do it for fun in my spare time. The money is what I need and removing my ability to make money puts me in a worse position.

Sex workers don’t need judgement, to be told we’re better than this or asked what awful trauma has led us to work. I will soon disengage with you, feel ashamed and it exacerbate existing drug and self-confidence problems. Work backwards by tackling the root causes and structural inequalities that result in street sex work. Rescuing us does little to alleviate these problems and nor solves issues going forward, and does not prevent me from ending back at square one.

Sex workers are some of the most resilient, resourceful and incredible people you will ever meet, don’t belittle me and assume I don’t know what’s best for me, or that I am unable to help myself.

I always keep my blog posts free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my goal, but if you would like to support me, please consider: www.patreon.com/graceyswer

Thank you ❤

Working With Sex Workers in Support Services

I recently wrote a short thread on Twitter about how to better respond and work with sex workers. This is particularly aimed at support services such as housing, mental health, social care, medical health and other services a sex worker may need. I hope by doing this thread, it can help people understand sex workers better and encourage their engagement in service. It is well documented the stigma and shame we can face and it is instilled when we disclose something personal about ourselves, which takes courage to do, and then face discrimination and be pushed further way from the service, preventing them from accessing the help they deserve

  1. Don’t panic!

Please, don’t panic! I know this may be the first time you may have had a client disclose they are a sex worker and that’s okay. Don’t go into overdrive and think you must solve every issue related to sex work, you don’t need to. There are many reasons why people become a sex worker and it isn’t a bad thing either. They are likely to be reluctant in telling you more due to the stigma attached more than anything else.

Yes, you may feel out of you comfort zone and that’s okay. Ring the local sex work project if you are unsure on advice or give the sex worker the resources to access the service. One common thing heard among support workers is ‘I don’t understand sex work’ and they therefore feel they don’t know what to do. It’s fine, you don’t need to understand sex work. It is exceptionally broad and vast, the industry and reasons for entry are innumerable. It would be unrealistic to apply generalisations to individuals. You just need to understand it, you only need to know it in the context of the client’s life.

2. Don’t go into rescue mode

This is one of the reasons sex workers push away from service. We feel we are unable to discuss difficult things related to the job in fear of being told we need to be fixed, or that we need saving from ourselves. We don’t need saving, we are perfectly capable of making adult decisions about our own body in the confines of our socio-economic resources and capabilities.

I know it can be challenging to perhaps listen to a sex worker describe being raped during sex work and the instant reaction is to want to take them away from working to prevent it, but this doesn’t help. We are more likely to be killed or raped at home, by our loved ones, but would you suggest moving away from our family and running away to a new undisclosed location? Let the sex worker talk about their experiences without sex work being the dominant thing in the conversation.

Remember, we can have bad experiences and still enjoy and prefer sex work. People are sexually assaulted at work but we have the right to challenge it and continue working, not flee each time it happens. Hold the abuser to account, not the sex worker. Also, telling a sex worker to just leave isn’t helpful and can have accidental serious financial implications, resulting in further detriment and desperation. They also may already be trying to leave sex work and they don’t need you telling them they’re not trying hard enough.

3. Don’t ask intrusive question

You would hope this is common sense but as a sex worker, you would not believe how many personally sexual questions I am asked. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve met an open sex worker and wish to take this opportunity to ask some burning questions that you’ve always wanted to know. Don’t do it, we are not an opportunity. We are not subjects of interest that you can extract trauma or knowledge from so you can scratch an itch of a question. These things fuel the stigma we already face and having to defend ourselves just adds to the shame.

An example: I went to open an ISA at my bank, I told the lady I was a sex worker. The entire appointment I was asked about my income, told she was be mortified if her partner slept with a prostitute in fear of getting sexual diseases, asked how much tax I pay, how often I have sex, what do I think about men, how do I feel having sex with people’s partners etc… This is all highly inappropriate.

Don’t ask questions you would not be prepared to answer yourself. Asking intrusive questions makes us not want to return, freezing us out of accessing help and support and ruins any therapeutic relationship you wish to gain. We should be getting help, not having to defend ourselves.

4. Don’t be a dickhead

I would hope this one is self-explanatory. I always tell people, when working with a sex worker, leave your stereotypes and whatever you think at the door and just listen to them and work from there. This isn’t always the case and never have I experienced such critiques from support workers from any other job. I consistently have people pass comments, tell me what they think about it, ask me how I feel about ‘being exploited’.

Worst of all, is telling a sex worker they are better than that, and they have the ability to do something better. Not only are you devaluing the transferable skills and incredible strength it takes to be a sex worker, but you’re just adding to the stigma and degrading them even further. Unless you’re willing to give me a job, pay my bills or my rent, don’t tell me what to do because I can’t afford to take your opinion.

5. Don’t make assumptions

If I present to a mental health service and disclose I’m a sex worker, don’t think i’m there because of sex work. Don’t assume we are all abused, we do it without choice or agency, we hate being a sex worker or any other stereotypes that come with it. Sex work is unfortunately, a hot topic that is poorly portrayed, and due to the stigma, it is hard for sex workers to come forward and directly challenge this. However, that doesn’t mean you have to fuel it either. It is insufferable to tell a counsellor sex work helps your mental health, only for them to say ‘gosh, it must be awful to be a sex worker and what you experience’. Gah!

Avoid stereotypes in general, we all know how harmful and unhelpful they can be. You should be approaching your client holistically, and more importantly, individually.

A common and exceptionally useless assumption is that we do drugs because of sex work, assuming it contains unspeakable trauma and that we are therefore using drugs to cope with it. This is usually the other way around. Drug using sex workers tend to be drug users first then became sex workers for financial needs. By assuming their mental health problems derives from sex work, you are ignoring the root causes and scapegoating for an easy answer.

6. Be guided by the sex worker

Being a sex worker doesn’t automatically make you ‘complex needs’ and it is unhelpful to associate sex work with being unmanageable, difficult and something that needs to be fixed. Again, it adds to the stigma that we can’t be handled well, don’t engage well or we have intricate needs. Sometimes, we just need condoms and sexual health screening and that’s it, we are fine otherwise. You would not call someone entering any STI clinic complex. Of course, there are sex workers who have multiple experiences such as domestic violence, homeless, under age 25, have been raped or are drug users and this is complex needs. However, to assume we are instantly vulnerable and complex just by being a sex worker doesn’t help.

Many sex workers are happy and won’t ever need to engage with a service because their needs are met by themselves. Unless they present with a specific issue, there is no need to guide them in a certain direction such as exiting if they don’t want to. Just because you are a sex worker, that doesn’t mean something needs to be fixed or an army of support is needed. React to the presenting needs of the sex worker. After all, we aren’t stupid and know what is best for us and what we need help with, to assume we don’t know and then push us towards exit is insulting.

7. Listen to how they feel about sex work

As mentioned earlier, it is easy to come to an appointment with a client with your own stereotypes, presumptions and prejudices, we all do. Regardless of how you think and feel or may have experienced with regards to sex work, they do not trump that of the client before you who is currently in that situation. In fact, my own support worker was a sex worker who had very different experiences to me, and we have listened to each other about our experiences and disagreed at times about different elements. Nevertheless, she always acts on how I feel or what I need rather than her own experience or what was best for her. This is good practice and shows that she is able to separate the two, which could be easily not do do considering the overlap.

No two sex workers are the same and how they feel about sex work isn’t either. We are often lumped into one big group but actually, we are also varied. Where there is variety in people, there is variety amongst sex workers because we walk amongst you. We all have different experiences. I don’t like sex work, I actively wish to leave and make no issue with this. However, many of my sex working friends are happy and enjoy the freedom it brings them, and that’s okay too. How you approach us both should be different and led by us. Just because one finds it crappy, doesn’t mean we all do.

There is nothing more disheartening than being told what is best for you by someone else and really is a huge factor that pushes away sex workers, particularly counselling.

8. Ignore the sex work identity

Don’t refer to them as the ‘sex worker client’ or remember them as that either. It is stigmatising and shows that you can not see more to us than simply being a sex worker, and that reflects more on you than what it does on us. Being a sex worker is part of being me, but it isn’t everything there is about me. I don’t need to talk about sex work each time you see me, it might not be relevant at all. I mean, of course, ask me how’s work or life but don’t need to ask me personal questions about it every time.

Sex work shouldn’t be the dominant thing in our conversations, our relationship, our work or my needs. Unless I say to you I want to leave, or it’s the most challenging thing in my life then there is no need to address it. It should be something that is simply accepted and a fact about me. As I walk through the door, don’t automatically think ‘sex worker’ think ‘it’s Grace.’ If you think all I am is just a sex worker then I don’t want to to keep you as my support much longer.

9. Remember, we are humans too

It can be difficult to deal with the stereotypes when you are a sex worker, especially a street sex worker. People think we are hostile, violent, products of abuse, nasty, dirty, disease ridden and if you’re a street worker, you’re simply a stupid junkie. However, no one is there when I’m crying over Marley & Me or beaming with pride and cuddling my niece and nephews.

We then have to access a service where we know people instantly think these things about us and more often than not, because we are sex workers, people feel we are free bait to say as they please about us, to us. When we get upset and react, we’re just deemed as difficult to work with and challenging then often written off. Yes, it may be upsetting when you are being challenged but remember the holistic approach, and you have no idea what has happened to us before we walked into that appointment.

Underneath our sometimes chaotic lives, remember we are people too. We love our family, cry at the same movies and adverts as you, get nostalgic at Christmas, love our pets and love a bit of gossip as much as anyone else. You will usually find we are defensive due to the treatment we’ve had by services and society, not because we are naturally born assholes. Once you have shown yourself to be non-judgemental and an ally, you will know we are humans too and have a cracking sense of humour! It might take months or even years, but it’s worth it.

10. Have a laugh with us!

Trust me, we are some of the funniest people you will meet. Sex can be a funny topic and we do lots of it! Sex work isn’t all doom and gloom, we are full of stories that we laugh about with other sex workers – about clients, awkward sex, things clients say, accidental faux pas and all sorts! We joke about ourselves all the time, it’s what makes the sex work community so brilliant at times.

In fact, whenever I used to meet my drug worker, we spent more time laughing about sex work at times than the drug plan we were supposed to be doing! But, I don’t regret it and it helped our relationship a lot because it allowed me to open up to her more, and know that she was on the same page as me. She didn’t feel like sex work was awful that needed serious attention all the time. As a result, we had a good relationship together and that’s essential in any service/client dynamic.

Of course, this doesn’t cover everything, nor am I the representative of all sex workers. These are just some of the experiences of myself and other sex workers I have spoken to. I hope it makes some impact coming from the other side.

I always keep blogs free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my main goal, but if you want to support me, please consider: 
http://patreon.com/graceyswer
thank you x

Working in the Managed Zone

This article has been rewritten several times and is one I have thought about a lot. The Managed Zone in Leeds is something of a controversial issue, mostly those on the outside looking in, rather than for those working there . The Managed Approach was the feature of the BBC Documentary ‘Sex, Drugs & Murder’. I watched that programme and I couldn’t recognise or relate to much of it. I shared common themes with the women that were featured, such as addiction, street working, chaotic lifestyle, etc. But, I felt that the documentary deliberately misrepresented street sex work for clickbait. I could easily write a whole article on the damage that documentary caused to the women involved, but I will save that for another post. As I watched I recognised this programme would further entrench the shame and stigma of sex work, and silencing us further.

The Leeds Managed Approach was introduced in 2014 as a pilot scheme after years of complaints from residents about street sex work in and around the Holbeck area. It was hoped this new scheme would solve the ‘problem’ of on street prostitution. Leeds also had one of the worst rates of sex workers reporting violence against them in the entire country. The managed approach was designed to improve this. The scheme was renewed in 2015 and is currently under review again, with the consultation of residents, local businesses, charities, sex workers and other invested parties. It is not permanent and academic researchers are now assessing if it is both beneficial, safer and has positive outcomes.

There are still rules in place sex workers must abide by; if we solicit outside the hours of 8pm-6am we can be arrested, similarly if work outside the zone or near residence houses, causing complaints by the residents, we can be arrested. I could easily talk about the history of sex work in Leeds and how many other attempts to suppress sex work in the street by targeting clients, such as fining kerb crawlers, hadn’t worked, but if you wish to learn more, here is a brilliant timeline of sex work in Leeds compiled by Dr Kate Lister:

https://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/1051767/The-History-of-Sex-Work-in-Leeds/

The Reality of the Zone

After doing a Twitter thread in which I attempted to bust the myths of the Managed Zone, someone told me they thought it was like the ‘wild wild west’ due to what people had told them about it. I found this hilarious because it is the furthest thing from a wild west. It is actually quite cold, boring, and at times, lonely. You get there, you stand around, a client pulls over, you get in and go somewhere, have sex and get dropped off at the same spot. I am not sure what is so interesting about this. The only time there is really any drama is when people drive round the area and hurl abuse at us, I wouldn’t exactly call this nice drama either. After you have earned what you need, you make your way home and that’s it. How boring is that? I am unsure what else people think occurs there – there are times where drug dealers approach you but that also happens outside the zone and is common in society in general.

The most interesting part of my job, and the part that I love the most is talking to the other women or sitting in the outreach van. The van is a place where we can get a hot drink, a sandwich, have a chat with the sex work project workers without judgement. We can moan about whatever we like, cry if we have to, look through the donations of clothes, and, most importantly, get some condoms. When you are bored or it is a quiet night, you get talking to the other women – just like you would chat to your colleagues in the office. There are many stereotypes around street sex work; that we are ruthless, that we hate each other and fight over clients and what not, but this really isn’t true. Of course, it can be competitive, but there are unwritten rules – such as not stealing a client or standing right next to each other. Not only is this respectful but it makes sense. If the client wants a different girl then standing next to each other confuses the client and intimidates them too. Neither make good business sense.

Respect and understanding goes a long way in sex work, just like in any working environment. However, this is perhaps more significant when working street because your safety is increased by making friends with the other women. This can include working in pairs , jotting down number plates, or making the other girls aware of your locations. We wave at each other before getting into a car so the client knows, and sharing phone numbers in case something goes wrong and you need to text them. Generally speaking, we pay attention when someone has been gone too long – not that we time on our watches but you take a mental note.

Making us safe

There are many reasons why having a specific zone is beneficial. Some sex work activists are against zones because it is considered state pimping. However, this ignores the practicality of it. If there wasn’t a zone, and solicitation was spread over several areas around a city, it would be near impossible for outreach workers to find us. They would not be able to give us the time we need to chat as they would be too busy hunting us all down to provide the most important thing, sexual health. This is not helpful and does little to identify new or vulnerable sex workers who deserve a bit more time spent with them. After all, it might be the first time they’ve accessed a support service which is a brave thing to do, and merits more time getting to know them. Street sex work has always caused problems with residents. This is true around the country. Even if sex work was decriminalised, street sex workers and residents would still clash. An area to work in, away from residential areas, does help with this.

Having a specific area where we are concentrated has many benefits. On outreach there are volunteers with a range of specialisms; from sex workers themselves, housing officers, drug harm reduction, sexual health nurses and any other services we could possibly need. Street sex workers can, at times, find it difficult to access these services because we face a lot of stigma. Other women find these services are not suited to our working hours, and having a space that is safe, free of judgement and in your comfort zone is essential to being able to access the appropriate help. The volunteers work alongside the sex work project workers, so we feel more comfortable. Not feeling as though we have to constantly defend ourselves against judgement to access a service reduces the stigma we face.

Having a zone allows for relationship building and consistency, something sex workers need the most due to the crap we get from services in general. Sex workers have turned up to the zone, not when they are working but when they need help, because they know that outreach is there, at that specific time. This is handy if you’re in crisis or need support outside of office hours. When you are seeking help for issues such as homelessness, domestic abuse etc., its important that someone is there, ready to help should you need it. You don’t need to arrive and ask for a pack of condoms to get help. Relationship building is key, and it is a place for services to get to know sex workers who don’t regularly access support via drop-in, while still being able to offer support in other ways – an example of working with hard to reach and vulnerable groups.

I wrote in a previous blog called Prostitution Facilitators that third parties who support sex workers are often considered to be enabling and promoting sex work. This isn’t true at all and safety is at the heart of all these workers, and the reason why the zone came about in the first place – because sex workers were not reporting to the police, thus fuelling the cycle of violence. Can you blame us? We face a lot of stigma, victim blaming, being told murder is an occupational hazard and then above all, worrying we could be slapped or fined for solicitation. Giving out condoms and safety advice, offering a place to talk and a direct line to report is not facilitation – it is harm reduction. Exiting sex work doesn’t happen overnight, it is constantly going on in the background, but at that moment, on outreach, it is not the time nor place to be preaching about it; it would be disrespectful and borderline degrading thing to do.

As time has gone on, clients are more aware that outreach is there to support us and this is a powerful deterrent to do anything. In addition, when they see the police there, not arresting us, but there to protect us – they worry about themselves being arrested. This is a great measure of safety. It isn’t bullet-proof, people still assault sex workers, but a guy once told me ‘don’t worry, I won’t hurt you, because the moment you get out the car I’d be arrested in 20 minutes anyway’. It was a creepy thing to say and wondered if he was playing mind-games and would actually hurt me, but on reflection, he was right. After I was assaulted in January, the first thing I did was find outreach and report it there and then with the details and number plate fresh in my mind. The outreach van in general makes me feel safer and I work close it, most of us do. It is like having a support structure and a strong ally in your workplace.

The Police

The relationship between the police and sex work is a very heated and contentious debate. Of course, sex workers have been abused, exploited and discriminated at the hands of the police. Some sex workers refuse any co-operation with the police. When I went to the Sex/Work Strike and the police accompanied us in London, sex workers were chanting and sneering at them and it made me feel uneasy if I’m honest. I don’t like the police either, I have been in trouble with them, spat at them and have had many run-ins with the law. However, the Managed Zone simply wouldn’t exist without them and having the police there brings a sense of safety. I’m not saying us street workers suddenly love the police, of course not, but there has been a significant effort by sex work projects, sex workers and the police to build better relationships, to train the police and help us report crime to them.

Leeds has the only Sex Worker Liaison Officer in the country. She is not simply a police officer who is trained to work with sex workers, she only works with sex workers. The role is relatively new, and it took a substantial amount of time for her to gain our trust, prove herself to be an ally and to show she had our best interests at heart – and she does. I have reported three incidents to her which I wouldn’t have done to the regular police, and she always made sure the process was driven by me. When we meet, she is not wearing police clothing and she is approachable, and above all, doesn’t victim blame us or add to the stigma of sex work. I can’t overstate the importance of this role; sex workers and the police have historically been at odds with one another. Co-operation benefits us both, and by working together there have successful convictions of violence against sex workers. We deserve the right to report violence and see justice as much as anyone else.

The evidence speaks for itself however, in 2013 only 1 in 10 women made a full report to the police AND included their personal details, this rose to 5 in 10 women in 2016. This isn’t just a statistic, some women are exceptionally reluctant to report anything to the police due to bad experiences in the past, fear of judgement and various other reasons. Including their personal details means they are telling the police they are a sex worker. This is an exceptional achievement on a very personal level. By 2017, reports to the police rose from 7% before the introduction of the Zone to 50% and this continues to grow. The police visit places we are comfortable with to make a report, we are not dragged down to the station, but instead, we are visited at sex work projects where we feel safe, can access immediate support and it is a neutral zone.

The police patrol the Managed Zone in a specific sex work team who have been trained for this role; they’re not just regular police sent to work down there. Although it can be frustrating when they are in view because it scares clients away, it is a payoff to the fear they can bring, abuse and arrest I could be subjected to. If we go on the outreach van to report anything, whether that be rape, an abusive customer, being robbed or passers by throwing things at us, this specific team can be called directly and immediately. This means they can act quickly, arresting the person and reducing the need for finding evidence or the person after the fact. Isn’t this what we all want?

Recently when I was working down there, a girl had been gone for a while and the police noticed this on the cameras – they drove up to me and asked me exactly what she was wearing, if I knew description of the car and what direction they drove. They were concerned about her safety and wanted to check she was okay. I gave them all the information I knew. This co-operation is incredible because we are sex workers, of course we are the best people to contact for advice and information. Thankfully, she was absolutely fine. This is safety and harm reduction, which is much better for the sex worker and it also means he was not coming up and arresting me for solicitation. I helped him and in turn, he helped another sex worker.

A few weeks ago, I went down to work on my own and saw outreach wasn’t there or any other girls. It felt a bit exposing but as there is nowhere to sit, I jumped over the wall to the nearby beck. A member of the public saw me, alerting the police on patrol. Admittedly, I was crawled up in the corner with my knees to my chest in the cold, it must have looked concerning. The police came over, asked if I was okay and whether I was going to end my life. I wasn’t, but he did a mental health check on me to see if I was okay. He asked me if I had anywhere to sleep tonight as the zone was closed due to coronavirus, I told him where I lived, and they offered me a lift home. Even making the point that despite putting me in the back of a van, he wasn’t going to arrest me! Afterwards, he asked if I wanted him to contact the local sex work project who were still contactable via phone and the whole ride home I spoke to a support worker.

This is why we need decriminalisation of sex work, because I would have been on my way to a police station otherwise and slapped with a criminal record. I wouldn’t have said I was a sex worker, but as I was carrying condoms and was smack bang in the middle of the zone – it wouldn’t have been hard to prove. Seeing the police didn’t bring fear, but perhaps I would have jumped into the beck if I saw them approaching to arrest me after all.

Dispelling the accusations

Of course, as any sex worker will know, we face a lot of opposition but particularly as street workers, who are burdened with more stereotypes and stigma than other kinds of sex work. One of the biggest things we are accused of in the Leeds Managed Area is throwing heroin needles on the street. As a ex-heroin user myself, this is not only umtrue but illogical. If I am working to buy drugs, I wouldn’t have them on me to begin with. Once I have the money, I will visit a dealer or go home as I don’t carry foil, a lighter, a spoon, citric acid, a needle bin and needles on me – why would I do that? Also, you need warmth to get your veins to show and occasionally a tourniquet, again I don’t carry this with me, and the street is not the place for warmth. Above all, why would I want to inject on the street? There are no benefits of doing this. Sadly, heroin needles are found all over the UK and Holbeck is no exception, but you can’t blame it all on sex workers.

The Managed Zone is managed by the police and council. They are then accused of allowing the ‘buying of women’. When a client pulls over and I get in his car, he is buying a blowjob, he isn’t buying me. It is a transaction exchange and I leave the car. If he bought me, I wouldn’t be writing this today. They are accused of being pimps and traffickers. This is quite offensive to those who have experienced a pimp or been trafficked, conflating the two dismisses exploitation and draws attention away from tackling this, as you are now focusing on consensual sex workers. The reality is, had the council or police not acted and implemented the Managed Zone, low reporting rates and violence against us would have continued, and deaths would be on the hands of those who didn’t act to keep us safe to begin with. I assure you, I do not think the local council are pimps. If anything, I am glad they took the controversial decision which keeps me safe.

Secondly, we are told the Zone is just a place to be abused and exploited but worst of all, they say that we, as sex workers, don’t know this about ourselves. Just because we are sex workers, it doesn’t mean we are unable to recognise abuse or when we are in danger. I have been sexually exploited and I have been a sex worker at the same time, the two are not mutually exclusive, also, I was aware it was happening. It is patronising to women who are then unable to express when they know they are being abused, because it is dismissed and assumed they’re referring to sex work. This can lead to dangerous consequences, because sex workers could then be ignored if they express concerns of genuine abuse or exploitation. We do not walk around with our heads in the air, unaware of abuse, we know first hand that we are most likely to be subjected to it so we are cautious to look out for it.

We also get accused of throwing used condoms away. This is a problem and something sex workers don’t want either. Think of when you have sex, who takes the condom off? Is it you, or is the man? It is the man for the most part who then slings it away. I don’t like this either, but do you really expect me to get on my hands in the dark, searching for a used condom so I can put it in my pocket and take it back home? Not only is this unhygienic but an incredible ask. I do think there should be more bins in appropriate places to tackle this problem. This problem is over-exaggerated by opposition groups however, because you’ll be surprised how many clients come prepared. I’ve had many clients put them in dog poo bags, bring baby wipes and bag it all up and put it in the bin.

Another issue we are accused of is attacking children. This is a horrible accusation that just to stir up anger against us. I have never seen a child anywhere near the zone. Not because children are scared but because the Zone is in an industrial area, close to Dunelm, an old pub and a roundabout. It is not in a residential area. In addition, the hours of the zone are 8pm- 6am, so if your child is running around industrial areas late at night into the morning, perhaps it is you who should be reported, not us. You have to remember, we are women who have had children, are still capable of being maternal and just because we sex work, it doesn’t remove our humanity. Of course we would help any young person and we certainly wouldn’t approach them, we’d more likely tell them to bugger off home. There is absolutely no truth at all in this and is simply a nasty slur.

Finally, and the most frustrating, we get called slaves and told we are all being pimped and trafficked. This is a subject that is worthy of an article by itself. I am not either of these things and I am certainly not a slave. It is disgusting to call us any of those things. Anyone who actually spoke to us, got to know us and spent time in the Zone would know this isn’t true. It is largely a misrepresentation and something that even the BBC documentary didn’t depict either because it simply isn’t true, and that says a lot considering the many stereotypes the BBC portrayed. I’m not denying it does happen, but it is not the majority and is very much a stereotype. Does anywhere in any of my posts give imagery of me being trafficked or pimped? No, because I am not.

Overall

The Zone is boring and for me because it is simply a workplace. I do what I do and go home like everyone else after a day at work. The fact that it is boring says a lot about how much safer it is compared to other areas of the UK. This post could have easily been full of drama and adventure instead of safeguarding. Safety is paramount and without the Zone, I would still sex work anyway, I would just probably not bother with the hour long commute by foot and do it closer to me, thus probably closer to your house. Then you would be angry. For the public, we are largely out of sight and out of mind in the Zone, and unless you drive past us, you likely won’t even know we exist.

Nothing is perfect and neither is the Managed Zone, I always welcome improvements, recommendations by residents and the opportunity for them to voice their concerns. I welcome local businesses to express their concerns too, and work in a way to keep everyone happy. However, we can’t work in a way that makes us unsafe to appease someone’s ideology or moral standpoint. I don’t like being a sex worker just as much as you don’t like seeing me sex working, but that doesn’t solve anything. Despite sex work activists themselves disliking zones, I encourage them to consider the practicalities of it and the benefit it has for street workers who very much appreciate it.

I always keep blogs free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my main goal, but if you want to support me, please consider: 
http://patreon.com/graceyswer
thank you x

‘Why Do You Work The Street?’

This is the most common question I am asked by sex workers. I give up answering now because a part of me feels like they’re suggesting it’s a bad thing but also, because I don’t want to keep having to explain my circumstances over and over again. You might also be surprised to know that street sex workers also work indoor too, there is a mix between the two at times. We take clients numbers and then work indoors – we just don’t always have access to the same tools as you such as AdultWork or OnlyFans due to lack of internet access. It’s not as if we just love the street and refuse to do anything else, street sex workers choose indoor too wherever the opportunity arises. It surprises and sometimes threatens indoor workers to hear this, they get scared us outdoor girls are now going to lower their prices (thankfully this is a minority).

There was a point in time where I worked independent, street and agency at the same time. It wasn’t because I was greedy for money but because sex work, as i’m sure all sex workers will know, is unpredictable and not steady income. Another street worker told me she has an AW account but can’t work the busy periods anymore due to looking after her children, so she works the street at night instead. For me, I sometimes got no money working indoor at all so I would work street instead. Since the pandemic, street sex workers have started working indoor and I was exceptionally proud of my friend who bought an iPhone, set up her AW and began earning the money she deserved. Would I encourage anyone to be a sex worker? No, but I will always encourage safer sex working and earning more so she can work less.

I don’t have a place to work from, I currently live in temporary accommodation and would get kicked out in a heartbeat if I worked from here. Not only that, but it’s a single bed! Occasionally, I would work out a hotel but not earn enough to cover the cost of it, so would do street to make sure I wasn’t out of pocket. It also felt a bit crap to give large chunks of money over to a hotel and deal with the risk of being caught, being kicked out and exposed. It was worse if I then didn’t walk away with profit. I was then also caught in the net loss because I would earn cash in hand but pay for hotels by my bank account and this was becoming a out of control spiral, and slightly suspicious bank activity, booking hotels then dumping money in the account. We all know how infamous banks and platforms are at shutting down sex worker accounts.

People see the stereotypes of street sex work and forget the many benefits it has. I can earn money quicker at times because although it is significantly less than indoor, the turn around time is quicker too. However, this is not to encourage outdoor because the risk is greater, and you can equally spend hours out there, in the cold, be abused by passers-by and earn nothing. The turnaround time is one of the reasons I prefer outdoor sex work, it is simply sex and nothing more. There is no pillow talk, there is no disclosures, there is less time for me to put on a therapist’s hat and above all, it’s exactly what sex work is – money, sex and goodbye, in that order. This isn’t always the case but there is less expectation of me so I feel less guilty cutting them off whilst they’re talking about their marital problems. I sometimes find this is the best way for me, particularly if i’m already overwhelmed.

There are different sexual expectations and I can be even firmer than when I work with an agency. For example, my agency would take money off your hour charge if you did oral with a condom whereas outdoor, I always do with a condom and if I choose otherwise, I can charge more. With agency and independent, the girlfriend experience is the most common and I felt pressured to agree to oral sex which I hate receiving. Outdoor, nope. Not only is this physically difficult to do but clients do not come with that expectation either because many of us say no straight away so they don’t ask – I have actually never been asked. They also know if I said yes, I would charge an extortionate price but it is more included in the booking with indoor. Of course, if any sex worker says no, in any working environment, it means no – regardless of GFE or what you paid. I just didn’t like the pressure and the thought that client would contact the agency owners who would tell me off.

Gaye Dalton, a former street worker shares this notion, arguing that street work is less degrading than what people think. The feeling of being degraded is different to each person, what is for me can be empowering to another and both are equally fine. For me and Gaye, dirty talk feels degrading and something I can’t handle – it makes me feel like i’m encouraging something I hate or that i’m giving too much of myself. It’s outside of my comfort zone and makes me wanna squirm and at times, want to burst out laughing. However, I absolutely support phone sex operators. As Gaye argues, this can feel less degrading then simply ‘fast sex’. I once had a guy ask me to bend over so he could stare at my ass, when I told him no he said ‘well i’m paying’ and I wanted to cry. I would have given anything in that moment to have just done fast sex in the dark and gone home.

It is interesting that people think working street instantly means I feel unsafe. When there are no other girls out working and the outreach van isn’t there, this is true. Standing on the street feels exposing and the thought someone might run me over lingers in the back of my mind too. However, you can also work in pairs on street, one writes numberplate down and waits for you, and then you swap. A fellow indoor and outdoor street worker once said to me ‘I feel safer working outdoors, there are girls here, they’re my mates and they know what i’m up to. When I work indoor, it’s me, him, 4 walls, a locked door, a knife in the kitchen and he could do anything to me. At least outdoor, I can run and the other girls can raise the alarm for me.’ This doesn’t take away from the danger of outdoor, you are getting into a car after all and they can take you anywhere, added to society’s view of street sex workers alongside the abuse we get from people driving around.

There are safety risks with all sex work, and working in a brothel or strip club means you’re more likely to be raided, have your money taken, possibly deported and deal with that awful trauma that comes with it and perhaps given a criminal recording depending on law. Indoor sex workers have also been killed, including those who do outcalls. Street sex workers go back to the houses of their clients and can be hurt there also – it isn’t the environment that is the issue, it’s the attitude you have towards street sex workers that’s harms us. This doesn’t remove the added dangers of street sex work of course, but I think stigma and the way society, and sometimes sex worker themselves, treat and think of street workers. Street sex work admittedly makes you feel more vulnerable and exposed because you’re out in the open, everyone can see you, drive past and the constant staring eyes feels uncomfortable.

I know a few street workers who prefer this way because they do not have to hand any money over to agency or brothel owner, they say it feels like a pimp and they deserve all their money. They are absolutely right, they do deserve it and if that is the way they wish to work, that should be respected and kept safe doing so. I used to hate giving a 33% cut to my agency, especially if it had been a bad booking, the money ended up making me feel dirty when it shouldn’t have done. Sex work is hard enough as it is, you wouldn’t then pay your boss a third of your wages then tax on top, you wouldn’t have much left. If you then challenged this, you could be kicked out and jobless. This is sometimes a reason a girl has moved to street after being booted by a brothel for arguing with them.

When I was using drugs, street sex work felt like a bit of a blessing because it was accessible and quick to do. I could work late at night and customers would come to me, I could be in and out of a car in 10 minutes with £40 in my hand to go and score drugs. When you are rattling due to withdrawing from drugs, someone touching your skin makes you rip it off, it is an awful feeling. It’s made me cry before and want to push them off me. I did not want to be doing an hour or so booking, because I couldn’t have coped. I earned what I needed to and left. This meant if I was withdrawing at 3am, I could find money instead of having to chase down a job in the middle of the night, or hoping someone is feeling horny at dawn. Also, if I worked in a hotel, brothel, strip club, or agency I would have to work the hours I said I would, street work is whenever between 8pm-6am.

There are many, and often complex reasons as to why people street work, it is never just one reason or one circumstance preventing them from doing other forms. When I wrote a tweet thread about the reasons why I couldn’t work online, I was inundated with messages from sex workers telling me what I should do, buy, what websites to sign up to, how to make content etc. Of course, these were all well-intentioned so I wasn’t annoyed but I ignored them all. I couldn’t keep justifying myself or my actions, or reasons why my circumstances meant I could or couldn’t do something. Sex work is different to each person, and I would feel shy and embarrassed to post nudes online whilst some online sex workers would never do penetrative sex with clients, let alone street work, and that’s fine too. It felt disheartening to say I’m too insecure to take pics and then have someone message me and say i’m not trying hard enough and should try better camera angles.

You should never forget, you are never too far from working the street yourself, especially if you’re already a sex worker. I started working indoor, never did I once imagine I would be on the street because at the time, I didn’t need to and was earning enough money to keep me going. If it is poverty that drove you to sex work to begin with, it will be that same poverty that will drive you into street sex work too from indoor. Your circumstances do not change, so you have to adapt yourself instead to make money otherwise you will simply sink. Do not judge the street worker, they do the same sex work as anyone else including the emotional labour that comes with it. You will also find we do sometimes do a mixture of indoor and outdoor.

The reasons I have written here are very much my own, street sex workers across the UK work this way for a variety of reasons and ultimately, if that is what is more appropriate for them and their circumstances, don’t force them elsewhere. Make them safer, break down the stigma that causes the violence we face, push for decriminalisation, lobby the government so that solicitation isn’t a crime, help and support when you can but most importantly, don’t judge or abuse them.

Big thank you to Gaye Dalton for her input and talking through experiences with me ❤

I always keep blogs free because advocacy and tackling stigma is my main goal, but if you want to support me, please consider: 
http://patreon.com/graceyswer
thank you ❤

A Team – Ed Sheeran

I was getting ready to go out to work in Holbeck one evening, putting on my make-up, doing my hair and listening to Ed Sheeran’s album +.  I love this album, it always made me feel happy and nostalgic. It broke into the charts whilst I was at school and felt like a soundtrack of a happy time of my life. It’s also quite calming, which is exactly what you need when you’re trying not to think about the risks of working the streets. Breaking the stereotypes, I put on on my gloves, scarf and hat and when searching for my keys, A Team started playing. It piqued my interest after hearing ‘long nights, strange men’. As the song progressed, I sat on my bed, listened to the lyrics and cried my heart out as each line seemed to tragically hit closer and closer to home. 

For context, I didn’t work outdoor street too often then. I predominately worked indoor but was working to fund a drug habit which seemed to be spiralling out of control. When I had no indoor work, I would find myself out on the streets late in the hope nobody would see me, including outreach support, to get my money and go home. At the time, I didn’t trust sex work services, I thought they were there to tell me off or tell me to leave. They didn’t, but as a sex worker, it’s not easy to trust and access a service; especially when you have already faced a lot of stigma or prejudice by other professionals.

Sitting on my bed, I imagined this was what people on the outside looking in must think of me, and sadly, it was all true. This was perhaps the first time I took a back seat and reflected on my life as a whole, instead of juggling each difficult element with my eyes closed. I spent months listening to drug and support workers preach about the holistic approach but it didn’t quite get through to me like Ed Sheeran’s lyrics. I had heard this song 100s of times but never quite in the scenario I was in. Like everyone else, I would have it on in the background, sing along and think nothing more of it. In that moment however, it was all consuming.

I no longer sex work to fund a habit, but to keep myself financially afloat. However, I work alongside those who do and the lyrics of A Team remain close to my heart. In fact, more so, because I am now that person on the outside looking in, and it feels over-relatable. People have throw fireworks and spat at them, and they are my friends. They have saved me from dangerous situations, given me invaluable advice, help, and support during some of the worst times of my life. Some of them are my best friends who I trust, talk to about anything and love. I know they don’t judge me and I hope everyone has that type of relationship with their friends. They do drugs, but it does not remove their ability to care or to love.

In the sex work community, we try bring to light the many reasons why women are sex workers and for the most part, it is poverty, and not drug addiction that is the biggest push and pull factor. Some strive to fight the stigma that prostitution is affiliated with drugs, but for some, this is the reality, and we must not forget them. It is not right to push them aside because we don’t enjoy the associations they bring to sex work because for them, that is their experience with sex work. We must remember street sex workers, especially those who are caught up in addiction – they are dealing with the highest risks and the lowest reward, are the greatest effected by sex work policy, confronted with the most police violence, penalties and criminal records. Above all, our voices are lost in the sex work movement because of the shame that still exists, even amongst sex workers.

As I was fixing up my makeup that night, I couldn’t help but think of the drug users I knew who had overdosed, of the sex workers who had been working for decades, caught up in this cycle, wondering if they had the same thoughts as me. I feared I would become another newspaper headline about a sex worker who was killed, and remembered as nothing else but a prostitute. I thought everyone saw me as this poor, vulnerable sex worker but I saw myself as a thick skinned, hard faced woman whom nobody would be able to love. I wasn’t either of those things, I did not need to be rescued but I wasn’t eloquently coping either. Nor was I this heartless woman, but I can’t expend that emotional labour at work, it is too exhausting.

I was often the youngest working, and the women took to me like a flock of mothers watching over me when I wasn’t capable of doing so myself, inundating me with safety advice. They discouraged me from being there, told me I was too young to be facing prostitution and they are right, but they never judged. There is a mutual respect and understanding as to why we are there. Despite the stereotypes that we are fighting each other over a ‘spot’ or pushing women out the way to give a man a blowjob, it’s not true – we are actually laughing about things the customers tell us over a cup of hot chocolate, just like you and your colleagues in your office.

As a sex worker, I don’t reflect on my own vulnerability, if I did, I don’t think i’d be brave enough to confront it due to the dangers of the job. I have to be strong in my job, I can not let Dave or Richard know that i’m scared or that i’m willing to take his crap. So, when you do, it’s like telling yourself off and also feeling the shame of being told off at once. However, when I heard the lyric ‘the worst things in life come free to us’ I couldn’t help but feel defeated, wondering if I would ever leave this life and realising just how true it was. For some, they hate this song because it is the stereotypical depiction of sex work, but for some of us, it’s too close for comfort. 

People perceive drug using, street working sex workers as fierce, nasty, the lowest in the sex worker pile. Services treat us as hopeless causes, people who are simply too complex to work with. We get bashed between professionals who frantically email each other wondering how to manage us, but remember we are people too beneath our chaotic lifestyles. There is no evidence to suggest that we don’t feel, love and become upset by the same hurtful actions or words as you do. It is worth remembering, how we treat you is a reflection by how you treat us, that includes society in general. If you keep telling me I’m worthless and hopeless, I will feel like I am, and act accordingly.

A Team – Ed Sheeran: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAWcs5H-qgQ


I always keep blogging for free but if you want to support me please consider:
Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/graceyswer

Thank you X

You Don’t Have To Like Sex Work To Support Sex Workers

You can tell me you morally disagree with sex work, that sex work is disgusting, degrading, misogynistic and patriarchal and to a large extent, I agree with you. Yes, there are times it feels degrading, it is innately misogynistic and patriarchal, and I once believed it was morally questionable, not anymore. Yet, these are all beliefs and they do not bring any solutions. After giving me a lecture on how much you think I’m a dirty whore or i’m fuelling violence, this isn’t going to stop me sex working. Why? Because your moral judgement does not pay my bills, does not put food on the table, it does not clothe me or keep me out of debt. I do not have time to think of your feminism or morality whilst I’m giving a blowjob for £20 because my gas has been cut off.

Anti-sex work feminists, usually radical feminists, argue that sex workers who support decriminalisation are pro-prostitution and want it to be called work because we say it is empowering. I do not feel empowered, I hate sex work and I do not encourage prostitution. I would never encourage anyone, but I will always offer safety and advice to those who decide to become a working girl. I see her being here as a failing of society and that structures the support the most vulnerable, those poverty stricken, single mothers, drug users and services that support women, along with toxic ideologies. It is not the sex worker’s fault, but they has every right to be safe while navigating their way through what may be a temporary solution.

Sex work can be a blessing or a curse. Many enter because the vanilla job market has frozen them out due to their mental or chronic health conditions, rigid working hours which don’t accommodate single mothers, zero-hour contract instability or lack of education. Sex work can cure these ailments by working when you want, can be high financial reward so you do not need to work 40 hours a week, and you can take time off to rest and manage mental health. I know MANY sex workers who would never return to a vanilla job because sex work allows them significantly more freedom and more importantly, they’re happier. I support them, I hope they are happy and continue to be and they too, deserve to work safe. However, I don’t support the reasons why they felt frozen out of the workplace, that is not acceptable.

Sex work for basic survival when you feel it’s not something you chose for the right reasons can construct a different narrative. Living in chronic poverty can be significantly more degrading than prostitution, it is a bandaid to an underlying problem that is being structurally ripped off, keeping the sex worker financially stuck. I always say that sex work isn’t for everyone, and that includes myself. However, when i’m poor, my gas company doesn’t care about whether I do or don’t enjoy blowjobs, and therefore, I grit my teeth and get on with it because I hope to work my way out of this and if I stop, i’m going backwards. It’s important to remember I chose to sex work, I could have gone shoplifting or committed burglary instead – not sure you would say that wasn’t a choice due to poverty or drug addiction, that label is only for us prostitutes.

There is this idea that you have to be a happy hooker for sex work to be considered work, to be taken seriously, or have rights. Not at all. I also didn’t like working as a receptionist, and I used to be an unhappy McDonalds worker too but that didn’t mean I deserved to be assaulted at work and have no support or feel shame in reporting, facing stigma by the police and told ‘well what did you expect, you’re a McDonalds worker!?’. I expend emotional, physical and sexual labour in return for payment and at great risk. I deserve the right to unionise, to hold people who take advantage of me to account, to take my brothel or agency worker to court when they fire me unlawfully or make me do things I don’t want to do. I can’t do that right now, it’s not decriminalised.

I don’t like drugs, but I don’t hate drug users. I support harm reduction because they will use drugs anyway. I don’t like sex work, but I don’t hate sex workers. I support keeping the sex worker safe as possible if they work, respecting their choices, and help them exit if thats what they want. If you hate sex work, fine, I won’t argue with that. However, that is no excuse not to support sex workers and keeping them safe. It reminds me of the saying ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game’. Hate the government that doesn’t help us, for stripping the benefits system which led to a sharp rise in survival sex work, capping essential benefits, introducing the bedroom tax, decimating domestic violence resources and other services that support women.

Survival is the most important thing to us all, and for some of us, sex work was the solution to our difficult circumstances. It may not be the solution you found, but don’t judge those who did. If you advocate abolishing sex work or the Nordic Model, what are you going to do for the thousands of women who will suddenly drop off the cliff, who have no savings, who have children? The coronavirus gave us a small taste of this and it is has left sex workers in dire, desperate and worse situations than ever before, at further detriment to their mental and physical health and circumstances. Some can’t even afford basic necessities. We are also now more likely to depend on third parties for income, who may be abusive, running the risk of trafficking. Unless you are willing to financially support us all, don’t advocate for something you can’t resolve, or feel the direct impact of. Abolition or part-criminalisation doesn’t stop something happening, it just makes it illegal, pushing it underground and unsafer.

I am unhappy having sex for money but I deserve to be unhappy and safe having sex for money. Above all, I won’t be thinking about your radical feminist beliefs about sex work while you sit in the comfort of your home. I will be out in the cold, trying to earn £50 before I go home because I have to make it through the next week. What I will feel the impact of is however, is the stigma and shame you bring to sex workers, because that reflects in society and therefore, how people treat me. So, before you go saying sex work is paid rape, remember I can be raped as a sex worker and how am I expected to be believed when the whole thing is supposedly rape? You can not change the definition to suit your ideology.

I am driven to work for the same reasons you are. Not because I love sex, am a dirty woman or any other wild reason people think we do it. I spend my money on the same things as you – clothes, shopping, shoes, rent, council tax, electricity, gas, transport etc… suggesting we are somewhat ‘other’ is dangerous and does little to help us. We face the same struggles as anyone else in hardship, austerity or with children.

I’ve set up a patreon if you wanted to support me writing 🙂
https://www.patreon.com/graceyswer