Cyber bullying comes in many forms, from the relatively mild (but still harmful) tweet-bombing, Facebook posting, harassment on online forums etc, to the most dreaded extreme for sex workers – being publicly outed and/or lied about as a sex worker on websites set up to humiliate. When this happens, and sex workers have to deal with a horrifying situation where they are outed to their loved ones and communities, it is obviously carried out by someone seeking to hurt them. This usually happens anonymously and without warning although occasionally advance threats are made and/or the person outing her, by revealing certain private information, is identifiable. This heartbreaking scenario happened to a local sex worker recently online for the world to see. She is still processing the repercussions.
Outing a sex worker is a bell that cannot be unrung which is why many sex workers, and more specifically their loved ones suffer so much. That the innocent loved ones of the lady being outed can be the ones affected the most is one of the aspects which makes the outing so much more unfair and outrageous.
There is no point trying to figure out why someone would do such a hurtful thing: in the mind of the person doing the outing, said outing is justified and she may have spent many hours alone justifying the pain she will cause and going over in her mind the pleasure to herself of the damage that will be done. She may have got together with her friends and compiled a whole list of reasons for her fury and collectively they decided that her victim deserves to be called out for her wrongs and to suffer by the actions the “whistleblower” would like to take, enhanced by their collective imagination, fabrications and exaggeration. Some could even say after the fact that she was incited by her group of supporters but in the end, she alone chose to proceed with public humiliation by outing and alone must eventually face the consequences, possibly legally. To avenge the bully is not the job of the victim and to bully the bully is no solution. I have more thoughts on this particular scenario which I will post at a later date.
Putting this aside, the main issue to be dealt with immediately is damage control – dealing with the devastated feelings of the innocent loved ones of the outed sex worker in as pragmatic way as possible. They are all that really matters if the outed one, in her time of despair coupled with anger, drills down through her frustrated anguish to her very real concerns. So I have compiled some ideas to consider.
Stay calm and keep loving. At the heart of the upset is the fact that there are loved ones in your life and it is outrageous that they are or will be deeply hurt by this. There may be a lot of angry words by the family member or friends who have just found out about the sex worker and threats to cut off due to the shame that has been inflicted upon them by association. Naturally the newly-informed loved ones of the sex worker are furious about how they are feeling. There may be hurtful insults about the sex worker’s lifestyle which are flung about, causing the sex worker themselves to fight back with the very people one needs to try and stay focussed on loving and comforting – what a challenge that can be at this time. I think they should be allowed to express themselves and have their say. There is nothing like finding out a family member or a friend is a sex worker to really get to the bottom of ones deepest feelings (and prejudices) about the sex industry. It is easier said than done to realise this is about the newly-informed loved ones and their coming to terms with some deeply held beliefs which may need airing. It can certainly cause the sex worker to have ones work cut out for them to keep reminding themselves that these shocked loved ones are just that – the people they love and care about and have to find a way to still be there for them, loving them, during or after they have processed this new knowledge about the sex worker in their family.
Answer any and all questions as you see fit. Due to the way sex work is portrayed in our society, there will be a lot of ideas about what you are doing which will raise quite a few questions. It is certainly an opportunity to provide an account about the realities of sex work and dispel a few myths. It’s no more Christiane F for most sex workers than it is Pretty Woman or The Happy Hooker. Having said that – this is your story and you are not obliged to answer to anyone. You may also pick and choose what you say and whoever you say it to. In reality, you don’t actually owe everyone a response, particularly if they mean nothing to you and their demands are unreasonable. Don’t let anyone manipulate you into responding to their questions by their suggesting that a lack of response supports a certain version of events.
Don’t tell the children. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I believe that children under 16 have a right to be children and not be bothered (an understatement) by such sexual scandal. By all means possible, they should be protected from this new information (about their sex working parent, aunt or other loved one) which other older members of the family are coming to grips with. It is reasonable to expect and demand that this information be kept from the children whose world is one of self-discovery and development and whom the law (in New Zealand) protects from sexual activity until the age of 16. If by some misfortune, the children have found out, then one must be prepared to answer all questions, as the imagination of children is much more active, and given the portrayal of sex workers in the news media, the thought of having a loved one as a sex worker can be a frightening prospect. Anyone (it could be another family member who has just found out) who is thinking of outing a sex worker to her minor children needs to consider the needs of the children before their need for revenge.
Let the story belong to the sex worker. Your story about sex work, and why and how you are doing it, is your story so own it. Wherever possible, if the information is out there (you’ve been outed or are about to be) make sure you get your say about the reality of what you do, even if you only write it down somewhere (or even online, maybe anonymously). This may not be able to happen immediately when emotions are high and loud. But always be clear in your own mind about why you are doing this. Strangely enough, it often has something to do with helping your loved ones and providing them with better opportunities than you could if you had a minimum wage position. There are always two sides to every story, be clear on your own. This may become a fantastic turning point in your life. Maybe you’ll turn your experiences into a creative masterpiece. Maybe down the track you can find the funny side too if possible, imagine writing a sitcom about sex work, and turning this chapter into quite a comedy. In your mind exaggerate each character and keep yourself as the hero of course – as others are entitled to their beliefs and ways of seeing things, you are also entitled to yours and do not have to take anyone else’s on board.
Remember, this too will pass. At the end of the day, our families consist of a variety of people, and it’s up to us whom we decide to include and continue embracing. If they choose not to love you and continue including you, it may be only a temporary thing. Once time passes, they may well realise that having a sex worker in the motley bunch that makes up their family may not be the worst thing that could happen. And think of how interesting it could be for future descendants who are interested in their family history. The sex worker may well be the most interesting one among your generation, so make sure you own your own part of the story.
Keep trusting. If it was someone you knew who outed you, a friend or relative (who held a lot of personal information about you) who betrayed you, it can make you feel very isolated and wonder who you can really trust. Don’t indulge those thoughts. Trust your instincts about the people in your life and be grateful. Try not to let this cause you to isolate yourself, and this event may shine a light on who your true friends and loved ones actually are, which is something definitely worth celebrating. And remember about family and friends: People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
Keep loving yourself. Stay alive, and not just literally (although obviously that too.) Sadly there are well-documented cases of online bullies humiliating people to death. Please don’t let that happen to you. You are worth a lot. Keep your story and your reasons for being a sex worker at the forefront of your mind and love yourself for that. Love yourself for the amazing and resourceful person that you are as a sex worker. Love yourself for being a bold person and for the happiness you have brought to other people. Keep your flame of self alive, stay lively, and remind yourself how loving and loveable you are, no matter what anyone else says about you. Treat yourself the way you would treat a loved one going through this. Be alive to the wonderful person you are.
Find a silver lining. It’s out and the bully has now done her worst. She’s got it out of her system. What more can be said about your being a sex worker anyway without it just sounding ridiculous and boring? Most likely, as the dim dark secret of sex work has now been revealed, the shock of it all has subsided and it is actually a relief that the fear of that secret being outed has finally been realised. That fear can no longer hurt you, you are free. In fact, the journey of life is mysterious, and you may find that down the track, your loved ones who were most mortified at the time become your future champions when they realise that being a sex worker is hardly unforgivable. Stranger things have happened.
Stay happy. Easier said than done at various times. Do something that will make you happy – watch a funny movie, have a laugh (after a cry) with your friends. Let yourself feel the anger, hurt and despair but only as a means to find your way back to happiness after you’ve finished dwelling in the mire. Make sure you stay happy even after the moments where you indulge in the most extreme anger and vengeful thoughts against the person who caused this situation for you by their actions. Why? Because happiness is the best revenge.