Safe Sex (Work) for Sex Workers

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I have to say we’re pretty darned lucky in countries like New Zealand where sex work is 100% legal because it means that if anyone tries to harm us, the cops are on our side. Absolutely fabulous situation, it means exactly that because there is the threat, of the long arm of the law who will back us, hopefully ever-present in the minds of any ratbags who might think it’s ok to injure us ladies who are carrying out a much-needed service for men and women in our society.

Those countries who are not into legalising sex work are putting a whole group of sex workers and clients at risk as well as causing people to take their safety (or after the fact, revenge) into their own hands, not always very intelligently. Blood on the hands of the lawmakers, as far as I can see.

When you boil it down, all crime is just a case of extreme bad manners, and for some of us who depend on manners and experiences of social niceties to guide behaviour, one can find crime difficult to tolerate. Particularly crime or attempted crime against anyone toiling in the vocation of sex work, which I consider a noble and highly specialised calling.

So to counter such bad form, the subject of safe sex work has to be raised in order to discuss some different ways to deal with it. This is because, even though it is legal, there are still some among us who can attempt to push us up against the fence metaphorically speaking as they try to force sex workers into services not on offer at one end of the spectrum and physical harm and murder at the other, both actions based on extreme disrespect for or even hatred of sex workers.

I don’t think it’s possible to change such attitudes towards sex workers even with a law change, this change must happen one person at a time and it is up to each person to take responsibility on their own or face the consequences. But there is to a degree more speaking out about this issue, whether it is the young women who march against “slut-shaming” or the outspoken comments by advocates for sex work who speak out and comment on crimes against sex workers when the media needs a soundbite.

So how does one keep oneself safe when one is naked in a room with a person who by virtue of their gender is physically stronger than us? Many women have a variety of methods such as panic buttons and even concealed weapons such as knives and I even know a sex worker who pokes hat pins, a Victorian self-defence strategy, into the sides of her mattress and under her pillows within easy reach should the occasion require that she employ them. Yes, the humble hat pin, what damage could that do? As far as I know, she has not had to use them. However, it gives her a quiet confidence to know where they are if things get out of hand.

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I’ve had one or two close encounters myself with unsafe people, so maybe I’m a bit more alert than some. So imagine my annoyance when recently someone tried to overstep the bounds of my sexual entertainment and it looked like it could result in a situation where I was forced to do something against my will. Strangely a battle of wills turned into a minor tussle and in this case the booking ended safely – of course I did have other options if it had not, no, not a hat pin, but here is hoping a potentially unsafe booking never needs for it to come to that. This is the thing – no troublemaker ever really does know for sure the resources a sex worker (or her contacts) have for keeping herself safe.

Like all sex workers I’m aware that the tables can turn quickly during a perfectly normal booking. For this reason I recommend that all sex workers trust their intuition when taking bookings from clients, on meeting clients and of course taking control if situations look to be taking a turn for the worse, as I mentioned above.

Above all else, take care of your health and fitness, and stay sober at work, as you may need to call on your physical resources and if your fitness is impaired it could be troublesome. If you ever need to make a run for it, be confident that you can. Also work with other ladies, network and share information and look out for each other, as you’d like to be looked out for.

With unknown clients avoid certain sex positions like having your ankles behind your head which can render you vulnerable or even powerless to stop “accidental Greek”.

Be strong. Sports like judo are good as you can use the strength of the opponent against them.  Also look out for women’s self-defence courses, particularly run by women. If you ever have a life and death situation where you can’t talk yourself out of it or run away from it, hopefully you’re able to put up a good fight and are confident to fight dirty should the occasion call for it. We do have a right to be outraged by what I call “bad manners”.

Read positive news stories of women who have survived and escaped dangerous men. I have a self-defence teacher friend who collects clippings of this nature for her students, and I once read about an elderly woman whose home was invaded by a man who attempted to rape her but she managed to stall him by offering to make him a cup of tea and have a chat which distracted him enough for her to call for help. It sounds too simple but here was a woman who survived by thinking on her feet.

(Apparently there is also a small percentage of sex workers as well who try something on which is unsavoury and threatening.  Post PRA, even clients are safer when said unscrupulous sex worker – and/or her boyfriend – tries it on, as was recounted to me recently by a client who used his common sense in that situation.)

I have written this post not to shame clients or spook sex workers but also without enough information for an impolite client to get ideas from and run with. The reality is that it is a small percentage of men who have bad intentions when they see sex workers but at ones place of work we have a right to feel safe and not deal with clients who are ill-mannered to any degree.

This post is also NOT intended to belittle, blame or in any way trivialise the sex workers who did not mentally, emotionally or physically survive attacks made on them in the course of this work. Rather I intend to provoke discussion about being and keeping safe in a hopefully empowering way in a job which occasionally feels like Russian roulette, as it’s partly the luck of the draw if a dangerous (a sliding scale) client happens to select (or even target on an ongoing basis) a particular sex worker.

So if we seem overly protective of ourselves, for example, not answering calls from blocked numbers or not giving out our address till the very last minute or expressing annoyance or alarm when certain physical boundaries are pushed to do with our service on offer, yes, maybe we are a little paranoid. However protecting ourselves, even with the law on our sides, is often a balancing act unable to be understood by anyone who is not voluntarily naked in a small, isolated space (a car, a room) with someone more powerful than themselves.

Given that sex work is a service generally with honest intentions, we should all be concerned about sex workers who are forced out of the industry temporarily or even permanently by fear of incidents in or out of the room (including fear caused by stalkers, which can sometimes even include the ever present threat of being outed by the stalker). It can be like a jungle in here sometimes. To say its a muddle is an understatement: it’s enough to do your head in if you let it.

In the end though, while it’s up to sex workers to empower ourselves so that we can be confident in our rooms, as humans, it’s also up to the law to protect us.

Spare a thought for countries where sex work is still illegal or countries which support the Nordic model, where, while supposedly NOT allowing women to be “exploited”, by the very act of driving sex work underground because of the law, sex workers who choose to attempt to make an honest living from the resource which is their sexuality are even more like sitting ducks while behind closed doors in a room with a man who is himself taking great risks, essentially breaking the law, to participate in this transaction.

God bless Tim Barnett and the 60 politicians who outvoted the other 59 to decriminalise prostitution in New Zealand, giving us sex workers one less thing to worry about.

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