How To Be An Ally to Sex Workers

1) Don’t Assume. Don’t assume you know why a person is in the sex industry. We’re not all trafficked or victims of abuse. Some people make a choice to enter this industry because they enjoy it, others may be struggling for money and have less of a choice.

2) Be Discreet and Respect Personal Boundaries. If you know a sex worker, it’s OK to engage in conversation in dialogue with them in private, but respect their privacy surrounding their work in public settings.  Don’t ask personal questions such as “does your family know what you do?” If a sex worker is not “out” to their friends, family, or co-workers, it’s not your place to tell everyone what they do.

3) Don’t Judge. Know your own prejudices and realize that not everyone shares the same opinions as you. Whether you think sex work is a dangerous and exploitative profession or not is irrelevant compared to the actual experiences of the person who works in the industry. It’s not your place to pass judgment on how another person earns the money they need to survive.

4) Watch Your Language. Cracking jokes or using derogatory terms such as “hooker”, “whore”, “slut”, or “ho” is not acceptable. While some sex workers have “taken back” these words and use them among themselves, they are usually used to demean sex workers when spoken by outsiders.

5) Address Your Prejudices. If you have a deep bias or underlying fear that all sex workers are bad people and/or full of diseases, then perhaps these are issues within yourself that you need to address.  In fact, the majority of sex workers practice safer sex than their peers and get tested regularly.

6) Don’t Play Rescuer. Not all sex workers are trying to get out of the industry or in need of help. Ask them what they need, but not everyone is looking for “Captain Save-A-Ho” or the “Pretty Woman” ending.

7) If you are a client or patron of sex workers, be respectful of boundaries. You’re buying a service, not a person. Don’t ask for real names, call at all hours of the day/night, or think that your favorite sex worker is going to enter into a relationship with you off the clock.

8) Do Your Own Research. Most mainstream media is biased against sex workers and the statistics you read in the news about the sex industry are usually inaccurate. Be critical of what you read or hear and educate yourself on who exactly is transmitting diseases or being trafficked.

9) Respect that Sex Work is Real Work. There’s a set of professional skills involved and it’s not necessarily an industry that everyone can enter into. Don’t tell someone to get a “real job” when they already have one that suits them just fine.

10) Just because someone is a sex worker doesn’t mean they will have sex with you. No matter what area of the sex industry that someone works in, don’t assume that they are promiscuous and willing to have sex with anyone at any time.

11) Be Supportive and Share Resources. If you know of someone who is new to the industry or in an abusive situation with an employer, by all means offer advice and support without being condescending. Some people do enter into the sex industry without educating themselves about what they are getting into and may need help. Despite the situation, calling the police is usually never a good option. Try to find other organizations that are sensitive to the needs of sex workers.

12) As you learn the above things, stand up for sex workers when conversations happen.  Share your personal stories if you so choose.  Don’t let the stigma, bigotry and shame around sex work continue.  Remember it’s important that sex workers be allowed to speak for themselves and for allies to not speak for sex workers but to speak with sex workers.

Realize that sex work transcends ‘visible’ notions of race, gender, class, sexuality, education, and identities; sex workers are your sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, lovers, neighbors, and friends. Respect them!

Get Active! Contact your local SWOP Chapter to find out what you can do or form your own in the city you live in.

This list composed by the members and allies of Sex Workers Outreach Project-Chicago. Visit us on the web at www.swop-chicago.org

Other Resources-

www.swop-usa.org
www.desireealliance.org
www.boundnotgagged.com

15 comments on “How To Be An Ally to Sex Workers

  1. Clarisse says:

    How do you feel about the word “prostitute”?

  2. […] How to be an Ally to Sex Workers …stand up for sex workers when conversations happen.  Share your personal stories if you so choose.  Don’t let the stigma, bigotry and shame around sex work continue.  Remember it’s important that sex workers be allowed to speak for themselves and for allies to not speak for sex workers but to speak with sex workers. […]

  3. […] How To Be An Ally To Sex Workers […]

  4. josephec says:

    The sex trade will always exist, has always existed and nothing anyone does will ever change that. It destroys women’s lives,mostly. This “sex worker” garbage is just another bullshIt concoction of those assholes who profit from the ruined lives of young women ( mostly). Granted, some do this by choice, but the industry could never survive on solely the participation of the willing, uncoerced, unforced participants, so the pornographers are complicit in selling women who do not wish to be sold for money. The are slave mongers, flesh traders, and traffickers, sll. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “SEX WORKER”, a “SERVICE PROVIDER”, OR SEX WORK!!

  5. josephec says:

    BTW, your list is ridiculous. It shows a level of delusion that is often nescessary to continue in the sex trade. ALL of your rules are constantly broken by johns, and they always will be. This is the nature of the sex trade. I don’t shame prostitutes, I see them as exploited people, and I blame the pimps and the propaganda of the sex industry which makes johns feel that it is Ok to buy a person. Prostitutes do not need to be saved from the sex trade, the sex trade needs to get smaller by the public seeing how it works, and I believe that if more people knew how it worked, they wouldn’t feel that buying a prostitute was simply a :personal choice”.

  6. “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “SEX WORKER”, a “SERVICE PROVIDER”, OR SEX WORK!!”

    “Prostitutes do not need to be saved from the sex trade, the sex trade needs to get smaller by the public seeing how it works, and I believe that if more people knew how it worked, they wouldn’t feel that buying a prostitute was simply a :personal choice”.”

    Thank you for making such public declarations about an industry I’m guessing you’re not involved in whatsoever. I’m also guessing that most of your information about prostitution comes from sensational news media and Law and Order. You make claims you simply cannot support like, “ALL of your rules are constantly broken by johns, and they always will be. This is the nature of the sex trade” because you’ve never been in prostitution. That is what’s called a sweeping generalization.

    You claim, “I don’t shame prostitutes”, yet that is what you’re trying to do here with your ignorant comments. You, “I see them as exploited people”, which makes your paternalism so much easier to dish out. You also don’t understand the mechanics of purchase based on this statement of yours, “johns feel that it is Ok to buy a person”. No one is being bought in the sex industry. It is a service whether co-erced or not. For a prostitute to have been bought, she (or he) would go home with the john and stay there. Forever. Which is what happens with purchases, just in case you haven’t gone shopping in a while. Just so you know children who are legally adopted are truly bought. Now, that’s a flesh trade. Or did you think adoptive parents just walk in and say, “I want that one” and walk out without any money exchanging hands?

    Your attitude, “BTW, your list is ridiculous” is what makes the brutal, misogynistic and paternalistic treatment of women and men involved in prostitution by authorities and by the unsavory clients (that you mistakenly think are in the majority) possible. Why is it ridiculous for prostitutes THEMSELVES to tell people what we need? Oh, yes, because you think you have the authority alone to dictate to us what we need. Apparently we are little more than children to you.

    You don’t give a damn about prostitutes despite your forced overtones of being concerned for their welfare. If you actually did, you would know the marked difference between a person who is trafficked or coerced and one who makes the choice. You minimize, trivialize and mock the term sex worker chosen by those who made the choice to enter prostitution. Anyone who is forced to work in the sex trade is a slave and I wouldn’t call them a sex worker anymore than I would call a slave working a plantation a farmer.

    Next, there’s this: “so the pornographers are complicit in selling women who do not wish to be sold for money”. You must be from the Jensen-Dines-MacKinnon school of tenuous thought. What does pornography have to do with this? Pornography is not prostitution but since you don’t want to ever see all important differences in the sex industry, I’m not surprised that this is giving you some trouble.

    “The sex trade will always exist, has always existed and nothing anyone does will ever change that.” Did we say something to the contrary? You don’t seem to have a consistent approach to how you want to put us uppity sex workers in our place. You obviously have a lot of anger and ignorance surrounding this subject. I would suggest that if you actually want to be an ally to sex workers one day, truly and not just an empty declaration to use as a platform for your paternalistic invectives, listen to the sex worker and have enough respect for them as another HUMAN ADULT to believe them whether they say they love their work, kinda think its okay or absolutely hates it and wants out. All opinions are valid, another point you have difficulty with here, and no one opinion is more valuable than the other.

    Finally, get used to women making choices you don’t like. That really seems to be a problem for you. Hey, you DO have something in common with those johns you don’t like!

  7. jane brazen says:

    A-fucking-men, Aspasia. You said it far more tactfully than I could. I’m not sure where these commentator think we pulled this list from. We ARE sex workers. We are not pimps, traffickers, johns, whatever. We are people who do this work who are telling you how to help us. So shut the fuck up for once and listen to us, instead of spouting your ridiculous rescue rhetoric.

  8. Also, josephec, I can’t help but notice that you didn’t leave any comments on the subject surrounding the FELONY arrests of 44 prostitutes in Chicago this weekend under the guise of trying to rescue child sex slaves. If you think these arrests will help any prostitute, voluntary or coerced, I want you to go out, commit a felony and tell us how much better off you are now. No? You’re so concerned with women forced into prostitution, you should be much more incensed that they’re being further burdened by a nasty police record which will prevent or seriously obstruct any movement into the mainstream work force than our list here that asks for respectful behavior toward us. But you have shown where your priorities are. You said so much, yet so little.

  9. Now, I’m not a sex worker nor am I a client, but I am a supporter of sex worker rights…and I feel the need to respond as a human being to joesphec’s epic rant of bullshit.

    Dewd…do you even know what the hell you are talking about, or do you just parrot the talking points you receive from certain antiporn/antiprostitution “feminists” you read online?? Or, as Aspasia so aptly put it, do you get your conception of prostitution and sex work straight out of Law & Order and CSI???

    Because, fool, if you actually managed to actually LISTEN to an actual sex worker speak rather than merely parrot the lies and distortions that the Melissa Fairleys of the world feed your brain, you’d see that activist sex workers do actually care about corecion and violence, mostly because they are the ones most likely to suffer from such…not only from abusive clients and illegal traffickers, but also from law enforcement and (especially) from “crusaders” and “rescuers” like you who think that you know more about their lives than they do.

    And does it not penetrate that obviously thick head of yours that not all clients of sex workers are actually “pimps”?? Or that some of those “pornographers” are actually independent females running websites on their own, engaging in consensual sex with people they CHOOSE on their own free will?? Oh, but I forgot…there’s no such thing as “free will” when it comes to “prostituted women”; they are all SLAVES of evil MEN who are forced to SELL THEIR BODIES like Black slaves in the antebellum South. Riiiiiiight..and Bobby Jindal is a freakin’ political genius, too.

    Save your “rescue” efforts for those who really could use it….activist sex workers need not your help nor your advice, for they are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. Agree with them or no, but don’t disrespect or mock them.

    As I said, I’m not a client nor a sex worker…but I do my best to be a good ally. Speaking out against such BS as this is one essential step in this.

    Anthony

  10. You are an excellent ally, Anthony. Thank you for the post.

    I forgot to respond to Clarisse: Prostitute is an acceptable term for me, but that’s my own opinion. But I like the word whore as well but I wouldn’t let anyone outside of the industry call me that. The word sex worker is neutral and doesn’t have that long, nasty history of judgment behind it the way whore or hooker does.

  11. […] How To Be an Ally to Sex Workers SWOP Chicago […]

  12. […] pentru miscarea pentru drepturile lucratoarelor si lucratorilor sexuali. Pornind si de la textul “How To Be An Ally to Sex Workers”, redactat de lucratoare si lucratori de la Sex Workers Outreach Project din State, vom discuta […]

  13. […] pentru miscarea pentru drepturile lucratoarelor si lucratorilor sexuali. Pornind si de la textul “How To Be An Ally to Sex Workers”, redactat de lucratoare si lucratori de la Sex Workers Outreach Project din State, vom discuta […]

  14. […] on various aims. We call for people to become allies and try to provide a model for what that looks like. But how often do we talk about the messy experience of what it can mean and feel like to be a […]

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