Stand up for sex workers

How you can get involved and support those in the industry

While attempts have been made to make the world a safer place for sex workers, there is still a great deal of work that remains in ensuring individuals in the industry are protected.

According to World Health Organization, sex workers are put at higher risk of violence and sexual abuse due to their positions and vulnerability in society. Not only that, but those in the field of sex work are pitted against stigmas and stereotypes that can be horrifically degrading and dehumanizing. It’s crucial that sex workers are supported by the people within the communities and social circles they find themselves in.

To find out how people can better support sex workers in their everyday lives, I spoke with a local sex worker who would like to be referred to as Alex. Alex has worked as a sex worker for four years, beginning her career in the industry during her sophomore year at Portland State. Alex credits her debut into the world of sex work to curiosity.

“I was always working these crazy jobs that just weren’t really working out, and then I realized that sex work is more accessible than people realize,” Alex said. “It was very easy to get started, so I gave it a try and found that it really worked for me.” Through diving into some of her personal experiences in the field, Alex was able to share just a few ways people can get involved in providing safety and assurance for those in the sex work community.

Become an ally

If people want to take things one step further than their general claim of sex worker support, they should consider becoming an ally. This means actively making the conscious decision to educate yourself on current politics and news revolving around sex workers. A great way to ease into the political sphere of sex work is by simply following those in the industry on social media.

“I just follow a lot of sex workers on Instagram, and there’s a lot of resources just from that,” Alex said. Alex also added there are plenty of local and nationwide organizations to look into if you would like to participate in volunteer work.

PSU’s Women’s Resource Center aims to create a safe space for sex workers who are enrolled in school as one of their goals. Other groups based in Portland, such as The Cupcake Girls and STROLL, provide various resources for sex workers, such as connecting individuals with safe houses and support groups, educational opportunities, financial aid and assistance and even dental hookups.

Stop assuming

While Alex knows most people mean well by offering help toward getting her and other individuals out of sex work, she raised the idea that a lot of workers aren’t looking for help and  it’s not wise to assume they are. “Don’t offer to save someone unless they are asking for your help to get out of the industry,” Alex said. “A lot of people choose sex work consensually.”

In that same vein, the assumption that sex work is a temporary option for girls during a low point in their lives is not always the case either. While some sex workers view their positions as temporary, others pursue sex work as a permanent career. “There are a lot of people who choose to make a career out of it and are totally happy with that, and I think for those people it can be really invalidating when someone says, ‘Oh, well you can’t do that forever.’”

On that note, those looking to be allies should be aware that just because someone is working in the industry does not mean that they’re at rock bottom. “I think that people might assume that if you’re doing sex work, you might not be in the best place in your life, and I think that’s what’s really not true,” Alex said. “There are a lot of people who are pretty content with their jobs or they’re using their jobs to reach their goals, and wherever you are at, either of those things are valid.”

Be careful with your words

According to Alex, there are more sex workers out there than what meets the eye. “Most people have at least one sex worker in their lives, whether they know it or not,” Alex said. This makes it crucial to always keep in mind what you say and how it might hurt others. Words such as “whore” and “prostitute” are considered slurs among the sex work community, as they feed the flame of criminalization against people in the industry. Using this harmful language can not only mentally batter sex workers, but also perpetuate the mainstream dehumanization of these individuals.

On top of that, victim shaming and blaming sex workers who have been sexually assaulted could also take a psychological toll on these at risk individuals. “Sex workers statistically have a higher chance of being victims of sexual abuse or violence,” Alex said. “Knowing you have people in your life you can turn to if, God forbid, something like that happens, is really, really valuable.”

Creating safe spaces for those in the sex work community takes all these things and more, as sex workers face an uphill battle of criticism, abuse and fear everyday. As Alex put it best, “I think it’s just important to know that sex workers are human beings, and we have a right to feel safe and live our lives like everyone else does.”  

Taking the time to be there for the sex workers in your life and in your community could be the difference between making long-lasting social change or allowing for the continuation of violence and trauma to be inflicted upon people in the industry.