How To Be An Ally to Sex Workers

by Bella Robinson

1) Don’t Assume. Don’t assume you know why a person is in the sex industry.  Most people make a choice to enter the sex industry because it is the best option for them.  Many sex workers only have to work a few hours a week because sex work pays a lot more than the majority of other jobs in the US.  Sex work allows sex workers a flexible schedule so they can attend college or pick their kids up at the bus stop after school.  Sex work allows sex workers to pay their rent and to put food on the table for their families.

2)  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.

3) 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 more than their peers and get tested regularly.

4) 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.

5) Don’t Play Rescuer. Most sex workers are not trying to get out of the industry or in need of help.  Many sex workers have reported that rescue attempts which usually includes them being arrested,  traumatizes them and leaves them further displaced.  Most rescue efforts do not include offering sex workers any real services like child care, subsidized housing, or jobs that pay a living wage.  Sex workers have been rating these experiences at http://ratethatrescue.org/

6)  Remember “Our Lives Are Not Your Fundraising Material” Many trafficking and rescue organizations exploit sex workers who have been arrested.  They highlight the few rare horrific stories of abuse and exploitation for their fundraising campaigns. They stigmatize sex workers which is known to increase violence towards sex workers.  They create hysteria about phantom pimps and traffickers that rarely exist,  while they profit off the criminalization of sex workers.  Trafficking NGOs are being funded at over 600 million a year just to create awareness about sex trafficking.  Yet 80% of human trafficking takes place in other labor sectors.

7) Watch Your Language. Cracking jokes about rape and dead hookers is not acceptable.  Calling sexworkers derogatory names is not acceptable,  However some sex workers have “taken back” these phrases to show the world that they are proud sex workers who will not be shamed; thus helping to help reduce stigma and change social perception.  (whore, ho, hooker)

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 false.  Be critical of what you read or hear as most of it won’t be based on evidence based research.  If you want to learn about sex workers, contact your local sex worker rights organization and ask them to provide you or your organization with a free training.

9) 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.

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

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 sex worker led organizations that are sensitive to the needs of sex workers.

12) Stand Up. As you learn the above things, stand up for sex workers when conversations happen.  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 them.   If you want to help be an ally to sex workers, please consider donating or volunteering with your local sex worker rights organization.

Bella Robinson is the founder and executive director of Coyote RI.  

Coyote RI provides support to sex workers and trafficking victims, to include providing non judgmental and compassionate crisis management services.  Coyote provides support services to incarcerated sex workers and we provide case managers to help sex workers access reentry services upon their release.

Coyote strives to provide adequate resource referrals to sex workers.  We have documented the discrimination that sex workers endure when trying to access public services.   We continue to educate services providers and government officials about the best way to help connect  “people involved in the sex industry” to services.

Starting in August 2017 Coyote RI will be providing free HIV & Hep C testing, and condom distribution to sex workers and to the general public.

Coyote strives to reduce stigma and violence against sex workers and we lobby for policies that promote the health and safety of sex workers.  We acknowledge that sex work is acceptable form of labor.   We recognize that the criminalization of prostitution is a form of state sponsored violence and systemic oppression against a highly marginalized population.

Coyote is also one of the 6 local organizations that created the AMOR network, which is a coalition of directly affected people and “people of color” led organizations, building a Rapid Resistance Network to protect our community. 

Want to learn more about the systemic oppression of US sex workers?  Visit http://coyoteri.org/