This is our truth, tell us yours
Please be aware this post discusses harassment and a sexual assault I consider to be minor, but others of course may not. Please exercise self care
Whenever the Swedish Abomination is discussed sex workers quite rightly raise the issue of screening. In countries where neither selling nor buying of sexual services is illegal (Most of Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, the list goes on) we use the initial contact as the first and perhaps most important screening. We are not having to protect ourselves from police stings, so our focus can be on protection and getting the information we need. It is rarely discussed how criminalization as in the States means the sex worker is having to assess whether a client is really client before deciding they are safe, an added burden we do not need.
However in legal countries we are looking for other things. I cannot of course say how other sex workers do it, just myself. Extreme nervousness is one huge red flag for me. As I say to first timers, nerves are not a bad thing, however if someone comes across on the phone as very anxious, then I will not meet them. Fear all too often leads to anger, even if you are not Yoda, and it is I who will suffer at the hands of an angry client. Of course a lot of this is gut instinct, which is why criminalization hurts sex workers so much. It is reasonable to be anxious if you face arrest, and so, as Swedish sex workers have reported, you accept bookings with people who previously you may have turned down. Other screening of course is to weed out the timewasters, the guys who ask 500 questions, or want free pics, or wank fodder. Any woman who has used any online dating site will be familar with the need to simply block these literal wankers. Of course the myth we have to see anyone, the belief of the antis that we cannot consent feeds this ignoring of the vital importance of screening.
So, a variety of reasons and a variety of techniques used to keep me safe even before I meet someone. There are others of course, being signed up for alerts from the most amazing National Ugly Mugs, checking feedback, alerts on various forums and sex work sites. Its not foolproof, but then neither is walking down the street when it comes to assault, rape or violence against women.
What though when the screening fails, this also needs to be discussed, even as the importance of being able to do it is highlighted as the vital self preservation tool that it is. I am thinking right now of two specific incidents, which show why we need decriminlization, support and and end to stigma. Why the ability to screen is just a starting point.
I received one of those overly nervous calls last year. My bat signal instantly went off and I made polite excuses that I was too busy too meet. I have an auto response on my phone that I used when he called back. My instincts were right, over the next 2 days I received over 100 texts and calls from the same number, increasingly abusive and all expressing anger I should have dared exercise my right to turn him down. Every few months he pops up again, so arrogant he doesn’t even hide his number. Screening only goes so far, yes I avoid meeting someone who clearly would be a danger to any sex worker, and probably any woman. However stigma and a desire to have as little to do with the police meant I chose to take it no further than reporting to NUM, hoping it would mean he did not hurt another sex worker. In an ideal world this would be reported and charged as the harassment it is, as it is I am simply glad by radar worked and I could spread the word safely. Unlike certain privileged media feminists there is no court case or newsnight appearances for me.
Another example shows what happens when the radar doesn’t work. I recently met a client who passed with flying colours, polite, respectful, no bum notes or anything to alert me. Then whilst having sex he bit my face. When I stopped proceedings and made very clear that this was not acceptable he apologized claiming he had been carried away. Ignoring for a moment the kind of person who thinks it is ever OK to bite another person without their consent, and the violation of intimacy biting my face was, this was a very scary moment of vulnerability. I was also concerned that my face would be marked, stopping me from working, something I am sure anyone who has ever been self employed can relate too.
I mention this incident as it shows to me the vital importance of decriminlization and an end to stigma. I needed to not be concerned about him making a fuss and outing me to the hotel management, I needed, if I decided to, to be able to report him for assault and be listened too and taken seriously. I needed to have options which did not endanger me and possible mean I could not work. I needed what happened to be seen as it impacted on me, not proof of this theory or that theory but an event in a living, breathing human beings life. Of course some of these needs are difficult under patriarchy for all women, and I am well aware of my huge privileges as a white cis woman. I prefer to avoid the police, but I do not live in fear of them. Unlike WoC and trans women it is not assumed I am a sex worker, I am not profiled or target for stop and search. All women face being ignored or disbelieved by those in authority. However as a sex worker should I have chosen to throw him out, report him, demand prosecution, I should not have been the person put at risk.
Screen yes, emphasize how criminalization removes a vital protection when it comes to screening, but we must also campaign for better treatment when it goes wrong. Who knows maybe a country that accepted even sex workers had rights might be one where all victims were treated better and listened too. After all if the police had to take assaults on sex workers seriously imagine what that would mean for all other women coming forward to report. If you cannot find it in your heart to care about us, perhaps that might make you support decriminalization.