Fighting for the rights of sex workers in Australia

Fighting for the rights of sex workers in Australia
Image: Photo: David Alexander.

Other people have always worried about my safety as a sex worker, possibly more than I do. Clients occasionally implore me to ‘stay safe’ or, worse, try to elicit the juicy details about whether I’ve ‘ever had a bad client’.

I’ve had a few incidents, of course. You deal with assholes in every customer service job. Some of the factors are just different in sex work: you’re behind closed doors one-on-one (usually, haha), and there’s all kinds of cultural baggage around prostitution.

I’ve met plenty of clients who think they’ve ‘bought me’ and can do what they want with me. I’ve been (non-consensually) slapped and choked and worse. Obviously not every day is like that, or I’d quickly go back to doing something useful with my master’s degree.

One of the worst things that happened to me was in Melbourne. A client showed up to my apartment outrageously late and acting strangely, and my spidey senses went off. You learn to listen to your gut.

When I politely declined to see him, he snapped and refused to leave. He followed someone into the building and pounded on my door, screaming at me.

It was absolutely illegal for me to be seeing clients in my apartment, and the guy knew it. He yelled from the hall that I probably didn’t have a licence number, which was true, and evidently made him think I wouldn’t call the police.

However, I’m a middle-class white man who’d rather be fined than murdered, and call the police I most certainly did.

Of course he vanished before the cops eventually arrived, but not before trying to climb into my courtyard and smash his way into the apartment. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I called my partner, terrified, and I genuinely thought he was going to hear me being killed.

In the end I was fine, but if I’d been afraid to call the police I don’t know what I would have done. I’ve worked in five states of Australia, each with very different laws around prostitution, and I find the degree of violence I experience is closely related to the degree of criminalisation.

I’ve never had a violent client in New South Wales, where sex work is fully decriminalised. South Australia, the only state where it’s fully illegal, tends to be where you hear about escorts getting killed.

Recently a friend of mine who’s a sex worker in the US was raped at work. It broke my heart to hear her talking about how the guy would get away with it because she couldn’t go to the police, lest she face arrest herself.

Like many sex workers, I call for full decriminalisation of the industry. Decriminalisation allows us the freedom to conduct our businesses like any other, and leads to safer working conditions.

The other major factor in how sex workers get treated is society’s attitudes about us, especially towards women in the sex industry. Whorephobia and misogyny are what fuel violent attitudes.

Don’t forget that anyone can be a sex worker. Just like you shouldn’t talk shit about trans people or bi people or lawyers, because you never know when you might be talking to one and making them feel unsafe, Anne from HR could very well moonlight in a brothel and not appreciate your dead hooker jokes.

March 3 is International Sex Workers Rights Day. You can help by treating sex workers you see or speak about with respect.

Escorts, strippers, massage boys and cam girls are all normal people who deserve to be treated with dignity. Be polite, ask for consent, do all the nice stuff you hopefully would for anyone else.

And go easy on the dead hooker jokes.

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