The following is an original essay by a Seattle based full contact sex worker. The opinions held herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily directly reflect those of SWOP USA and SWOP Seattle.
I’ve never been afraid of my clients. I screen not only for safety but somewhat for compatibility. Demanding clients with no patience, the types to get angry if they don’t get anal or whatever, screen themselves out when I have to say ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ or ‘I need your ID to move forward’ and their replies tell me they feel themselves above it.
What I do fear, however, is arrest.
Because I’m an independent provider, with no pimp to speak of or trafficking excuse to get me out of legal trouble, I fall outside of the victim narrative. While they may offer services or diversion to someone with a good enough human trafficking angle, I have no such options or excuses. Since I’m not a victim, I’m a criminal. And since I sometimes work with a friend of mine, I could also be charged with felony promotion of prostitution. This is my biggest fear.
So when my new client, within a few moments of meeting me, asked to ‘get business out of the way’ and confirmed the type of session we had booked, I immediately went on orange alert. These are the kinds of things vice asks out loud in order to get someone on audio tape to agreeing to an explicit exchange of sexual services (euphemisms count) for money (or other items of value).
This is what criminalization looks like for the invisible escorts. We are those who don’t walk the strip, we don’t freestyle so you’ll never see us working your bars, we’re (usually) in our late twenties through our mid forties, we wear more casual clothes and not much makeup, we screen our clients and see them by appointment only, we are your neighbors, your friends, your sisters, your friends from PTA, and you’ll never know unless we tell you.
Criminalization for the legal workers in brothels looks like a lot of rules, but safety, too. Criminalization for marginalized, visible workers looks like harassment, repeated arrests, diversion programs, and half assed outreach programs by anti-prostitution organizations. Criminalization for the rest of us, the vast majority of full contact sex workers in the US, just means fear, and not fear of clients. Fear of getting caught in a sting. Fear of our emails getting subpoena’d or someone near our incall getting suspicious. Fear of an angry wife or a pissed off ex using our safer, quieter, middle class labor as a weapon against us. We’re not usually afraid of bad clients, though they’re out there and they suck. We’re afraid of calling the cops on them, because we know first hand that they ignore the abuser and focus on us.
I spent an entire 90 minute appointment watching my words carefully, casually leaving items in the other room, analyzing the chances that this client was a vice cop and if not a cop, a client working with law enforcement.
This has got to stop. Decriminalizing the exchange of sex for money does not decriminalize rape. It doesn’t decriminalize kidnapping or defrauding, forcing, or coercing someone into sex work. It doesn’t decriminalize non-citizens working in the country without a work visa. It doesn’t make abusive management magically ok, it doesn’t mean we’re encouraging vulnerable populations to enter an industry that doesn’t suit them, and it doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly see hundreds of working girls brazenly walking through your neighborhood. It means taking power away from potential abusers and putting it back in our hands.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already sympathetic to the cause. If you are, take a moment to write to your representative in favor of the decriminalization of sex work. If you aren’t, stick around, we might have more thoughts for you.