Sex work can be a challenging line of business! First off, if you’re fortunate enough to make it through the barrage of opinion that tells you you’re in need of rescuing or rehabilitating, well done! Secondly, getting good risk reduction information in the face of punitive, contradictory laws can be really tough, however the purpose of this article is to provide a basic outline of helpful information geared at improving the general safety and well-being of (mostly) street based sex workers. Some of the information will be applicable to anyone working in the industry who is selling sex for money.
Firstly, let’s start with the basics… make sure you’re well informed about the current UK laws. Working outside of them can lead to inadvertent arrest or prosecution and can seriously affect your potential to earn a decent living. It can also threaten your family relationships, for example, if you work from home and live with a partner or adult child, the other person can be prosecuted for pimping even if that person is your child (over 18). For some of us, choice about working is a luxury we don’t always have. I’m not going to go into the laws here but you can find great, up-to-date advice on many websites, or if you don’t have access to the net, ask in your local sex work projects where someone should be able to help. The thing I will say is that the laws often significantly contribute to the risk taking behaviour we will engage in (or not). For example, criminalising street based clients just makes women jump into cars faster, have less time to check out the punter, less time to negotiate terms without the client getting twitchy and the job being lost. This also means we may become pressured to take more risks into having sex without condoms as clients get scared off and are fewer on the ground. What this does in real terms is put more women in more danger with yet again, the women coming off worst. Women who work from home in two’s or more can be prosecuted for running a brothel despite the fact that is obviously safer to work this way.
If you are arrested, know your rights. You have the right to know why you’re being arrested and the right to remain silent. You have the right to read the police codes of conduct and to have someone notified of your arrest. You have the right to see your solicitor in private. There is NO SUCH THING as an ‘off the record’ chat! If you need medical help whilst you’re under arrest, a police surgeon must be called to assess whether you’re fit to be interviewed. Unless you’re arrested for drink driving or suspected of a serious crime, enforced blood or DNA testing is not lawful.
Lots of street workers get a bad rap from local communities who feel hassled by kerb crawlers or fed up with associated criminal activity in their area. They often report finding discarded condoms, needles or other drug paraphernalia too and whilst none of these activities are necessarily anything to do with street sex workers, it makes sense to be discreet and take care of your stuff in order to avoid the finger of prejudice pointing directly at you. Work away from the busiest residential areas but don’t affect your safety in doing so. Encourage your punters to be discreet too.
Keep tissues or small plastic bags in your bag or pockets and wrap used condoms in them to dispose of later. If you use needles, make sure you take them back to your local needle programme. If you don’t want your clients to know about your habit, you have 2 options:
- Don’t take needles out with you and make sure you know you’re not going to 'rattle' whilst you’re out, or
- Consider smoking on foil as an alternative whilst you’re at work. It’s much easier to conceal your use and much safer to dispose of the things you need…clients can get really freaked out by needles and evidence of hard drug use, and a freaked out client makes for a nervous client makes for potential trouble.
If you do need to take pins out with you, keep only the number you need on your person, re-cap them after use and dispose of them SAFELY in a designated sharps container and return them to the needle programme.
If you do inject, try to rotate injecting sites and use salves and creams to help healing. Never get so high that you can’t see properly at night and remember too that heroin raises your body temperature and masks the effects of the cold, but you can still be affected by the cold so wear layers and keep warm. Make yourself as safe as possible by becoming informed about these risks and take pride in your health and wellbeing. A healthy hooker is a happy hooker!
Another really important thing to remember is that mixing drugs = recipe for trouble. Poly drug use as it’s called is more likely to create situations where you’re out of control than single use because of the way different drugs react with each other in your body. Speed-balling for example can create multiple problems as the additional cocaine numbs the injection site and masks other symptoms of pain, leaving you less likely to be aware of any problems. It’s probably obvious but let’s say it anyway, working under the influence of alcohol or other depressant drugs as will slow down your ‘flight or fight’ responses and you could really be putting yourself in danger by being too stoned to size up risk or get out of a tricky situation.
Never underestimate the power of the ‘word on the street’ …pass on information about dodgy punters, what the police are up to, gangs making trouble or other points of concern and make sure you keep an eye out for each other.
Tips of the trade: Looking after your health.
- Try to insist a punter uses a condom even if just for oral as HIV and other STI’s can still be passed on this way.
- If you do take risks, gargle with antiseptic and DON’T brush your teeth straight away as small cuts could then transmit infection.
- Use water based lube with condoms as oils can rot the rubber. Better to use spit than the wrong kind of lube. DON’T use baby oil.
- If you do anal, use extra strength condoms and lubricate really well to avoid tears. Sitting on top of your client lets you control the contact more.
- Don’t go from anal to vaginal without changing condoms
- Use dental dams for analingus (licking around the asshole) or for oral a customer does on you. If you don’t have them, you can cut up a condom or a piece of non-microwaveable cling film. You can get HepA from licking around the asshole
- Learn how to put on condoms with your mouth!
- Drink lots of water and pee regularly to help flush out infection
- Too much sugar, coffee, tea, cocaine or speed increase the chance of you getting bladder infections
- If you work when on a period, use a diaphragm as well or if you use sponges, rinse them out really well between clients.
- Pregnancy can be immuno-suppressive so if you work when pregnant, try only selling hand and mouth work. If you do have vaginal sex, use condoms, good lube and avoid deep penetration. Be alert for signs of infection and treat immediately.
- Check your breasts and get cervical smears regularly. Research shows that there is an increased chance of getting cervical cancer the more sexual partners a woman has. Cervical smears are vital in preventing this. Ask your GP pr local sexual health clinic for regular smears.
- Know what to look for in the following: crabs (pubic lice), chlamydia, herpes, thrush, warts, PID (pelvic inflammation disease), gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV, Hep B & C . Some of these don't have obvious so make sure you’re well informed of the signs, symptoms and risks, or how to protect yourself. Your local prostitution project or GUM clinic should be able to give you good information.
- If you’re doing street work, try to arrange price, location and service outside of the car to avoid getting into conflict when in the client’s car.
- Check numbers of passengers and license plate before getting in. READ UGLY MUGS LISTS if there are any in your area.
- Let someone know where you’re going if possible.
- Familiarise yourself with car locking mechanisms as soon as you get in.
- Get the money first and stash it away from your other money so that if your punter does try to rob you it’s less likely he’ll get it all.
- Keep an eye on your client’s hands all the time.
- Avoid getting spiked by not accepting drinks from punters.
- Don’t wear clothing that can be used to harm you (e.g., scarves, heavy necklaces and across the shoulder bags).
- Wear shoes you can run in easily
- Don’t wear clothing that has to be removed to have sex and avoid floaty clothes that can get trapped in car doors.
- Don’t carry weapons that can be used against you. Try keys, hairspray, pin tail combs etc for self defence.
- If you are raped or assaulted in a car, try to leave an earring or small personal item down the back of a seat so that the police can identify you having been there later.
- If you have to defend yourself attack soft areas such as throat, eyes, adams apple, underside of the nose, balls, stamp on instep or kick shins.
ABOVE ALL, BE SENSIBLE AND TRUST YOUR INTUITION.
And for those of you who do want help getting out of prostitution, ask your local prostitution project or harm reduction service where you can go to get it.
Claudia Bellocq is a former sex worker currently working as a harm reduction practitioner & holistic therapist. An ongoing advocate for sex worker rights, Claudia has a passionate interest in gender & sexuality politics. One time co-organiser of the UK 'Sex Work Re-Assessed' conference she's also proud to say she was interviewed by the late, great John Peel about her sex work experiences.
Claudia also runs the blog 'Claudia Bites' which focuses on the sex industry and social taboos.