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:
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.
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.