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Reddit Talks Sex Work: What We Can Learn By Listening

Sara Newman |
December 4, 2013 | 8:27 p.m. PST

Associate News Editor

Sex worker rights are almost as problematic as the industry of sex work itself, (E Steuer/Creative Commons)
Sex worker rights are almost as problematic as the industry of sex work itself, (E Steuer/Creative Commons)
Societal stigmas against the sex work industry teach people to simply not talk about it. As with illegal drugs, if people don’t openly discuss prostitution, they don’t have to deal with it…right? 

This pointed ignorance helps propagate the many dangers within the industry, rather than helping to protect the nation’s youth as some people may prefer to believe. 

Enter the world of reddit

The anonymous chat forums and “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) discussion boards allow people to share their insights and advice on a wide range of topics, so that people can get information from behind the safety of a computer screen—rather than say, starting work in a brothel wholly unprepared for the realities of sex work. 

Societal pressures to ignore the complexities of the sex work industry prompted reddit user miasuzuki to ask, “Where can I post a clients information to warn girls not to take appointments with him?” 

Without an open discourse about the sex industry, it is difficult for workers to exchange tips that could help keep young men and women safe. 

“it's all about just managing the situation and diffusing potentially violent bookings,” advised meretrici, a former prostitute. “Humour works, as does appealing to their better and logical side.”

Likewise, throwaway94608  reported “walk[ing] away from 10 - 15% of the cars [she] approached without even saying anything,” in her years as a streetwalker. “If the guy looked too shifty or too clean or too weird, or I got a sixth sense, I bailed.” 

But for women who are newer to the industry, without having developed a “sixth sense,” the dangers of sex work are compounded by their lack of experience—dangers that could be partially mitigated by fostering greater awareness of how to stay safe in such a potentially dangerous field of work. 

For reddit user, IAma_escort, going “the agency route” helped her “learn the ropes in a safe environment, and…test the waters without putting [her]self out there.” Yet, many reddit commenters report entering the sex work field after accepting random offers from men in their teenager years, and gradually learning the ins-and-outs of the sex industry on their own over time.

“I believe most of the downsides are a result of criminalization and stigma, not the work itself,” wrote meretrici, who believes that “New Zealand has the best [decriminalization] model.” She wrote that Australia’s and England’s similarly legalized prostitution policies also put them ahead of the U.S. as far as safety and happiness of the workers are concerned. 

Assessments from other sex workers of their interactions with police forces helps affirm the disadvantages that sex workers encounter in countries where prostitution is illegal.

“The cops … said they could either arrest both of us and sort it out later, or leave it alone,” wrote joyhassprung of her experience with going to the authoritites when a client turned violent. “One cop suggested that I get a pimp. It was really clear that they didn't see me as human.”

Open forums on reddit help debunk this myth of sex workers as sleazy, uneducated men and women with little else to offer pursue jobs in the sex industry.

Azcherrybomb reported, “I'm also a full-time university nursing student & have an online freelance writing gig,” while swescort “just finished a master's degree in social work.” 

Like these two women, numerous reddit contributors report seeking out or accepting jobs in the sex industry as a means to provide for their families or to pursue higher education.

Less widely available, but existent on reddit nonetheless, is information about the darker side of the sex industry: sex trafficking. 

“The majority of the girls I worked with were from more than one oppressed/ marginalized groups (ethnicity, socio-economic, etc),” said reddit user folgaluna in an AMA discussing her experiences working with sex trafficking victims. “But a key thing to remember is that almost all children are naive to this, it is too easy to manipulate children (santa, tooth fairy). This makes all children vulnerable.”

Yet, the same stigmas that pervade sex work extend to sex trafficking as well and cultivate a culture of victim blaming 

“More times than not [survivors of sex trafficking] are put into detention centers, treated as criminals or used as witnesses and provided little to no support,” reported folgaluna.

In order to help improve the conditions that men and women who work in sex industry face—whether they entered by choice or by force—it is crucial that we listen to what they have to say. Who knows what changes need to be made in order to keep people safe, the politician in a suit and fancy townhouse, or the woman who has spent years of her life trying to stay safe while supporting herself through sex?

Contact News Editor Sara Newman here. Tweet her here



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