Sex Worker Knowledge

Alisha OstbergBlog, sex work

I consider it a daily honor to work with Shift clients. Sex workers have become my favorite group of people, in all their diversity and strength. The idea that I, as a social worker, am the expert helping the deficient client does not tend to apply to my clients. I learn a tremendous amount from them, and would like to share with you some of the things my clients have taught me during my first 9 months at Shift.

Sex workers have a rich history of using tactics to stay safe on the job.
Criminalizationof sex work actually prevents sex workers from keeping themselves as safe as possible. Not being able to talk to potential dates in public means they can get a feel for the guy before they get into his car or apartment. Not being able to see clients in their own home means they have to go to the client’s place where they have less control and never know if someone else is hiding in the closet. Sex workers are unable to hire bodyguards or drivers to keep an eye out for them while on a call because those drivers would be charged with pimping.
But sex workers are an adaptable bunch, and they do not let these laws hold them back from trying to maintain their safety. When the john’s started up review boards online to rate escorts, the escorts made their own online reviews of the johns. This way, they can keep each other posted on who was a nice fellow, who was a creep, and who was violent and should be avoided at all costs. Sex workers have their own ways of screening potential clients to see if they safe, and some choose to work during the day to avoid the party crowd. The most surprising safety tactic I have seen in my clients is a sense of humor. Laughing off awkwardness, being charming and easy to get along with helps sex workers not only stay safe but connect with johns. Being happy and funny all the time takes work, especially when you have had a long day of putting on the smiles, as anyone in the service industry can relate.
The main thing I have learnt about sex workers is that they are the most diverse group of people you could encounter. I may spend my morning helping a street based sex worker apply for AISH due to a disability, getting her food and helping her find shelter space, and the afternoon talking to a ‘high end’ escort about how to manage her money so she can buy a condo and the new car she has always wanted. Some people in sex work are tired of it and so we talk about how to find different work and make a plan. Some clients spend half their session telling me about how much they love the freedom, high compensation, and flexibility of escorting and then spending the rest of the session talking about how much they hate their office job because they get paid so little and have to work 9-5 every day. I see people of all genders, of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and of a wide age range. I can confidently tell you that there is no grand sweeping statement you can make about sex workers, because no two sex workers are the same.

Every day I am so proud of the Shift program and am so glad I get to work with sex workers. To learn more about sex work and the Shift program, consider attending our Shifting Perspectivesworkshop.