opinion

Managing Personal Risk as a Sex Worker Advocate

Managing Personal Risk as a Sex Worker Advocate

Everyone in the adult industry is feeling the effects of censorship and discrimination, but it’s sex workers who take the biggest hit when our livelihoods are under attack. If you feel compelled to do something in defense of our industry, there are lots of ways to take action. You can speak to the media or lawmakers, write articles or organize efforts behind the scenes.

No matter what you do, however, it’s important to stay safe. Here are some tips on looking out for yourself and your well-being as an advocate for sex workers’ rights:

Financial stability is important for overall well-being, so it’s very important to ensure that your sex workers’ rights advocacy does not compromise your business or livelihood.

Do a Personal Risk Assessment

As sex workers, many of us already follow safety protocols to protect ourselves. When we begin sex work, a lot of us instinctively conduct a “personal risk assessment,” meaning we identify aspects of our lives that could be compromised if we were outed. Since advocacy can put you in the spotlight, consider whether you might have vulnerabilities in these areas:

“Vanilla” jobs and higher education: If you are enrolled in school or have a job outside of sex work, protect yourself by declining to discuss in interviews what other industries you work in, or what and where you study.

Child custody: If your ability to retain custody of your children might be compromised, decline to discuss personal family matters publicly and don’t mention that you have children.

Immigration status: Engaging in sex work can be grounds for deportation. You might consider consulting an immigration attorney before getting involved in advocacy, to understand what you can and can’t disclose.

Stalkers: If you have stalkers, you may not want to engage in advocacy that would publicize your whereabouts. If you do participate in live events, communicate with event organizers to identify stalkers and remove them from the event.

Being a current sex worker: If you are actively working, you may not want to disclose where you work, with whom or how much money you make. You can say you are an active sex worker without giving away details. Remember, you don’t have to speak about your personal life when advocating for sex workers’ rights; you can speak broadly to the issues and back up your perspective with experience and data.

Engage Strategically

You can choose to engage in advocacy in a public-facing way, or if being visible is too risky for you, you may decide to do it behind the scenes.

Ways to stay safe as a public-facing advocate include:

  • Adopting an “advocacy name” different from your legal or sex work name. This will help keep your advocacy separate from the rest of your life, and will make it harder for people to identify you.
  • Altering your appearance with wigs, sunglasses or even a mask.
  • Maintaining clear boundaries around what you will and will not talk about.
  • Bringing a safety buddy to live events or interviews.
  • Taking media training so that you can convey your message effectively in interviews and other interactions with reporters and journalists.

Advocacy “behind the scenes” can include:

  • Ghostwriting op-eds and articles for public-facing advocates.
  • Creating and managing social media accounts for advocacy groups.
  • Conducting peer research.
  • Learning to read and analyze legislative bills.
  • Helping to plan and run live events.
  • Offering ride-shares, child care and peer support for fellow advocates.

Don’t Operate in Isolation

Regardless of whether we’re just working or actively advocating for our rights, isolation is dangerous for sex workers. We are stronger and safer together. Search online to find others who are doing work that resonates with you, or get together with peers and discuss ways to take action together. Even if your personal style of advocacy is more solitary — writing, for instance — it’s still important to connect with like-minded people.

Of course, working with others can also lead to internal group conflict. Ways to mitigate conflict include learning to share power, educating ourselves on social justice issues and becoming trauma-informed. When conflict arises, a mediator can sometimes help identify a compromise, or at least help everyone express themselves in a healthier way.

Protect Your Business

Financial stability is important for overall well-being, so it’s very important to ensure that your sex workers’ rights advocacy does not compromise your business or livelihood. Examples include when fans unsubscribe because they’re “not interested in politics,” or when influencers lose sponsorships because companies don’t want to be controversial or “get involved.” Ways to keep your business separate from your advocacy include:

  • Using separate social media and email accounts for advocacy.
  • Asking your peers to tag or mention only your advocacy persona.
  • Joining or starting a sex workers’ rights group to work through.
  • Understanding the guidelines around political expression for any company with which you have a relationship.

Monitor Your Mental Health

Sometimes, advocating for sex workers’ rights can be triggering. Confronting intense whorephobia can cause anxiety, rage, depression and even dissociation. If you find yourself mentally spiraling, try to “get back into your body” by taking a walk, doing some breathing exercises or petting an animal companion. If you are having a panic attack, try the “5 4 3 2 1 method.” Look around for five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

If you are experiencing regular mental health crashes, take a big step back. We cannot lead from a place of active trauma, and we may harm ourselves or others if we try to push through a personal crisis. Change takes time, and we need to pace ourselves for the road ahead.

Remember That You Are Part of a Growing Movement

The movement for sex workers’ rights is global, active and growing. This movement is made up of each and every one of us who stands up against unfair laws and social standards. The movement needs you, so keep yourself safe while you fight for what’s right. Thank you for your bravery!

Savannah Sly is a career sex worker, advocate and the founder and co-director of New Moon Network. For more information, visit NewMoonNetwork.org.

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