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Dear Kinja

Today's entry comes with a trigger warning for non-explicit but disturbing reporting on violent crimes.

Back in 2012 a Sydney woman identified in media reports as "Miss K" rebuffed the advances of a client who wanted to engage in a personal relationship with her. This human shitstain plotted his revenge. Enlisting a younger co-offender he attacked the woman in a public street, and had the co-offender douse her in lighter fluid and set her on fire. Miss K survived, but received third degree burns to 45% of her body, including her face. She is still undergoing treatment.

This week the younger man received a six year sentence, minimum of three years, on the grounds of his youth at the time of the offence, and the defence's submissions that he was heavily coerced and threatened into co-offending. The maximum penalty that could have been imposed for this crime is eleven years. The New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions will doubtless be appealing the sentence. I believe the hearing of the adult offender and instigator is pending.

In 2012, Jill Meagher, an employee of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, began walking home after a night of drinks and fun with some co-workers. She was attacked, raped and strangled to death by a scumbag called Adrian Bayley, who left her body hidden in an alley, walked home, got his car, drove back, then took her body to a remote location to bury it. This story swept Australia and stayed in the media for months. There were outpourings of grief and support, awareness raising drives, public memorials, and a march through the streets of Melbourne attended by thousands.

Bayley was on parole after serving an eight year sentence for 16 charges of rape against five prostitutes, all of whom were street workers. His M.O. was to pick up a street worker, then drive her to an isolated location and park up against a wall so she was unable to open her door and escape. In his sentencing remarks, the judge said: "You forced your victims to accept a series of sexual acts that caused them horrifying distress. Your response to pleading, cries of pain and tears was to force these women into further sexual acts." Bayley committed these rapes AFTER he'd served ANOTHER five year sentence for ANOTHER rape. Bayley later admitted that he'd "faked" his rehabilitation for this offence.

After the murder of Jill Meagher, an exotic dancer came forward and dicslosed that Bayley had been a regular at the club where she worked, and would frequently pay her for private dances, in which he would touch her neck and talk about how he enjoyed rough sex.

Jill Meagher's widower has publicly stated his opinion that "I'm aware his previous victims in previous cases before Jill were sex workers, and I'll never be convinced that doesn't have something to do with the lenience of his sentence ..... Put it like this: if he'd raped five people like Jill that many times in that brutal a fashion, I don't think he'd have served eight years in prison."

In 2013, a Melbourne woman named Tracy Connelly was found stabbed to death in the back of the van where she and her boyfriend of nearly 20 years were currently living. Tracy's boyfriend was in hospital that night. The next day when she didn't answer his calls he left the hospital to search for her, and was the one who found her body. She had been robbed and murdered nearly 12 hours ago, in the back of the van she had parked – tragically and ironically – across the street from a local day shelter for the local street workers.

News coverage made sure to describe Tracy as a prostitute, a drug addict and a sex worker. Her story was off the front and main pages of the main newspapers within two days, only gaining ground when a few non-mainstream journalists, columnists and bloggers, took a stance and angrily advocated for greater exposure, pointed out the double standard in media coverage and public sympathy for crimes against sex workers and crimes against "respectable" members of society, and voiced support for local sex work advocacy groups.

The investigation into Tracy's murder is still ongoing.

Gathering data on incidences of crimes against sex workers is notoriously difficult, as under-reporting is rife in this industry. Hardly surprising. We all know how difficult and traumatising it can be to report a sexual assault to the police and attempt to pursue justice even under the most controlled of circumstances. Now imagine doing it when your occupation involves having sex for money, or when reporting could involve "outing" yourself as being in a socially stigmatised line of employment and could potentially lead to very real and negative consequences for yourself, legally, professionally, and personally.

This relatively recent paper, IMHO, does a fairly good job of comprehensively surveying and reporting on the issue of sexual assault in the Australian sex industry.

I believe that everybody who works in this industry, at whatever level, whatever service you provide, whatever your sexuality, gender identity and background, is at some risk of harm, just because working in the sex industry means that you risk exposure to people who will not respect your boundaries, or believe that you have no right to bodily autonomy, and that their gratification comes before your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

That level of risk can and does vary, though. And please note that I am not even counting sex trafficking victims in this as that is an entirely different discussion and one I'm not really in a position to contribute to in any meaningful way. All research seems to agree though – and so do the workers themselves, if you are one, or speak to them – that street based workers are at the most significant risk. This is fairly unsurprising, as street workers are least able to adequately screen risky clients, and most likely to work in insecure locations. They are also, unfortunately, more likely to be regarded, subconsciously or otherwise, as "socially expendable" members of the industry, especially in the media, popular culture and society more generally.

This isn't to say that sex workers at the most elite and exclusive end of the industry are immune to risk, just that they tend to have better support networks in place, and better access to means of working as safely as possible. But they're not immune because everyone in the industry is subject to the same compulsion as anybody who is alive and a person and working for a living because they are alive.

Need.

Put bluntly, in my experience and from my observations, the more you need the money the more likely you are to be prepared to take risks. And how your need intersects with you, the way you work, and the factors that go into how "successful" you are at working? That's what I mean by privilege in the sex industry, and like most kinds of privilege it is often complicated and always intersectional.

If you have certain advantages, such as conventional good looks, good physical and mental health, education, autonomy, good support networks, etc, then yes the job will be easier for you. If your need for money means that you consider taking risks and accept compromises to whatever boundaries you establish for yourself and your clients, then of course that means you're at increased risk of those boundaries not being respected. (Less, or increased risk, obviously, does not mean "no risk" or "all the risk" as there are other factors that come into play. For example I always come back to the old adage about how the common factor in all cases of sexual assault isn't short skirts or alcohol or whatever, it's rapists.)

I am in the EXTREMELY privileged position that I'm doing this to supplement an existing income. Although I'm limited by factors including a certain lack of education and other resources, I COULD, if I'd wanted to, have applied for night shift work in data entry or telemarketing, or gotten a part-time job as a cleaner, etc. And who knows, maybe I will do that in the future. Although Diary of a B Grade Toilet Cleaner would, admittedly, be a less interesting read for you guys. But the point is that I'm not entirely dependent on this work. It's making my life a lot less difficult and psychologically fraught than it would otherwise be (nothing freaks me out like financial insecurity, I am not alone in this), but if the work all dried up tomorrow, or something horrific happened that meant continuing work was no longer an option, I wouldn't have to deal with the complete dissolution of my income along with whatever other bullshit I had to deal with.

For me personally, the fact that I could, if absolutely necessary, never have sex with a stranger for money again and know that I would ultimately manage and survive and have a future (fingers crossed!) untouched by any of this – makes up for the disadvantages and risks and inconveniences I face in my day to day existence as a part-time sex worker. More than makes up for it.

I say this as someone who, as much as I make jokes and silly fish pictures about the more amusing correspondence I engage in, often does end up accepting bookings from guys that seem hella shady, because I'd rather take that risk than not have any work at all. I can't charge as much as I'd like, because I don't tick some of the "conventional fuckability" boxes that could up my service's value. Trust me, I've tinkered around with prices, and when I charged more I just didn't get customers.

Please note that this is NOT saying that you need to look like a model to be a successful sex worker, or that the job is all about conventional sex appeal. You don't and it isn't. Especially if you have a niche specialty, or "major" in BDSM or particular fetishes, or provide a cam service only, etc, etc. But none of this applies to me. I'm just a common-or-garden hooker of unremarkable looks and skillz, who some men reject immediately and others see enthusiastically and regularly because we happen to have good chemistry or they're particularly into some physical aspect of me or whatever. So I have bad times but I also have good times and, in the words of Gawker's Caity Weaver, thatz okay.

But yeah, because each individual booking is not as financially rewarding as they could be, I take more work, and don't always decline bookings I'd honestly prefer to be able to. I'm also exhausted most of the time, and often physically uncomfortable at least to a small degree (for example my chest is very tender currently after a client pressed down on it with what felt like all his weight and I've got a bruise there too, other discomforts include recurring UTI and butt-related discomfort if I've been having to have a lot of anal sex lately). A side effect of the work, combined with my full time day job and the whole life I live outside of the work, has been constant low-level tension has led to me unconsciously clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth, even when I'm asleep – fortunately I've recently been able to go to the dentist and get the damage dealt with.

Basically, what I'm saying is that even for a relatively privileged private independent worker like me, this job ain't easy. (I can't imagine working on the streets. I doubt I'd last a week. The closest I've come to hard living like that is years ago, when I was technically homeless for a few weeks and couch-surfed for a while and then lived out of my car for a while because I was too emotionally shell-shocked because of recent circumstances and too much of a dumbass to ask people for help.)

Part of what prompted me to write this long meandering diary entry is seeing and hearing some other workers – even more privileged than I for the most part – who are newly entered into the industry and finding that it isn't, you know, easy-peasy. One of the problems with the Belle du Jour type "high class call girl" being the most popular and media-prominent model of the sex industry, is that it can mislead and misinform people – especially, yes I'm going to say it, other similarly privileged young pretty educated middle-class white women – into thinking that sex work is absolutely 100% guaranteed to be easy, financially rewarding, empowering and fun.

No. No. Nope.

GOOD MONEY OR FAST MONEY =/= EASY MONEY.

The "Belles" of the industry, for the most part, have certain privileges without which their experience of the industry would not be as emotionally and physically safe, and financially rewarding. But as well as having those privileges, they've had to work haaaaaarrrrrrd. It's like running any kind of independent business. Those who rise to the top had certain mitigating factors that helped get them there, sure, but it did involve effort and work too. Success in this industry is based on more than youth and beauty. And to be absolutely honest, I can't despise the young and beautiful women who swan into the industry thinking they'll fuck their way to buying a house at 25 or whatever and realise that it's not as easy as they thought it would be and that they too, zomg! have to deal with fuckwits and timewasters and tyre-kickers, and aren't rolling around on beds of cash within their first week. Our culture rewards women for beauty above all and that is gross and unfair and wrong, so I can't blame young women for being tempted to buy into it or figuring they might as well use what advantages they've got.

What does prompt me to side-eye is the prevalent but wrong assumption that some kinds of sex workers are inherently more worthy than others, and that some sex workers are doing it "right" and others are doing it "wrong" – and that the ones doing it wrong are, in some way, responsible for whatever adversity and increased risk they face in the industry. Sometimes this attitude comes from the customer service base, i.e. clients who fawn over the high class workers and sneer at the "junkies" and "crack whores" at the other end of the spectrum – although that doesn't stop them eagerly swapping intel about where the "cheap girls" are hanging out on any particular night. Or, more benignly but just as insidiously, the men who ask me "Are you saving for a house?" and look at me like I've grown two heads when I cheerily but honestly reply "No, just trying to pay the bills".

But sometimes it comes from inside the industry as well.

I have experienced and observed a lot of solidarity and support in the sex industry. I have also observed a lot of privilege denial and racist, classist and transphobic bullshit. To an extent this is absolutely understandable and relatable. When you are earning a living off your own body in such an overt way, of course attributing all your success to personal effort, business savvy, and an iron constitution is going to help you get through what is often a very long and difficult day or night. And success, like I say, IS due to a lot of that. But it would be absolutely disingenuous to suggest that there isn't a degree of privilege intersectionality in the industry – not just comparing the different strata and demographics to each other, but within those demographics themselves. And nothing pisses me off like seeing a sex worker in one field expressing contempt for another field, or vilifying sex work whilst denying what they do themselves is sex work.

This is probably my woolly liberal upbringing showing, but I like it better when we collaborate, rather than when we compete. It just reminds me too uncomfortably of the way the patriarchy as a whole – which, I'm not even trying to kid myself, I think the sex industry is part of the patriarchy because those who it caters to and who benefit from it are predominantly male – encourages women in society generally to compete with each other rather than work together to tear down the dominant power structures.

I know this kind of goes without saying, but the strongest and most effective sex worker advocates are sex workers themselves. Like with any other minority group, the best way to be an ally is to listen and support, not to speak for. For various reasons, including the fact that there IS a considerable demographic of very disempowered and marginalised workers, the sex industry is plagued by the "saviour" narrative, and some non-industry advocates do unfortunately fall into the trap of thinking that they know best, and that we ALL need to be saved from the streets, from predators, from exploitation, from drugs, from ourselves.

The other major thing to consider when talking about the sex industry, intersectionality, and advocacy, is that a significant number of sex workers, all throughout the industry, are working "in the closet" so to speak, and no matter what kind of decriminalisation and industry regulation occurs, it will always be this way. It's like how there are a billion laws and codes and regulations around the world protecting workers in basically every industry that exists, but that doesn't mean that the most disadvantaged and marginalised workers within that industry (for example comparing a sweatshop labourer to a craftsperson who makes a living off selling their wares on Etsy) aren't still exploited and degraded.

I personally absolutely support decriminalisation. But I am a little more unsure about where I stand on various regulation policies, both proposed and already in place, specifically because I know that they don't always benefit the people they're supposed to support and protect, because there will always be people who can only make a living by working outside of the regulated industry. And in some ways they will just be driven further underground and away from legal recourse should crimes be done against them, if they worry that they will receive additional censure and penalty for working unregulated.

I'm going to wind this up now. I feel weird writing about this at all, as I do not presume to be – and have stated repeatedly, hahaha – that I am in no way a spokesperson for the industry, or representative of anybody except myself and my personal experience. And there are a LOT of sex work social justice blogs, websites, tumblrs and resources out there, run by people a lot more articulate and informed than I am! If anybody wants to contribute with their opinions of perspective, please please join in, even if you feel like you need to create a burner to do so to avoid doxxing or outing.

What else has been going on with me? Not a lot, this week has been very quiet compared to the insanity of the last few. On the one hand that's a good thing as I've been enjoying the rest, but on the other you can't help but feel that thin edge of worry that the work has DRIED UP FOREVER, and start taking every individual time-waster and tyrekicker personally. (Sometimes I feel this job is like fishing, where you sit for hours and hours dangling a bait in the water hoping to get a bite, except that instead of not getting a bite, imagine the fish gives you the middle finger before swimming away, or a dick pic, or a quote by Nietschze, or something.)

I had a booking with a guy who brought me some fancy chocolates. That was nice. What wasn't so nice was when he took a mouthful of champagne and I thought he swallowed but he hadn't, and he went down on me and squirted it into my lady parts. That was unexpected, and it stung as much as you expect it would. I asked him not to do that again.