December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. To recognize this day and bring awareness to the experiences of sex workers in our communities, the following blog was written by a member of the Shift advisory committee. It presents the candid and personal perspective of an incredible individual who wishes to remain anonymous:
How violence, stigma, and discrimination have affected me in my work
It is undeniable that I have experienced violence, stigma, and discrimination as a sex worker. Working in this profession over the last ten years has, at times, robbed my soul of the respect that I deserve as a person. I deserve to be seen, heard, and accepted for who I am and not condemned for what I do.
Being discriminated against hurts.
It is a type of abuse that is detrimental to a person’s very core and is never acceptable. I learned very quickly that sex work thrives in the shadows, and that the violence sex workers experience often lingers in the dark behind closed doors. As a sex worker, stigma and discrimination have left me feeling very alone for most of my journey. I have often felt misunderstood, like I have had to literally split myself in two and lead a double life just to survive. Often times I question if the more authentic part of me is the part working in the sex industry. I believe I have missed out on true intimacy as my relationships outside of sex work have suffered due to this secrecy and duality. I now have fears of transitioning back into these types of relationships and the societal world.
Discrimination pushed me farther and deeper into isolation. For years I beat myself up as though there was something inhumane and disgusting about me, something fundamentally wrong because I didn’t fit in with perceptions of who a normal person should be. It’s like taking a mirror, turning it inward, and seeing the reflections of hate eat away at you every day.
Stigma leads to isolation, suffering, fear, stress, low self-esteem, addiction, loss of sleep, loss of peace and stability, disconnect, and low self-worth. For years I dealt with the violence I experienced alone instead of seeking help or support from police, lawyers, or the court system. I felt there was nowhere to turn without the repercussions of judgement. I feared being honest and complying with the government and tax system. I avoided seeing healthcare professionals because I didn’t know if I could be honest with them.
In the last couple of years, I have stepped out of the shadows and into the light to honour myself in this work. I am so grateful for Shift. I found them to be the first place on earth to accept me as I am without pressuring me to change or be someone that I am not.
I am at a place today where sex work is strictly business for me. I refuse to get emotionally invested in or involved with clients. I have been learning and exercising new boundaries and my right to say ‘no’ to anything that doesn’t feel right to me. It has been a long road, with continual counselling and treatment, to finally understand my value and to realize that no one should ever feel objectified, mistreated, abused, controlled, or disrespected. First thing I ask myself: Is this situation right for me and is it how I want to be treated?
When I am confronted with violence, discrimination, and abuse today in my work it still hurts. I hurt for other workers experiencing the same mistreatment because I imagine they too have struggled hard to rewrite their own identities and find their worth and dignity.
Today I stand up to disrespect.
Stigma, discrimination, and violence are not allowed to eat from my plate and it is us sex workers who must stand up and demand respect. It is our voices that will bring change about how we are treated by buyers and society.
Do not be afraid, come out of the shadows, and stand in the light because you deserve to live where you can be heard and seen!