You would think that with all of the information and discussion surrounding consent that has been in the forefront of social media for the last year that this wouldn’t even be a subject that I would have to discuss again. However, I will rant and rave and write and scream it from the rooftops if I have to, over and over again until people get it through their thick skulls.
CONSENT IS NOT OPTIONAL.
IT’S NOT A GUIDELINE.
IT’S NOT NEGOTIABLE.
This week at work the unthinkable happened to me. The client I was having sex with decided to rip off the condom, and continue what he was doing. I was distracted and had a lot on my mind that day, so I wasn’t as on guard as I usually am and I didn’t notice until it was too late.
When I did realize however, and confronted him about it, he shrugged it off and didn’t “see what the big deal was”.
I don’t think words exist yet for the kind of fury that I felt as I kicked him out. I had not consented to unprotected sex, yet that didn’t seem to matter.
When I talk about the dehumanization of sex workers, through the media, through our use of language, through our perpetration of stigma – this is what I am talking about when I say that it has real-life consequences. My bodily autonomy and therefore my consent, doesn’t hold as much weight as it should. It becomes “not a big deal” for me to be sexually assaulted or raped. I can’t go to the police because I am not taken seriously, or it is difficult to prove because of the bias and beliefs that sex workers are liars and immoral. I can take my chances going to the emergency room at the local hospital for post-exposure prophylaxis (PeP) however I risk running into bias from medical staff as well.
**It is important to note that this isn’t solely a sex worker problem, rape victims are constantly faced with bias and are dismissed by health professionals and legal channels. Being a sex worker just adds to an already shitty system.
This time around (it is not the first time that this has happened) though, I found myself with a lot more support that I have previously experienced. I am lucky that I have amazing friends, a supportive partner and have finally found a doctor that believes that I should have the same access to health services as anyone else. For sex workers who aren’t ‘out’ or don’t have the support that they need, situations like this can be devastating. Feelings of shame and isolation can prevent people from seeking the information and treatment that they need, and this victim-blaming mindset is encouraged by a society that treats us as perpetual victims anyway.
So how do we work towards solving this?
By working towards reducing the stigma surrounding the industry and showing support for sex workers, we create a space that encourages an open dialogue about these experiences.
By talking about our experiences and sharing our knowledge, we can ensure that those at risk know what their options are if the unthinkable happens.
Calling out dehumanizing and disempowering language when we see it, examining the language we use and how we use it to create our experiences and unconscious biases.
Getting involved and informed with local politics, laws and organisations that support sex workers and women’s rights in general.
Ainsley house – Royal Perth Hospital Sexual Health Clinic (I spoke with a wonderful doctor named Lena here, I highly recommend her as a sex worker friendly professional)