I have been working in the sex industry for nine years. The vast majority of my clients have been good people who never caused me any harm, but I have had a few bad experiences. I’ve had encounters where clients performed sexual acts on me after I had pushed them away and said “no.” I have had clients avail themselves of my services and then not pay afterwards. Once a client managed to remove the condom during intercourse without my knowledge. I estimate that I’ve had thousands of clients, and out of that many, I’ve been assaulted or exploited in these ways by six different men.
I never reported these experiences to the police. I was too afraid that I would get arrested. At the time of every single incident, I was breaking at least one of the prostitution laws. Most of the sex workers I know have had something similar happen to them at least once, and most have not reported their experiences either for the same reasons.
Over the years, I’ve brushed these memories aside. I usually tell people that “I’ve never really had anything bad happen to me at work.” These experiences don’t haunt me, and I don’t feel like I’m damaged as a person. I do feel angry, though. I feel hurt, and I feel sad that those things happened to me and that I didn’t feel like I could turn to the police for help.
After reading through all this, I can understand how someone might want to support the “Nordic” approach to dealing with prostitution. I might come across as someone in need of help, and criminalizing the purchase of sex but not the sale could be seen as a way to help me. But here’s the thing — it’s not the sex part of my job that hurts me. It’s not the buying or selling of sexual services that causes me any harm. What hurts me is violence and exploitation, and those problems are not inherent in commercial sex transactions. When they do occur, however, they should be dealt with in an appropriate manner.
We already have laws against rape and assault in this country. I don’t need a law against the purchase of sex to help me. What I need is to feel like the same laws that protect everyone else also protect me. If I am assaulted at work, I want to be able to go to the police and report the crime. Treating the purchase of sex as the problem undermines my experiences as a victim of sexual assault.