Home Activism What Antis Can Do To Help, Part Two: Aiding Those Leaving The...

What Antis Can Do To Help, Part Two: Aiding Those Leaving The Industry

Stiletto by Massimo Dogana
Stiletto by Massimo Dogana

In case you missed it, read Part One here.

I am a sex worker who not only hates the sex industry, but, more often than not, sex work itself. At the very least, I am not the Charlotte York of Sex Work and the City; I didn’t set out on my current career path screaming, “I choose my choice!” Rather, I got here mostly through a series of shitty happenstances primarily relating to my mental illness.

I’ve been crazy for the entirety of my life, but I managed my poor mental health well enough for most of it. In what should have been my last year of college, my overall health rapidly declined, aided by a series of sexual assaults. I might have been able to continue school part-time, but the conditions of my scholarship meant that I would lose the remaining $20,000 if I couldn’t manage twelve credits at once. So I chose to take some time off from college and work instead.

I searched for a job for five months. I sent out dozens of applications and got rejected repeatedly, including from being a hostess at restaurants. Given that my peers with BA’s were now desperately applying to the same low-wage jobs, the fact that I was unemployable without a degree shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I might have joined those peers in returning home for a while in debt and defeat, except that I don’t really have that option. I grew up with an abusive father, and I spent most of my teen years dealing with child protective services and the family court system. And so, with two weeks left until I’d have to either move back in with my father or become homeless, I chose to answer an ad on Craigslist about becoming a dominatrix.

That was eighteen months ago, or approximately five years in sex work time. Since then, my health has gotten even worse. I wouldn’t be able to work a full-time job now even if I could find one, so I continue on as a pro domme—a pro switch, actually. I’m pleased to say that the work has proved more enjoyable than I originally anticipated. It’s intellectually challenging, creative, and occasionally fun. Unfortunately, any enjoyment I get out of it is overshadowed by the risks it entails. I’ve already dealt with almost every kind of nastiness at my job, from verbal abuse to grand larceny to petty wage theft to yet more sexual assault to the constant threat of arrest (some things pro switches do are more legal than others). My welfare has improved since transitioning to independent work, but I still spend far too much time worrying about my physical, emotional, and financial security in this job. I want out of this business, sooner rather than later. But I fell stuck for a lack of other options.

Mine is exactly the kind of situation that anti-sex work feminists claim to want to remedy. Their plan for helping me, though, involves not much more than “ending demand” for my services. Even if that were an achievable goal, it would leave me back where I was eighteen months ago: unable to pay rent. Any solution to my dilemma and to the dilemmas of so many sex workers who feel trapped in our work to varying degrees will be far more complex than eliminating our clients. It will need to be systemic and holistic. It will need to attack multiple issues at once, and it will need to be spearheaded by sex workers.

I’ll repeat the disclaimer from part one of this series: I’m not a policy expert, and I didn’t consult many other sex workers in writing this. This essay is meant to spark discussion among sex workers who want to leave the industry, with Antis (and other sex workers!) listening to what we need. Nothing here is a proclamation. Even the two major categories I’ve come up with—immediate, practical solutions and long-term goals—are mutable and up for debate, and they are definitely U.S.- centric. But the conversation has to start somewhere.

What can be done NOW to help sex workers in leaving the industry:

  1. Establishment of career transition services: Sex workers face a number of largely unique issues when trying to move (back) into different sectors of the job market, not least of all the potentially large gap in our resumes. Career counseling that could help us retool sex work skills like marketing and client relations for vanilla CVs would be tremendously helpful. Sex workers are also likely to lack job connections in the straight world and could use help locating the kind of employment that would provide the flexibility so many of us have come to rely on.
  2. Creation of scholarship funds and priority job placement: Educational and vocational scholarship funds and job placement priority in certain sectors (like the nonprofit sector that claims to want to help us) may also be crucial in aiding our transition to other work. Like all services tailored to sex workers, these should be provided by nonjudgmental organizations that are not bent on proselytizing or victimizing those of us who seek their help. Of course, obtaining such scholarships or jobs would require us to out ourselves to some degree, and the merits of that are debatable. Decriminalization and destigmatization of our work might have to make more headway before such a thing is widely possible.
  3. Assistance in obtaining welfare and disability: Although a good number of sex workers are already on government assistance (and working in the industry precisely because they aren’t legally allowed to supplement that income), plenty of others could use help in obtaining it. Working outside the traditional employment system means we’re less likely to know how to obtain things like unemployment or disability benefits.
  4. Substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, STI and HIV testing and treatment: There is little sex worker-friendly healthcare to be had, especially when it comes to counseling for mental illness and addiction. STI and HIV testing and treatment is also an especially dire need, given the occupational risk for many workers and the dearth of non-stigmatizing low-cost care that’s available. Better healthcare access is crucial to both sex workers remaining in the industry and those attempting to get to a place health-wise where they feel able to exit and move on. Once again, having resources that neither proselytize to nor victimize sex workers is crucial in our ability to access them. 
Via Sharisa.org
Via Sharisa.org

What needs to be done eventually to make sure no one has to work in the sex industry (or any other industry!) if she doesn’t want to:

  1. Establishment of accessible, universal healthcare: I have met so many other sex workers with disabilities, women with chronic illnesses who can hardly afford to pay for treatment let alone cover their other living expenses. The Obama reforms haven’t done enough to lower the astronomical costs of healthcare for those with chronic conditions, and the cost of care continues to bankrupt even the people who are able to continue working full time while ill. We need more than clinical care that doesn’t stigmatize sex workers; we need an overhaul of the entire system.
  2. Decriminalization of drugs: The criminalization of drugs is intimately linked to the criminalization of sex work, as well as the continued failure of the healthcare system and the growing success of privatized prisons. Drug addiction needs to be treated as a health issue instead of a crime if we ever want to make headway against an epidemic of addiction.
  3. Welfare reform: It’s impossible to separate welfare reform from healthcare reform and the decriminalization of drugs. A comprehensive social safety net is necessary for those who have no private safety nets to fall back on, especially those of us who are struggling with health issues such as addiction.
  4. Workplace reform (including childcare reform and living wage laws): Most jobs that allow us to ourselves support are accessible only to those who can obtain a degree (see point 6) and work from nine to five, five days a week. Sex work is one of the few alternative options for those who need to get by working part-time or during flexible hours. In order to open up other options, we’ll need to restructure the default workday and the accreditation it requires. Normalizing telecommuting and improving access to and quality of vocational programs are two logical first steps.
  5. Immigration reform and anti-colonialist advocacy: When access to legal work in America is restricted to mostly upper-middle class immigrants, working in industries that already rely on illegal labor becomes one of few viable options for poorer migrants. Most of them are people of color from the global south, driven to look for work in America because of our neocolonialist foreign policies that destroy the economies of their countries of origin.
  6. Education reform: Higher education is also necessary to so many kinds of work, even though it remains largely unavailable to poor people and people with disabilities. It needs to be universally accessible and amended with vocational training.

This list, broad as it is, is woefully incomplete. It should be supplemented with the suggestions in Part I of this piece, as well as general activism against the varied forms of racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, cissexism and classism that perpetuate the inequality driving terrible social policies. My answer to, “what do you need to leave the sex industry?” isn’t “an end to demand” or even “a clean bill of health.” What I need is dialogue that leads to revolution.

Lori Adorable is a pro switch, occasional model/performer, and sometimes writer. She’s pulling her shit together in the lovely city of New York and hopes to return to school one day soon to finish up her (probably worthless) liberal arts degree. You can find her rage-tweeting most nights @LoriAdorable.


  1. oh man, THANKS for being brave enough to write this. I have been an escort since 2004–so uh, about 30 years in hooker time–and I’ve been trying to retire for about 75% of that time. What I want people to understand is that just because I hate my job and want out, doesn’t mean I feel like a victim while I’m doing it. I sort of feel like someone who’s been working at Wal-Mart for a long ass time and hates it, but it pays her bills and feeds her family, and many of her coworkers and customers are pretty all right, so she puts on her ugly blue vest every day and grits her teeth and does it.

    I have a graduate degree–not a super useful one, but still, it’s not like I’d be out on a street corner homeless if I quit escorting. But I have mental health issues, too, and an eating disorder, and deeply ingrained beliefs about myself (that sucking cock is all I’m good at, etc…) that make it really difficult to live the kind of stable, “normal” life that so many people take for granted. There are days I can’t go to work because my anxiety is out of control–as an escort, I can just reschedule with a client, but in any other career, my ass gets fired.

    So yes–we need a lot of things. End demand obviously isn’t cutting it.

  2. In general, I love this piece. It proves that even those who hate the sex industry–though it sounds like what you hate mosts are the side effects of criminalization and stigma, not the industry itself–even those who hate the sex industry don’t want anything the antis are selling, and they ally themselves with the sex workers rights movement. And I love how broadly you look at the problem–it’s about time. But:
    UGHH, UGHH, I HATE the medicalizaion of drug use as a “solution” to the drug war, though. Just leads as back to the civil rights abrogation that hounds those diagnosed with mental illnesses (which are created by a committee of the APA based on sexist, racist, atnd classist stereotypes and then stuck in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual.) Many people in the mad movement who’ve experienced both have said they prefer incarceration to involuntary commitment, b/c at least in the former you know when you’re getting out, and don’t need to jump through normative behavioral hoops to do so, and they only imprison your body, not your mind (in a campaign of forced psychiatric drugging which comes with horrible iatrogenic medical conditions and cognitive damage.) As someone who’s physically habituated to a drug, I don’t see forced treatment as a positive alternative to criminalization. But I guess I’ll save all this for comments.

  3. This list is amazing, and thank you for writing it.

    Whatever my reasons for starting stripping, I’m on my way out at this point. I’ve been fortunate to have a few things to fill my resume with, and a few friends to help me write that resume… and I still feel pretty lost when it comes to stuff that, at 31, I should already know about, like interviewing and how to talk in person about my job experience.

  4. @lola
    I’m sorry to hear you’re in a similar situation, but I’m glad you found something here that spoke to you!

    @Caty Simon
    I did think a lot about whether it’s the actual work I don’t like, and I decided it doesn’t much matter. The problems I mentioned might be attributable to criminalization + stigmatization, but they’re part + parcel of the work for the foreseeable future. I also have some issues around sexual trauma that I didn’t bring up here that sex work can exacerbate, so it seems it wouldn’t be the healthiest choice for me even if it were possible for me to work without threat of assault or theft.

    Speaking about separating the results of stigma from the issue at hand, I think it’s actually much easier to do that when talking about treatment for drug addicts + the mentally ill. Healthcare is still so inaccessible for us partly because people don’t take these problems seriously as medical issues. I understand the concern about over medicalization– and I don’t think involuntary treatment, which is something I’ve experienced myself, is a part of that– but I can’t spare much concern for it when most people still don’t think that Depression is a ‘real’ illness or that drug users could just stop if they thought harder about wanting to. Dealing with my insurance company has shown me that mental illness is still so *under* medicalized in many ways. Ideally, we’d allow people to define for themselves whether or not Depression or addiction or schizophrenia or habituation, as you put it, are medical issues for them, or even issues at all, and provide them with the help they want and only the help they want.

    • LoriAdorable…..like I said, I mostly like this piece very much, but I really think you are misguided here re: mental health treatment. For one thing availability does not have to be oppositional to consent. But I think you think that such treatments are less available to to lower classes…which is true to a point (that point being like maybe 1.5 times the poverty line to below the poverty line depending on individual circumstances), and varies from place to place, but at the same time many extremely marginalized members of society experience quite a lot of involuntary treatment, with the *quality* of the “treatment” being sometimes truly appalling. If a person is on medicaid, really. Particularly if they are on SSI, and moreso in some areas of the country than others.

      • ” For one thing availability does not have to be oppositional to consent.”
        Wait, where did I say that? And, uh, did you miss the part where I said I’ve been involuntarily committed? That is not the same as being able to access mental health care.

        • I did not miss that part. I have myself been involuntarily committed a number of times and am trying to explain how these things can become abusive. I am speaking from experience.

          • “I don’t think involuntary treatment, which is something I’ve experienced myself, is a part of that– but I can’t spare much concern for it when most people still don’t think that Depression is a ‘real’ illness or that drug users could just stop if they thought harder about wanting to. Dealing with my insurance company has shown me that mental illness is still so *under* medicalized in many ways.”

          • I definitely agree. The whole industry needs to be reformed. I didn’t want to get sidetracked talking about that, but I probably should have spared a sentence for it in the original essay. Part of that necessary reform is the accessibility I was referring to and part is the disgustingly prevalent abuse + neglect visited on patients who do manage to access care (I wrote about my personal experience with this here http://loriadorable.com/2011/04/10/when-there-is-no-nurse-ratche/, if you’re interested). When I hear the term ‘overmedicalization’, I tend to think of the concern that we’re prescribing too many medications and diagnosing too many mental disorders as opposed to embracing neurodiversity. That’s certainly an issue to an extent, but I think the concern is overblown + driven in part by a fear + hatred of the mentally ill. I also think it’s far less of a problem that little Timmy is being given Ritalin than it is that Tim, who has no insurance, ends up self-medicating because he can’t access mental health services (as shitty as those services may be).

          • Maybe you mean availability of funds/insurance/etc. for treatment? There’s sort of a sense in which that is medicalization but there’s a connotation there that also doesn’t really apply. Like, medical usually implies more easily-resolved matters of fact, re diagnosis etc.

    • “Ideally, we’d allow people to define for themselves whether or not Depression or addiction or schizophrenia or habituation, as you put it, are medical issues for them, or even issues at all, and provide them with the help they want and only the help they want.”

      Yeah, ok, exactly.

  5. Caty, what about the medicalization of addiction, with no involuntary treatment, different options for recovery models, and recreational drug use as an additional accepted use? LoriAdorable, I think this is pretty good (and did also enjoy your humor piece though bits were difficult to read).

    • Yes, that sounds ideal. What I want for everyone is something like we have in the mad movement, where we’re agnostic about the question about what mental illness is, but trust that people can help themselves best when allowed to make well informed choices for themselves. I’d love to see the same model applied to problematic drug use (i.e. drug use that the individuals in question see as problematic.) I’d love to see supervised use of pure diacetlymorphine for opiate substitution, which is much healthier than methadone and other long-acting synthetic opiates, and which has been applied with great success in parts of Britain and the Netherlands; safe injection sites, and widespread access to acupuncture treatment to help with opiate withdrawal. I want to see Laingian and Szaszian models applied to diagnoses of mental illness, holistic alternatives to psych drugs, as well as the abolition of all forced treatment, esp. the traumatic use of restraints. And yes, the acceptance of drug use in moderation is long overdue given the specter drugs have become in the hysteria of the drug war. Ok, off the soapbox.

  6. Thanks for this. I’m also a SW who hates the industry and the work but would need access to several of the things you mention (and more) in order to leave for good. I don’t consider my involvement in the industry to be freely chosen, but I was not coerced by pimps/traffikers, like feminists might assume, I started doing SW out of financial duress. Sadly this type of coercion is not taken seriously even though it is very real. Maybe because the “villain” isn’t some evil man, but a complex economic structure that leaves certain groups without safety nets or resources. More abstract, but still just as menacing, in my experience at least.

    I really think we need to be having more of these conversations.

  7. This is amazing.

    Like those formerly incarcerated, part of the reason recidivism rates remain so high is because there are so few re-integration programs for convicts.

    Meaning: It’s probably really hard to get a job when you have a huge blank spot in your resume.

    Good luck, lady.

  8. Wow! Thank you for writing this, for touching on a lot of real issues that have affected my life and so many others I’ve known. You’ve got a lot of social theory and practical policy suggestions here.

    Thank you for articulating the complexities of many people’s lives here – that you don’t want to be exploited, but you also still need to feed yourself. And that there are a lot of gray areas between ‘yay, this is my lifestyle!’ and ‘please save me, I’m a victim.’

    I’ve been feeling a lot of this all along and am excited to see someone finally express all this in one place!

    I thought along similar lines when setting up our literary publicity business, Authors, Large and Small, as we hire people to work from home on their own schedules, and we pay more attention to people’s work samples rather than references or experience. And I hope that we can shift the business/nonprofit culture in some small way as we grow.

    I would love to expand our outreach and become a resource for SW’s such as yourself who would like to quit but need some other source of income while looking for another job. Somewhat of a pro-choice exit service.

    No pressure, you’ve got more than enough to deal with, but I will listen to and welcome suggestions you have on how to make our business model even more socially just and accessible, if you would like to offer any. (authorslargeandsmall.wordpress.com)

    Hang in there, and thank you for having the courage to share this with everyone.

    • I really appreciated it when a job application I filled out made it clear that a criminal record would not be held against any applicant if it was for drug use, sex work or homosexuality etc. It made the organisation feel so much more welcoming.

  9. I enjoy (usually) sex work but I also wish that the resources you list were easily available for sex workers. Whether “happy” or not, or wishing to leave the industry or not, sex workers of all kinds would love to be able to easily access everything you list. Even “happy” ones need access to healthcare, childcare, educational opportunities and non-stigmatized mental health resources.

    • Yes, these reforms would definitely help more people than just sex workers leaving the industry, or sex workers in general. Everyone deserves healthcare, higher education, etc!

  10. I was thinking a lot about this groundbreaking, necessary article in the last two days and I m still doing. Thank you!
    Some of the first teaching lessons, two female brothel managers told me in the earliest beginnings of my sex worker life were never to mention any kind of illness, no flu to the clients. Its a kind of ‘damage good’ variation that would keep clients away from biz. But I couldnt hesitate to ‘confess’ in my blog around 2009 that I suffer mental health issues. I noticed also negative experiences I made and what other sex workers told me privately to articulate problems that exist in all day life, i.e. online harassment, stalking, violence, blackmail & more and usually they were afraid of speaking openly, not to mention publishing. Of course I can understand these decisions for many reasons. But what I do not understand is, why some sex workers try to silence others who are willing to make a report about experiences they/others made. It is not helpful to avoid a look at the whole picture. This conversation is a very important on and we definetely need a holistic approach to support those feeling trapped in the industry. I also ‘confessed’ publicly during different occasions that my decision to start sex work was foremost the money issue but I was blamed then to be ‘professional’. Yes I m professional because I ve learned to set boundaries and other worthful things to improve my life and health. And it was very necessary not to take clients on ‘bad days’ and to stop encountering clients, also regulars, I felt unwell with. At the end I ve very few clients and I cannot make a living from sex work anymore. The more I expressed concerns around the variety of personal experiences and economic aspects I experienced less solidarities. This is one reason why I m on my way to get out of the biz. But I guess I m staying an activist for the rest of my lifetime.

  11. So say we all! I’m lucky enough to like my work most of the time, but that just makes a necessity less unpleasant.

  12. when i first left the industry — granted, many, many years ago — i was still young, not even 21. i didn’t think of that period or process as “transition” and i rather doubt anyone really did back then.

    at one point i tried to find counseling, but the prohibitive costs (i was on financial aid student back in the day when that system will worked; though i miraculously some funds from my work years) and my own fear of being stigmatized and rejected by any counselor just it down. i had what i now think of as PTSD, but i eventually figured out that the source wasn’t the work i had been doing at all. the flashbacks and the nightmares were about the abusive husband/pimp/manager i was hooked up with, so fuck off Melissa Farley.

    though it probably sounds rather old-fashioned to say it, feminist activism and huge lesbian-feminist community helped, even though i rarely talked explicitly about my (“hetero”) san francisco days. so did the lover (and hand letterpress printer) who made me cards with the tag “freelance feminist,” affirming that i never had to toe anyone’s line but my own. writing and publishing fiction based on working in SF. being a volunteer rape crisis counselor.

    enough with the confessions. my point is that yes, figuring out the process and means for gradual or immediate transition for people working now is really important. and even though my experiences don’t translate directly (i mean, it’s not like i’m saying playing left field for the emma goldman clinic’s women’s softball team will help, though you never know…) i do think overcoming the isolation, finding new ways to connect with people that let you be “yourself” — how to become the strong person you really are — is key.

  13. […] Disablism is rife in the attacks on sex workers, Mia Freedman got quite rightly attacked for it in her latest pile of shite she calls writing for saying she supposed women who were able bodied, had no history of abuse, and no mental health problems could be sex workers, if they really, really wanted to. Just as trans* people are accused of having a mental illness to deny them the right to be who they want to be, so sex workers are forced to hide any problems they may have, as it is used as evidence than sex work is damaging. […]


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