How Not To Be An Asshole When Your Sex Worker Partner Is Assaulted At Work

Alright folks, there’s no sugarcoating what this post is for: People get sexually assaulted. Some of those people are sex workers. While you of course want to be there for your loved one right after an assault, it’s all too easy to let the internalized stigma against sex workers cloud the conversation and the language we use to discuss it. Based on experiences with my exes, my coworkers and other people’s partners, here is a quick list of how to be supportive when clients go bad:

1) Do not blame the job

People are assaulted all the time. Sex work also intersects with every other marginalized identity, which means the chances for assault goes up. Have I been assaulted by clients? Yes. I have also been assaulted by lovers, partners and friends. But an assault does not means you should give up on relationships, marriage or movie nights.

It is not sex work’s fault that sex workers are assaulted. It is the fault of people who choose to assault sex workers and a society that considers sex workers less than human.

2) Do Not Go Vigilante

It is understandable to be angry that someone hurt someone you love. But railing about how you need to know who did this so you can beat them up is making this about you. Someone you care about was just assaulted. The last thing they need is to start talking you down from your feelings.

3) Have Your Own Support System

You are allowed to have feelings here. You are not allowed to make the person who was just assaulted perform emotional labor for you. Talking about how their assault has affected you can heap guilt onto your partner at a time when they already feel awful because it is, again, making it about you.

But just because you aren’t throwing all of that on you partner does not mean you should suppress those emotions. You may feel helpless. You may feel like a bad partner. You may, regardless of your gender identity, be dealing with some shades of toxic masculinity that you’re ashamed to face. This all happens. Find someone who can be there for you (personally or professionally). Have someone who you can talk to, who will be sympathetic to what you’re feeling.

4) Be There

Sometimes all someone wants is their partner to be there for them. It may feel ineffectual to hold someone while they continue to cry, but if they asked you to come over and that’s all they’ve asked for, then keep doing that.

Yes, you will eventually have to leave. Yes, you may have to cancel some plans. It’s okay. As long as you are doing the one thing that was requested of you, that’s fine. Chances are you don’t have the resources to actually take care of anything else. Which brings me to the final point…

5) Let The Sex Workers Handle This

We have multiple whisper networks; Bad date websites, blacklists, email chains, hell even just texting photos and information to our closest peers. These are resources that a civilian will not have.

But you may have noticed that nowhere in this did I say to call the cops. This is because in most places, a sex worker cannot report an assault without fear of being arrested (also sex workers are statistically far more likely to be assaulted by law enforcement than clients). In most places, law enforcement won’t even believe us (this is how serial killers like Gary Ridgway could operate for years). Because of this, sex workers have developed ways to seek our own justice and safety.

So What CAN you do?

If you really want to help, then start before assaults happen. Speak up when someone tells a dead hooker joke. Call out your friends when they slap a woman’s ass at the bar. Destroy the idea that seeing a sex worker is more of a taboo than killing one. If women say they’re uncomfortable around your friend, don’t just insist he’s “really a good guy.” These clients are your brothers, friends, fathers, roommates…and if they get to a point where they assault someone then there were a million ways you could have stepped up before then. You cannot be upset at strangers who hurt people you love but ignore when people you love hurt strangers.

But most of all, talk about it. Not as a badge of honor for being the best ally, but because it is a reality we have to live with. It is a direct consequence of stigma and in attempting to combat that stigma we often paint pretty pictures that downplay the ugly parts. If you’re going to date us then you need to join us in confronting that stigma and you must remember to love us even when things get rough.

Header Image: Asa Rosti