I had a discussion with friends who are also sex worker activists and I said that I didn’t like the expression “exiting” when we talk about services for sex workers who want to stop sex work. I would rather instead use the expression “career counselling”.
One of my friends who I consider the best sex worker activist in the UK said that she used the word because in her case it was very difficult to stop sex work. I understand that there are many cases when sex workers work to feed a habit or reimburse a debt or simply hate their job but have to work for whatever the reason is.
I understand that it is difficult to get a new job when you have a criminal record, when you have a big blank in your CV, and when you have suddenly to accept working conditions which are stricter than the flexibility and freedom you can find as a sex worker with a relatively better income.
But here is the problem. If sex work wasn’t criminalised and stigmatised it would be much easier to stop working and find another job. The problem is not sex work itself and the word “exiting” in my views makes sex work something so different and specific which trap people and make them feel prisoner and in need to escape. Probably there are sex workers who feel that way but like many workers feel prisoner in a job they hate.
I don’t want to hide the hardness that working in the sex industry can represent for many sex workers, but using a specific word put us in a particular and separate situation from other workers who actually may face the same issues. I think that the word “quitting” is good enough to express the need workers feel to escape a job they don’t like or hate. I don’t want a word that singularises me from other workers.
I question the role service provider play in using such a language which I find stigmatising. Sex workers are the only workers that the system wants to rescue, and there is a lot of money spent for the rescue industry with in fact very limited results since many of sex workers who passed through rehabilitation programmes go back working to the sex industries.
The English Collective of Prostitutes always says that they don’t like working as sex workers but as long as women are economically disadvantaged and don’t receive sufficient welfare benefits from the State they will have to turn to sex work to support their family.
I also think that we can’t be forced out of sex work by criminalisation or rehabilitation. Our decision to do sex work rather than another job must be respected and people who really pretend to help us should listen to us so we can find real better solutions than the one we have found. Sex work is for most of us an economic solution and not the source of the problem.