Those of us who are not sex workers often assume that men and women who sell sex for a living have some kind of inbuilt radar that tells them when a client is going to be trouble. But the sad truth is that even the most experienced of sex workers cannot always tell when a client may turn violent and the same applies for them knowing if a client has an STI or is HIV-positive.
Sure, a cursory glance at the genitalia of a man with visible symptoms of an STI will warn most people off, but most STIs don’t have visible symptoms at all times. So, when the client offers an extra £10, £25 or £100 for sexual contact without a condom then there is always the temptation to say ‘yes’.
If the sex worker is working from the street then the extra money can mean more time until they have to go back and find another client. It could equally mean that they can afford to buy food, buy drugs or get their day’s work done in time to meet their child from school. Maybe it means that a fine gets paid off or that they can make the rent before they are evicted.
These choices are not as simple as many that we will make during our own working, because in this case they have a huge impact on the sex worker’s life. Getting that extra money to pay the gas bill can mean exposing themselves to STIs and HIV. Taking on a client when you have run out of condoms or even don’t have enough money to buy some can literally be a life and death decision in some cases, for both parties.
Untreated HIV can lead to death and both clients and sex workers put themselves at risk by having unprotected sex. This is how STIs and HIV are spread. It is as simple as that.
Since starting the raTrust, one of our main roles has been in working with sex workers and ensuring that they are aware of their sexual health and that they have condoms to keep them and their clients safe. By helping sex workers to access health services we believe that we are protecting society as a whole. If we can protect those who are most vulnerable to circumstances that may lead to infection then we protect those who use their services too.
Sex work may not be easy for all of us to talk about, but our approach to it and the solutions to its health-related issues are. We don’t judge, but we do help. And we always make sure that sex workers have enough condoms and lubes to keep themselves safe. We can save lives by this most simple of actions.
Please, if you can, help us to keep on doing just that.
Dominika Rejmer – Director and founder, The raTrust.