How To Be An Ally to Sex Workers

How To Be an Ally To Sex Workers

1) Don’t Assume. Don’t assume you know why a person is in the sex industry. We’re not all trafficked or victims of abuse. Some people make a choice to enter this industry because they enjoy it, others may be struggling for money and have less of a choice.

2) Be Discreet and Respect Personal Boundaries. If you know a sex worker, it’s OK to engage in conversation in dialogue with them in private, but respect their privacy surrounding their work in public settings.  Don’t ask personal questions such as “does your family know what you do?” If a sex worker is not “out” to their friends, family, or co-workers, it’s not your place to tell everyone what they do.

3) Don’t Judge. Know your own prejudices and realize that not everyone shares the same opinions as you. Whether you think sex work is a dangerous and exploitative profession or not is irrelevant compared to the actual experiences of the person who works in the industry. It’s not your place to pass judgment on how another person earns the money they need to survive.

4) Watch Your Language. Cracking jokes or using derogatory terms such as “hooker”, “whore”, “slut”, or “ho” is not acceptable. While some sex workers have “taken back” these words and use them among themselves, they are usually used to demean sex workers when spoken by outsiders.

5) Address Your Prejudices. If you have a deep bias or underlying fear that all sex workers are bad people and/or full of diseases, then perhaps these are issues within yourself that you need to address.  In fact, the majority of sex workers practice safer sex than their peers and get tested regularly.

6) Don’t Play Rescuer. Not all sex workers are trying to get out of the industry or in need of help. Ask them what they need, but not everyone is looking for “Captain Save-A-Ho” or the “Pretty Woman” ending.

7) If you are a client or patron of sex workers, be respectful of boundaries. You’re buying a service, not a person. Don’t ask for real names, call at all hours of the day/night, or think that your favorite sex worker is going to enter into a relationship with you off the clock.

8 ) Do Your Own Research. Most mainstream media is biased against sex workers and the statistics you read in the news about the sex industry are usually inaccurate. Be critical of what you read or hear and educate yourself on who exactly is transmitting diseases or being trafficked.

9) Respect that Sex Work is Real Work. There’s a set of professional skills involved and it’s not necessarily an industry that everyone can enter into. Don’t tell someone to get a “real job” when they already have one that suits them just fine.

10) Just because someone is a sex worker doesn’t mean they will have sex with you. No matter what area of the sex industry that someone works in, don’t assume that they are promiscuous and willing to have sex with anyone at any time.

11) Be Supportive and Share Resources. If you know of someone who is new to the industry or in an abusive situation with an employer, by all means offer advice and support without being condescending. Some people do enter into the sex industry without educating themselves about what they are getting into and may need help. Despite the situation, calling the police is usually never a good option. Try to find other organizations that are sensitive to the needs of sex workers by contacting the organizations listed below.

12) As you learn the above things, stand up for sex workers when conversations happen.  Share your personal stories if you so choose.  Don’t let the stigma, bigotry and shame around sex work continue.  Remember it’s important that sex workers be allowed to speak for themselves and for allies to not speak for sex workers but to speak with sex workers.

Realize that sex work transcends ‘visible’ notions of race, gender, class, sexuality, education, and identities; sex workers are your sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, lovers, and friends. Respect them!

Get Active! Contact your local SWOP Chapter to find out what you can do or form your own in the city you live in.

This list composed by the members and allies of Sex Workers Outreach Project-Chicago. Visit us on the web at

For Those in Institutional Leadership Positions, see How To Be An Ally to Sex Workers: Institutions & Community Leaders
Other Resources-

Also see -

Ms. Magazine - How to Respect Sex Workers

28 comments on “How To Be An Ally to Sex Workers

  1. SWOP is the Sex Workers Outreach Project | Escort Website Design Services Blog says:

    […] has some excellent guidelines for how to be an ally with working girls - SWOP is Sex Workers Outreach Project, a group formed to advocate to end violence against […]

  2. swop is the sex workers outreach project « host spy says:

    […] has some excellent guidelines for how to be an ally with working girls - SWOP is Sex Workers Outreach Project, a group formed to advocate to end violence against […]

  3. diychi says:

    this site has a lot of really great references! many of these guidelines on how to be an ally could be useful for building alliances across other areas of difference.

    we are working on an online calendar in the chicago area for events, workshops and house shows. drop us a line if ya’ll have anything coming up!

    in solidarity, diychi

  4. How To Respect Sex Workers : Ms Magazine Blog says:

    […] How to Be an Ally to Sex Workers Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers International Union of Sex Workers SANGRAM ISWFACE Bound, Not Gagged […]

  5. where is your line? » Blog Archive » What can Craigslist do to end human trafficking? says:

    […] by and large, I am free to dictate the terms of my sexual encounters.  It’s easier for me to support consensual sex work since those things are […]

  6. The Downfall of Alexa Di Carlo | Charlie Glickman says:

    […] fits here- if you’re not a sexworker, don’t spout off about what it’s like. Listen to sexworkers and be an ally without speaking for other people. They can speak for […]

  7. Love Bites: Clarisse Thorn | Time Out Chicago » » Fake sex blogger and sex worker outed as “faux ho” says:

    […] us without us” fits here- if you’re not a sexworker, don’t spout off about what it’s like. Listen to sexworkers and be an ally without speaking for other people. They can speak for […]

  8. A Sex-Positive Perspective on Sexwork | Charlie Glickman says:

    […] If you aren’t and have never been a sexworker, I suggest taking some time to set aside your assumpti0ns and beliefs about how the business works, who does it, who clients are, how sexworkers and clients interact, and what needs to happen. Try listening to the people who are doing it. Try listening to their advocates. Learn about the many different ways that people engage in sexwork- there’s a lot more to it than you realize. Once you develop a wider understanding, you’ll be a much better ally. This is a good place to start. […]

  9. Vilma Vega says:

    This is exactly what I try to tell “fans” and people in general when approached. This is a JOB! Respect it!


    […] in: How to provide outreach to outdoor (street-based) sex workers, the short version andHow to be an ally to sex workers (the general version). This entry was posted in Uncategorized by tara. Bookmark the […]

  11. Being the “Sex Worker” Specimen « Musings of Ms Sandy Bottoms says:

    […] like Feelmore 510′s ‘Ask a Ho‘ Night, SWOP - Chicago’s “How to be an Ally to Sex Workers,” my own Ask Me Anything forum on tumblr, and prepared chats over coffee in the future, will […]

  12. wow this is really powerful stuff… it’s really heartbreaking to know some of the many stories behind these individuals’ lives… pray for their safety and our love and acceptance of who they are and what they have chosen to do with their lives 🙂

  13. “Hey Baby, How Much?”: Stop Blaming Sex Workers For Street Sexual Harassment « Born Whore says:

    […] regard to those streets, here is a link to an article about being an ally. Mostly just smiling and saying hello is enough. You’ll notice a strong theme of “don’t […]

  14. […] regard to those streets, here is a link to an article about being an ally. Mostly just smiling and saying hello is enough. You’ll notice a strong theme of “don’t […]

  15. jemima101 says:

    What a beautiful post, reading it I was wondering if you have seen this by one of the most awesome women I know. I have used this so many times when people have tried to tell me all rape, all trafficking, all sexism is my fault, then put the cherry on the cake by saying I am not representative.

  16. @iamkingcarla (est. 1983) says:

    […] (via (via inherhipstheresrevolutions) […]

  17. […] no joke to sex workers, but insults us and we will no longer take abuse silently. Further reading […]

  18. We Need A National Dialogue About Young People Buying Sex | Thought Catalog says:

    […] Project also does a lot of outreach work to introduce harm reduction and fight violence, and offer resources and tools to teach young people the importance of treating a sex worker or trafficked person with compassion. […]

  19. Meeting 10/6/13 - What happened (and more!) - SWOP-NOLA says:

    […] table w/ educational/informative materials (What’s a Sex Worker, How to be an Ally, How to Date a Sex Worker, etc.) Actually, you can just refer to the list I posted on the list of […]

  20. […] in to this pattern too. (Equally, there are lots of great pro-sex work articles out there, click here for this one on how you can be an […]

  21. […] Else -How to be an ally to sex workers. -If you’re in Toronto and looking for a wedding/event photographer, please consider Sophia […]

  22. How To Support Sex Workers - Marijke Vonk says:

    […] How to be an ally to sex workers […]

  23. Anonymous says:

    […] […]

  24. Artemisia de Vine: Como você pode ajudar a combater o estigma contra trabalhadoras sexuais « says:

    […] Aqui está um ótimo artigo sobre como ser um aliado das trabalhadoras sexuais: how to be an ally to sex workers. […]

  25. Red Light Chicago: Como ser uma aliado das trabalhadoras sexuais « says:

    […] Publicado originalmente em Red Light Chicago » How to be an ally to sex workers. […]

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