Essential Safety for sex workers – Places of Work

Out and about – working on the street

Be aware. Walk tall, act confident and be assertive. ‘Ugly mugs/dodgy punters’ often go for people who look vulnerable. Keep your head up and shoulders back, and take purposeful steps. Pay attention to what’s happening around you. Adopt a confident look even if you feel nervous. Keep at least one arm free, and always be ready, mentally and physically, to protect yourself. Remember no one has the right to be abusive towards you or to hurt you.

Know your beat

Study a map of the area. Get to know the area well, especially the safest escape routes, police stations, pubs, shops and garages. Know the bus routes and where to get a taxi. Also get to know where the 'sensitive' locations are such as nurseries, schools and places of worship and, if you can, avoid these.  Your local sex work project will have information on these locations. Avoid pubs and clubs at closing time because although it may seem a good idea to look for business there-as you may be subjected to drunken abuse and possible violence-let your clients come to you. If possible, have a clear idea of where you’re going. If you can, tell someone the route you’re planning, and arrange to meet up with or phone them at agreed times while you are out working. Get them to call you if you haven’t made contact at the agreed time, ideally, agree what they should do if you don’t return and who they should contact. It might be helpful for them to have the number of the local support project. Having a plan like this is such a great way of keeping yourself safe.

Be aware of your surroundings and familiarize yourself with new areas before you work in them. Never work in areas you don’t know. Avoid working in areas with no easy escape routes, don’t go down alleyways that are dead ends. Try to work near a busy road and stay on the same side as oncoming traffic. If a car pulls up and you think that something is not quite right, walk quickly in the opposite direction to the traffic. Avoid working in secluded areas. But if you have to, make sure you are as familiar with your surroundings as possible. What about having a look around your beat in the daytime to suss out the lay of the land and work out all these things when you do not need to work? At night, try to work in fairly busy, well-lit areas. Also be aware of local policing activities. Try to be respectful of residents and others living and working in the area. Ask your local project for guidance.

A word to the wise

Work together whenever possible whenever you can, work in twos or threes. The others can take the registration numbers of your clients’ vehicles, and you can take the numbers of theirs. Sticking together makes it safer! Take care and look out for each other, especially newcomers. Let each other know where you usually take your clients. Agree a sign to give each other if you are not happy with a client or situation, so they can help you. When going away from a client, wave to the others (or pretend to if you are on your own) and shout out your expected return time.

Check out the client and the vehicle Approach a vehicle or walker with caution. Keep enough distance to avoid being grabbed, dragged into the vehicle or assaulted – at least an arm’s length. If you are able, make the client aware that you are taking the vehicle’s registration number. Look for potential weapons lying around the vehicle. Even everyday objects can be used against you. If there are blankets etc, check under them. Ideally, walk around the care-make a full circle of it. Don’t get into a vehicle on your own if there’s more than one person in it. Check how many people are in the vehicle. Check for people hiding in the back. If it’s a van, remember that there might be others in the back and check it if possible. Think very carefully before agreeing to get in.

Business in vehicles – before you get in

Does his appearance or the details of the vehicle ring a bell from ‘ugly mugs/dodgy punters’ or from information passed on to you by other workers? Be clear about the services you are prepared to provide and your prices. Follow your instinct. If you are uncertain or have a bad feeling about the client or the situation, do not get in under any circumstances. Make a note of the registration number and try to remember and memorise details of the vehicle. If you have time, write down the number and details or store in your mobile. Try to arrange the price, service and location outside the car. You suggest where to go to do business, so you can be sure it’s somewhere safe. If the client doesn't agree, ask him where he wants to go. If you don’t like the sound of it, don’t get in. If the place he suggests seems OK make sure you tell someone where you’re going and how long you’ll be. Where possible, wave and call to someone (or pretend to) and say when you expect to be back.

Once you’re in the vehicle

Get paid first, and put the money in a different place from where you keep your other cash. Keep your money well out of sight and put money a client gives you in a different place from other cash. Try not to keep it somewhere obvious like your bag or back pocket. Think of another place, e.g. your shoes. Split up your money and put it in different places, don’t keep it all together. Most modern cars have central locking so be aware of this.  Ask the driver to keep your window wound down; you could say you suffer from asthma or car sickness. Try to make sure the client doesn't park with the passenger door close to a wall or other obstacle that would make opening the car door difficult. If he does, give him a reason to move it, for example you saw a police car or other people can see you. Once the vehicle is parked, try to leave the door slightly open, particularly if it has central locking. In two-door cars insist on staying in the front seat; escaping from the back is very difficult. Keep on as much clothing as possible, in case you have to run. This advice also applies to walking punters.

Working in establishments

Avoid working alone in any establishment as violent clients and people posing as clients and other criminals target premises where it is known people are working alone.  NB: If you are unsure of the legality of how you work, contact your local sex work project which can advise you. Ask your local sex work project for ‘ugly mugs/ dodgy punters’ newsletters/alerts and keep these somewhere where all workers can find them. Agree to make contact with other premises, for example to share ‘ugly mugs/dodgy punters’ via text messaging to ensure this information is relayed ASAP to prevent possible further attacks. Also check out the alerts on this website here.

The management of many establishments is there for your safety and will generally support you if you decide to refuse services to clients you don’t feel comfortable with. Always check out the support and safety measures  managers/receptionists offer before starting work. When looking for work, if possible look for premises with operational CCTV and other security measures. If you are working in an establishment where the management pressurises you to do things you don’t want to, and you don’t think your safety is important to them, you may want to discuss these concerns with your local sex work project and consider moving to another. Have a plan ready in case a client attacks you. Know the escape routes to a safe place in the building. Always take an alarm into the room with you and your mobile (on silent). If the establishment does not have these fitted, ask them to consider doing so or supplying workers with personal alarms. If they do not agree, you can get one from your local sex work project.

If the doors in the rooms have locks, always know how to open them quickly. Never leave a key in the door as you could be locked in. If you are not entirely comfortable with the client, do not lock the door. If you are not entirely comfortable with a client in the room, ensure the other workers know, and agree a time for them to check on you. If there are mirrors or reflective surfaces, use them to keep an eye on what the client is up to. Be clear about the services you are prepared to provide and your prices. If you work in a parlour where you get paid cash directly, get paid before you provide any services.If you work in a parlour where the money is managed by the receptionist/ manager, check with the other people working in the venue what the rates are for additional services and what the agreement is on condom use. Always be careful about where you keep your cash. For example, try not to keep it in pockets when having a shower. Use lockers if provided or request a secure place. Talk to other sex workers or project staff about tips for keeping your money safe. If you start to feel scared, or if you are attacked, try to keep yourself and the situation calm and get out of the room to a safe place as quickly as you can. Don’t be too embarrassed to run out of the room with no clothes on if you need to.

Escorting and outcalls

Agency escorting and outcalls Agencies work in different ways. Do your research before you choose an agency, and find out how they work and what they will do for your safety. It is best to avoid paying large joining or registration fees. You can check if they are a registered business by contacting Companies House, the official register of UK companies, by phoning 087 0 33 33 636 or online at  www.companieshouse.gov.uk

Here are some things for you to consider: Find out what kind of screening procedures they have in place:

  • Do they screen out  clients who sound drunk or stoned?
  • Do they accept credit cards for payment? They have lots of traceable details!
  • Ensure they allow you to call on arrival and departure
  • Some provide transport and a driver who waits for you

Independent escort outcalls

Always try to speak to the client yourself so you can suss the client out, find out exactly what the client wants before you go out, and make sure you’re comfortable with it. Be clear about the cost of the service. Ask for a brief description so you can recognise them. If the client sounds drunk or stoned, consider not taking the job. You have the right to refuse a client. Get the client’s room number and name of the hotel, and arrange to phone the client back. If they are not happy for you to do that, don’t go, as they may have something to hide. Get the telephone number of the hotel from Directory Enquiries. Don’t accept any number he has given you. Only after you have confirmed the hotel phone number, phone the client back and arrange to meet them.

Always try to meet first-time clients in a public place, such as the hotel bar, particularly if you haven’t managed to speak with the client yourself. This may be difficult if the client wants complete discretion.

If it’s an outcall to the client’s home, get the address and the landline number, and then phone Directory Enquiries to check that this information is correct. If the client does not want to give you the information, then they may have something to hide. Don’t go on a home visit if you can’t confirm a landline contact number. Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Get them to call you if you haven’t checked in, and to notify the police if they can’t contact you after an agreed  length of time.

Outcalls to hotels or a clients home or work

Pay attention to the area around the outcall location; potential points of safety; and escape routes such as bus routes, busy streets, open shops, pubs, garages and phone boxes. Memorise the layout of the hotel and note escape routes from the bedroom or suite. If you are at a client’s home, memorise the way to the door. You could ask to use the bathroom. On your way, you can get a better idea of the layout. If visiting a client’s home or workplace, check to see if there are lights on in nearby properties or any signs that neighbours may be home. It’s important to have an idea of how isolated (or not) you are. How many cars are parked outside the property or in the driveway? Are there more than you’d expected? It may not be safe if there are.

If you are going to a home, pay close attention to which way the door opens and locks. If the door gets locked behind you, note where the key is kept. How many floors up are you? This will affect potential escape routes. If visiting a hotel or home, pay attention to details in the room(s) such as pictures, decor, layout, furniture, appliances, and personal effects lying around, so you can positively identify the room/property. Watch out for any cameras which may be concealed in the room, including on the client’s mobile phone. Keep as much clothing on as possible, in case you need to run.

If you are uncertain or have a bad feeling about the client or the situation, leave immediately. You could ask the client to have a shower and shower with them. This will give you a chance to assess the client’s genitalia (for example, for warts) and ensure they are clean. If you are not with an agency which provides a driver, get to know and use a local reliable taxi company. Keep their number in your phone.

If you start to feel scared, or you are attacked, try to keep yourself and the situation calm and get to a busy public place as soon as possible. Try to leave (somewhere out of sight and hidden)  a small personal object in the location, such as an earring, bangle, a wrapped condom (make sure it’s in the wrapper and you know the brand name), a  couple of your hairs, your fingerprints under a piece of furniture etc or anything that you could positively identify and link you to the scene forensically if you decide to report the incident to the police.

The following advice comes from an Escort

“I think the key to this one is weighing up the risks against a loss of custom. I have always been super strict about my appointments (never accepting an in-call without an email address and a mobile number, and refusing to see the client if he will not display his number or uses a different number after this has been explained). No doubt this has lost me numerous harmless clients who feel that it isn’t worth the risk to them for a working girl to have these details about them, and that’s fair play from my point of view. I have also lost bookings because I refuse to do an outcall without a) calling the hotel to make sure that the client is booked in under the name he has given me and b) calling the room number before I leave to make sure the client is there and indeed booked in that room under that name. Again, I don’t hold anything against anyone who isn’t comfortable with this. I have also opened the door after receiving all of these details, got a bad feeling and cancelled the appointment on the spot with an excuse rather than go against my instincts (and again I would hold nothing against a client if he did the same”

Working independently – working from home

Separate a space for sex work if you are working from your home, even if it is just using a different cover on your bed and changing the pillows to the opposite end from where you sleep. Move your personal things out of the way of prying eyes. Move anything that could be used as a weapon against you such as large ornaments, necklaces or scarves. Think about other rooms if you are working from your home. Some clients may ask to use your bathroom. Decide whether you are OK with this. If you are, move personal things out of the way before clients arrive (maybe a lockable bathroom cabinet?). It is OK to say no. Meet the client at a designated spot, and then walk them to your home so that they do not knock at a neighbour’s house by mistake (although your neighbours may see you walking yet another man into your home). Once inside, take the money up front and say you are giving this to your boyfriend/friend, and that he is in the other room. Go and put the money somewhere safe, and talk out loud so that the client thinks someone else is there. Where possible, make sure you stay nearest the exit/door, so if you need to get out quickly you can. Have a buddy system. Let someone know when you’re starting work and finishing. Have a plan if you do not make contact. If you work from home and have children, be careful to ensure their safety and well being by not working when they are at home.

Online working

If you make contact with clients on line you need to screen them. Sex workers use the following methods for screening:

  • Check the time it takes for them to respond to messages
  • Check for typing errors if in relay chat – lots of errors can be a sign of being drunk or stoned
  • Consider carefully whether or not you will send a picture and the nature of the picture. Pictures can be misused
  • If you are doing cam shows, clients may have recording facilities which could mean wider distribution of film images. You may want to invest in specialist software which can stop people doing this
  • Arrangements to meet via email can be complex and clients may not deliver on all that they have promised. Read through the advice earlier on in this section on outcalls

Adult porn industry

The market place for the adult porn industry is increasingly for bareback sex, despite recent high profile media issues about STI and HIV outbreaks in pockets of the industry. Men and women working as models on these productions are under immense pressure to do bareback filming in order to get the work, especially in gay porn. Some people do both. Codes of conduct are emerging to cover frequency and types of STIs and HIV screening, and disclosure of other ‘high risk’ activities off the film set. See the industry website GAIKISS for further information and an example of a code of good practice.  www.gaikiss.org.uk

Lap dancing, pole dancing and private gentleman’s clubs

If you work in these sectors of adult entertainment, we recommend that you contact the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW), which has a branch in the national trade union GMB. It can negotiate to ensure adherence to health and safety at work statutory regulations within the workplace. See online at www.iusw.org  or email:  branch_secretary@iusw.org