Our Workspaces

Working the Street

“I like working the street because I can turn down customers if I want and I don’t have to give any of my money to anyone else.”

Our street-based workplaces can include motels/hotels, behind the dumpster, behind and in stores or businesses, by the jail, in a field, homes of clients, bar bathrooms, bar stools (in public), the sheriff’s office, vehicles, alleys, and street corners, among other places.

Stigma and stereotypes about sex work are usually focused on those of us who are street-based because we are the most visible population of sex workers. However, street sex workers are estimated to make up only 10 – 20 percent of sex industry workers overall.

Getting Along With Others

In neighbourhoods where there is more street-based sex work taking place, residents and business owners sometimes attempt to “clean up” the neighbourhood by forcing us out. They do this in a number of ways – from taking down license plates of johns to verbally and even physically attacking us.

Here are some ways to reduce conflicts with other community members when we’re working the streets.

  • Don’t pick a corner close to a school. Students and parents are around during the day and if you are too visible, they will complain. This will result in police action and maybe even a court-imposed “no go zone” order, which will force you to find another spot to stand. Any regular clients you have met won’t be able to find you and you will have to start building a clientele all over again. UPDATE: Currently, in Canada, sex workers are prohibited from working or communicating near schools, playgrounds, day-care centres.
  • If you can, whenever possible take your customer somewhere indoors. This is safer for you as he will be less likely to harm you. It also means residents won’t see the physical sex act. People offended by public sex acts will usually call the police.
  • Clients often approach people who are not sex workers in neighborhoods where sex work occurs because they can’t tell who is a sex worker and who isn’t. Criminalization has meant that sex workers must try to blend in to avoid detection. Dressing up would allow consumers to be sure who is who, however it could make sex workers more visible to police. One worker suggests a middle ground to try to stabilize this issue. She chooses to wear something nice, but not over the top.
  • If you mostly work in cars, try not to park in the same spot over and over. This will concentrate residual mess (condoms, needles) in one area and lead to complaints from residents or business owners. Always try to keep areas where you work free of debris to prevent police action
  • Attempt to build relationships with community members that you see often, by saying hello with a smile, or making small talk. Eventually, your neighbours will know you as a person and be more likely to take their concerns to you, rather than the police.Being a street-based sex worker is the most dangerous area of the industry because of our visibility and the subsequent police repression. Some of the risks include getting arrested or having to give favours to avoid arrest, being left stranded far from home, being set-up and robbed, getting raped and/or beat up and even killed, being isolated from help if we’re in danger, getting sick from working out in the cold, and even freezing to death.

Because of the laws around sex work in Canada, street-based sex workers try to avoid being arrested or having their clients arrested by working in dark, isolated areas. This makes us vulnerable to violent predators. John Lowman, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, estimates from his research that street-based sex workers are more likely to be murdered than any other person in Canada (Dr. John Lowman, Paul Dillon, “Life On The Streets in Dangerous,” Surrey Leader, 17 May 1998).

Safety Tactics

Here are some safety suggestions from and for street-based workers:

Before Work

  • Dress nicely. You will be treated better and feel good about yourself.
  • Dress warmly.
  • Don’t wear anything around your neck that can be used to strangle or drag you, such as necklaces, scarves, etc.
  • Wear shoes you can run in, or that you can slip off easily.
  • Carry a whistle. While some prefer to carry weapons, such as mace, such things can be turned against you. A whistle is safe, small, compact, legal and loud.
  • Pick up an ugly trick list before working. (Bad Date Sheet, Red Light Alert, Ugly Mug, etc.)

Where You Work

  • Try to work in well-lit areas near a phone.
  • Carry a charged cell phone. Even if you don’t have a plan, you can make a call to 911 from any cell phone as long as it’s charged.
  • Carry change for the phone.
  • Work with friends, if possible. If you have to work alone, carry a piece of chalk with you to write down the license plate of your next client on the sidewalk or wall where you are standing. Always casually tell a client you have been seen leaving in their car and are expected back at a certain time.
  • Have a spotter.
  • Make friends with the other workers around you so you can watch each other’s backs.
  • Make friends with the beat cops in your neighbourhood, if possible. They’ll watch out for you more and take it more seriously if someone assaults you.

Before Getting In A Car

  • Always stand back a little when the customer first pulls up.
  • Familiarize yourself with types and makes of cars. And try to remember plate numbers.
  • Ensure the client is alone in the vehicle. A panel van or other large vehicle where the interior is not visible could hide predators.
  • Make sure there is a door handle on your door before you get in. Don’t get into cars that the driver has control over the locks.
  • If the car is a mess, don’t get in.
  • Make sure there is no gun, knife, rope, tape, or other weapon before you get in.
  • Look at the customer and check his level of sobriety and emotional state. Is he agitated? Does he appear drunk? High on drugs? Mentally ill? Be sure of his mental state before entering the vehicle.
  • Purchasing sex is illegal so do not talk about service or money through the car window or before entering the car. Get into the car but keep one foot on the ground outside the car while you negotiate what you will do and for how much. This way you have a better chance for escape if you are unwilling to accept the type of work the customer desires or the amount of money he is willing to pay.

Once In A Car (or at service location, if walking)

  • Once terms are negotiated and you are in the car, continue to evaluate his emotional state. If you are unsure for any reason, plan your escape for as soon as the vehicle stops.
  • If you have a cell phone, call someone or pretend to call someone as soon as you make the date and report where you’re going and something about your date that would help identify him. It may deter him from any ulterior motives.
  • If you have a cell phone, record the license plate number in your phone or text it to a friend.

During the Date

  • Tell the customer where you want to do the date and choose an area you are familiar with.
  • Envision an escape route in case you need one. If it’s winter, see where you could hide under the snow.
  • Whenever possible, take the customer somewhere inside. Preferably to a place where there are other people and even better if they are people you know. A client is far less likely to attack you if he knows there are other people around. Being indoors gives you somewhere to clean up after, as well.
  • Don’t rip off the clients – they may take it out on you or other workers.
  • Watch to make sure the client does not remove the condom without your knowledge.

If A Client Becomes Aggressive or Violent

  • Tell him your name and try to humanize yourself by talking about your children or your life.
  • You could also say you are HIV positive, but this tactic might cause more anger.
  • Run into traffic and wave people down.
  • If you have to run away through snow, cover your tracks. A worker in Prince George recommends getting on top of the snow and rolling so there are no tracks, then hide until the predator is gone.

After the Date

  • Do not accept a ‘ride back’ to your corner. Whenever possible, exit the vehicle immediately after the session is over to prevent any further risk at the hands of a client.
  • Share information with other sex workers. If you have had a bad experience with a client, pass the details on to organizations that have a direct connection to bad date reporting.

Supplies for the Street

  • Zip-lock Baggies, in case you have to work in a car or schoolyard. This way you can take the condom and wrapper back and dispose of it in a way that respects the community.
  • Wet naps – so you can clean a little if you are working in a car or outside.
  • Mints – fresh breath always makes us feel better and is nice for the clients.
  • Condoms.
  • Lube.
  • Lipstick.
  • Sex toy – some clients will want no contact and just want to masturbate in front of you. If you have a toy, you can put on a show and the job will go a little faster.
  • Cell phone.

What Not To Bring

  • Never carry a weapon because it can be turned on you. Don’t give them something they can use against you.
  • Do not carry your ID or any other items of personal value. If the client wants to rob you, you won’t be worried about letting him have your purse.

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