This is what a sex worker really thinks about intimacy with clients

In the new film, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) approaches a hotel room and is greeted by retired religious school teacher, Nancy Stokes (Dame Emma Thompson). Nancy reveals that her sex life with her late husband was so incomplete that she had never experienced orgasm, and hires Leo in the hope that he can take her there.

The center of the movie is a powerful intimacy that builds between Leo and Nancy. Leo listens as Nancy worries about his preconceived notions about his sexual function, his insecurities about his body, and his fickleness about sex and sexuality. Thompson wrote in British Vogue that he finds Nancy to relax and open up to her, both physically and emotionally, and tells her about the “potential sanctity of sex work”.

But real intimacy and sexual work aren’t always good bed-mates. Building close relationships with clients often comes with the risk of hurting someone—emotionally, at best, and physically, at worst. Audrey, a 27-year-old sex worker and press officer for United Sex Workers, a sex workers’ rights organization, says the film’s premise doesn’t hold true for most sex workers, who “just see it as a job”.

“It’s portrayed as a romantic thing where Nancy meets this sex worker and they help her feel alive again,” she says. “It made me laugh because it’s coming from such a client-heavy approach, where you go up to this sex worker and vent your annoyances and drama, and then you leave.

“From a sex worker perspective, you’re working. It’s like clocking in for a shift. For us, it’s not such an intimate, wonderful experience, you just sit back and listen to the client.”

For most sex workers, Audrey says, providing an “illusion or fantasy of intimacy” for what clients want can be an important part of the job. However, there is just that: an illusion. But some clients are unable to stay on the right side of the boundaries drawn by sex workers when they feel they have formed a one-of-a-kind relationship.

“We see clients all the time who often say, going to see a sex worker is like going in for treatment. But that is not true, we are not trained therapists and that is not the service we are providing, She says. “Sometimes they allow themselves to believe in fiction. But in reality, they’re doing it because it’s easier to accept that they’re paying for a service.

“Clients have called me their friend and asked me to meet them outside of session or go for a walk – I would say no. I have a lot of clients who are really lovely people and I don’t mind spending time with them – provided I get paid – but I never let myself get too close to a customer.”

Fostering a close relationship with another person usually involves exchanging personal information about each other. But for sex workers, revealing small details, such as your real name, to non-sex workers can open the door to trouble.

While prostitution itself is not illegal in Ireland or the UK, there are a number of related crimes that harm sex workers, either by their clients or by violating the law. For example, more than one sex worker who uses a property for sex work is considered “brothel-keeping” even if they are working together as a safety measure.

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Research by Amnesty International found that sex workers often receive little or no protection from abuse or legal redress because criminalization “enables police to harass them.” [sex workers] and do not give priority to their grievances and safety”.

Audrey says that continuing to criminalize so many aspects of sex work means that sex workers have limited options when it comes to seeking help. “For most sex workers, especially women in the industry, there is an element of danger when dealing with clients we do not know. We have very limited safety tools at our disposal, such as shared resources that we have To share information about customers and file reports for each other, but these are the only preventive measures we have to try and find out if the customer is dangerous or not.

“I’m constantly aware that there’s a power dynamic where clients, especially male clients, hold more power than me. It keeps me on my toes and I can’t really relax in it — even if you don’t. Know a customer, yet they may do something like steal your money or property and get out, or become violent.

While Good Luck to You, Leo Grande isn’t a film that highlights the dangers faced by sex workers, Audrey believes it portrays sex workers as “one-dimensional characters who are merely clients. exist to serve the narrative of those who do not have their own voice, who are not fully human”.

“This film uses a sex worker as a character,” she adds. “Yet it’s exactly this kind of portrayal that quietly stigmatizes us. It perpetuates an existing stigma that directly affects our fight for our safety and rights.”

She also criticizes Thompson’s involvement in the film. In 2015, the actor was among thousands of people who called on Amnesty International to withdraw a resolution advocating for decriminalizing sex work. Thompson along with Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Lena Dunham, Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt signed an open letter by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW).

The Coalition argued that legalizing sex work would “endorsing gender apartheid”, resulting in “few women in society”. [being able] To demand protection from rape, discrimination and sexual harassment, while others, the most vulnerable among us, are set aside for consumption by men and for the benefit of their brokers.

However, Amnesty International said that decriminalizing consensual sex acts, including laws that prohibit allied activities, and asking the government to protect the lives of sex workers and improve relations with the police. urged to refocus on laws. The charity published its policy on decriminalizing sex work in 2016.

But the film seems to have softened Thompson’s stance on the issue. She admitted to British Vogue this week: “Like so many of my generations, the idea of ​​it being a chosen business rather than something terrible once it was because of poverty or humiliating power is very new and takes some time to get used to. “

She continued: “In large part, I think, because of the dangers. It’s great to agree on boundaries, but being alone in a room with a strong human being who can easily – sometimes easily – hurt you Is, can rape or kill, is scary.

“It remains terrifying to me, although I also think that under the right circumstances – legal safeguards, decent clients, and so forth – it can be a great job.”

Audrey says that Thompson appears to be “ready to learn more” when she is pleased, adding: “Anyone who enters into sexual work for any reason, still provides protection and rights to those workers.” Sex work can be less frightening if they are given more rights, and there can be only one way, that is decriminalization.

“I hope Emma Thompson is listening to sex workers and what they have to say on this issue because sex workers are experts in our own working conditions, as we live them. We’re not arguing for decriminalization Because we’re investing in the industry; we’ve invested in the safety of ourselves and our partners.”

Representatives for Thompson have been contacted for comment.