Features: Sex Work and My Daughter by Miss Alice Grey

Would you want your daughter working as a stripper/prostitute?”

A common refrain from people who are anti sex work, and who see it as the ultimate argument. It’s also a bit of a personal point for me, as a former sex worker, and current daughter-haver.

I get to hear it even more frequently now, whenever I vehemently defend all forms of sex work, and protest against the slut-shaming that comes with it: ‘But would you let your daughter do it, if you think it’s so good’ tends to be a comment delivered with a self satisfied sneer, like when you know you’ve just won an argument with a rock solid defense. They assume the answer is always “no – it’s okay for other people, but not for my baby”.

Well, dear readers and sneerers alike, my short, rather unpopular answer is:

Yes.

If my daughter is over 18, and I would have to assume she is, she is entitled to do whatever she wants with her body. Be it pornography, prostitution, stripping or anything else constituted as sex work.

The pervasive attitude we have that we have the right to control what our children do once they’ve grown up is illogical, and rather whimsical – albeit misguided; we would like to think we can keep them safe and sound forever, and we would also like to think that our choices for them are the best options for them. I don’t believe this to be true – when you have children, you are raising individuals with their own personalities and characters, who will have their own quirks and abilities, and whose choices will differ from your own. If you don’t like that idea, perhaps having children is not a good idea. Therefore, if my child is over 18, I have to accept she has autonomy and the right to live her life as she see fits.

What if she’s under 18?”

That’s where people pounce: What about sex workers that enter the field as minors. Whilst I believe that the so-called reports circulating recently stating that the average age for entering prostitution is 14 are utterly exaggerated (if your sample group is underage sex workers, you’re going to see low starting ages) and not representative of the whole, I have known many underage sex workers. Including myself.

I worked as a stripper at 16, and at 19; and there is a vast difference in the circumstances of an illegal minor and an adult with rights and choices.

A 16 year old with a stable home life, no drug problems and no mental problems will generally be too focused on other activities to consider entering sex work, and they generally aren’t used to hustling their way through the whole underage aspect. Whilst I’m generalizing, I have yet to meet a happily well adjusted minor working as a sex worker for joy and pleasure – myself included. Most are trying to earn money to escape something, or to be able to provide at home, or to buy drugs.

So, if I find out my underage daughter is working as a sex worker? No, I would not be alright with it. If she is under 18, then she is a minor, and I am responsible for her actions. Under 18, she would also be breaking the law. I would want to know the underlying reasons for her decisions: if it’s drugs, I would throw her ass in rehab (drug addiction and mental illness run in my family, and if someone had thrown my ass into rehab, it would have saved me a lot of trouble).

If it’s simply for rebellion? Maybe she feels she’s just having fun with some friends? Then, once again; she’s a minor. Not a consenting adult. It’s my job to do my best to prevent her from committing crimes that could ruin her life and the lives of others.

At 16, I felt I was protecting my best friend and girlfriend – a beautiful but incredibly naive girl who reminded me of Bambi, and whom I felt it was my responsibility to protect from the world. When she went to work at the club, she was 18 – but I was a year and a half younger.

That didn’t stop me from doing what I felt I had to do; and there was no one else around that could stop me at that point. The experience wasn’t bad, no one took advantage of me at work – but the access to easy money and drugs fueled a downwards spiral that had started a few years earlier.

But at 19? At 19, I’d managed to escape from an abusive relationship by the skin of my teeth, and after the bruises faded and I’d stopped shaking constantly, my mother told me I needed to start looking for a new apartment, as I couldn’t stay with her much longer. My relationship had severely damaged ours, my relationship with my father was non existent on a good day, and it wasn’t working out. I had left with no money to my name, and I didn’t have a work permit for that country. I could only work illegally in nightclubs and restaurants, and as it dawned on me: Strip clubs. I needed money for a deposit, for two months rent, for food, for electricity, and I needed it quickly. So in I went, and walked out 5 minutes later with a job.

I worked there for a short while, until I had enough money to tide me over for a few months, while I got settled and went to school.

My mother knew where I worked, and would drive me to work everyday (until I met my future husband), to ensure I got there safely. She’d be awake at 6 am to greet me when I got home, making sure I was fine and no one had upset me. She let me stay a few more weeks at her house, since I was now out most of the hours my father would be home drunk.

Would I do the same in her situation? Probably not. I would probably give my daughter whatever money she needed for the time being, and help her to to figure out what she’s going to do next. Do I fault my mother for her reaction? No. She taught me to take care of myself, to stay safe, and perhaps the most important lesson: There is no shame in sex work, because work means survival.

If my daughter decided she didn’t want the money, or if hopefully, she made the decision because she genuinely wanted to work in that chosen profession, I would have to support her.

That support would come with a side helping of my involvement though. I would want to see where she was working, check the place’s reputation, educate her on the risks and any safety precautions she can take. Educate her on resources available to her. And sadly, educate her on how her choice may effect her future – because at 18, you don’t see the whole picture, and I wouldn’t want her to naively believe that nothing she does at that stage in her life will effect her at 30, 40, 50.

I would teach her about the stigma people have towards sex workers, and the dangers that stigma causes. I would explain to her the importance of discretion, both for herself, her clients, and for her future.

That education however, will begin as she’s growing up. It’s not conditional upon her becoming a sex worker. I want her to know what her mother did, I want her to know there is no shame in it – the same way that my mother taught me that there is no shame in paying your bills. I want her to see the portrayal of strippers and prostitutes on television, and to be able to tell that it’s not all true. She has the opportunity to know that sex workers are regular people, loving mothers, doting parents. She can see behind the ugly “dead hooker” jokes, and the newspaper headlines about murdered women being labeled by their profession, as if it’s reason enough for their deaths. And she will know, behind the labels, are real people – with families, friends and people who love them.

I want her to know that there is no shame in taking your clothes of for money, or having sex for money. So that if she chooses to make that decision, she won’t feel ashamed. She won’t hide it from her family. We will be able to support her throughout, and she will have her family to come talk to if she has a bad day, or a bad client.

One of the saddest things I’ve seen amongst the everyday lives of sex workers, is the fear of being outed to their friends and families. The fact that they cannot turn to their family as a shoulder to cry on, or even share about their day, for fear of being humiliated and rejected.

I want my daughter to know that she is accepted in every way, shape and form. Who she is to us, is not determined by her job. That our views of her won’t change, no matter what she chooses to do.

So, as unpopular as the answer is: Yes. Yes, I would let my daughter work as a sex worker. Do I have to be in love with the idea? No. I know the risks, I know the stigma. All that means is that I have to do my utmost to support her choices and ensure they are the safest ones she could make in her chosen line of work.

Miss Alice Grey blogs at http://missalicegray.com/ Follow her on Twitter @AskMissAlice

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