Criminalization has isolated the under ground community from the mainstream and allowed us to evolve as a separate distinct culture which has its own art, language and rules. Different things are honorable or polite to us. If you imagine that the currently the accepted average age of entry in the sex industry is 14 years old (these numbers are skewed by a disproportionate sample taken mostly from street venues as opposed to indoor legal work spaces) and as one of the coop development team members you are 56 years old, you have been isolated from the mainstream community for 32 years. Matters of honor, respect and even language have evolved completely separately from the mainstream community.
This creates misunderstandings and makes it difficult for sex industry workers or other members of the underground community to communicate their needs or function within mainstream culture/ employment. Understanding our culture could greatly improve understanding between sex workers and those who are charged with our protection.
Some examples of terms that members of WCCSIP have seen create barriers in the past;
- Honey/ baby/ darling- Although acceptable in mainstream culture, these terns are considered patronizing or insulting in under ground culture. A sex industry worker of 32 years is a veteran, a survivor and is no body's baby.
- Prostitute- We are sex industry workers; prostitute is a term that encompasses the oppression of our community. This word demeans us, degrades us and contributes to the perception of sex workers as less than human or disposable.
- Real Women- WCCSIP members described mainstream community members discussing sex workers vs. "real women" in terms of protection and support. This kind of "othering" also contributes to the perception that we are some less or disposable.
Some examples of practices WCCSIP members have seen create barriers in the past;
- Wearing a gun or uniform- Because the oppression and isolation of the underground community through criminalization, our culture fears uniforms and guns. When engaging us, wear plain clothes and come unarmed to ensure all feel safe expressing their needs.
- Don't ask us to "rat"- In the underground culture, criminalization has created a wall of silence. The number one rule on the street is never; under any circumstances speak to the authorities. That could mean social services, family services, police or any other group/ person with power over our safety.
This underground culture will vary from place to place with some consistency coming from community members moving around the region/country. A translator is the best way to ensure no problems arise due to miscommunication. One can draw on local front line support agencies for people who understand local culture and hopefully connect mainstream audiences with experiential translators as time goes on and trust between the two cultures is renewed.