Every industry has a code of ethics that members adhere to, a sort of representation of their pride and commitment to their profession. It’s a reminder of what they should aspire to be. It’s only natural that the sex industry should have one to match but there isn’t; funnily enough the industry is ‘the oldest profession’ yet there’s no code of ethics. Even in areas where sex work is completely decriminalised, there isn’t this piece of paper. I can’t help but wonder, why?
I first look at myself as a sex worker and wonder why the heck I don’t have one. Then I realise, wait, I do. My code isn’t printed on a shining piece of paper with a polished signature, when I walk into a booking I don’t take a moment to hammer it into the hotel wall as material example of my professionalism. The code of ethics is an unspoken one, something picked up during ones career, one that stems from common decency. It doesn’t come in materialistic form.
The thing is, when someone decides to be a sex worker, there is no congratulations. We don’t get a welcome pack, we don’t get a general guideline and we are responsible for educating ourselves. It’s all touch and go until you find your feet and your position in the industry – then you come to learn the unsaid rules. So it’s understandable why the sex worker code of ethics isn’t delivered in paper form. We have an implicit code of ethics that’s learnt during our time in the industry, that keep our business afloat and each party happy. These codes dictate how you communicate to people, that you are fair with your dealings with them, that you try to deliver yourself as promised and that your clients leave with a smile on their face. If you don’t, your business fails. To further this thought: the same rules cannot apply to every worker. The role of a sex worker differs everywhere you go and the workers themselves are constantly interchanging and evolving with the growth of their business.
I remind myself that due to the copious species of sex workers, it’s hard to implement systems that’ll fit appropriately with each sector of the industry. It’s easy to say ‘where’s the code? Sex is the common denominator across the board therefore the code should be capable of blanketing the whole industry’ Well, no, the business isn’t just sex and the ethics don’t just apply to the sex part of the work. With different working conditions comes a whole new set of rules to survival – some that include ethics and some that do not.
The code isn’t inviolable. There had been a moment, during my time in the industry, where a fellow sex worker had naïvely, possibly permanently, damaged another workers life. This girl wanted to report another girl for breaking a law – a law that was designed to keep the public happy and the sex worker unsafe. It was impudent, clearly the worker valued ill-conceived laws rather than the code. It’s times like this that I really wish we had guidelines for this industry that could be seen and heard, not latently learnt. Our code relies on workers being precocious and this isn’t always the case.
And then it hits me: the code of ethics is a leisure in my industry, a privilege really. For an industry that is the ‘oldest profession’ I remind myself that it’s only scraped through the ages after numerous attacks and hardships from the public. If one has the availability to work with ethics, they usually do, but my industry struggles with even the availability to work. Laws dictate how a sex worker can engage in her business dealings. A rigid law framework leaves little room for ethics. Instead workers will pick up the rules of the game that best work suit them; the ones that keep them safe, alive and the clients returning, because that is what they can afford to have in a society that would rather see their work, and by extension them, eliminated – no matter the cost.
I believe the fundamental discourager for good business practices in my industry is the fact that their sex-worker status is not something respected or taken seriously. Not everyone wants to be the upmost professional in a role that’s shunned in the public eye. What would be the point? It’s not like our time in the sex industry will reflect well in our resumes. It’s not we can talk about difficult situations without it being used against us. I would love to talk about how expertly I’ve dealt with impossibilities, using my body and my mind, but rather than gaining recognition for exercising a particular skill-set, I’d be condemning myself. People would call me a victim. People would say my work forces me to be a victim. But it’s not the work that’s forcing me to be a victim, it’s everything else. Because before I share a story, I’m quite peppy – once I share the story, that’s when the victimisation begins. That’s when I begin to doubt myself.
There are little rewards socially for good business practice within the industry. It seems personal morals is the backbone to ethics in an industry that is otherwise misconstrued as immoral. The practice of good practice is something I would like to see more of. There is thousands like me who exercise good business practices, who help produce the unheard rules that promote fair dealings in my industry. And we will continue to, so long as everyone else gives us the space to.