What is Sex Work?

Sex work is a legitimate occupation that involves the commercial exchange of sexual services for money or other benefits like housing, transportation, or other survival needs.

Sex workers are not a homogeneous group: there is tremendous diversity in the work environments and ranges of services sex workers provide globally. Adults of all genders are involved in sex trade. While the work in itself may not be harmful, there are many harms associated with these occupations. To help protect and minimize those harms, we have developed this page to include safety tips as well as links to resources.

Source: Stepping Stone

Sex Work vs. Sex Trafficking.

Trafficked persons, unlike voluntary sex workers, enter/ed the sex trade through coercion, force, manipulation or threats. When sex work and sex trafficking are conflated, or lumped together as one, it causes serious harm.

The confusion of the two can cause us to miss opportunities to address victimization and to assist those who are victims of abuse. In addition, denigrating sex work, instead of focusing on the violence of trafficking, increases stigma and leads to policies, such as the criminalization of sex work, that endanger all sex workers.

By denigrating sex workers, we are also denigrating the ones engaged in sex work unwillingly. Before we even help a trafficked person, we have already sent the message that what they did was filthy and demoralizing.

In order to help them and have them trust us, we must purposefully separate those who didn’t choose that life, from the consenting adults who willingly engage in it. Regardless of what we think or feel about the profession.


  • Trading sex for money is not inherently harmful, damaging, degrading, or empowering.

  • Stigma and its byproducts a cause of harm experienced by individuals involved in the sex trade.

  • Intersecting oppressions compound harm

  • The experiences of individuals involved in sex work are complicated and diverse. One individual's experience does not equal that of all individuals in the sex trade.

  • A person's involvement in the sex trade can be broken into three broad categories:

    • Choice: fully consenting to the work, can leave for other employment options but chooses to stay

    • Circumstances: consenting to work in the sex trade but wants to leave. Needs to stay, usually for financial reasons

    • Coercion: Individual is not consenting to work, being tricked or forced by another individual(s). Also known as trafficking

Source: Heartland Alliance

+ Online Resources for Those Engaged in Sex Work

Safety Tips for Individuals in the Street Economy

  • Encourage workers to work in "buddy" system with a friend who knows where they are at all times
  • Carry you're own equipment at all time-condoms, lube, toys, etc
  • Study potential customer: car details, door-lock systems, surrounding
  • Negotiate price and collect money upfront, have set time limits
  • Wear comfortable clothing that cannot get stuck in car doors or be grabbed at - avoid necklaces or dangling jewelry
  • Avoid carrying drugs or illegal weapons on dates
  • Do not allow unfamiliar dates to restrain you for any reasons, even if this is their fetish
  • Give "Know Your Rights" material in case of an encounter with law enforcement occurs.

Source: Heartland Alliance

+ Safety Tips for Individuals in the Indoor / Internet-Based Economy

  • "Screen" clients and get full name, information, and references on a potential client. There are websites that help with this
  • Let's find these websites and link them!
  • Always know surroundings when visiting client and have a "safe call" that knows where you are at all times
  • Don't allow clients to negotiate set prices, time limit or unsafe acts
  • When busines is slow, keep you guard up and continue being picky with the clients you take
  • Utilize online bad date lists where bad client encounters have been reported
  • Verify Him
  • Safe Office
  • National Blacklist
  • Self care is important! Many workers go through periods of feeling isolated and are unable to disclose work to family/friends. Develop a support network and seek out sensitive counseling services if needed.

Source: Heartland Alliance

+ Local Resources for Those Engaged in Sex Work

  • Primary Care
  • Mental Health and Peer Counseling
  • Needle Exchange and Harm Reduction Supplies
  • HIV and Sexual Transmitted Infections (STI) Counseling & Testing

+ Resources for Working with Individuals in Sex Trade

  • Healthcare Needs
  • Barriers for Delivering Effective Care
  • Effects of Barriers
  • Sensitivity Tips
  • Trafficking

**Editor’s Note: We strive to provide the helpful and informative resources, and are currently working to include the input of people with experience and expertise in this field. Thank you for your patience as we work to make this page a key resource for increasing safety and decreasing stigma around the sex work profession. - Noah, 9/13/19

[Banner Photo Credit: SWARM Collective, SWOU Sex Worker Rights Festival, Glasgow 2013]