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SISEA Is About to Make Things Much More Difficult for Sex Workers

Survival sex workers already have too few avenues to pursue safe work.

Illustrated Graphic of Bliss. She wears a black ski mask, a black spiked collar , a bra and a black studded jacket.
Illustration by Sandra Markarian

Content warning: Police violence, gentrification, sexual assault from police. The nature of our work isn’t violent, but the criminalization of sex work can lead to dangerous and violent situations for workers. The end game is decriminalization. Please practice self-care while reading each worker’s story. Bless. 

Nessa: How long have you worked in sex work?

Bliss: Since I was 17, and I’m 26 now. 

N: What was sex work like when you first entered into the game?

B: I didn’t have anyone looking out for me or anything like that, I was young. Unfortunately, based on the way I look… I look younger than I am. And in the very beginning people tried looking down on me, pimps trying to recruit me. I don’t have time for it, I really couldn’t imagine giving anyone else my money. It was hard getting work, technically being underage. Where I’m at the liquor laws are so wild. Clubs are full nude, which I don’t have a problem with. Like a lot of clubs have a full bar, full liquor. So being 17, 18, or even 21, a lot of clubs won’t hire you. You have to work at extra shitty clubs, which is fine, but it can affect your money. It was hard being a teenager. There was a lot to learn.

N: How did you learn, was it through trial and error? How did you navigate through the crap? 

B: I never had problems with anybody when I was a baby dancer — I was cool with the veteran workers. I had a kind of mentor for a second, she was my friend’s aunt through the punk scene. She kind of looked after me for a hot second. I learned by watching, also common sense. 

N: what was work like for you before FOSTA-SESTA went into effect? 

B: Before I started off dancing, I started working online. Because you need an ID and to be 18 and all of that stuff to work at a club. So I was working online. I was in high school at the time and modeling sites were kind of popping off at the time. I started off doing that, then became a sugar baby, then gradually became a domme, but FOSTA-SESTA completely fucked up everything. I even remember working legally, whatever that means, I would receive frantic messages from folks, like, “Burn your account, burn your Seeking Arrangements account! The feds are kidnapping girls, taking their money, and taking their passports!” Just messages of people getting kidnapped. FOSTA-SESTA set out said it would do, fuck everything up and not solve human trafficking. It made things worse, made things more dangerous. Now there’s another round of laws that are about to pass [SIESA] that is about to make things worse. And that’s a huge worry. 

N: That’s wild, I remember receiving those messages too. Now that we’re talking about the feds, have you experienced any raids or supposed rescue missions?

B: Oh, there were a lot of stings in Portland, especially clubs in the hood — clubs along 82nd Avenue that weren’t in the nice premier downtown, whatever. The gang task force units would come in nightly and shake people down, cops would come in dressed as tricks, would flash that they had hella money. Come flash you like a grand or more. They’re entrapping people. In the VIP rooms there would be signs up from the management: “cops are raiding right now.”

N: With FOSTA-SESTA going into effect, clubs being raided, where does that bring safety for workers today? What are the effects of laws that you’ve experienced currently? 

B: For me, my income got cut in half easily. I used to be able to make a lot of money. If I was doing bad, I could come home and at least make some money. My rent was really expensive and then when FOSTA-SESTA happened, it scared everyone. Backpage went down, Seeking Arrangements was monitored. I was so afraid of work online, I still low-key am. We’re still feeling the effects of FOSTA-SESTA… I remember when Backpage went down, workers ended up murdered. Shit, it’s been a few years.

N: Time flies…

Hey it did, placing everyone in danger. This puts power into the hands of traffickers. Real traffickers, took power away from the workers, that was deliberate.

N: currently with where we’re at, navigating a post–FOSTA-SESTA world… We see sex work, which was once super taboo, now to where it’s at its peak with gentrification. I’m talking about celebrities taking up space within sex work, do you have anything to say about that? 

B: Ahahaha! Disgusting! Being a survival sex worker from the get and especially since I was a teenager, it disgusts me. Especially since they’re already millionaires. Over the years people have tried to have me as their mentor. I don’t do that, I don’t have people under my mentorship. Because real life happens, people do end up getting murdered, people end up getting kidnapped or assaulted. I can’t have that on me. This is a hard-ass life, this is not dressed up — this doesn’t make you woke or whatever people are trying to do. This is another world, and especially if you do survive it for 10 or 11 years, people are changed by it. It doesn’t matter if you’re empowered by it, people change. I don’t take shit lightly and I don’t appreciate Bella Thorne. 

N: What do you see for the future of sex work, why do we need decriminalization? Why is it important?

B: I would like to see the abolition of FOSTA-SESTA. With this other similar bill SIESA, this is supposedly supposed to be protecting children, but this is targeting sex workers who are working consensually. Online sex work is not entirely safe, but it is safer — safer than being on the stroll or whatever. I would love to see these hateful murderous bills completely repealed and destroyed. There is no positive change, and with Kamala Harris as the VP, I am sure and positive nothing good will come out of it. We need decriminalization at least.

You can’t prosecute people for what they feel that they need to do in order to survive capitalism.

It’s legal in Europe, it’s decriminalized in Canada, it’s completely legal in a certain state. People should be allowed to work safely. That’s it.