Jason Domino: For sex workers, this year has been brutal”

In the third instalment of our week-long series, figures from music, art, food, sex work and education look back on a year that shook their fields. Here, 33-year-old Jason Domino, a London-based activist and founder of Porn4Prep, reflects on a difficult year.

For sex workers, this year has been brutal, but not in the ways that many people might think.

Obviously, they may realise that less clients have been asking for services during this time, that financial support isn’t well suited for a lot of people in sex work and that, as a result, the community has come together and supported one another.

What I don’t think people realise is that in tandem, anti-sex worker groups have been militantly campaigning against us. A coalition between groups who believe all sex outside of marriage is wrong, and others that believe sex work contributes to sexism, have been targeting us in really extreme ways, taking political action to dramatically erode our rights. This added struggle has kicked many of us when we’re down and just trying to keep the lights on.

Through [porn trade association] UKAP and [sex worker support charity] National Ugly Mugs, we’ve been able to adapt – and help other sex workers adapt – to the pandemic. Many sex workers are part of the porn industry, so we’ve created a specialised Covid toolkit which helps them apply for Universal Credit if they’re eligible, or get government loans if they’re registered as a business.

Many sex workers have been releasing pre-filmed content or used social distancing as a means to play on client fetishes: cake sitting, for example, can be done from a distance, or superhero fetishes mean you can wear a mask. By doing these things, you can comfortably keep to the rules.

The thing is, though, that we’re in a bad situation in terms of how sex workers are viewed in this country. Getting sex workers vaccinated has been particularly difficult – in the UK, sex work is lawful, but most of the things surrounding it aren’t. It falls into this grey area of the law – for instance, nowhere does it say that sex workers are a high-risk community that needs vaccination access early.

Unfortunately, the groups that have been rallying against us have gotten quite far. They’ve attempted to introduce blanket client criminalisation in the UK by way of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that was discussed in Parliament last week. In this country, we have partial criminalisation: you’re not allowed to put cards in telephone boxes, to solicit on the street or brothelkeep.

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This blanket criminalisation makes it illegal to purchase sex, but not to sell it. And the pandemic has slowed our momentum in fighting back against this, which is why this year has been so challenging. It leads to a scenario where people can’t get out of the industry when they want, or can’t get help when they need it. This has been devastating in places like Northern Ireland and Norway.

These things are difficult to talk about. Decrim Now is a great resource which explains why sex workers support decriminalisation. This means people in sex work have legal rights and business standards, like in any other job.

It also help explain that Decriminalisation is different to Legalisation, which effectively makes police and the government our pimps. [Sex worker and activist] Juno Mac gave a great Ted Talk, The laws that sex workers really want, which helped me get comfortable talking about these topics. It explains how different nations address sex work and how different approaches can have unexpected negative consequences for the community.“

Everything I’ve just mentioned has played out in parallel to Covid, and in part made these issues worse. Nevertheless, our community has persevered.

The world has utilised the internet to keep organised as groups, which includes sex worker groups. The solidarity and care within them has been incredible – mutual aid organisations have made sure people are able to buy food and keep a roof over their heads.

Ultimately, this is what it comes down to: we don’t trust groups that don’t stand publicly for the decriminalisation of sex work. And thankfully, people do seem to be listening.

We’re lucky to have powerful resources at our disposal, and it helps to remember that every marginalised community, when you squeeze it, condenses and grows stronger.

To sign an open letter to MPs in support of the decriminalisation of sex work, email [email protected]​decrimnow.​org.​uk


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