Today, an innocent woman was outed in the Sunday World – all because one of her three part-time jobs is as a sex worker. This comes a day after Kalika Gold announced her and Ruth Jacobs’ joint project to bring the Merseyside model of declaring all crimes against sex workers as hate crimes and collaborate with sex worker organisations to get information about violent criminals.
I’ve been asked to help with this, and I can’t help thinking of these two things together. Yesterday a YouTube video dubbed the woman “Scary Poppins” (her other jobs are as a nanny and a cleaner).
Outing is used as a weapon against sex workers by the media and by abolitionists; but it is only effective as a weapon because of the stigma attached to sex work. This stigma does not seem to affect any other type of work. As I commented on the YouTube thread, why wasn’t this person outed for being a nanny? Or for being a cleaner? It’s because we hate sex workers, we despise them; but we don’t hate any other workers.
If it had been a gay or a transgendered person being outed, everyone would think it was sickening (the Daily Mail actually did out a trans person once, I recall complaining about it). But if it’s a sex worker, nobody seems to care. It’s not recognised as hate or phobia. (I believe the term for this would be whorephobia, but I’m not sure).
So, how is this connected to the Merseyside model? I believe that if Ruth and Kalika succeed, and crimes against sex workers are hate crimes, then the stigma will begin to disappear. Once they’re protected, it will be easier to push for sex workers to enjoy the same employment anti-discrimination laws that ethnic minorities and LGBTQ people already have. And that will mean that outing will no longer be an effective weapon. Because if people won’t stigmatise you for it, and employers find it harder to discriminate against you for it, then you have much less to lose by being outed.
What Eamonn Dillon (the journalist who outed this person) did was fuelled by hate. The fact that he (reportedly) has received an award from the Irish organisation Ruhama (which is against sex work) only makes his attack even more suspicious. The fact that one sex worker exists in Ireland is not news, and by that logic they’d have to do a news story on every sex worker in Ireland. By outing her, they are only making it far more difficult for her to exit the sex industry, because emplloyers may discriminate her and not employ her. Even continuing to work as a nanny might be difficult for her if her employers are bigoted or want their children to grow up despising sex workers. (She could of course promise not to tell their children about her other job, but most bigoted people are not reasonable anyway.)
This is why I hope for the success of the Merseyside model – because not only will serial rapists be caught, and not only will sex workers be safer, it also opens the door for them to finally receive the same protection as other marginalized groups, and ultimately breaks the power of the press to use outing against the sex worker community.