Strategies on hiring that will benefit your company!
Traditional employment - or as we say in sex work language - “vanilla” or “straight” work - is often challenging for many people who have traded sex for something of value, and there’s an even bigger barrier if someone has criminal record attached to their lived experience. Job hunting is an exhausting ordeal all on its own, but anticipating background checks and knowing that there will likely be some really uncomfortable questions can be a significant barrier to those looking to enter the traditional job market.
Popular culture has largely shifted its narrative from believing sex trade workers are without worth, to a “savior” mentality. Everyone wants to “save sex trafficking victims”, but it’s because the dominant belief is still that all sex work is “exploitative”. Pity and charity mindsets in society do just as much as outright bigotry to make the job seeking process come to a screeching halt. It would appear that while the idea of monetized sexual labor is horrifying to many, those same people are equally resistant to providing alternate employment opportunities for this same population.
And of course bigotry is still a substantial obstacle for those looking to find traditional work. If you have a conviction for prostitution, that is the yardstick by which everything else will be measured. A drug conviction or something deemed non-violent? You might get a pass with a prospective employer. But a conviction for even misdemeanor prostitution, regardless of circumstances, is going to cost you job opportunities and you are not going to be able to rent an apartment without jumping through hoops of fire that will cost a fortune and will most likely take years to resolve. And we're not even just talking about good job opportunities here - you won’t even be able to get a bad job!
Just recently, we had a longtime client report that the interviewer for an entry-level, felon-friendly job opportunity asked if she was “some kind of crack whore or something” due to her history of misdemeanor prostitution arrests. This was dehumanizing and completely unnecessary. It was also from an international corporation that can’t stop patting themselves on the back for their workforce diversity and inclusion. Her lived experience was more than 10 years of exploitative third party sexual labor management that had dragged her through 8 states, ruined her credit and nearly took her life. Even though she was nationally certified as a sex trafficking victim (for the purpose of applying for vacatur of her criminal record), the employer wasn't interested in hearing about that. Parts of her story were featured in a segment on This American Life about the impact of SESTA/FOSTA and although the story regrettably features much of the outrage voiced by legislators during the passage of FOSTA about all the children who were supposedly trafficked by the presence of sex ads on the internet, she was very clear about the impact the criminal record had on her efforts to find work. The employer, when asking if she was "some kind of crack whore or something", was missing some... nuance. But someone shouldn't have to be a "perfect victim" to be absolved of societal shame around the decisions they made in order to survive. And frankly, the nuances of her personal history were none of his goddamn business.
If you are horrified by the idea of monetized sex, the ONE helpful thing you can do is make sure your company knows that there are a lot of benefits to providing a good paying job with opportunities for advancement to people who have traded sex, whether it be by choice or due to a lack of choices.
Here are 10 Things to know when considering when a sex worker or a survivor of exploitation applies for work at your company, organization or business.
Survivors and Sex Workers will NAIL the Initial Interview. Anyone who has survived anything will tell you that interviewing for a job is probably one of the most stressful things to prepare for but people who have traded sex are especially good at creating memorable first impressions. This is a skill that will benefit your company.
Survivors and Sex Workers will have “gaps in their resume” and may not pass your background and credit check. Just as the sign in the airports says, “Look Beneath the Surface”. Learn to interpret these gaps and frame appropriate questions that won’t traumatize the person applying and yet still give you the information you need to make a decision. Ask open-ended questions. Listen to the answers. It really is that simple. This is a skill that will benefit your company and everyone you ever hire.
Tell me the Rules - I’ll Play the Game When hired, Survivors and Sex Workers will almost certainly be able to out-perform the rest of their peers because they know “the hustle”. This is a skill that will benefit your company.
Survivors and Sex Workers will struggle with some portions of the job but they are “coachable and very able and willing to take direction. There may be some technical glitches with software and “processes” but these are nothing more than a learning curve. There might be difficulties in communication and the answer is NOT to keep repeating the same thing in the same way. Saying things like “Communication is key” is not communication. Reframe these vague kinds of statements with clear and concise direction like “Answering emails within 24 hours is an expected part of being part of the team” or “Please respond to Slack DM’s ASAP” is much more helpful. Folks who've worked in informal economies, or who've "freelanced" for a long time might initially struggle with timeliness. Set clear expectations and use that 90 day probationary period to help them “settle in” to the new workplace setting. This is a skill that will benefit your company and everyone you ever hire.
You can’t always tell if the prospective employee is a survivor or a sex worker and IT DOESN’T MATTER. They may have experienced both. Sex Work is real work and sex trafficking is a crime but the two can often intersect and you should take the time to educate yourself and your team abut the nuanced nature of this difficult subject. Here is a short presentation for understanding the difference.
Sex Workers and Survivors may have some invisible “disabilities” and one of the big ones is misreading social cues. What this means to employers is they may not understand other people's words, expressions, or body language as intended. Any population that has experienced legal and societal shaming and abuse may be prone to thinking they're being disapproved of or disliked, whether they are or not. Or they irritate or annoy others and don't realize it. Exacerbated by trauma, this personality trait is perfectly manageable by regular positive feedback and immediate - and private - motivational coaching to address the incident. Some employers have been great with our people by letting them know they are willing to assist them in framing email responses, requests for assistance with processes or technology. For example: One trainer at a leading customer service company told one of our clients to send him an email request that needed to be submitted to HR, and he helped her reframe the language so she could advocate for her need to be met. Becoming a more effective manager in this way will benefit your company and everyone you hire.
Sex workers and survivors may continue to work in the industry for a while even though you have hired them because surviving can be tough until you are confident and secure enough to be sure your company is a safe place for them. You need to worry about what they do while they are at work and not about whether or not they have an Only Fans or pop up on NiteFlirt. The work schedule is your time. Time off is not your business. Be OK with that. This should apply to every person you hire.
It's NOT OK to ask them about their traumatic experiences or allow them to be sexually harassed in the workplace. Asking survivors to detail their circumstances is re-traumatizing to them. They may already be embarrassed and stigmatizing questions can be a great reason why they may ghost you. And you deserve to be ghosted if this occurs. As a manager or owner, you have a lot of your own business to mind, right? So mind it. This will greatly benefit your company.
There is an annual federal tax credit your company can get - somewhere around $15K range annually - for hiring people with a criminal history. There are no restrictions to the type of convictions that make a hire eligible for their employer's gain from this credit. This will benefit your company.
Hiring a sex worker or a survivor can make your company an actual hero and generate amazing press over time as you increase your staff with these valuable and hard working people. Your company will be truly disrupting generational poverty and this is really the best outcome for a society that is firmly rooted in Capitalism. This will benefit your company.
"You CANNOT be opposed to trafficking if you are morally or ethically unable to hire survivors or sex workers. Denying traditional employment to sex workers makes you complicit in their exploitation. If you don’t respect the yes - you won’t respect the no." - Mistress Matisse