Practical Advice: Learn Self-Defense (No Excuses!)

True story: Way back in the day when I was an itty-bitty call girl just starting out in my studio apartment in the San Francisco Tendernob, I kept a roll of pennies under the bed. Somehow in my mind, this constituted a self-protection plan. My thinking went, if a client got out of hand I’d reach under there and . . . And then what? Sock them in the face? As if punching someone with homemade brass knuckles would magically whisk them out of my apartment, leaving me intact. My psycho client insurance wasn’t worth those fifty cents.

My other big self-defense strategy was daydreaming about coolly slapping wayward clients around. The Kill Bill movies hadn’t come out yet in the early ’90s, but the Bride was pretty much how I saw myself—ninja warrior in a banana-yellow vinyl bodysuit, minus the samurai sword. One tiny problem with this plan—total ignorance of any martial arts whatsoever. I’d seen movie stars performing all kinds of ass-kicking maneuvers, so somehow I figured if I ever found myself in trouble, once the adrenaline kicked in, all those techniques would flow through me, my assailant would crumple like a wet Kleenex, and I’d be safe.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this truth: You need to plan for danger if you do sex work. If someone starts behaving erratically or in a threatening manner, you need a plan for getting away in one piece. Furthermore, you must commit in your mind to carrying that plan all the way through. If that means making a lot of noise and as a result, people find out about you, so be it. Don’t be like my misguided younger self—hope is not a plan.

I strongly recommend learning self-defense. Check online—many martial arts studios, nonprofits, universities, community colleges, and police departments offer free or low-cost courses, teaching both defensive and evasive techniques, as well as how to spot aggressive behaviors and scheming maneuvers. Most of us don’t have the opportunity in regular life to imprint our muscle memory by acting as if we’re in imminent danger, shrieking at the top of our lungs as though our lives depended on it. For many of us, this may be the first time we ever punch, kick, gouge, or strike another human with full force, pushing through any inbred tendency to freeze when terrified. This is how we train ourselves to act.

Additionally, our body language, eye contact, and alertness can signal to potential attackers how easy it might be to overwhelm us—most rapes and robberies are crimes of opportunity. I’m in no way placing blame on anyone who has suffered an assault—the only person responsible for violent behavior is the assailant. With that said, it’s good practice to project confidence and awareness, presenting as someone who doesn’t tolerate bad behavior.

I also kept several self-defense tools on hand when I worked. I had an air horn stashed in my apartment, because 99% of bullies and thieves are cowards themselves—a big, loud unexpected noise isn’t part of their robber fantasies. I carried pepper spray in my purse for outcall. It temporarily disorients an assailant, which is ideal if your plan is to run away. But if someone is in your work place just being obnoxious, pepper spray escalates rather than deescalates the situation, so it’s not the best tool in all situations.

When I worked in my thirties, I kept a licensed loaded pistol in my apartment. I mentioned my ex was a former cop; she taught me how to handle a handgun properly. However, she trained me to draw it only when my intent was to shoot to kill. Don't make the mistake of believing a deadly weapon scares assailants off—a gun is not a magic wand that makes bad guys do what you want. In real life, drawing a gun you have no intention of using is the best way to get it used against you. Same with a knife. Very few of us truly have what it takes to stab a person in a way that makes them less, not more, of a threat.

I had a clear plan for which defense I’d use depending on how threatened I felt. I learned the effect each weapon would have on an assailant, and had an escape plan. I committed to risking eviction or arrest if that’s what was necessary to survive. I’d rather my neighbors learn I was a sex worker than become a violent crime statistic. And I gave myself permission to cut off anyone who didn’t feel right or follow my rules without feeling guilty about it afterwards. Better safe than sorry.

One more suggestion—there are now many self-protection phone apps that send an alert to your support circle or dial 911. If your life depends on it, do not hesitate.

~~~A self-defense course is one of the very best things you can do for yourself as a sex worker. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain from learning how to handle yourself in a threatening situation. Master any weapons you have on hand, and be clear about when to use them. Don’t let your fears about getting outed keep you from defending yourself by any means necessary.~~~