Heartfelt Advice: Surviving the Bad Call

The worst has happened—a call turned ugly. A client or coworker or cop became violent, threatening, or otherwise out of hand. You’re safe now, but shaken and scared. What do you do next? It’s important to say first that in our line of work, an encounter does not have to rise to the legal threshold of rape, assault, battery, or robbery to feel disturbing, painful, dehumanizing, or traumatizing. If it felt bad to you, that is all that matters.

If you are the victim of a crime, reporting to the police is your decision. Unfortunately, in many parts of the U.S., sex workers face bias in the legal system. There is a chance your claims will not be taken seriously. If you decide to go to the police, I strongly suggest you enlist an ally to support you through the process.

In the days that follow, it is crucial to take extra care of yourself for as long as you feel affected by the event. Here’s my best advice:

  • Take a moment to acknowledge this is tough stuff.  Give yourself credit for doing the very best you know how to get through this. Treat yourself just as your guardian protector or very best friend would treat you: gently, kindly, with ferocious protectiveness and bottomless compassion.
  • If you experience suicidal thoughts, insomnia, anxiety, or other distress symptoms, seek professional crisis counseling right away.  The National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673 | rainn.org) is available 24 hours a day. It’s free, anonymous, confidential, and available to all genders.
  • Don’t be silent; don’t act like nothing happened.  Stuffing this down inside is additional self-harm.
  • Ask for support from friends and family.  Now is not the time to isolate.
  • Tell your buddies, coworkers, and management what happened.  Let them be part of your protection system. Additionally, they have the right to be informed in order to protect themselves.
  • Do not blame yourself.  You are only responsible for you, not for anyone else. You don’t deserve what happened. You didn’t have it coming. This is not your fault. You are not stupid. This is not your karma. Period.
  • It’s natural to feel vulnerable.  I encourage you, however, not to treat this event as evidence that you can’t trust other people or yourself.
  • It’s normal to feel depressed or lose interest in ordinary activities for a while.  Please don’t beat yourself up. When traumatized, we need to grieve what we’ve lost: the hope that we will always be safe, the wish that nothing bad will ever happen to us. That sadness must be fully felt, but it is survivable.
  • Anger is common as well.  It can be an excellent motivator to make yourself safer in the future.
  • Take extra good care of yourself.  Go for long walks. Write in a journal. Make art. Be sweet to your body, including washing, grooming, and eating right. Connect with the things that make you feel good. Nature, sunshine, little kids, exercise, and animals are all excellent medicine.
  • If flashbacks flood your mind, stop what you’re doing and be present.  Breathe into you, not the memories.
  • Avoid addictive or self-destructive behaviors as best as you can.  What starts out as a shortcut to make the pain go away can contribute to a spiral of shame and self-loathing.
  • Be proactive.  Self-defense courses and getting politically involved are powerful ways to take back control, as well as to find safe community. Support groups, both online and in real life, connect you to those who have had similar experiences, providing opportunities to learn from others how to cope.
  • It’s natural to think about quitting sex work.  However, give yourself time; don’t make snap decisions.

And finally, allow for the possibility that once you’ve processed what happened, this event will pass through you to settle where it belongs, in the past.

~~~Few of us are actively taught self-care in response to trauma.

As negative emotions come up, we must honor them, because they’re telling us something important—our response cannot be to wish them away or to engage in yet more harm to ourselves. We must enlist all of our resources: friends, safety nets, self-love. Healing can only happen when we give ourselves time and space to acknowledge what happened and to grieve it. Only then can we absorb both the trauma and the truth of our resiliency into the story of ourselves.~~~