Harry, here’s the truth about sex workers
It's so rare these days to see celebrities and public figures view sex workers with anything more than pity or contempt.
So when Meghan Markle and Prince Harry stopped in at Bristol charity One25 earlier this week, I was sort of touched by the simple gesture Meghan made.
When the Duchess saw that care packages were being prepared for the street-based sex workers who use the charity's outreach services, she asked for a marker and wrote short, inspirational messages on the bananas contained therein. "You are brave", "you are strong", she wrote, and I thought, how nice is that?
Unfortunately, Prince Harry's comments later in the visit left me feeling that Meghan's husband didn't quite share her beliefs. "When you're being groomed at such a young age and this is the only thing you know, you completely lose faith in society," he said to a Telegraph reporter, reflecting on the sex workers helped by the charity. "You lose trust in every man, and probably everyone else around you. From a mental health perspective, you are broken."
As a sex worker myself, I found Harry's comments really hurtful, but he's not the only one to think this way. If I had a dollar for every time I had read an opinion piece or listened to a speech that heaped lashings of unwanted pity upon the poor, miserable sex workers of the world, I'm quite sure that I - and many other workers - would happily be able to retire to a beachfront property today.
In some ways it's easy to imagine how a person like Harry, born in to a life of unimaginable wealth and privilege, would look at sex workers as being broken and downtrodden women. But he's wrong to do so, and his comment - a dismissive statement of sorrow given at the wave of a royal hand - does nothing to help or support sex workers.
It merely reduces us to objects of pity that can be looked down upon at will, and furthers the popular belief that all sex workers are is helpless victims, lured or forced in to the industry and lacking the strength and knowledge to escape.
While the messages Meghan wrote in the care packages may come across as slightly condescending, at heart I still think she's right: sex workers are brave. Sex workers are strong. And though many people are quick to argue against the existence of the adult industry by pointing out that out that some workers have faced drug addiction, homelessness, childhood abuse, sexual assault, and rape, these experiences do nothing to negate a person's strength and bravery, nor their right to make money in any way they need.
Many sex workers have experienced challenging and tragic things - but so have many people. The adult industry isn't a world removed from your own, and the people within it don't exist in a space separate to the rest of you.
That we are frequently so quick to look down on sex workers for having struggled, or experienced tragedy, says infinitely more about our own attitudes than it does about the workers themselves.
Pity looks downward, while compassion looks within, and Prince Harry would do well to choose compassion instead of pity. So would many people.
If the thought of sex workers losing faith in society and faith in men is so unbearable, should we not ask ourselves how and why we have created a society that rejects marginalised people so easily that they can lose faith in us?
If you want to support sex workers, start by listening to our stories. Yes, the stories that affirm what you already know about sex workers, but especially the stories that challenge everything you've ever been told.
When you hear people speak about us, or speak over us, call them out and argue for our right to have a voice, to speak for ourselves, and to be heard.
Recognise that when sex workers demand decriminalisation, we're doing so not only because it makes it easier for us to work, but safer too. Decriminalisation opens the doors for sex workers to have better relationships with the police and law enforcement, more contact with health professionals, greater access to sexual health information and resources, and more opportunities to join peer groups and outreach projects.
If you worry that people start sex work because they have no other choice, then do what you can to offer a choice. Employ people who have done sex work and are looking to leave the industry.
Employ single mothers, employ drug users, employ survivors, and employ people who have experienced homelessness.
And support people who choose to do sex work, whether it's just for now or for the rest of our lives. But whatever you do, don't pity us. We are brave and strong, and we do not need it.