This information sheet explores the different issues that can occur when telling people or institutions about your profession, such as family and friends, government departments, health workers and banks. We’ll also outline some possible options, consequences and things to take into consideration when making the decision to disclose.
Most sex workers are worried at one time or another about whether or not they should disclose to other people that they are working in the sex industry.
This is a very personal decision and options vary greatly depending on the situation and the person you’re telling.
Some sex workers are very open about their work, while others will only disclose this information to a few select and trusted people.
Some people don’t tell anyone at all except their nurse or doctor at the sexual health clinic.
Whether or not you disclose your work depends on the situation, who the person is and your personal feelings.
For example, it is one thing to tell a doctor or nurse at a sexual health service that you’re a sex worker; however, it may be all together another thing to tell your local GP or family doctor, let alone family or friends.
What are you going to be reading about?…
- Your doctor or nurse
- Government departments
- Banks and financial institutions
- Telling your family, friends and workplace
- Telling an existing partner
- Issues that can arise if you tell your partner
- Positives of telling your partner
- Starting a new relationship
- Telling your children
- Summing up
Your doctor or nurse
It’s good to find a doctor or nurse with whom you’re able to be completely honest with about being a sex worker.
Many of us go to sexual health services because more often than not they are non-judgmental and knowledgeable about the issues we face.
It is possible to find doctors in local practices or medical centres who can provide the same service, but it does take some shopping around to find them.
The best way to find a sexual health service you feel safe to disclose in is to ask other sex workers where they go, and don’t go, and why.
Many sex workers also have a second doctor they go to for non-sex worker related issues, i.e. they may go somewhere else for everything but STI screening. It is up to you whether or not you choose to tell that doctor you’re a sex worker although it can be a good idea to keep your doctors separate, because if you have an accident or contract a work-related illness later on in a straight job, for example, your secret might be disclosed.
Remember that everything you tell a doctor is confidential, and if you choose not to tell a doctor you’re a sex worker it can make it harder for you to receive good care, especially if you want a sexual health check. If you see a doctor who is rude to you, sexually harasses you or throws you out of the clinic because you’re a sex worker you are able to take action. You can call our offices for more information about how to do this.
Workers are often concerned about telling Centrelink that they are sex workers when they wish to adjust their social security payments or about declaring their work to the Australian Taxation Office, particularly when applying for an ABN as details may be made publicly available.
As a sex worker, you can apply to have your ABN suppressed so that people can’t access your details on the Australian Business Register.
You can do this by applying in writing to the Assistant Registrar of the Australian Business Register and marking the envelope ‘private and confidential’. Do NOT apply for an ABN over the Internet: all this information automatically becomes public.
If you are caught not disclosing your work or income to these offices and others, you risk being fined, charged or losing benefits.
If you register a business name, you will need to declare what it is you are doing for a living. Clients will be able to look up your entity name and trading names, state/territory and postcode of main business location, GST and DGR details.
They won’t be able to look up detailed address information, contact information or industry code. However, if your client is an accountant or has an accountant they work closely with, the information is easy enough to find.
All of the information you provide when applying for your ABN is made available to all other government departments, including the police, Centrelink, Health Insurance Commission, Australian Customs Service and revenue agencies.
If you or someone else tells the Department of Child Safety that you are a sex worker, you’re not breaking the law and they cannot discriminate against you or take your children from you because you’re a sex worker.
“Know legally when you need to tell”
Banks and financial institutions
Banks and financial institutions should only be interested in the stability of your income, your saving history and credit status.
However many large and small banks openly discriminate against sex workers and sex industry businesses. For example charging them more for credit card services, requesting more information than usual for loan applications, or closing Paypal accounts if they find out you are a sex worker.
The type of work you do should not be a consideration, and if a financial institution refuses you a loan or service on the grounds of that you work in the sex industry then they may be liable for action under the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act.
Telling your family, friends and workplace
Most people have concerns about whether or not they should tell their family about their work. It is a really big decision, so here are a few things you may want to consider before disclosing.
How will telling this person potentially affect my relationship with them? Some of us find that when we tell people that they cut off all contact with us, stop asking us about our lives so that the relationship becomes very one-sided, may try to have your children taken from us or limit our access to our children.
On the other hand, some people have found that by telling people in their straight lives that the relationships become closer and they get more support.
How do I think they will respond? This is a tricky one because you never know how someone will respond.
They may be non-judgmental in everyday life, but when it comes to a family member, friend or work colleague being a sex worker this may be unacceptable to them and they may judge you.
The key here is not to prejudge someone and the way they will react; rather, be prepared for the best but definitely prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Am I ready for this? If you do decide to tell someone, you have to be ready to support them and yourself.
They may want to ask you questions you may not feel comfortable answering; they may say they never want to speak to you again.
They may burst into tears, so you’ll need to comfort them; they may threaten to tell everyone at your straight job or your extended family, partner or children.
You need to ensure you have the strength and external support to help you deal with this situation.
External supports may include having the phone number of Respect Inc in your phone, having a group of sex workers as friends and a counselor you can see.
This can be a traumatic and complicated step to take, so it’s best to be as prepared as possible.
Is this someone I can trust not to use the information against me? This is one of the most important considerations because it can result in blackmail, threats and gossip.
Think very carefully before you tell anyone anything that may affect the short-term and long-term safety of yourself and the other people in your life. Think about what you have to lose and how much access these people may have to other parts of your life.
How important is it that this person knows what you do for a living? Think about if it’s a matter of life and death, whether it will destroy the relationship if they don’t know and if it will help you if they do know.
For example, if you have a family member or friend you don’t tell and then they find out, will it make them cranky that you didn’t trust them enough to tell them?
“Do they really need to know? Before you tell anyone what you do, think about the potential consequences”
Why do you want to tell them? This is important to know so that you can work out if there is some need in your life that you hope sharing the information will help you fill.
It’s important to know your motivation so you’re able to know all of the different options available to you.
For example, if you’re feeling really isolated, depressed and lonely, you may find it an easier and safer option to make friends with another sex worker and tell them what’s going on for you rather than tell a work colleague in your straight job or your mother.
What are the consequences of telling someone if it goes badly? The rule many sex workers live by is, don’t tell anyone anything you cannot afford to have used against you and don’t give anything away you can’t afford to lose.
Carefully consider what telling people in your life could mean for every aspect of your life and decide if taking the risk is worth the price you may have to pay.
“There are so many things to think about, and there is no right and wrong answer to any of these questions.”
All the above questions can do is give you some things to think about to help you plan for any issues that may arise if you do choose to tell.
“The key issue is not the disclosure; it’s being prepared to deal with the consequences of the disclosure.”
Telling a current partner
Perhaps the most complicated decision to make is whether or not to tell your partner you are working in the industry or thinking about working in the industry.
You may want your partner to know but be afraid of how they will react.
Some people find that it helps to test the water by finding out how their partner feels about sex work and how he/she generally feels about sex in terms of a personal relationship.
Be aware however, that if you ask them what they think about the sex industry and they say ‘It’s all good, it’s just something some people do for money and they keep a load of old bastards company’ doesn’t mean they will approve or keep the same opinion if you’re doing it yourself.
Sex workers can suddenly turn from ‘ladies performing a community service for lonely people’ into ‘a pack of grubby thieving whores’ if you suggest that you do it.
Also be aware that even if they think you are someone performing a valuable community service now, doesn’t mean that in 6–18 months you’re not going to turn into a whore in their eyes, especially if your relationship breaks down.
Keep in mind that everyone responds to situations differently.
If you decide to tell your partner about work they may be very supportive or it may take them some time to get used to the idea.
There may be times when it might put pressure on your relationship. You may find you need to make a choice to work or to end the relationship.
Your partner may find they also face the same decision and give you an ultimatum or leave you.
If you decide not to tell your partner, it’s important to keep in mind that if a condom breaks or you pick up an infection at work you may be placing your partner at risk if you’re not practising safer sex at home.
In addition, if your partner finds out you’re working and you haven’t told them, they may feel betrayed and it may take some time for trust to return to the relationship.
“Put outside supports in place before telling your friends, family or workplace”
Issues that can arise if you tell your partner
Resentment—This can be from the partner who isn’t sex working because they don’t earn as much as you do and resentment from you because your partner doesn’t make more of an effort to make more money or doesn’t contribute as much.
Blackmail—Many sex workers find that if they break up with their partners they are threatened and blackmailed by their ex-partner threatening to tell their family, kids, people in their straight job, Centrelink, the Department of Child Services, and even the police, if they don’t give them the house, cars and money when they leave.
Threats—A partner may threaten to divorce the worker and take their children overseas so they never see them again.
Abuse—The partner always has ammunition to throw at the sex worker if they want to fight, and you may hear yourself being called a ‘whore’ and other derogatory terms.
Cheating—Some sex workers find themselves being pressured into agreeing to an open relationship because the non-sex working partner feels like they should be allowed to have sex with other people if you are because they don’t understand that it’s just work. Some sex workers’ partners cheat without them knowing and feel justified in doing it. If they are caught, their partner will abuse the sex worker and say it’s all their fault and they wouldn’t have to do it if they weren’t sex working.
Taking work home—Some sex workers find they have to do sexual things with their partners because their partners want to ‘mark their territory’ or they need to prove to their partners they do things with them they don’t do with others.
For example, your partner may want to have unprotected sex with you every day before and after work, which may mean you have to give yourself an enema at least once a day, causing damage to your vagina or anus.
Using you—Some partners will increase their spending and demand money or gifts from you if they know you are sex working.
They may believe you owe them whatever they want and a ‘your money is our money’ mentality takes hold.
You can end up paying all the rent, the mortgage, bills, buy all of the food, clothes, cars, pay for the car rego; the list can be endless.
You can literally walk away with nothing at the end of a relationship because you spent all of your money supporting your partner.
Positives of telling your partner
Child care—It can be easier to organise your home life if you have a responsible, supportive partner who understands they need to help you out by being home to feed the kids and clean the house if you’re at work.
Support—Someone to give you cuddles at the end of the day if you’ve had a yucky day at work.
Not needing to lie or be sneaky—It can be very hard to sneak in and out of the house or tell your partner you’re working at the casino when you’re really going to work in a brothel or a five-star hotel.
Explaining why you’re wearing a business suit or an evening gown to work as a bar attendant can be tricky.
Starting a new relationship
If you are starting a new relationship, you may like to see how things develop before exposing your profession.
If you find yourself in a moral dilemma, consider ‘taking a break’ from work while you wait and see where the relationship is heading.
Telling your children
Most people don’t choose to discuss their work with young children. However, older children may become suspicious and start asking questions.
Deciding whether or not to tell older children depends a great deal on your relationship with your child, their maturity and how much they know about the reality of the industry and what your role in it may be.
If you are uncertain of what to do, seek professional advice from a specialist counsellor who is experienced in working with sex workers or children.
It is important to find someone who is non-judgmental to ensure they won’t judge you and transfer that judgment onto your children.
Deciding to tell anyone is a really serious decision and it’s a good idea to speak to as many sex workers as you can about their experiences with disclosing their work experience to others.
Once you’ve heard the pros and cons and what can happen, think about a battle plan of what to do if it all goes wrong now or in the future to keep yourself and/or kids safe.
Trust your instincts; if deep down you feel you shouldn’t tell then you don’t have to tell them right away.
Maybe it’s better to sit back and re-evaluate the situation before you take any action.
It’s important you take the time to think about this decision really carefully and give yourself all the time in the world to make an informed decision.
All material in this information sheet is provided for your information only and may not be construed as legal, medical or health advice or instruction.