I'm Janis. I'm a stripper, writer , and social work Masters student researching the impact of sex work stigma on the mental health services sex workers receive. I'm seeking funding for my research, which consists of interviewing 20-40 (at least!) current or former sex workers about their experience with mental health care and therapy.
Since SESTA/FOSTA passed last year (2018), the world has become an even more dangerous place for sex workers — yet none of my experiences in my classes or internship have made any space for sex worker visibility, affirmation, and inclusiveness in mental health care. In fact, as a student, I've witnessed painful and humiliating instances of sex work stigma: jokes made at sex workers' expense, by professors and students alike; willful misinformation about the differences between sex work and trafficking; the ignorant assumption that a sex worker could never be sitting next to them in their respectable and privileged classrooms. As the next wave of social workers and mental health care providers, this is unacceptable. Moreover, it is in direct opposition to the Social Work Code of Ethics, and needs to be corrected if we — sex worker activists, social justice allies, and mental health care providers, together — are going to create a world where healing justice is possible.
Historically, sex workers and sex workers' rights advocates have been on the front lines championing sexual liberation — and while certainly we've made some progress in the past several decades, sex workers are consistently left behind, or erased entirely. The most vulnerable among us — Black, brown, and indigenous sex workers, trans and queer sex workers, poor and disabled sex workers, and sex workers experiencing isolation in rural areas — are always the ones who suffer most when laws are made for us by those who don't understand what it is like to BE us. The rallying cry of sex workers' rights advocates is nothing about us without us, and that is the guiding focus of all my work: This research will be the first step towards creating a sex worker culturally competent framework for mental health care providers (a topic completely overlooked in my social work education), entirely informed by the input and experiences of sex workers themselves.
As a sex worker myself, I believe in the importance of compensating people for the emotional and intellectual labor. Too often, we're asked to give away parts of our selves and our stories for free. As a sex worker who has spent the past two years in the world of academia, this is especially true of research, where participants are asked to allow strangers into the privacy and sanctity of their lived experience, often revealing sensitive, personal, or sometimes even traumatizing aspects of their lives to the cold eye of the researcher. All of the funds generated by this campaign will go toward compensating survey participants.By compensating the participants in my research, I hope to extend a small nod to tangible labor that sex workers do every day in sharing their stories, particularly in a world that so often dehumanizes us. It is my goal to compensate each participant in my research study a stipend of $25 — the going rate of a lap dance at most clubs — though if I can offer more, of course I will. It is my goal to have everyone compensated by June 2019, though my research will continue on far past that date.
In the past, I researched the impact of SESTA/FOSTA on sex workers with disabilities, and was humbled and moved when many of the folks who I interviewed were so quick to turn around their stipend and have me donate it to someone else who needed it more. Sex workers are the most resilient, generous, courageous, and kind community I have ever been a part of, though we are so rarely given the space (except among each other) to be known for it. Funding this research would mean the world to me, because it would allow me, in some small way, to give back to the community that has given me so much.