How to Be an Ally to Sex Workers, According to Megan Barton-Hanson

The "Love Island" star talks about her experiences as a stripper and why people in the sex industry need your support.

14 April 2022, 8:00am

It may be 2022 but, when it comes to sex work, we’re still fighting the same stigmas and bad laws that have existed for decades. When Megan Barton-Hanson appeared on Love Island in 2018, her background as a stripper and glamour model became instant tabloid fodder, and she continues to receive abuse today for her work on OnlyFans

So, to kick off a new year of her column with VICE, Megan provides a guide to being a better ally to sex workers – from ousting online trolls to shouting about sex worker’s rights. You can read her previous column here.

Report trolling and nasty comments on social media

I get a lot of people commenting shit beneath my posts on Instagram, mostly to do with my sex work. I imagine anyone in the sex industry with a public profile will get the same. If you see that happening on the page of someone you follow, report the comments. It takes two buttons to flag it and get it gone, but not enough people do that and I think it would really help. No one should have to put up with torrents of abuse every day, and while we use our social media accounts for work, there are real people on the other side of them. 

A lot of sex workers get their Instagram pages disabled regularly too, whether it’s for using certain hashtags or words or posting photos deemed to be “violating” the nudity policy. When that happens, you can hound Instagram’s customer service team on their behalf and try to help them get their pages back.

Don't get angry when strippers follow the house rules

When I was a stripper, I used to get so many men trying to bribe me – “How much to touch? Please let me touch!” But it’s my job at the end of the day. What happens inside the club is dictated by the club, not the people who work there, and in most cases those rules are in place for legal reasons. So respect sex workers’ boundaries. You wouldn’t walk into someone at Tesco and be like “please, just give me a free sandwich!”

Don’t ask someone if they have a “price”

A lot of guys in strip clubs also say things like, “Come on, I know you do escorting, how much is it to sleep with you? I know you've got a price”. That’s so degrading. If a stripper wants to sleep with you and has done so in the past, then she'll approach you. Don't go in there being heavy-handed and gross about it. 

Don't be a tight arse

Countless times I've heard, “Oh, it's an easy job to be on OnlyFans, it’s easy to be a stripper” – and let me tell you, it's not. I don’t think people understand how hard the job really is. We don't get set wages, so if we’re sick we don’t get paid. If the strip club is shut, then we don’t get paid. Some nights you might go in and not earn a penny if there’s no customers, but still have to pay the house fee to work there regardless. So don't try and haggle. It might seem glamorous and like we're having fun, drinking shots in our underwear and looking cute, but we've still got bills to pay.

Advocate for better sex education

I think we’re getting there in terms of being more open about sex and women's pressure in particular, but if we as a society spoke about sex more openly there would be less of a taboo around sex work. 

If I’d started stripping in the era when my parents were young, I would have had a much harder time than I do now, but that stigma is still there to a degree. When I told my mum I was dancing, she cried. I was like, why are you crying? And it turned out it wasn't because she was upset that I was dancing, it was because of the reputation that it would give me. She thought it was going to ruin my life and make people judge me.

It's always sex workers who are shamed for providing the service, and never the customers and clientele, who are predominantly men, who drive the demand for it. Men are rarely asked to explain why they want to see women's feet, or pay thousands and thousands of pounds to be dominated, or rinsed because they want to be someone’s paypig. Even OnlyFans and webcam [platforms] are very discreet for the client. It’s very easy for them to not have to explain their desires to anyone, while the people fulfilling them for money get the shit. We just need to accept that sex work is just a job like any other, and that’s fine.

Stop trying to ‘rescue’ us

There's a common assumption that all women are victims who need to be “rescued” from the sex industry, but that’s not true. I’ve had partners say things like “I wish I knew you when you were too young to be stripping”... like, I’m a very headstrong stubborn person. My mum cried when I told her I was stripping and that wasn't going to stop me! 

People think that women in the sex industry have no other choice, which for some people is sadly is the case, but for a lot of women it’s a side hustle that they do alongside uni or running a business. We’re all just making money in a quicker way than we would from a nine to five. Everyone wants to be the hero, but if they really want to help they’d be better off fighting against poverty and fighting for sex workers’ rights so more people can protect themselves in the meantime.

Speak up when your friends are being gross

It’s never comfortable calling people out, especially when it’s your closest friends, but if you let comments you don’t agree with fly without saying anything then you’re just as bad as them, in my opinion. And coming from a mate, they might actually be more likely to consider that they’re being a pig and that their views on sex workers are archaic. I think it's such a strong thing to do, and I think men are seeing that more and more. I’ve had male friends be like “I know you do it Meg, but I couldn’t be with a girl that does that” – and when you break it down and actually investigate why, it's either their own insecurities or they just haven't been educated properly. 

The way I see it, marrying for money is exactly the same as stripping or escorting. The only difference is that people in the sex industry can pick and choose how long they do that for. They get in, get out, make their money and then fall in love for falling in love. I don’t think there’s any difference between what I’ve done and Abbey Clancey, but I think it's sad how there’s a respect for women like Clancey in a way, and there's just none for sex workers. 

Boost sex worker charities and organisations

Everyone loves an infographic in this day and age, but you rarely see information or resources going around outside of sex worker circles. Everyone probably knows someone who does sex work these days, and there are loads of amazing charities like SWARM and National Ugly Mugs that people could do more to promote and support. Men especially should be more vocal. How many men do we know who watch porn and follow people on OnlyFans? If they were more open about who they support, what they enjoy – even if it’s between themselves – I think that would help to break down the stigma. 

I bet if we started offering discounted OnlyFans rates to anyone who starts advocating for sex workers’ rights on Instagram, then we’d see a whole lot of men shouting about it!

@meganbartonhanson_

For more information on how to support sex workers in the UK, visit SWARM, National Ugly Mugs and The English Collective of Prostitutes. 

Tagged:

Sex, STRIP CLUB, SEX WORKERS, strippers, jobs, Sex workers rights, Megan Barton-Hanson

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