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As a Sex Worker, I'm Terrified for the Next Four Years

Under the Trump administration, I could stand to lose my healthcare, my livelihood, and even my life.

Illustration by Stephanie Santillan

As I tap my knuckles gently on the hotel door, my heart pounds, rattling past the underwire of my Agent Provocateur bustier. I've been through this routine hundreds of times over the last three years, but I still feel a pit in my stomach every time. I memorize the number on the door and make note of the nearest stairwell, just in case. After a few painful seconds of anticipation, the door opens and the man on the other side greets me. I already know his name, his phone number, where he works and where he went to school, as a thorough background check is one of the ways I guarantee my safety. We exchange pleasantries, settle in, share a drink. I quickly scan the room for an unmarked white envelope. When I find it, I excuse myself to the bathroom and count. Once I establish that the money is all there, I tuck it away and let the night unravel.

This is the best-case scenario as a full-service sex worker. In the worst case, I might be detained in transit by the police for carrying a knife as protection or for having a a "suspicious number of condoms" in my purse. The medications I take to protect my sexual health—an oral contraceptive and Truvada, an antiviral used to treat and reduce the risk of HIV infection—might fail. I might encounter an abusive client. I might be assaulted, robbed, or arrested.

These threats are the reality of my job, but many sex workers worry that they'll grow more severe over the course of the next four years, while Donald Trump is president. Trump, who's praised stop-and-frisk and encouraged harsher sentences on crime, who's threatened to defund Planned Parenthood and suggested that women are sexual objects for the taking, is assembling a cabinet of politicians who have a terrible track record with women's rights. As a sex worker, these policies mean I could stand to lose my healthcare, my livelihood, and even my life.

Women, people of color, those who identify under the LBGTQ spectrum, and sex workers run some of the highest risks in falling victim to violent crime in America. Those catalogued into more than one of these groups have an even more increased risk. Female prostitutes especially face statistically high murder and violent crime rates in comparison to civilians. It's estimated that for every 100,000 full service workers, 204 will be murdered.

But the criminalization of sex work only furthers these risks, by driving our industry underground and failing to offer protection. The "crime" in selling sex is a victimless one, yet both parties involved can be at legal risk. Fear of mistreatment and incarceration can prevent sex workers from reporting assault or other crime committed against them, seeking proper medical care, or even just speaking up about the realities of the industry. The longer sex workers are forced to be complacent in our treatment and our silence, the sooner our rights are forgotten.

Trump has called himself the "law-and-order" candidate, a phrase made famous by Nixon and Reagan, and is poised to follow their lead by continuing mass incarceration and holding a "tough-on-crime" stance. I acknowledge that, in the eyes of the law, my work is criminal, but policies like these only jeopardize the safety of myself and other workers. I don't expect much protection from a man who once suggested that sex workers can't be raped.

Already, I invest a great deal of time protecting myself—including my sexual health. If Trump does indeed defund Planned Parenthood, I would be left without affordable healthcare for routine STI testing, contraceptives, and other sexual health services. It's not just that my sexual health is important to me personally—it's paramount to performing my job. Without it, not only would my income suffer, but the safety of myself and my clients would be put at risk. I would like to think I wouldn't continue to do sex work under these conditions, but realistically, I know that I would put my financial security over my physical, mental, and emotional health if necessary.

For me, and many others in my position, the next four years seem bleak, hopeless, and terrifying. But others—including my clients, who are primarily wealthy white men—stand to benefit from the Trump administration. Already, I've heard my clients who work in the pharmaceutical and finance industries express excitement about how their industries will flourish under Trump, giddy with the results many Americans took as bad news.

I hope some of that trickles down to me—that I see my clients more often, in more extravagant hotels, with more expensive bottles of champagne. But even if I profit from the benefits to my clients (and more specifically, their money), the risk I will face as a sex worker in Trump's America will make for a strenuous four years. I worry that the worst-case scenarios will become more prevalent, more real.