How to be a Great Ally to Sex Workers

by Stella

This info sheet is part of a series of five produced by Stella, a “Montréal”-based sex worker rights group, in collaboration with allies, to educate and mobilize communities around legal advocacy and the decriminalization of sex work. These info sheets can be found here. We edited the original content for length.

Language Matters—Consider the words you use

Stereotypes, assumptions and inaccurate representations impact how others see us, talk about us, and engage with us. They also impact how we see and feel about ourselves. The words used when speaking about sex work matter—whether in media, legal argumentation, everyday conversations or anytime you talk or write about sex work. The stigma surrounding sex work shapes the way people talk about sex workers. Words are powerful; they can be used to hurt, degrade and shame us. For example: slut, whore, ho, skank and hooker are words often used to negatively describe sex workers. Some sex workers find it empowering to reclaim these words. Every sex worker identifies differently. Some of us call ourselves whores, prostitutes or sex workers. We love being asked what language may be most appropriate depending on the setting. Any kind of degrading talk about sex work or jokes at a sex worker’s expense—regardless of who is (or isn’t) listening—reinforces stigma, which makes the world a harder and more dangerous place for sex workers to live and work.

Defend and Stand in Solidarity

Being a feminist ally to sex workers may sometimes mean confronting
anti-sex work feminists. The ways that anti-sex work feminists invisibilize us can be painful and exhausting. This invisibilization within feminist
communities is historically deep rooted and personal for all women—it becomes even more personal for sex workers when we are the targets of these divisions. Our allies also experience discrimination because of their association with us. However, in these moments, sex workers need our feminist allies to prioritize our experience of discrimination and to stand up to anti-sex work feminists who reject us. Stigma and discrimination against sex workers takes its hardest toll on sex workers, not on our allies.

Recognize our commonalities + build stronger movements

Sex workers are diverse in our realities and our experiences of sex work. We are equally diverse in our experiences of discrimination. In addition to the various locations that we work on the street and indoors, sex workers are trans, people of color, queer, Indigenous, homeless or living in poverty, geographically isolated, drug users or living with a physIcal or mental disability—we have various needs for advocacy. Many of us experience stigma and discrimination not only because of our sex work, but also because of the various ways we are situated based on our class, race, gender, citizenship status, mobility, and mental health, to name a few. To build stronger movements, we need to make visible the shared and unique ways that we experience inequality, disadvantage, and discrimination while maintaining our advocacy efforts around the human and labour rights of sex workers. This means recognizing how our identities and circumstances make our experiences of discrimination unique. Recognizing the diversity within our movement helps us link with other movements. It also helps us consider and challenge the different ways we experience discrimination and how this interacts with our experiences of sex work. Through this we can build stronger movements and can be better allies to each other.

Using your power

One of the most helpful things that allies can do is help us to access systems and resources that are not available to us or that we cannot access—whether because of the outright discrimination we experience, or because of the internalized stigma that we have been living with for so long. “Sex worker organizations…have been working for decades to get their own systems of safety, mutual support and community funded and implemented. What we don’t usually have is the power to make these real. Our allies with access to resources and power could push for community based strategies led by those most impacted to get the funding and support they deserve” – Juliet November (

Educate Others!

The representation of sex workers in media and pop culture is rarely accurate. This makes it harder for sex workers to live and work in dignity and with respect. There are many myths that circulate about sex workers: that we experience sexual abuse more than other women and are therefore “tainted,” that we use drugs, are controlled by “pimps” or that we have no other option for work. Some of us live these realities while others of us do not. This is how stereotypes and stigma function. Though it may be hard for you to speak up and challenge others when you hear them making jokes or degrading sex workers—it is important (and it gets easier with practice). Use your knowledge to help educate and inform others, to challenge stereotypes and to stand up for us.

For more documents and Stella’s full recommendations for law reform, check out