Safety Tips from Sex Workers
By now, the horror stories about getting catfished have dominated the media enough to scare off anyone who hasn’t already taken the wild risk of meeting someone off of the internet. If it isn’t catfishing, it is the prospect of serial murder. Although meeting someone at a bar is not necessarily any safer, removing the ability to judge someone’s mannerisms and demeanor can understandably make the less tech-savvy nervous. Who knows if that hottie on Grindr is going to turn out to be scary? Even common dating sites like OkCupid host their fair share of creeps who can put the bravest of romance-seekers on high alert.
As a vulnerable population that disproportionately experiences violence, sex workers regularly face the dilemma of whether their new special friend from the internet is going to turn out to be awful (and with much higher stakes). Danger is not merely a trip down the path of paranoid fantasies caused by watching too many horror films, nor the average psychological and bodily assault that the average woman faces (which by itself is already measured somewhere around “several fucktons”).
Thankfully, the web offers a bevy of nifty little options that allow us to vet someone before a face-to-face meeting. You may not be able to screen just like a sex worker, but you can still get some use out of their tools. This may be the one (and only) time you find a sex worker giving tips rather than collecting them, so take note of these hard-earned harm-preventative measures that anyone can use to vet their next date:
1. Good “old-fashioned” Google
Most of us are familiar with using this search engine for all of our nosy needs; this tip is hardly revolutionary for those of us who know how to control “The Google.”
Most folks under forty will attest to spending at least one night or two bleary-eyed and four whiskeys in, falling down the Google hole to find out what new things come up under their ex’s name.
For those of you who maybe aren’t as comfortable with Google magic: Adding quotes around whatever you put in Google will search for that exclusive phrase, rather than searching for things that merely include bits and pieces of that phrase. Google whatever information you have on this person: Name, email, phone number. You can even do a reverse Google image search for their profile photos.
VerifyHim is a website that allows you to take basic information (first name, last name, email address, phone number) to do a search that goes a little bit deeper than Google. It compiles all of the information found in an easy-to-read page.
The results can include everything from social media information, to information about how this person treats sex workers. Have they been blacklisted? Have they been downright nasty or dangerous to providers? Fact: Nice people treat hos nicely.
Premium members get some additional benefits, including blacklist checking through SMS, checking down past and current addresses, and access to their contact manager (which is apparently a much simpler version of Safe Office).
Although the site is provider exclusive, maybe one of your sex worker friends (yes, you know at least one…I promise) will help you vet your dates if you help shell out a couple of bucks for the monthly subscriber fee.
TinEye is essentially like Google’s reverse image search, but a bit simpler for the lazy and the Google inept. Whether you have a photo of your date saved on your computer or merely have a link to the picture in question*, TinEye’s homepage gives you several straightforward options for searching.
This is an especially useful tool for times when someone’s name, email, or username isn’t popping up anywhere else. People have a tendency to use that one recent babe-ly photo of them on all of their profiles, so you may find access to information that you wouldn’t with just text information alone.
*Pro-tip: Need to look up a photo from a website, be it Facebook, Twitter, or their dating site profile? Right click on the image, open the image in a separate tab of its own, and use that link to search for it instead of saving it and taking up precious space on your computer.
4. Pipl Search
There are dozens of sites out there that will charge you $13.95 (or more) to get all of the information you could possibly want on a person. Pipl, on the other hand, doesn’t cost a dime.
Pipl can find almost anything you want to find (and perhaps some things that you don’t), whether it be someone’s social media network, any information listed on a webpage (even if it is old), and when you search for a screen name, it will find pretty much anything associated (even the URL of a Pinterest profile).
Pipl searches are more organized than a Google search, allowing you to parse the information down into different categories to find what you are looking for (web mentions vs. specific profiles).
5. Before Technology Could Do Your Vetting For You: Your Gut
Sometimes you can find a plethora of information on a potential date and still find yourself getting the heebie-jeebies when sitting across from them at the dinner table. None of the above research tactics are foolproof; there are plenty of sociopaths and abusers who have mastered the art of charm, and who will be loved by grandmothers, children, and small fuzzy animals in spite of what they are capable of. The key thing, though, is to listen to your gut.
At Desiree Alliance, a sex worker conference that recently took place in Las Vegas, there was a presentation called “How to Survive Being Kidnapped by a Serial Killer.” During this presentation, Christine Barber of Safe Sex Work told the audience, “A verbally aggressive person is an aggressive person. Period.”
This is important to remember, especially since it can be easy to brush away concerns when you are lonely or worried about being “mean.”
Pay attention to how a person asserts their opinion, especially if you disagree on an issue. Take note of how they treat other people. Take note of how they respond to you as you speak. Are they aggressive without provocation? Are they strangely ambiguous about details in their personal life, particularly things that seem unusual to be vague about?
If you feel like there is something that just feels wrong about this person, pay attention to that feeling. Don’t talk yourself out of it. That feeling is self-protective. I know it is a little woo to put it this way, but honor those feelings.
The average person is probably not going to face very many violent interactions during their blind date at the local coffee house, so these tips are mostly preventative, and sure, potentially a little excessive.
When you meet people from the internet for the first time, you’re more likely to face awkward conversation and perhaps the discovery that there just isn’t much chemistry after all. These tips can definitely help guard your physical safety, but they are more likely to help you avoid scammers, or getting played by someone who isn’t exactly single. Plus, maybe they can put the anxious mind at ease before heading out to meet someone new.
Of course, in addition to all of these tools, make sure that you always follow some basic safety tips for meeting someone in person for the first time: Meet in a public place, take your own transportation, and have a friend you can keep in touch with who will make sure that you end up safe at home at the end of the night.
Lastly, now that you know all these tips, you can find out exactly what you are putting out there into the world. Keeping tabs on that is self-protective too.
While making the move from online to offline may seem intimidating, figuring out which tools work for you and learning to train your intuition to be shrewd about assessing internet interactions only takes a little bit of practice. Oh, and don’t forget that once you find someone who seems cool and fun, remember that there are other kinds of protection that are necessary — and sexy — too.