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Unemployed, overwhelmed by bills and struggling to feed herself, a young woman from Little Rock turned to sex work to make a living with no prior experience. When Godiva, who has requested to be identified by her work alias to protect her career and personal safety, began working in Little Rock as a prostitute, she did not know how to protect herself and was often taken advantage of for her lack of experience, she said.
Godiva has joined forces with fellow sex workers to form the Arkansas Sex Workers Union — something she thinks will keep people from making the same mistakes she did when she was starting out, she said. Clay is a dancer at a club in Central Arkansas. Her focus on safety stems from her past experiences with aggressive clients, as well as the experiences of other sex workers, Godiva said. The main focus of the union is to create a better quality of life for those in the sex work community either by choice or circumstance, Clay said.
Members of the union aim to achieve this by hosting workshops, free HIV testing and connections to different healthcare providers. The definition of sex workers includes exotic dancers, webcam models, escorts and prostitutes, Clay said. This inclusive definition of sex work allows the union to conduct the majority of their outreach via word of mouth by members of the union.
This style of outreach would help build the much-needed community for sex workers, Godiva said. These issues range from not receiving proper healthcare, because sex workers are independent contractors, to stigma placed on them by misguided outreach programs.
By developing the union in Arkansas, rather than working through an out-of-state organization, Clay wants to build a union that truly represents those in the sex worker community, they said. For now, Godiva wants the union to focus on resources they can offer that will make an immediate difference, she said. Samantha Van Dyke is an associate news editor, and she previously worked as a reporter for the Arkansas Traveler.