Sexual Abuse: Supporting Friends

Online sex work should be a choice. If you, or one of your friends has started out in this industry it is really important that it is because you want to, and not because you have been coerced or pressured into doing something that you don’t want to. Sexual abuse can be difficult to pick up, and so helping a friend can be tricky as well.

There was a recent documentary on BBC3 which discussed called The Truth about Cam Girls. These women are paid per minute to strip on webcam for customers. The interactions are often short and not terribly personal; while they might have some recurring customers this isn’t about their personality. There is no discussion of meeting up with these men.

The best thing I took from these women’s stories is that in all three stories at least one other person in their lives knew what they were doing. These were not secret careers or money making methods which they kept to themselves. Carla is managed by her mother; Sammie’s girlfriend often sits next to her and the pair cook dinner with quick breaks for work. The three women all had completely different views of their work. While Sammie planned it as a short term solution to get her away from the porn industry she hated and onto the psychology degree she longed for, Carla thrived in the environment. Olivia had a personal rule never to get completely naked for anyone.

Abuse in online sex work

Hopefully, anyone who has become involved in online sex work will be wise enough to tell at least one trusted friend. If a friend has told you about what they do late at night, they’ll need you to be non-judgemental, and possibly to give them support and advice. You won’t need to do anything other than be the great friend that you are.

The issues arise when what might have initially been a choice gets out of control.

If your friend has previously been open about their online activities but suddenly gets quieter, or they no longer seem comfortable sharing, something might have happened and that’s when you’ll need to be more supportive than ever. You’ve proven that they can trust you, which should help. Clear cut signs of sexual abuse typically include a short temper, becoming jumpy, as well as a fear of being touched. Tread carefully and make sure your friend knows that you’re there for them if they do want to talk about what’s happened. You shouldn’t try and force anyone to tell you something which they don’t want to, as this can make them more withdrawn and cut you off as a confidant.

Things to remember about the online world:

  • You are safer online than you would be in person. This is due to the anonymous nature of online work. Keep it that way by using a pseudonym. Make sure your friend minimises any personal details they share. They should avoid using a photo of their face in their profile as well.

  • Support is vital. If your friend needs you to be there, be there. If you notice any change in their personality speak to them in a relaxed environment so that they know you’re there if they need you.

  • Reassure your friends that if anything happens which they’re not comfortable with they’re not responsible. They’re also not alone.

  • If the support network is there and people know what’s going on, it’s much more difficult to become a victim of abuse. Take back the power by keeping open communication with at least one trusted friend.

When the online comes offline

Not all sexual abuse will be the result of sex work which your friend has signed up for. Perhaps they have met someone online, through conventional channels like dating sites, and the relationship has turned sour. This can be particularly difficult because more established relationships rather than short term interactions can be much harder to remove yourself from.

Look for the same signs, and be aware that with sexual abuse in a relationship your friend might try harder to hide things, and even push you away in an attempt to cover up what is happening out of shame or embarrassment. Isolation can prevent your friend from discussing their experience and prevent them from breaking the abuse cycle.

Blame culture is easy to slip into so avoid questions such as:

  • What were you doing there?

  • Why didn’t you tell me before?

  • Why did you drink so much?

  • Why didn’t you leave?

Keep any thoughts of this ilk to yourself, and instead just be there. Support is your main role, so don’t ask for details or try and pressure your friend into taking certain actions.

Just be there.