Departing from stigma and secrecy and elevating stories of agency: Narrative practice in the voices of sex workers — Kaur Serendipity

By: Kaur Serendipity

This paper explores the use of narrative therapy and community work to respond to the complexities surrounding women’s experiences in the sex industry. It offers practices for therapists and community workers seeking to engage with sex workers in ways that are respectful of their hard-won knowledge and seek to elicit double-storied accounts in relation to hardship, thicken stories of preferred identities, and explore absent-but-implicit values, hopes and commitments. These practices include an innovative use of re-membering questions and a collective Tree of Life process adapted to the specific experiences of women in the sex industry. The paper elevates the insider knowledge of sex workers, particularly the lived experience of women engaged in sex work in which they have a high degree of choice and autonomy. It includes a collective document of sex workers’ insider knowledge about confronting stigma and isolation, addressed to people whose work intertwines with sex workers in some way: therapists, support workers, lawyers, police, activists.

Key words: sex work; Tree of Life; re-membering; collective document; narrative practice.

Serendipity, K. (2024). Departing from stigma and secrecy and elevating stories of agency: Narrative practice in the voices of sex workers. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (1), 2–14.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Kassandra Pedersen

    I now realize that I started reading this article with the lens of assumptions and discourses that circulate in my Greek context (and beyond) around women’s identity and experiences in the sex industry- mainly seen as victims or oppressed. I was drawn by the way that this paper, while acknowledging the diversity of experiences people have in the industry and the different conditions of work, highlights how narrative practices were used with this group of women to make visible stories of sustenance and resistance to stigma and secrecy. As I was reading, I felt like I got closer to the insider knowledges of women who choose sex work of their own volition. In my experience stories that highlight women’s agency and preferred identities has not only been neglected in the literature, but it has also been pushed to the edge of broader conversations in Greece around people engaging with sex work.

    This is a very different context but it reminded me of the therapeutic conversations I have had in the past with people working for funerals who in my culture are often labelled as “carrying bad luck” (there is a Greek naming for that), “being dirty”, and “not a person to be around”. These discourses have had significant effects on the intimate relationships, identity and life of those people I have been in conversations with. Offering a relational space where these dominant ideas have been gently unpacked was a significant part of our work together. It stood out to me that in second story development people talked about their insider knowledges around acts of resistance to stigma and how their engagement with their profession introduced them to some ideas around meaning in life and death that they hold valuable.

    As a therapist, the paper had me thinking about what it might take to understand as many of my biases and resist moralistic frameworks in my questions/responses during therapeutic conversations with people whose experiences of life and work might sit outside of what is socially understood, accepted or expected. What bias and assumptions may need to be unpacked and reviewed to stand closer to a co-researcher position?

    I am wondering how might other practitioners notice when assumptions are present about how the people they are in conversation with experience agency, power, consent, informed choices and how do they respond to that in therapeutic conversations?
    I’d love to hear from more practitioners what stood out to them in this paper.

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