Supporting Support Services: The Digital Revolution?

This was the (slightly cheeky) title of my talk at the ProsPol conference Displacing Sex For Sale that took place at Aarhus University, Copenhagen Campus on the 29th – 31st of March 2017. Here’s the abstract to my paper, which in all honesty was based on my CHI2017 paper, titled: Supporting Support Services: The Digital Revolution?

Many sex workers use technologies in innovative ways in various aspects of their working lives. Support services however rarely make use of digital technologies to support them in their everyday practice. In this paper, I will outline a case study of one charity’s novel use of technology to illustrate the role the digital plays in their successful direct service delivery as well as underlying social and criminal justice agendas.

I will do this by first introducing the discipline called Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and outlining their move towards feminist and social justice oriented approaches, topics of sex, sexualities, and activism, and reflexive methodologies. As part of this there has also been a shift towards Digital Civics (Olivier & Wright 2015), and as such relational models of service provision, citizen activism, and participatory methods, giving it a unique potential to support sex workers, sex worker rights organisations, and sex worker support services.

Taking these disciplinary and methodological potentials into account, I will discuss an interdisciplinary, mixed methods, and collaborative case study of National Ugly Mugs: a politically active UK sex work support charity that allows sex workers to report crimes committed against them, creates alerts out of these for other sex workers, and trains police and services on good practice for service delivery. By evaluating their services, I provide an outline of how they utilise technologies in their day-to-day activities, focusing on how this affects their reporting, alerting, and mobilisation practices. At the end of the presentation I will discuss how technologies can aid in institutional and fractured service delivery by showing how it has influenced the re-designing of the NUM website, and pose questions that should be considered by interdisciplinary sex work researchers addressing the digital, and other sex work support services wishing to integrate more technologies into their services.

Olivier, P. & Wright, P., 2015. Digital civics. interactions, 22(4), pp.61–63. Available at: http://dl.acm.org/ft_gateway.cfm?id=2776885&type=html [Accessed July 10, 2015].

The talk however was slightly different, and went on a slightly more meta-level than would be expected from this abstract, ending with some questions on service design and digital technologies such as:

  • what does it mean to deliver services in a certain way that provides different outcomes, but also uses different actors, technologies, and services?
  • What kind of world does the service create? And how do the technologies we design interact with this world to provide us a different way of exploring this space to move towards a more socially just one?

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