Safety for female freelancers and sole traders

This article is based on my experiences as a female freelancer in Australia, and is directed at other female and female-identifying freelancers; however, some of the safety risks/strategies mentioned below are also relevant to male freelancers; and some of the risks mentioned might be less of a risk in countries that are less sexist, and more of a risk in countries that are more sexist. Note: this article assumes that most female freelancers are not proficient in self-defence. If you know you would be capable of defending yourself when under attack, there is no need for you to read this article.

The risks

We would love to live in a world where women were just as safe as men; where a woman could safely invite a strange man into her home-based office to talk about editing, or meet a male client in his home, or at a pub in the evening. But in the real world, if you’re a woman and you invite a man whom you don’t know to your home-based office, and there’s no one else in your house to back you up, and you’re not strong and proficient in self-defence, you may be putting yourself at risk. Whereas if you were a man, it would be far less risky to invite a strange man to your home-based office, or meet them over a drink.

Of course, most men aren’t going to confuse a client/freelancer relationship with a romantic or sexual one, or pose a real threat to the freelancer. But by being aware of and managing the above risks, female freelancers can protect themselves from the risk posted by that minority of male clients who are potentially capable of being inappropriate or dangerous.

How to stay safe

If you’re a female freelancer or owner/operator and you need to meet or consult with a male client who has a formal office in town and/or works for a large business or company, it’s usually safe and appropriate for you to meet him in his office.

If you’re a female freelancer or owner/operator, don’t invite a male client to meet you in your home-based office unless:

  • you are a good judge of character, you have met the client before (in another location) and you feel confident it is safe to meet them in your office, or
  • the client runs a business and has a formal office and/or works for a well-known business or company and your telephone communications with him have convinced you he is professional, or
  • you have an adult, capable of being your ‘back-up’ in the house while you’re meeting a client; this may be your partner, neighbour or family member, or
  • you have a large, well-trained watchdog that knows how to defend you if required, who remains in the house while you are meeting the client, or
  • you only meet during the day, rather than in the evening; this keeps the boundaries clear for certain types of male clients.

If you need to do some work for a male client either in their home, or in an office based within their home, suggest an initial meeting with them in a public place first, so you can have a chat with them and assess how safe they are before deciding whether to enter their home. If your instincts are good, and you are sure he is okay, then you can go to his home.

If your instincts are not very good, don’t take the risk. If you can’t meet or do your job in a safe place, don’t accept the job.

Articles about safety for freelancers in general

Image: SW Kane – editor and scribe of oral histories in the 90s


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