A sex worker friend called me on Friday afternoon – have you heard about Cromwell?

Instantly he has my attention.  Have I heard what?  What could have happened?  Last I heard the building was for sale?

I know the building was for sale because I walk by whenever I am in the area.  I keep tabs.  Because Cromwell was important to me.  Cromwell was important to many of us.  Cromwell was a family.

Maybe you don’t get that?  As a sex worker I should hate every place I work, or the work itself, or fit some stereotype.  But actually – it’s a job.

Get that – IT’S. A. JOB.

Cromwell Manor was a workplace that held tremendous value for me as a queer sex worker and for many other sex workers.  Few truly diverse venues exist, although at Cromwell men and women, including trans women, worked together.  It was not only fun, but it was a haven of being free from both whorephobia & homophobia.  For me it was a safe space.

This is not to say that Cromwell didn’t have it’s problems.  Just like any workplace does.  When Cromwell closed unexpectedly in June 2012, due to issues the owner was facing at the time, workers were unable to access their belongings onsite.  On the advice of the Business Licensing Authority, Consumer Affairs Victoria, & the Workplace Ombudsman (none of which would help us directly) we went to the police.

The police refused to to take a report.

Eventually SOME workers managed to negotiate to get SOME of their belongings out.

We reported to Consumer Affairs Victoria at the time our concerns that the business records, which included sex workers legal names & working names, might be either abandoned or disposed of inappropriately.

Fast forward back to 2013…

Have I heard about Cromwell?

Ex-brothel turns temporary gallery

I feel ill.  I come from a background that includes periods of homelessness. I can’t believe that in the name of people who genuinely need help (those experiencing homelessness) RMIT University & STREAT, with “ethics approval”, have built a monument to WHOREPHOBIA in the building where some of my best sex worker memories occured.

Rosie Scott the curator is quoted as saying of Cromwell’s closure that it may have been due to “..police raid..for drugs or illegal workers or practice”.  Is that a quote designed to make the exhibition look edgy?  Or was that not even the point?  Was that just some throw away line of hatred against my community?

It makes me feel ill.  Literally ill.  If you read this, & I hope you read this, I hope you try to think about that.

In the article the curator is quoted as saying – “The office was in disarray, with papers and paraphernalia strewn everywhere, suggesting some kind of frantic search or abandon ship moment.’”

A sex worker who visited the Gallery on Friday night viewed Cromwell Manor business documents & worker files, easily accessible, as part of the art ‘installation’ that the space has become.  Victorian sex workers details open to staff, students & members of the public – not to mention the partying crowd there to gawk at the opening.

There is a quote from Rosie Scott the curator in the attached article saying “we have to reserve or remove judgments (if that is possible, it probably isn’t)”.

I do not reserve judgement.


What should you do to fix this?

Admit you need to fix this, but

– accept you must LISTEN to sex workers to know how to do so.


18 thoughts on “MANORISMS

  1. Pingback: Brothels, class, and gentrification: A eulogy for the Pink Palace (repost) – Sadie Slyfox

  2. Pingback: Cromwell RE-BOOTED | sexliesducttape

  3. I also used to work at Cromwell and when I was told of this by another former worker who witnessed this ‘art’ I felt sick. Even now it angers me.

    Like Jane has already said, cromwell was a family. We all supported each other and it was 100% a safe place. Not only has my private information been exploited, but the people I care about have been exploited too.

    There is absolutely nothing artistic about what I assume to be ‘naming and shaming’, especially by falsely associating Cromwell and it’s workers with drugs and criminal behaviour. Controversy is not art and neither is accidentally stumbling across documents. Would they display the person records of hospital patients when doing an art exhibition at a hospital? No.

    Sorry for the ramble, im still very angry. And I’d just like to add that we all really cared (and still care) about Cromwell, it was not abandoned.
    & thanks Jane for everything you’ve done for all of us, other workers and Cromwell.

  4. Pingback: The Week In Links—October 25th

  5. absolutely not- these works were NOT done by sex workers for sex work DIALOGUE- it was done without ANY consultation with the sex work community – hence not realizing confidential material.
    Would you think it’s appropriate to make works about homosexuality when you are not in that community and you know NOTHING about the history, context, or haven’t even spoken to people in the community? Would you think it would be appropriate if it were African American community by bunch of white people??? The fact that everyone thought it was OK to do this without even speaking with the community involve is sue to WHOREPHOBIA and writing off sex workers as people without any agency.

  6. Thanks for this info – I filed a complaint with the RMIT Human Ethics Advisory Network, other sex workers & I met with them today, have been advised I should hear back from them around mid-November.

  7. Pingback: CROMWELL RE-VISITED | sexliesducttape

  8. Yeah – I didn’t mean an actual collage, my sarcasm (or my analogy?) got away on me there.
    But not far off actually.
    But as I said in response to one of the other comments – I am not commenting further without discussion with the other sex workers involved – but an update is likely tomorrow afternoon…

  9. The most important discussions taking place today have been those between sex workers – whose privacy, safety and ability to live without whorephobia has been compromised.
    Without workers reaching a point where those involved were ‘happy’ for me to indicate the details then I disclose NOTHING.
    That said – this is most likely to update tomorrow – mid to late afternoon Australian time.

  10. Can you please give us more details on the records that were used – eg. Was it photos , actual names + addresses , work names etc

  11. Yeah, if that’s the use of records definitely 😦 I wasn’t sure how records were used (as art or if just left around). Though I don’t think of this so much as a “phobia” as “entitled-self-righteous-dickishness”. I’d never encountered “whorephobia” as a term before this month, so am still getting my head around how it is used in the community.
    Thanks for your response.

  12. Or is there possibility in the opening of the house to generate a greater empathy for the industry? Does not the closure reinforce the spectacle? I am not condoning the mentioned openness of the documents containing names, but is there not a greater ambition in making the space itself public, of opening up a dialogue beyond negative judgement? Does it not make the industry more transparent and therefore less conducive to negative speculations? It is an important space (physically socially) and the space of sex workers is equally of importance. The gesture of the exhibition could equally be read as, despite its flaws, a movement towards this. Towards greater dialogue, and listening. So how do we make the space for listening?

  13. I think it would be great to give us an actual account of the records that were displayed – if not – you may just be perpetuating the thing that you despise.
    If yes, then we can have an important open discussion.

  14. If it was any other business and someone found a bunch of employee records it’s unlikely they would think it was okay – make a collage out of workers personal information, call it an “installation” or nail it to a wall, & then invite a couple of hundred of their closest friends around for cheese and whining about “art”.
    Enough said.

  15. I don’t really get how it is whorephobia. Genuine uncertainty, would just like more info please.

    Is it because they haven’t removed records but they would if it were any other group of people?

    Or is it that they are saying it was abandoned to suggest dodgey activity?

    If the latter then surely it needs to be proven that it wouldn’t have been a reasonable assumption that it was abandoned for dodgey reasons? If I walked into any business and it was eerily abandoned and looked as though papers were searched for, I’d think foul play/police first – whether the business were a brothel or a law firm.


  16. frigging tourists…. :-/ beyond disgust and completely unacceptable. Please keep us updated, you story is very important

  17. Totally unacceptable. I encourage you and the person who witnessed the business documents and worker files to contact RMIT’s Human Ethics Advisory Network to notify them that identifying personal information hasn’t been properly redacted:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s