The “best of times” & the “worst of times” (SlutWalk 2015)

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My name is Jane Green and I am a current sex worker.

I am speaking today, as a sex worker and also on behalf of Scarlet Alliance[1], Australian Sex Workers Association and also Vixen Collective[2], Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation.

I do not speak for all sex workers, because no one can.
I speak from my own personal experience of sex work.

This has been a difficult speech for me to write, not because there is a lack of things to say – but because there is so much.

Much like the Dickens quote, I often feel like it is both the “best of times” and the “worst of times”.

The “best of times” because as sex workers we are constantly fighting for our rights, often achieving so much, and yet it is still the “worst of times” because conservatives and anti-sex work feminists are arrayed against us trying to erase our successes and criminalise our work and lives.

To us, to sex workers, this fight is eternally visible – it is the fabric of our lives and work. But to those that are not part of our community it is often hidden and I believe this is what makes it easier for people to turn away from our struggles, rather than joining us as allies.

Sex worker organisations across Australia and across the world work ceaselessly for the full decriminalisation of sex work – this is supported by the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, Human Rights Watch, Australia’s National HIV Strategies, Scarlet Alliance, Vixen Collective, sex worker organisations nationally and globally – and most recently Amnesty International. Yet we are still working, we are still fighting.

I would like to take you on a tour of what that work is like for me as a sex worker and survivor of rape, over just the last two months.

Vixen Collective, of which I am a member, recently filed a submission with the Royal Commission Into Family Violence (Victoria)[3] . Sex worker organisations across Australia work tirelessly on violence against sex workers, and laws such as the licencing system in Victoria make it much harder for sex workers to report violence to police, or to seek justice through the courts.

Imagine my depressing lack of surprise when submissions to the Royal Commission began to be published and I realised anti-sex work group Project Respect had claimed in their submission that they were the:

..leading agency addressing violence against women in the sex industry[4]

This strangely omits in Victoria – Vixen Collective, RhED[5] and Melbourne Sexual Health[6] -but also every other sex worker organisation in Australia.

Project Respect, commonly referred to as Project (dis)Respect by sex workers, also states that:

“..failing to address family and other male violence against women in the sex industry makes other women vulnerable to men’s violence..[7]
This is a shocking form of victim blaming – essentially blaming sex workers for violence against ALL women – rather than focusing on perpetrators of violence and the systemic causes of that violence.

Most important is the fact that Project Respect is NOT a sex worker organisation but rather an organisation that seeks to criminalise our work, via the Swedish Model[8] of sex work regulation, which would place sex workers at greater risk of violence.

Project Respect also publicly state that they are working towards the abolition of ALL sex work[9].

But this is common. Anti-sex work groups attempts to silence sex workers in Australia abound.

Vixen Collective held the Festival of Sex Work[10] in August of this year. There were sex worker only peer education workshops. Public events to demystify sex work. Social events for sex workers, a film night, lunches, and much more.

As part of the closing of the Festival a protest was held in Swanson Street and photos (of sex workers that were comfortable having their photo taken) were posted on social media.

We were almost immediately attacked by a member of an anti sex work group on Twitter – claiming that there were no “women of colour..but plenty of white men”.

Now I have nothing specific against white men (many of them give me money), but I only remember five or so “white men” out of about nine-five protesters, and the lead speaker was Rory – an aboriginal street based sex worker.

So either the person attacking us on Twitter was at a different protest or they just made that up to be a troll. Which is actually a common thing – harassing sex workers online.

Second only to harassing sex workers in person.

Since I’ve been involved in sex worker activism I have had my photo taken by radical feminists, been called a “cult leader” on the internet, had “pimp lobby”[11] shouted at me while speaking at an Amnesty International meeting and been called privileged so many times that as a ex-street based sex worker, rape survivor, someone who has experienced homelessness throughout my life, and member of a marginalised community subject to stigma and discrimination – that I’m frankly a little over it.

But I’m also over it because when it comes to the laws that affect sex workers lives and work – the voices of ALL current sex workers are critical. Because regardless of what anyone else says we’re the ones who have to go back to work tomorrow and live with the consequences. It is our lived experience that counts and it is our lives that will be affected.

Crowd at Slut Walk Melbourne, Sept 5th 2015

Crowd at Slut Walk Melbourne, Sept 5th 2015

Finally I want to tell you about what I experienced when speaking in Western Australia, at a forum on sex industry regulation[12], opposite Peter Abetz (a Liberal politician) and Simone Watson (current Director of NorMAC, an anti-sex work group).

Much of the rhetoric of both of the opposing speakers centered around silencing sex workers. Anti-sex work groups often like to claim that either sex workers are so downtrodden we can’t speak for ourselves (and must be rescued) or if we do speak for ourselves then it’s a sign we’re privileged (so we shouldn’t be listened to).

This is a tactic used by anti-sex work groups, designed to silence anyone who does not agree with them. But what is really telling if you listen to anti-sex work groups, is the language they use to describe sex workers:

They call us “product” not people

They say sex workers “sell their bodies”, but my body is still here, I sell a service

But most tellingly – just one day after the Amnesty International decision to endorse decriminalisation of sex work – Simone Watson, Director of NorMAC, said the following:

“…at McDonalds you’re flipping the burgers, in prostitution you’re the meat…”

Let me be quite clear.

Those that seek to deny sex workers human rights – are essentially denying sex workers are human.

Those that outright call sex workers “meat” – aren’t even trying to hide it.

So I go back to what I said at the start.

To us, to sex workers, this fight is eternally visible – it is the fabric of our lives and work.

To you, I hope it is now more visible – make a choice, make a difference – join us as allies.

(If you’re not sure what you can do, ask us how)

proud01x

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Want more information on joining sex workers in fighting for the full decriminalisation of sex work in Victoria?
Join Vixen Collective on Twitter here: @VixenCollective
Or visit Vixen Collective’s website – vixencollective.blogspot.com.au

Want to support sex worker rights at a national level in Australia?
Join Scarlet Alliance on Twitter here: @scarletalliance
Or visit Scarlet Alliance’s website – scarletalliance.org.au

You can follow me directly on Twitter at: @sexliesducttape

To find the details of other state and territory sex worker organisations – click here

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References

[1] Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association), http://scarletalliance.org.au/

[2] Vixen Collective (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation), http://vixencollective.blogspot.com.au/

[3] Royal Commission Into Family Violence (Victoria), http://www.rcfv.com.au/

[4]Project Respect is the leading agency addressing violence against women in the sex industry“, Project Respect Submission into the Royal Commission on Family Violence, pg2

[5] Resourcing Health and Education (RhED), http://sexworker.org.au/

[6] Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, http://www.mshc.org.au/

[7] Project Respect Submission into the Royal Commission on Family Violence, pg2

[8] Amnesty (again) – Statement to the AGM, https://sexliesducttape.me/2014/07/06/amnesty-again-statement-to-the-agm/

[9] From Project Respect website, ‘Our Vision’: “Project Respect’s vision is for a world where women are free from..prostitution..”

[10] Festival of Sex Work, http://festivalofsexwork.blogspot.com.au/

[11] Amnesty International: Decriminalising Sex Work – What Are the Issues?, https://sexliesducttape.me/2014/07/05/amnesty-international-decriminalising-sex-work-what-are-the-issues/

[12] Forum on Regulating Sex Work in Western Australia, https://sexliesducttape.me/2015/08/12/forum-on-regulating-sex-work-in-western-australia/

Eleni from Vixen Collective speaks out at SlutWalk Melbourne

Vixen Collective (Victoria’s Peer Only Sex Worker Organisation) members and sex workers came to SlutWalk Melbourne on Saturday, in support of sex worker and collective member Eleni, who was speaking both as an individual sex worker and endorsed by the collective.

Karen Pickering, introducing speakers at SlutWalk

Karen Pickering, introducing speakers at SlutWalk

Crowd at the State Library during speeches

Crowd at the State Library during speeches

Eleni spoke about the multiple stigma that sex workers face and also talked about the silencing faced by sex workers attending the recent Amnesty International Human Rights Forum and AGM in Melbourne in July of this year.

Members of Vixen Collective supporting Eleni at SlutWalk:

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The crowd was enthusiastic about Eleni’s speech, with many members of the SlutWalk audience coming up to thank Eleni for speaking and the sex worker positive attitude was reflected throughout the day on Vixen Collective’s new Twitter account:

Reclaim the Night supports #sexworkers at SlutWalk

Reclaim the Night supports #sexworkers at SlutWalk

Fellow SlutWalk speaker Van Badham supports Eleni

Fellow SlutWalk speaker Van Badham supports Eleni

Sex Party supporting #sexworkers (pictured in Federation Square)

Sex Party supporting #sexworkers (pictured in Federation Square)

It was great to see SlutWalk Melbourne once again providing a space for sex workers to speak out and push back against the all too common silencing that occurs against sex worker community.  It was even better to see Eleni rock it, fierce and proud talking about her life and work!

Full text of Eleni’s speech:

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Hi, my name is ‘Leni and I am a member of Vixen Collective. I want to thank the organisers of SlutWalk for having me speak here today And I want to thank you all for listening. I mean that sincerely. You know it’s really something to stand here as a sex worker and talk. And be heard. Because yes, I am a sex worker, have been on and off for the past 30 odd years.

But as a sex worker I usually get silenced, misunderstood and misinterpreted. In effect, I get shut down. I get shut down by slut shamers as promiscuous at best or I’m met with claims that I must have mental health issues at worst – which I do by the way. But that in no way means I can’t make decisions about what I wear, or what I do for work. Which for the past 14 years has included community work. Or that I should be silenced.

I’ve been shut down by victim blamers who claim as a victim of childhood sexual and physical abuse, I don’t get a say about how I run my life. That I can’t know what’s good for me. That I will have to have others speak for me for the rest of my life.

Well let me tell you. No way. Not today. Today I’m going to have my say.

Yes I was once a child who was subjected to violence. But that fact does not explain nor disqualify me from making the decision to become and continue to be a sex worker. How dare those slut shamers and victim blamers state that it does!

I’m insulted by this attitude because I see myself as a 46 year old woman who has done quite well for herself despite her upbringing and obstacles faced along the way.

With the help of sex work I have managed to travel extensively, finish high school and put myself through Uni, bought my home, my car and have begun an investment portfolio.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying my life has been a breeze but I’ve worked damn hard at keeping my life the way I want it. I now consider myself not a survivor but a thriver of what life had to throw at me. I deserve credit not silencing!

The most recent event where I was silenced by slut shamers and victim blamers was at the last Amnesty International National Human Rights Forum and AGM where they would decide which stance to take on sex work. I saw them at their worst. These so-called feminists (who are just women with middle class values) used antics that were absolutely vile, deplorable and inexcusable!

They insulted us by referring to us as “prostitutes”, our industry as “prostitution” and our bodies as “prostituted”. They attempted, unsuccessfully, to have us evicted from the proceedings. They resorted to name calling and bullying. It was ugly!

It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this.

And it unfortunately won’t be the last. Beware of women with middle class values – they’re an arm of the patriarchy. It’s bad enough when men tell me what I can and can’t do with my body, well it’s no more acceptable when women do it!

They may say that I am selling my body; well you know what? I still have it – I’m selling a service.

They may say I’m mentally ill; I say even the mentally ill have jobs, even the mentally ill have rights.

They may say I’m an immoral woman; I say more power to me.

They may say I need help; I say from what?

They may say it’s only temporary work; I say 30 years, temporary?

They may say that I am broken; I say how? And wouldn’t I know?

They may say what they like.

But do you know what I say? Stop talking about me. Stop talking about sex workers and start listening to us!

So I thank the organisers of SlutWalk for giving me the space to stand here as a sex worker and talk. Loud and Proud.

Because I will not be silenced!

Rally at Perth Parliament, May 2013 – People for Sex Worker Rights in Western Australia

Sex workers & their supporters are here today to call for the full decriminalisation of the sex industry in Western Australia.

This isn’t complicated.

We’re not asking for special treatment.

We simply want the same things that other citizens enjoy.

To be able to work in our chosen occupation.

To have labour rights & protections for that work.

& beyond that human rights.

Licensing regimes such as that proposed by the Barnett government will reduce sex workers to an existence where:

– sex workers would be licensed & registered like criminals, further stigmatising & marginalising our community

– sex workers would be relegated to isolated industrial zones, risking the safety of workers

– police would remain as regulators of our industry, meaning sex workers would have limited access to justice

– the licensing model proposed is so punitive that it would encourage non-compliance, ensuring a large section of the industry would be driven underground

– because of this sex workers would have reduced access to health and outreach services

Western Australia would become the most unsafe place to be a sex worker in Australia.

Most of this effort seems to be based around the idea of driving us out of the suburbs.

Well let me tell you something:

Where do you think we live?

We are already in the suburbs – because we live there.

We live there, we work there, we send our children to school there.

We are citizens, and daughters and wives, and sisters (or brothers).

We are not from planet sex worker.

We are your neighbours.

We are already living next door.

We may even be friends.

But we most likely will not have told you what we do.

Because we don’t want to deal with the discrimination that comes along with people knowing we’re a sex worker.

Licensing of the sex industry only furthers stigma & discrimination for sex workers.

As I said to begin with – we’re only asking for simple things…

No special treatment.

We want to be able to work in our chosen occupation.

& to have labour rights & protections for that work.

To have human rights.

There’s a simple answer.

DECRIMINALISATION.

Sex workers in Western Australia will accept nothing less.

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For more information read sex worker Rebecca Davies interviewed in WA Today:

Sex workers target WA Parliament