RMIT plays host to hate (again)

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On the 27th and 28th of July a conference called “Australian Summit Against Sexual Exploitation” (ASASE) is being held in Melbourne, Australia.  Hosted by RMIT University it is billed as exposing the “seamless connection between sexual exploitation in the following areas: Pornography, Objectification in advertising, Sex Trafficking/Prostitution, Child Sexual Exploitation”.

The conference brings together speakers well known for whorephobic, transphobic, homophobic and Islamophobic views, as well as opponents of abortion rights, safe schools, marriage equality and surrogacy.

Speakers include:
Julie Bindel
Melinda Tankard Reist
Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins
Caitlin Roper
Simone Watson

Supporting organisations are listed as – Bravehearts, Centre for Human Dignity, Children of Phoenix, Collective Shout, Destiny Rescue, Pink Cross Foundation Australia, Rahab, Spinifex Press, Salvos Cupcake Team, The JAM Network and Women’s Forum Australia.

Why Protest?

Sex workers, sex worker’s representative organisations around the world, human rights organisations and allies all call for the full decriminalisation of sex work for sex workers’ rights, health and safety – anti sex work groups (such as those represented at this conference) continue to call for the criminalisation of our work and attempt to silence our voices.
This conference includes speakers that oppose the rights and safety of many marginalised people – all people deserve to have our human rights recognised – join us in raising our concerns about this event!

Join us in protesting!

**Thinking of joining the online campaign?  Do you have an anonymous Twitter/Facebook/Email account?  Please consider your safety/anonymity in your protest activities**

Take action online:

Use the hashtags #RightsNotRescue and #sexwork

RMIT is on both Twitter and FaceBook

Write to RMIT:

  • You can write to RMIT to express concerns about the Conference to the University Vice-Chancellor, Martin Bean at:
  • Email – vc@rmit.edu.au
    & Email to ombuds@rmit.edu.au as well

Promote the online protest!

  • Talk to other people you know that support the rights of marginalised people and encourage them to participate
  • Spread the word on social media – Twitter, Facebook, everywhere – let people know to join the online protest

Will there be action/protest happening in Melbourne during the conference?

YES, a coalition of sex workers and trans people have organised a protest for Saturday the 28th of July, details here:
https://www.facebook.com/events/285614115321860/

Also, keep an eye on Vixen Collective’s Twitter
Twitter: @VixenCollective
And: @ASASEProtest on Twitter

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Looking for info when arguing with anti’s or debunking their arguments?
Check out ‘A Pocket Guide to Dealing With Anti’s Online’

What to know about the history of RMIT hosting #hatespeech ?
The Sound of Silencing Sex Workers
“Pieces of meat” and Balance in Journalism

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)

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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/

Forum on Regulating Sex Work in Western Australia

**Please note: this post contains language that may be triggering/offensive, including whorephobic speech, as it reports on comments made by anti sex work groups and their members**

Tonight, just one day after the Amnesty International resolution to develop a policy recommending the full decriminalisation of sex work, the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Western Australia (UWA) played host to a forum on regulating sex work.

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Speakers included:

In favour of full decriminalisation of sex work, local sex worker Rebecca Davies, member of People for Sex Worker Rights W.A. (local peer sex worker organisation) and Jane Green, Vice President of Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association).

With opposing views in favour of the Swedish (sometimes called Nordic) Model of sex work regulation, Peter Abetz (Liberal Member for South River in W.A.) and Simone Watson (Director of NorMAC, the Nordic Model in Australia Coalition).

Given the history of whorephobic activity and abusive behaviour at public events by anti sex work groups and their members in Australia, Rebecca and I were apprehensive but determined in defending sex worker rights in this setting.  Also we were encouraged by the decision taken by Amnesty International yesterday.

However.

We were subject to the type of stigmatising speech sex workers who speak out about their rights are often subject to, such as:

“…legalising the right to sell her body…”  Peter Abetz

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

Audience members had to be removed for taking photos of speakers, despite clear advance notice before the event, written notice at the event and announcements before speakers began.

These are the tactics of stigma, intimidation and silencing used by anti sex work groups and their members.

We refuse to remain silent.

Our speeches are detailed below…

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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, the Australian Sex Workers Association. We are a peer organisation, this means at every level – staff, volunteers, members and executive committee – we are all current or former sex workers. We do not allow owners or operators of sex industry businesses to hold membership in our organisation.
We are a sex worker organisation – and like other sex worker organisations we represent and are accountable to our community.

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

That may seem an unusual thing to say when I have just said that I am speaking on behalf of an organisation that represents sex workers across Australia, but let me explain – I am here to speak about facts. Because I believe in facts. I am here to speak about the evidence that sex worker organisations like the Scarlet Alliance here in Australia, but also sex worker organisations across the world have on sex work, on sex workers experiences – and that evidence reflects my own personal experience of sex work.

Scarlet Alliance, through its member organisations in Australia has the highest level of contact with sex workers of any organisation in Australia.

Sex worker organisations exist throughout the world. In some countries it is illegal to openly admit to being a sex worker or to have membership of a sex worker organisation.

Anti sex work groups regularly portray sex worker organisations as run by those in positions of privilege, or as “industry lobby groups”. This is a blatant lie designed to silence sex workers and their representative organisations. Instead of a standard power-point display I have chosen to run a display of images of sex workers and sex worker organisations from around the world protesting for the full decriminalisation of sex work – you will be able to see clearly that our community is diverse, yet united, in calling for sex workers’ rights to be recognised.

You may have noticed during this event that there are some differences in language being used, by the people to my LEFT.

As Rebecca has explained sex workers, generally prefer to be called sex workers. When our community, the representative organisations for our community – across the country and across the world, as well as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations all ask people to use the term sex worker you might not think that would be a lot to ask.

But it’s a different story when the people you are asking are specifically using language as a tactic to oppress you.
Sex work is work.
My work is real work.
& I have never had anyone adequately explain how having less rights would somehow “save me” or improve my situation.

SWParis

So what do we actually mean when we say that – that the Swedish (sometimes called the Nordic) Model would give us less rights?
When anti sex work groups talk about the Swedish Model “only criminalising clients ” what does that mean?
For a start it doesn’t just criminalise clients, it also criminalises all of the surrounding activities around sex work – Rebecca has outlined this.
But also, about “criminalising clients” under the Swedish Model, in reality exactly how does that work?

Do we imagine the police are just following random people around waiting for them to maybe decide to visit a sex worker?
Are there special psychic police that just know when someone might want to pay for sex?
New advanced technology like the Tom Cruise movie ‘Minority Report’ where police can anticipate what you are going to do in the future before you get there?

Surprisingly no.

Under the Swedish Model police actually target sex workers – the police follow, harass and stake out sex workers while trying to arrest clients.
This is what the “criminalisation of clients” looks like in reality.
This pushes sex workers underground, creates barriers to sex workers accessing peer support networks and health services, limits options when choosing clients and negotiating boundaries, increases risk, and makes it almost impossible to go to police if a sex worker is subjected to violence.

Also, so much of the rhetoric put out by anti sex work groups is centred around stigmatising sex workers and encouraging discrimination against my community.
I would like to point out that I am now going to read a quote, made in relation to the attack on Amnesty International’s support of the decriminalisation of sex work, but please clearly understand that these are the words of an anti sex work group (so I apologise for having to read them, and to those that may find them triggering and offensive):

“Shouldn’t Amnesty be focusing more on ensuring women have a real choice – that they have real agency – by addressing the underlying poverty, discrimination and lack of education that lead women into prostitution..”[1]

That was a short quote.
Let me explain why sex workers often seem so angry when dealing with anti sex work groups:

ensuring women have a real choice”

Not all sex workers are women. Sex workers are people. This may mean women, INCLUDING trans women. This may mean men, INCLUDING trans men. But it also means people that identify across the gender spectrum. & I am not sorry that we do not fit into the box in which anti sex work groups seek to put us.

a real choice”

Thanks for deciding for me, that my choice is “not real”, when comparatively I guess everyone else’s is. Anti sex work groups often claim that any one that actually advocates for sex worker community can’t be representative OF sex worker community. I feel compelled to point out:
The individual sex workers and sex worker representatives that have been behind me throughout my speech on the PowerPoint display would like to illustrate that this is a deliberate attempt to mislead you and to silence our community.

KoreanSW2011

ensuring … that they have real agency”

Agency is your ability to act independently and make your own free choices. The structure of society around us (class, religion, gender, all of these things) influence us. They influence ALL of us.
Anti sex work groups sometimes focus on the idea that sex workers don’t have “free choice”.
WAKE UP and smell the capitalism!
We ALL live and work in a world where we all have to LIVE and WORK.
Unless you are part of a select minority born into wealth and privilege, yes, you will have to work.
People across the world experience relative degrees of privilege (for example white privilege) and are also impacted by the social environment in which they live and work.
But no worker is ever helped by having less options.
Attempting to criminalise sex work – any part of our work – is attempting to limit our options and in doing so makes our work unsafe.
To constrain us from making decisions about where, when and how we work – and most fundamentally whether we should be able to work at all is offensive.
Whatever “choices” we have – we have the right to make them. To suggest that we do not is fundamentally offensive.

addressing the underlying poverty”

Poverty is a global, awful, complex issue – caused by rich countries, webs of influence, the IMF, bad government, charities that do not listen to the communities they serve (or even realise they serve those communities), a host of other factors, as well as social and personal indifference to other peoples suffering.
But poverty does not cause sex work – people living in poverty need to work and support themselves and their families – removing another option by which they can do so is not helping them. It is simply makes the lives of those engaging in sex work whilst living in poverty more dangerous.

“..lack of education..”

Okay, thanks for that – it’s nice to know what anti sex work groups think of us.

I’m not sure what level of education they consider appropriate for a particular workforce before intervention and saving is required, but maybe they could tell us? – perhaps a University degree?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures in 2007 indicate that 21% of people aged 25-64[2] in Australia had a Bachelor Degree or above, so by suggesting that “lack of education” (to some standard they have yet to define) is an issue, anti sex work groups may be insulting a larger proportion of the Australian workforce (76%) than they imagine.
& just how educated are Australian sex workers?

In a study conducted by the Queensland Government, also in 2007, 25% of sex workers surveyed had a university degree – so in Australia (or at least in Queensland) we’ve edged out in front slightly[3].

“discrimination”
Sex workers are currently discriminated against in a multitude of ways on a daily basis across Australia.
I would like to give you a list of examples that I keep when I advocate for sex work community – but when I timed my speech including the list it put me three minutes over time.
After this event my speech will be posted online and includes the list of discrimination that sex workers face in Australia, that is NOT a complete list, but illustrative – I would encourage you to access this, as often the concept of discrimination is an intangible concept, invisible if you are not a part of our community.

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This is a list of examples of the types of discrimination sex workers in Australia face, that had to be omitted from the speech at the W.A. Forum on Regulating Sex Work, Wednesday the 12th of August, due to the length of time it would have taken to include it into the event.
Please be aware this list is not extensive, also:
a) it is illustrative of the discrimination that sex workers in Australia face, used as examples when advocating for sex worker community (& sometimes when doing sex worker advocates only have short windows of time in which to advocate),
b) many sex workers experience intersecting marginalisation (for example: sex workers of colour and trans sex workers)
c) the last point is (in my opinion) the most important point

  • Sex workers experience stigma and discrimination through ‘outing’, being exposed as a sex worker, this can impact on workers but also on families, partner/s and friends
  • It can affect school age and/or older children if a parent or carer is who is a sex worker is ‘outed
  • Sex workers may experience interpersonal and/or interfamilial violence when ‘outed’
  • Being a sex worker may affect the outcome of child custody cases
  • Sex worker status may affect access to housing and accommodation
  • Sex worker status affects employment disputes & future employment opportunities
  • Being out or being ‘outed’ as a sex worker leads to discrimination regarding health insurance
  • The ‘Leaking’ and misuse of personal information on sex workers can lead to stalking, blackmail & extortion
  • There are less opportunities for sex workers to utilise remedies to address discrimination
  • Sex workers are discriminated against regarding goods and services (including banking and online commerce)
  • Sex workers have been barred entry to clubs or hotels
  • There is discrimination in education against sex workers (including the exclusion of sex workers from University Courses on ‘morals clauses’)
  • Sex workers are discriminated against regularly in medical settings (for example refusal and/or exclusion from treatment ‘on conscience’)
  • Sex workers have been discriminated against in membership of trade unions
  • Sex workers experience the implication of ‘criminality’ that is implied by registration under licensing regimes
  • Sex workers have less ability to access police/justice under criminalised and licensing systems.
  • There is reduced access to health/outreach services for sex workers under criminalisation/licensing systems for regulating sex work
  • Sex workers experience increased stigma and discrimination in media
  • Police attitudes to sex workers, including corruption and harassment from criminalisation, or entrenched stigma/discrimination from prior criminalisation – affect sex workers ability to access police and their treatment when sex workers do.
  • Sex workers are subject to stalking and harassment from anti sex work groups and their members, including outing to family and in social media
  • Lastly, sex workers are often NOT HEARD – OUR VOICES, SEX WORKERS VOICES are always the most critical voices in ANY discussion about OUR lives and OUR work.

If there is a discussion on sex work happening in Australia, in government, on policy, in media, on our LIVES – if sex workers are not INCLUDED, if our representative organisations are not there – then be aware a choice has been made to deliberately exclude us.

And if anti sex work groups attempt to remove sex workers from discussions about our lives and work, we are not required to sit down, shut up, behave politely and wait for them to stop trying to ‘rescue us’.

ProjectRosex

We’ve been ‘rescuing’ ourselves for years. We call it – sex worker activism.

Equality for sex workers is a future that sex workers are creating every day, through the action and voices of our community and our own sex worker organisations.  This future can be achieved more easily with allies by our sides, making space for sex worker voices to be heard and supporting our activism.  It is not aided by anti sex work groups that do not recognise our voices, rarely if ever talk to us, but frequently talk about us – who refer to us as objects: as “bodies”, say that we are “bought” and “sold”, who call us “product”.

I do not “sell my body”.  My body is still here.  I sell a service.

Suggestions from anti sex work groups and the ‘rescue industry’ that sex workers need others to speak on our behalf, that we are not the experts on our own lives and work – that is silencing our community, that IS exploitation of sex workers.

I cannot expect anti sex work groups to stop working against us.

But I ask you to START WORKING WITH US:
– become a sex worker ALLY
– START speaking up in support of sex workers
– DO NOT BE QUIET when people use hate speech to define us, calling us epithets rather than calling us SEX WORKERS, objectifying us and demeaning us rather than calling our work, just that – SEX WORK
Nothing about us, should ever be without us.

[1] ‘Amnesty International – The Sex Trades New Best Friend’, Tasmanian Times, http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/pr-article/amnesty-international-the-sex-trades-new-best-friend/, Simone Watson, 13-Jul-15.

[2] Refer Australian Bureau of Statistics – http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mediareleasesbyTopic/CAB937E9717F783BCA2568A900136267?OpenDocument

[3] In terms of education, about one-quarter of licensed brothel workers and sole operators reported that they had completed a bachelor degree. This compares favourably with the general community. According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics publication, Education and Work, May 2007, 21% of Australians aged between 15 and 64 years had attained a bachelor degree or above..”, Select Sex Industry Statistics, Prostitution Licensing Authority, Queensland Government.

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My name is Rebecca Davies, I am a Western Australian sex worker and a member of People for Sex Worker Rights in W.A., a peer sex worker group that aims to have our work decriminalized and remove the social stigma sex workers face. Our decision making committee is made up of current sex workers only.

In researching my opponent tonight, I have come to a simple conclusion, Peter Abetz is misguided in his attempts to “help” women. Sticking with his Christian background Peter believes that the government and more importantly men, have a role in regulating women’s bodies. This is evident to me with Peter’s long campaigning for more restrictive abortion laws, saying things such as:

“..the silly thing is if a child is injured in an accident, it can claim damages but if a mother says it’s inconvenient and has the baby killed, the law says that’s perfectly okay..”

in the West Australian, and his persistent attempts to undermine sex workers health and safety by campaigning for the Swedish (sometimes called Nordic) model at every opportunity.

NoSwedishModel

I have been a sex worker for over ten years. I have worked within various legal frameworks in my time, and I have also seen the difference between laws, intentions, and how things are actually implemented on the ground. I have worked with other sex workers doing sex work, and I have also previously worked as a peer educator providing outreach services and health promotion to sex workers across W.A., in sex industry venues, private workplaces and on the street in street based sex work areas.

At this point I would like to give some background on Western Australia. Up until 2000 sex work here was illegal. Keeping a brothel, soliciting etc. way back when, even the police knew this would not work, and the W.A. police, understanding even then, that they could not eradicate the sex industry, implemented what was commonly known as “the containment policy”. This policy, which was not law, but rather police policy, started in Kalgoorlie, in the famous (or infamous) Hay Street area red light district. Under the policy police allowed certain premises to operate only in certain areas of town. The police had to know who was working where. The policy was eventually implemented across the state and certain venues were allowed to operate, workers had to be registered with vice. I began working after the law change, although some workers were not aware of the change, and police continued to collect information. Police have never given clear answers about where this information is kept, for what purpose it is kept and who has access to it.

Often groups advocating the Swedish Model do not seem to understand that just like full criminalization and licencing, it still positions police as the regulators of the industry. The police cannot be of full assistance to sex workers whilst they are continually cast in this regulatory role, which they are not given in any other industry. How can we seek assistance if we experience violence, if we are either subject to penalties ourselves, or under the Swedish model, where we would be lining ourselves up for police surveillance whilst simultaneously cutting off our own income? Somehow I don’t see myself reporting under those circumstances. I think it is also really important to point out research conducted by Elaine Dowd in 2003, titled “Sex workers rights, human rights the impact of Western Australian legislation on street based sex workers. Dowd cites research from SARC, the sexual assault resource center, which found of sex workers reporting sexual assaults in Perth, over 50% were perpetrated by police.

Also problematic is the reference within the Swedish Model to literally almost anyone as a pimp. Landlords can be charged with pimping if they don’t evict sex worker tenants. There was even a case of a sex workers adult child charged with pimping because his mother didn’t charge him rent. Another case that particularly resonated with me is that of Petite Jasmine. Because of her status as a sex worker her children were removed from her custody and given to her violent ex-partner. He subsequently stabbed her to death. I don’t understand how people can say this is a step towards equality, when a women can have her children removed and a violent man is deemed a more suitable parent because someone doesn’t agree with how she makes a living. As a sole parent and a sex worker this is one of my biggest fears, to have my child removed because you don’t like my job.

Often when discussing sex worker rights things can become really heated. For us, this is because it is our lives and livelihoods are on the line and at the end of the day, a simple truth remains, changing the law does not actually affect politicians, or even former sex workers, it affects those of us currently working in the industry today. I think the Swedish Model can be summed up by Ann Martin, Sweden’s trafficking unit head who said:

“..of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect that we want to achieve with the law..”

I am tired of not having full access to my human rights. People don’t seem to want to listen to sex workers, often statistics are thrown around by academic types such as “..95% of women in prostitution don’t want to be there..” and “..most start in the industry at 13..” amongst other hysterical claims. When you do a bit of digging you will find that they are in fact all referencing the same material, research conducted by Melissa Farley, an anti-sex work campaigner. Since people don’t pay much attention to sex workers discrediting Dr Farley, I find it much easier to quote one of those academic types that people take seriously, Justice Susan Himel, who was the presiding judge in Canada’s supreme court during Bedford v Canada, in which Canada’s anti-sex work laws were struck down. Justice Himel said of Dr Farley’s research:

“Although Dr. Farley has conducted a great deal of research on prostitution, her advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions. For example, Dr. Farley’s unqualified assertion in her affidavit that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence. Furthermore, in her affidavit, she failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post- traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely, that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.
Dr. Farley’s choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions. For example, comments such as “prostitution is to the community what incest is to the family” and “just as pedophiles justify sexual assault of children . . . . Men who use prostitutes develop elaborate cognitive schemes to justify purchase and use of women” make her opinions less persuasive.
Dr. Farley stated during cross-examination that some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including “that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her”.

On this basis Judge Himel eliminated Canada’s anti-sex work laws, deeming them unconstitutional.

And furthermore, in the words of Dr Melissa Farley’s own research assistant on her research in New Zealand where she attempts to discredit decriminalization, in 2003 Colleen Winn said the study:

“..was not ethical, and the impact has done harm to those women and men who took part in it. It is for that reason that I am writing to the psychologists’ board of registration in California to lay a formal complaint regarding Melissa. I also believe that Melissa has committed an act of intentional misrepresentation of fact”

KolkataFreedomFestival

I’m not here today to ask you to be pro sex work, and I’m also not asking for anything special, I just want my work to be decriminalized so I can be treated like everyone else. I want to be able concentrate on my safety at work rather than police evasion tactics. My colleagues and I don’t want to be rescued, we just want to live and work in peace.

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You can read the live tweeting of the event at: #SexWorkWA

For more information on joining Western Australian sex workers in campaigning for the full decriminalisation of sex work:
Visit the website of People for Sex Worker Rights W.A.
Or join People for Sex Worker Rights W.A. on twitter at – @sexworkrightswa

For more information on joining sex workers nationally in Australia campaigning for their human rights and labour rights:
Visit the website of Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association)
Or join Scarlet Alliance on twitter at – @scarletalliance

Stand with Monica Jones

Image via Cam Cox

Image via Cam Cox

Melbourne Protest

Melbourne Protest

Monica Jones, African American trans woman, activist and student, has been held in Villawood immigration detention centre in Australia since Friday the 28th of November with no access to visitation rights.

Monica has been a vocal advocate for the rights of people of colour, trans* people and sex workers, including in Phoenix where she has protested the targeting and profiling of vulnerable communities by Project Rose. It was the night after one of these protests that Monica was arrested by police and prosecuted, leading to the ‘We stand with Monica Jones‘ campaign.

In the US, people of colour and trans women are disproportionately affected by HIV. Monica had hoped to learn from the successes of Australia’s response to HIV, in particular those by peer led sex worker organisations and community led responses, internationally recognised as a success.

Monica’s advocacy work will be significantly facilitated by the completion of her student placement, where she plans to work as a social worker for her community after graduation.

Monica is being restricted entry to Australia in order to complete the 3 weeks remaining on her student placement after which she has a return ticket home to the U.S.A. Monica is in her 4th and final year of her social work degree. Without completion of her final 3 weeks of her student placement, Monica will fail this semester.

Monica wishes to highlight the stigma and discrimination experienced by sex workers, trans women and people of colour that may have led to her profiling at the border and subsequent detention. On World AIDS Day it is important to recognise that it is stigma and discrimination that fuels the HIV epidemic.

Sex workers, trans* people and allies are protesting on Monday at 2pm at:
– Federal Law Courts in Sydney ** moved to John Madison Building in CBD at last minute ** where Monica’s case will be heard
– Immigration & Citizenship Service in Melbourne

Community members, activists and allies stand in solidarity with Monica to show the Australian Government that together we will not stand for racism, transphobia or whorephobia.

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**** Update on Court Proceedings and Media Coverage, late on Monday Dec 1st 2014 ****

Even after a last minute change in venue for the court proceedings in Sydney, more than 50 supporters came to #standwithMonica – causing the court to have to relocate to a larger room and find more chairs to accommodate everyone.

Supporters reported that Monica was misgendered by the state representative on more than one occasion.  It became apparent that Australian border authorities were waiting for Monica on re-entry and that a film crew from the Channel 7 television show ‘Border Security‘ were present, having been tipped off in advance.

It was stated in court that Monica was on the list of those considered a “possible threat to Australia”, but without reference or explanation as to why the Australian government consider this to be the case.

When it became apparent that Monica faced a minimum of another week and a half in immigration detention – even if successful in her case – Monica made the decision to return to the U.S.A. and to fight the case from there via video link.

For more information, refer to Australian media coverage:

Interview on The Wire with Jules Kim, Monica’s field supervisor in her placement with Scarlet Alliance:


Lateline – Monia Jones Fights Deportation

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Want to show solidarity?

On Twitter – use the hashtag #standwithMonica

MJ_Syd001

Sydney Protest

(thanks to Elena Jeffreys for co-authoring this post)

MJ from Vixen Collective speaks at Reclaim the Night

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On Saturday October 18th Reclaim the Night once more took over the streets of Brunswick,

Reclaim the Night has not always been a safe space for sex workers – sex workers and their workplaces have been targeted by marchers previously (strip clubs have been protested both here in Melbourne and overseas).

But in recent years there has been a concerted effort by organisers to make Reclaim the Night an inclusive space, for both sex workers and trans* people, as emphasized here by organizer Natalie Pestana in an interview with City Journal –

Reclaim the Night: stop blaming the victim

Gathering with sex workers just prior to the event we found it off-putting to see Kathleen Maltzahn among the crowd, local candidate for The Greens and well known for her anti sex work views.  However, organizers had just taped up a sign stating:
NO WHOREPHOBIA WILL BE TOLERATED IN THIS PLACE!!!
to the truck from which the speeches were being made.  We felt reasonably confident our speaker, MJ and other sex workers present would be okay (to put this in context last year I spoke and was heckled).

MJ’s speech (see below) and the other speeches were great and well received.

Then we marched.  The march is a difficult time for me – I don’t like crowds and the police are unsettling.  The police don’t mean safety to many in sex worker community.  In Victoria the police are the arm of the state that regulates sex industry workplaces, to many workers (particularly those whose work is criminalized, including street sex workers) their presence means harassment and violence.  So marching along with police lining the route wasn’t comforting.

About halfway along a mobile billboard for one of the local strip clubs drove by on the other side.  A group of men next to me started yelling abuse.  I went up to them and explained that shouting abuse about women’s workplaces or the women who worked in them wasn’t okay (& also not in keeping with the idea of the event).  They tried to argue with me, obviously upset that I had seen fit to interrupt their god given right to hurl abuse.  I didn’t notice anyone else joining in but apparently it also happened earlier in the march.

Why is it that it’s so hard to get the message across in these settings that whorephobia is not okay?

With many feminist spaces having histories of exclusion and abuse towards sex workers and trans* people, it is necessary moving forward to have inclusive spaces, there must be clear policies of zero tolerance towards whorephobia and transphobia, but it is also critical to listen to those with lived experience – I invite you to do so now:

________________________________________

My name is MJ, I am a Victorian sex worker.
Sex work is often portrayed as violent; sex workers as victims, exploited, or otherwise coerced, but I am none of those things.  I am immensely proud not only of my occupation, but of the strength, resilience and willingness to stand up against stigma that sex workers display globally.
Victorian Sex workers do not operate in the same night as the rest of you, as my fellow worker Jane Green told us last year.
In the state of Victoria we have forced STI testing – despite STI rates being lower for sex workers and condom use being well above that of the non sex working population.
We have special police units set up for us, to control and surveil our industry, our workplaces and our lives but who do not take violence against us seriously.  Indeed, many sex workers in Victoria and other parts of the country report that the biggest perpetrators of violence are indeed the police. This is particularly so for migrant sex workers, who have often come from other countries with the express purpose of entering the sex industry.  And also for those who are working in highly criminalized areas of the industry, such as street sex work.
Police harassment remains a key barrier to our safety and security.
It is extremely difficult to negotiate safety when police avoidance must be your key priority.  In fact, many sex workers never come forward with experiences of violence, because they fear being victim blamed, shamed, being told that they some how invited the violence because of their occupation, or the fear of having their private experiences of violence made public.
Let me make this clear.  Violence against sex workers happens not just because of individuals who choose to perpetrate violence, but because the laws governing sex work, and the way sex workers are viewed in our society ALLOWS IT TO.

Unfortunately violence towards sex workers can continue after a sex worker has died.
Just recently Brisbane sex worker Mayang Prasetyo was murdered by her partner. The Murdoch media, particularly the Courier Mail, and other various news outlets seized upon Mayang’s profession, and her identity as a trans woman.  Mayang is one of an increasing number of women who are murdered by their intimate partners in this country, but this was overshadowed by the media’s desire to dehumanize Mayang and sensationalize her death by drawing on her gender identity and occupation.
Be under no illusion that this too is an act of violence.
To quote from an article in the guardian by local writer Amy Gray “it was not Mayang’s gender identity or occupation that killed her, but a man who felt entitled to murder her”.
Just as with Tracy Connelly before her, whose death was also heavily sensationalized, Sex workers should never be used as fodder for salacious headlines.
We are human beings who in life and death demand dignity, respect, and human rights.
Whether oppression comes from individuals, the media, the medical and legal professions, or certain elements of the artistic communities.  It is oppression that sex workers demand an end to.  It is oppression that non sex workers can support us in ending, by listening to our voices, and by walking beside us as allies on our journeys.
Only then will we walk in the same night as you do.

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Visit Reclaim the Night’s website – Reclaim the Night

Reclaim the Night Melbourne Facebook – RTN Melbourne

Reclaim the Night Melbourne Twitter – @RTNmelb

Why we should all get to choose when/if we get an HIV test, yes even me.

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So this week I went to hospital.  Let’s be clear – I hate hospital.  I don’t like being stuck in one place, following often pointless (no smoking) rules, or answering to people who treat me like an object rather than a person.  If I’m really sick I’ll go.  But I have to be really sick.

So this week I get a migraine.  Not unusual.  I have had migraines regularly since I was a teenager.  Never been hospitalised for one.  But this one just kept getting worse, beyond anything I have ever had.  Until I am lying on the floor unable to move and a friend called an ambulance.  So I go to hospital.  The hospital pumps me full of medication (including largactil) that while it did not eliminate, helped the pain.  The medication also rendered me inarticulate, easily confused and clumsy – basically it made me ‘high’.  This will become important later.  Because it means I lost the ability to conceal certain facts about myself.

I am a sex worker.  Often I cannot conceal this fact in medical settings.  As a Victorian sex worker I am subject to mandatory sexual health testing once every three months – regardless of the fact that over twenty years of medical research in Australia (click here to download latest research findings) shows that sex workers have lower rates of STI’s than the general public and higher compliance in prophylaxis use (condoms!).  Because I have had interactions with police (no kidding my job used to be illegal) and medical staff, it is written into some of my medical records that I am a sex worker.  If I am in a setting where these records are accessed then I have no choice about my status as a sex worker being part of any conversation.  It is usually a big part of the conversation.

But I did not expect my status as a sex worker to be part of the conversation when I was in hospital this week.  No prior hospital records or medical records had been accessed.  No other doctors had been called.  I was simply a patient presenting with a migraine.

Then the hospital got me ‘high’, legally high of course, and one of the neurology staff asked “so what do you do?”.  And that was it.  All my usual answers went unused; that I work for a NGO (also true), that I am self employed (just leaving out the “as a sex worker” part), that I work as a lobbyist (I talk to enough politicians that it feels like it).

Because if someone asks “what do you do?” when you’re high the natural reply is to tell the truth.  So I said – “I’m a sex worker” and proceeded to chat about it with them for 15 minutes.  Including when they asked “are people prejudice about it?”, I said “hell yes, all the time”.  But I probably wasn’t expecting them to give me a specific example of prejudice right then.  Which they did.

After our little chat the doctor wandered off for a few minutes then came back to say – “so now we’ve realised that we need to do an HIV test on you” and I asked “this is because I told you I’m a sex worker isn’t it?” and they replied (looking embarrassed) “uh, yeah”.  I then stated “well I suppose what I want doesn’t really matter at this point?” and at that the doctor looked away.

Problems with this:

1) I was not in a state to make or be able to give informed consent to being STI/HIV tested

2) That (1) being the case this constitutes a forced STI/HIV test

3) Given that there is HIV criminalisation for sex workers in Victoria this puts me or any other sex worker treated in this manner in a position of potential instant criminalisation.

This is yet another example of the stigma and discrimination that sex workers live with daily.  But it is not just another example.  Medical professionals have power in society generally – over individual patients lives, through professional associations, through their status as a doctor – but in Victoria the State gives immense power to medical professionals over the lives of sex workers.  Power to test sex workers for STI’s/HIV – despite knowing we have demonstrably lower rates than the general population.  Power to prevent sex workers from working if we test positive – despite knowing condom compliance rates in the sex industry exceed 99% and that not all sex work involves “sex”.  Finally, power to cause sex workers to be jailed for testing positive to HIV as a sex worker (a strategy which demonstrably discourages STI/HIV testing).

This is not okay.

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Want to join me in telling the Victorian Government it’s not okay?

Email the Victorian Health Minister – David Davis – david.davis@parliament.vic.gov.au

Feel free to include a link to this Blog (or not) and make sure to note that sex workers should have the same rights, human rights, labour rights and access to health care and right to refuse health care and testing as other members of the community.

Sex worker rights – an idea too dangerous for Festival of Dangerous Ideas

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The annual ‘Festival of Dangerous Ideas’ presented this year by Sydney Opera House and St James Ethics Centre opens on Saturday the 30th of August.  FODI (Festival of Dangerous Ideas) is billed as:

“..leading thinkers and culture creators from around the world will take to the stage to bring contentious ideas to the fore and challenge mainstream thought and opinion..”

The St James Ethics Centre, which heavily promotes FODI on its website, identifies itself as an:

“.. independent not-for-profit organisation that provides an open forum for the promotion and exploration of ethical questions..”

So lets look at the coverage of sex workers in FODI and see how challenging and open it really is?

 

We’ll start with ‘Women for Sale’ a FODI panel on 31st August:

Women, and their bodies, are for sale… Throughout the world, women and children are trafficked and traded as workers in the multi-billion-dollar sex industry, and their bodies are bought by ‘consumers’ everywhere. .. Pornography, IVF, surrogacy and prostitution are very different things, but all put women and their bodies on the market.”  (quoted from ‘Women for Sale’, FODI website).

As a sex worker I sell my services and not my body – yes, just checked, it’s still here with me – so language like this is actually incredibly offensive.

The panelists for this include Lydia Cacho (author of ‘Slavery Inc’), Kajsa Ekis Ekman (author of ‘Being Bought and Being Sold’), Alissa Nutting (author of ‘Unclean Jobs for Woman and Girls) and Elizabeth Pisani (author of ‘Indonesia Etc’ and another book perhaps relevant but not listed on the website – ‘The Wisdom of Whores’).

The panel itself begins from a mainstream premise – that of sex worker as a victim without agency – the position that is carried prevalently by the media, that impacts heavily on the stigma and discrimination that sex workers live with daily.  This is then being argued by people in a position of privilege – by academics and journalists – who make their living recycling and promoting this agenda, on the backs of sex workers, without allowing sex workers access to the discussion.

No sex workers are included on this panel, despite local organisations being available and the national sex worker organisation Scarlet Alliance having its base in Sydney.

 

But wait there’s more – ‘Slavery Is Big Business’ is a talk by Lydia Cacho (one of the panelists from FODI’s ‘Women for Sale’) on Sunday the 31st of August:

“..slavery is often seen as a dark part of the colonial past .. it remains alive and well—and is growing dramatically. Impervious to recession, it forms a thriving part of the globalised sex industry run by organised crime. International trafficking of women and children for sex is a multi-billion dollar business that won’t be anywhere near ‘abolition’ until those who make money from its operations and buy its services think again about what being complicit in slavery means..”

Conflating sex work and trafficking is a significant part of the abolitionist agenda.  This is done as a way to silence sex workers and prevent them from leading discussions about our own lives and human rights – and sex workers should be leading these discussions – not in the back of the room watching while non sex workers discuss whether or not we should access our human rights, or whether sex workers should have a right to health and safety in their work.

 

But still there’s more – ‘Surrogacy is Child Trafficking’ a talk by Kajsa Ekis Ekman (another one of the panelists from FODI’s ‘Women for Sale’) on Saturday 30th August:

“..Surrogacy—or contract pregnancy—has become a global industry, growing at unprecedented speed.. Whereas the sex industry is increasingly targeted by legislators as exploitation, the surrogacy industry retains a rosy image. Helping an infertile couple to have a baby of their own is seen as a generous and compassionate gesture from a woman who can help: a sign of female empowerment and free will.. But is it? At a closer glance, the surrogacy industry has more to do with prostitution than we might think. Not only is it exploitation of women’s bodies—in fact surrogacy is nothing but baby trade..”

While there are parts of the world where “the sex industry is increasingly targeted by legislators as exploitation”, specifically countries enacting the Swedish or Nordic Model – this has had terrible outcomes for sex workers, as we see here by listening to Swedish sex worker, Pye Jacobson:

 

Sex workers regularly state that “sex work is work”, sex workers call for sex workers human rights and labour rights to be recognised.  At AIDS 2014 sex workers and allies released many important statements calling on legislators to recognise decriminalisation as the key strategy for sex workers health and safety, and as an essential part of “eventual control of the pandemic”.

Lancet report: Support sex workers to prevent HIV

 

 

MPs commit to rights-based reform to tackle AIDS – AFPPD

 

And yet there is still more FODI has to throw at us:

Pussy Riot/Zona Prava in Conversation In Conversation With Masha Gessen

So what’s up with Pussy Riot?  Aren’t they those cool punks with colourful balaclavas that held a concert in a church and pissed off Putin?  Well yes.  They’re also members of FEMEN and here’s FEMENs policy on sex work:

“..to ideologically undermine the fundamental institutes of patriarchy – dictatorship, sex-industry, and church – by putting these institutes through subversive trolling to force them to strategic surrender.. to promote new revolutionary female sexuality as opposed to the patriarchal erotic and pornography..” (quoted from FEMEN website, femen.org/about)

 

So this is what FODI has come up with in a festival that purports to challenge mainstream ideas and that is co-sponsored by St James Ethics Centre that prides itself as being an “open forum for the promotion and exploration of ethical questions“: four events run by and – excepting perhaps one* – composed entirely of anti-sex work speakers.

For FODI – Apparently allowing sex workers – the actual marginalised group in question – to speak on sex work, about their own lives and human rights – IS JUST TOO DANGEROUS AN IDEA.

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Want to tell Festival of Dangerous Ideas and St James Ethics Centre what you think?

Festival of Dangerous Ideas is using #FODI on Twitter, include this as well as #rightsnotrescue in your tweets to hold FODI responsible for their actions

FODI are on Twitter at @IdeasattheHouse

FODI are on Facebook as Ideas at the House – Facebook

St James Ethics Centre are on Twitter at @stjamesethics

 

Updates provided when available, as usual…

 

*NB – Elizabeth Pisani’s position isn’t clear in this, although the fact that she’s participating in the panel without having asked why a representative for sex workers isn’t present is a concern.