“Pieces of meat” & balance in journalism

On Friday the 1st of April, last week, Vixen Collective (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation) issued an invitation to sex workers and supporters to join in raising concerns over the “World’s Oldest Oppression” Conference.  The conference, an event at which proponents of the partial/full criminalisation of sex work will be gathering, runs over the 9th and 10th of April (today and tomorrow).

Sex workers and supporters participating in the protest on social media since then, have been experiencing significant levels of abuse from anti sex work individuals.  This has included being called “pimps”, being told that we are “happy hookers”, that we are “meat for buyers”, “fucktoys”, that we are “commodities to be bought, sold and used”, referred to as “female flesh”, “pieces of meat”, and told that sex workers are the “pimp lobby”.

Vixen Collective itself, a sex worker only collective, made up of current and former sex workers, has been referred to as a “pro sex trade group” and “sex trade apologists” by event speaker Simone Watson.

 

Those involved in the conference have made claims of being “silenced” by sex workers, a proposition that seems ludicrous when examined – that a few sex workers on twitter could silence people who are having a conference to show case their ideas – a conference at which many of the speakers are published authors/journalists, some academics, many with significant social capital and power.

In confirmation of this fact there has been extensive coverage in the media on the conference outlining the anti sex work position, without any balance or effort to give voice to sex workers concerns.  Of the four “articles” carried in major periodicals, which could for the most piece also be characterized as opinion editorials, Vixen Collective has been contacted by none, nor has the national sex worker organisation Scarlet Alliance.

The headlines of the four pieces are as follows (they are deliberately not linked due to the offensive and triggering content):
‘Pro sex trade group Vixen Collective ramps up campaign’ (Simone Watson, Tasmanian Times, 5th April)
‘Van Badham’s freedom of speech for some? (Isla MacGregor, Tasmanian Times, 8th April)
‘I clutched the cash while he used me’: Former prostitutes on why they want the industry banned’ (Emma Reynolds, News.com, 8th April)
‘Sex Trade survivors deserve the chance to speak’ (Meagan Tyler, The Conversation, 8th April)

The first, is by Simone Watson, the current Director of pro-Swedish Model (sometimes referred to as the Nordic Model) group NorMAC, there is more information on the problems with this piece here.

The second, is by Isla MacGregor, close friend and writing partner of Simone Watson – this is an attack on feminist and Guardian columnist Van Badham for having the audacity to support sex worker rights.

The third, by Emma Reynolds, is what could kindly be referred to as an advertorial for the book ‘Prostitution Narratives’ that is being launched at the conference this weekend.  Now, let me be clear – everyone has the right to tell their story.  Being able to be heard when speaking about our lives is a critical part of what we are protesting for, but the fact that News.com ran a story without talking to anyone who wasn’t pro-criminalisation and didn’t contact a single peer sex worker organisation is a critical failure.  This is a failure not just in recognising  sex workers’ voices, but a failure in journalism.

The fourth, one is in The Conversation written by RMIT academic Meagan Tyler, colleague of Dr Caroline Norma, and also known for her work with organisation CATWA (an organisation that holds a pro-criminalisation of sex work view).  Ms Tyler includes quotes from my blog (where the original protest was posted), including that sex workers and supporters should:

“write to RMIT to express concerns about the Conference to the University Chancellor”

But then goes on to suggest that this amounts to:

“.. online tactics used to bully, intimidate and deny people a platform to speak..”

This is purposefully omitting the fact that at no time was there a call by Vixen Collective for the conference to be shut down, simply that we wished for sex workers concerns to be heard.

So what’s the up-side in a week of sex workers being called “pieces of meat” and shut out of the mainstream media?

Well, late yesterday RMIT Catalyst – the student newspaper at RMIT published an article where they spoke to both the conference organisers and Vixen Collective.  It was a moment of, for sex workers, what hopefully will be increasingly common in the future of journalism – being heard.

What traction sex workers do have in being listened to on their own lives and work in the media, shouldn’t be exceptional, it should be the standard.  It should not be an enduring battle to gain space to publish op ed’s of our own – but it is and so we express our thoughts and stories on blogs and twitter.  We’re not silencing anyone because these are so often the only places we have in which to speak.

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RMIT Slammed for Facilitating Sex Work Abolition Conference

We can only hope to see more balanced journalism in the main-stream press in the future.  Given that the above was from student journalists maybe it’s a good sign that we will.

Carrying on the tradition of making our voices heard in the spaces that are available to us, we are having a protest onsite at RMIT today, please see details below:

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Protesting the “World’s Oldest Oppression” Conference – Protest Notice

*Sex Workers & Supporters*

Time: 1pm until 3pm, Saturday 9th April 2016

Location: Outside the Emily McPherson Building (Building 13, 405 Russell St, Melbourne, on the Victoria St side of the building)

**Please be aware of and prioritise your safety, anti sex work individuals/groups have been known to approach & take photographs of people at protests, so if this is problematic or distressing for you then consider if it is safe for you to be in the protest space**

Please Note – we are planning and advocating for a non-violent, non-intrusive protest.

Vixen Collective does not advocate for anyone to enter the conference space or approach conference attendees.

On social media anti sex work individuals have raised concerns about silencing, which, given that the conference contains speakers who are published authors/academics etc. is wildly out of place and unrealistic compared to sex workers raising concerns on twitter.

However, just as sex workers do not wish to be silenced, we do not wish to be perceived as silencing anyone and therefore we ask people participating in the protest to try not to become involved in verbal altercations.

We will have Vixen Collective support people there and please take the opportunity to step back and de-brief.

We have permission to be present on RMIT property and RMIT security is aware that we are having a protest and can be called on if necessary.

If the space becomes hostile due to the presence or actions of anti sex work individuals or groups we plan to exit the space and de-brief off site.

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Vixen Collective

The Sound of Silencing Sex Workers

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On Friday last week I posted a blog entry entitled ‘Join the Online Protest – “World’s Oldest Oppression” Conference’ about the efforts of local peer sex worker organisation Vixen Collective to protest an anti sex work conference here in Melbourne, Australia.

Individual sex workers and sex worker allies have joined Vixen Collective in protesting online – primarily on Twitter – RMIT University’s choice play host to a conference that brings together a range of anti sex work figures, outspoken in their support of either the Swedish Model of sex work criminalisation (sometimes called the Nordic Model) or of outright abolition of sex work.

It’s always interesting to see what reaction there will be online to a protest by sex workers.  Interesting, but often predictable.

Anti sex work groups have a tendency to claim that they themselves are being “silenced” when sex workers speak out for our human rights.

Since the protest started, a member of local pro-Swedish Model organisation NorMAC, Simone Watson, who once likened sex workers to “meat” has published an opinion piece in the Tasmanian Times where Vixen Collective, an unfunded peer sex worker organisation is referred to as a “pro sex trade group”.

Simone Watson, also in the Tasmanian Times, makes the claim that I personally have “launched an online campaign to discredit the voices of prostitution Survivors”.  Given that I have done no such thing, as is demonstrable from reading the actual post – I would suggest that Ms Watson retract her defamatory statement.

In comments on Twitter by anti sex work folk, I noticed just this morning, the standard refrain that their side is being “silenced” by sex workers.

Of the listed speakers for the conference – Julie Bindel, Rachel Moran, Dr Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist – all are published authors, at least one has tenure at a University, and all make regular appearances as public speakers on the subject of the criminalisation of sex work – of which it is to be expected, that some appearances are paid.

These are not people who are silent.  These are not people who are lacking in a platform.  To suggest that an online protest by individual sex workers, an unfunded peer sex worker organisation, and sex worker allies – is in any way “silencing” people with this degree of power, social capital, and continuing access to a variety of platforms is absurd.

But it is a useful tool in continuing to silence sex workers, which really is the point of the exercise isn’t it, when your end goal is abolishing sex work?

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Want to join the protest?

Take action online:

RMIT is on both Twitter and FaceBook

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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’

 

Join the Online Protest! – “World’s Oldest Oppression” Conference

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On the 9th and 10th of April 2016 an anti sex work conference called the “World’s Oldest Oppression” is being held in Melbourne, Australia.  Hosted by RMIT University, and billed as a “2 Day Anti Sex Trade Conference” for a “World Free of Sex Trade Abuse”.

The conference brings together anti sex work figures such as Julie Bindel, Rachel Moran, Dr Caroline Norma, Melinda Tankard Reist and others.

Despite the fact that 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’ 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.

Join sex workers 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**

 

Write to RMIT:

You can write to RMIT to express concerns about the Conference to the University Chancellor, Ziggy Switkowski at:

Email – chancellor@rmit.edu.au
& Email to ombuds@rmit.edu.au as well

 

Take action online:

RMIT is on both Twitter and FaceBook

 

Promote the online protest!

  • Talk to other people you know that support sex worker rights and encourage them to participate
  • Spread the word on social media – Twitter, Facebook, everywhere – let people know to join the online protest
  • Post the ‘Join In Online Protest’ flyer in your workplace

 

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

This is yet to be decided – watch the social media spaces of Vixen Collective to be kept up to date:

Twitter: @VixenCollective

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/32794381768/

 

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

To download the ‘Join In Online Protest’ flyer, click here > WOO_GeneralFlyer

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/

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

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Sydney Protest

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

Victorian Greens promote hate speech at LGBTIQ Event

Photo by Difficult Debby

Photo by Difficult Debby

On Thursday night this week sex workers, including queer sex workers, arrived to protest a Greens LGBTIQ event where Greens candidate for Richmond Kathleen Maltzahn was speaking.  ‘Out and About: Rainbow Tales from the Green streets’, a “fabulous evening of story-slamming, music and politics” held in Fitzroy, included attendance by political figures such as Senator Janet Rice, Sue Pennicuik MLC and Sean Mulcahy, Greens Candidate for Bentleigh.

Kathleen Maltzahn, founder of Project Respect a rescue organisation that has called for the “re-criminalisation of the sex industry”, and someone who has been described in The Australian as intending to “take the regulated prostitution industry and make it illegal again, as it was in the 1950s” has a history of problematic speech on sex work, specifically her position on the Swedish Model.

The Swedish Model, basically criminalisation of sex work by another name, has pushed sex workers underground in Sweden, increased harassment of workers (as well as a raft of other problems) and been completely ineffective in it’s stated goal – reducing the size of the industry.  It is predicated on the idea that all sex work is inherently violent and non consensual, erases the lives of male and trans* workers, and denies sex worker’s bodily autonomy and agency.

Unsurprisingly there was much discussion in sex worker community when the Victorian Greens again pre-selected Kathleen Maltzahn for the seat of Richmond in Victoria.  Federal Greens policy specifies that “An end to the criminalisation of consensual adult sex work” is required – if The Greens who so often stand on the moral high ground and point out the inconsistencies of other parties/candidates positions feel this is okay one wonders what next?

And let’s be clear here, Kathleen Maltzahn would, under the Swedish Model (as it is implemented in Sweden):

Remove my right to work safely in a range of workplaces by criminalising my clients, pushing the industry underground
If I work with another worker make it possible to charge us both with pimping each other
Make it illegal to provide accommodation to me as a sex worker (potentially leading to homelessness)
– Make it so than I cannot as a sex worker advertise my services
Criminalise everyone around me, so my partner or any adult children/relatives can be charged with ‘living off the earnings’ of sex work
– Make it so that I cannot hire drivers, receptionists or security
– Increase police involvement in my work and life, increase police corruption and lower my access to assistance when a victim of crime and to justice

This is all is the name of ‘saving me’.  This is not ‘saving me’.  This is executing a moral agenda against my community – to remove my right to work safely, suppress my human rights and silence my voice.

Victorian sex workers attending Thursday nights event were not silent.  Although interestingly The Greens, a party with a history of protest themselves, instructed sex workers attending that they could not speak.  I was filled in on the activities at the protest by sex workers who were there (as I was out of Melbourne), only to hear that an organiser for The Greens had told the protesters (who had permission from the venue to be there):

“..we’re not going to allow for this to happen .. not going to allow you to speak .. you can hand out your stuff and go ..”

Despite this attempt at silencing dissent, several sex workers stood from the audience and spoke briefly at the start.  Workers rose and turned their backs when Kathleen Maltzahn was speaking (an action that has happened before in protest at Maltzahns’ hate speech).  Flyers were handed out to the crowd outlining the harms of the Swedish Model and detailing the preferred regulatory model for sex workers health and safety – decriminalisation – which removes criminal sanctions from the sex industry so that sex work is treated like any other work.  Workers also stayed for some time outside the venue and talked to members of the departing audience about sex worker rights and the harms the Swedish Model would introduce to our lives.

So what do we learn from this?  That The Greens are currently the party that would prefer for us to sit down, shut up or go away?  That it is alright to suppress the voices of marginalised people if they don’t align with your election platform?  Or maybe it’s that if the organisation you founded and the books you write make money off of sex workers and their work – it still doesn’t mean you have to listen to them?

As I have said before – arguments that deny sex workers human rights are NOT a difference of opinion, they are NOT a debate or an intellectual exercise, these arguments are about our LIVES and our ability to live them freely and safely – those that oppose our right to do so are engaging in WHOREPHOBIA, they are engaging in HATE SPEECH.

Please do not aid them in doing so.  If you are a voter in the seat of Richmond in Victoria – do not cast a vote for the Greens.  Pick another candidate – here’s the options:

Richmond Election Guide

If you want to tell the Victorian Greens what you think of their support of a candidate who actively silences marginalised people and endorses the Swedish Model which harms sex workers, then please do so here:

Victorian Greens on Twitter – @VictorianGreens

Victorian Greens on FaceBook

Contact the Victorian Greens on – office@vic.greens.org.au – or contact your local member of The Greens.

If you would like to feed back to Kathleen Maltzahn directly, do so here:

Kathleen Maltzahn on Twitter – @KPMaltzahn

Kathleen Maltzahn on FaceBook

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UPDATE: Jane Gilmore has since covered this issue for the ABC, 11th Nov 2014 – Greens should take their sex work principles seriously

Sex Workers speak out despite exclusion at Festival of Dangerous Ideas

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The Festival of Dangerous Ideas’ scheduled line up of anti sex work speakers at the ‘Women for Sale’ panel yesterday was upstaged when a sex worker took the the place of one of the panelists, making it known that sex workers will not be silenced or excluded from discussions about their lives and work.

Panelist Elizabeth Pisani gave up her seat on the panel so that Jules Kim, sex worker and Acting CEO of Scarlet Allliance (Australian Sex Workers Association) could take to the stage and confront the whorephobic and abolitionist agenda of the discussion taking place.

Festival of Dangerous Ideas has this year provided a platform for anti sex work speakers (refer Sex Worker rights an idea too dangerous for Festival of Dangerous Ideas), people whose personal politics, desire to sell books and increase their social capital have lead to them promoting the Nordic or Swedish Model, a form of sex work abolition that would see sex workers right to work safely, access assistance in cases of violence & access justice greatly diminished.

Sex workers around the world call for Decriminalisation as the best practice regulatory model for sex workers health and safety, in June 2014 in Melbourne at the International Conference AIDS 2014, sex workers joined medical researchers and policy experts in calling for decriminalisation to combat both HIV and violence against sex workersLancet report: Support sex workers to prevent HIV.

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Zahra Stardust, sex worker, (pictured above), who came to protest had the following to say about #FODI (Festival of Dangerous Ideas) and their treatment of sex workers:

“The most disturbing aspect about the Women for Sale panel was the presentation of ideas that have been globally and scientifically proven as putting sex workers at real risk (indeed, danger) being positioned as polite, reasonable and interesting debate. The Festival of Dangerous Ideas exemplifies the total failure of ‘human rights’ and ‘progressive’ organisations to recognise oppression at its most obvious, and instead to engage in it frivolously and without accountability as something that is fashionable and will earn them ‘feminist’ credibility. This Festival of Dangerous Ideology uses sex work to sell out a session, then promotes the criminalisation of the people it seeks to protect.”

(Quoted with permission, Zahra Stardust, www.zahrastardust.com@ZahraStardust)

#FODI when approached back in June, had made their attitude of exclusion clear, refusing to allow sex workers access to speak about their own human rights, about their own lives.  This attitude of silencing a marginalised group became even worse on the day.

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Co-Founder and Co-Curator of the Festival Simon Longstaff remarked to the Guardian that “In my opinion what needed to be represented was a broad spectrum of opinion, which included the opinions of sex workers in Elizabeth Pisani who was able to articulate the opinions that sex workers hold..”.

#FODI defines a “broad spectrum” of opinion as not including any members of the marginalised group being spoken about, satisfied with selecting a non sex worker to “articulate” sex workers opinions.  #FODI were then upset when that person, Elizabeth Pisani, turned out to have better ethics than St James Ethics centre and #FODI, and gave their seat to a sex worker to speak out about sex workers own lives.

In the Guardian story Three sex workers stage protest at Festival of Dangerous Ideas Longstaff also goes on to say that “One of the conscious designs of the festival is that … there is opportunity for people to contribute in the Q&A..”, but although half an hour of Q&A had been advertised it was cut to approximately five minutes , two questions asked, a sex worker present being told she was not permitted to contribute a question because she knew a panelist.

As Zahra Stardust remarks:

“Guess what? Sex workers actually have expertise on these issues. We live them every day. But we are not being paid to speak at the Opera House. We are here because what is entertainment for you actually affects our lives. A seat at your table is the bare minimum sex workers deserve. If you came and sat on our table, you might recognise that police and NGOs are not our protectors. You might realise that no-one is standing up for our rights except us. At least this was not lost on the security guard who came up to me smiling after the panel to say my question was fantastic and he wished sex workers had more time to talk.

(Quoted with permission, Zahra Stardust, www.zahrastardust.com, @ZahraStardust)

The use of sex workers lives as a titillating topic to draw crowds and attention isn’t new – we see this frequently in media and the arts – what must always be challenged is any attempt to exclude sex workers from discussions about their own lives and human rights.  Discussions of sex workers as having “false consciousness” are simply another method of excluding the voices of marginalised people.  Attempts to identify sex workers as responsible for violence against all women as well as violence within sex work are simply methods of ‘victim blaming’.  Violence in sex work, like violence in society at large, will only be ended by addressing the perpetrators and systemic causes of that violence – such as criminalisation of sex work, stigma and discrimination against sex workers – not by eliminating sex workers right to work.

Sex work is work.  Most importantly, as always, listen to sex workers – sex workers are the experts on our lives.

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Still to come?  Panelists from ‘Women for Sale’ Lydia Cacho (author of ‘Slavery Inc’), Kajsa Ekis Ekman (author of ‘Being Bought and Being Sold’) and Alissa Nutting (author of ‘Unclean Jobs for Woman and Girls’) are on Q&A on the ABC tonight…

Guess what?  No sex worker has been asked or allowed to participate in the Q&A program.

Want to ask why Q&A doesn’t consider it relevant to have sex workers included, speaking about their own lives and rights, on a panel which includes speakers promoting an agenda that risks sex workers health and safety?  Submit a question here: Q&A ‘Ask A Question’

Hold @QandA accountable for not having a sex worker on their panel tonight:  Use twitter #QandA

Q&A are also promoting tonight’s show on Facebook at: Q&A on Facebook

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Sex workers protesting at #FODI – Jules Kim (Acting CEO of Scarlet Alliance), Zahra Stardust & Cam Cox