Ugly Mugs – I am not your victim

Ugly Mugs is a play written by a non sex worker about sex workers lives, containing the misinformation and stigma one would expect to result from someone writing about a life they have not lived.  The main character is the nameless “working girl”, played by Peta Brady herself.  Brady in her role as a health outreach worker accessed sex workers accounts of rape, violence and trauma via a closed sex worker only publication and then used this as ‘inspiration’ for her work.  In the play itself one of the characters reads aloud onstage from the closed sex worker only publication of the same name (see picture).

Read ‘Ugly Mugs: confidential accounts of rape and violence should never be ‘entertainment’’

UMonstage

So what has the response been from Peta Brady and the Griffin Theatre?

Originally when approached by concerned sex workers after the play moved from Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre to Sydney’s Griffin they asked for a copy of the local Ugly Mugs publication for “publicity purposes”.  Indicating quite clearly that they had either completely failed to listen to sex workers concerns, didn’t care, or both.

Now that sex workers have raised concerns on social media and they actually have to be accountable in public?

Griffin Theatre have posted a response failing to address most of the key points in the original blog but instead emphasizing that:

1) The “entire play is a fictional work”

2) Refering to the pamphlet the character pictured above reads from “It is not a real copy of an Ugly Mugs issue”

Well, I completely agree on count 1 and that’s what we’re complaining about – when writing about the lives of sex workers as a non sex worker you get it wrong, because you are not speaking from lived experience.  This is disturbing to sex workers as a marginalized group because we do not need our lives explained to us, we do not need or want to be rescued from our work.  What I want as a sex worker is to have my human rights, my labour rights, recognised.

On point 2, check the photo.  Your denials don’t mean much to Melbourne sex workers when we recognise what’s in his hand.

A reference is made to sex workers (in previously publicity the term “working girls” was used) seeing the play in rehearsals, but Vixen Collective (Victoria’s Peer Only Sex Worker Organisation) met with Malthouse and provided feedback while the play was still in rehearsal and our concerns were ignored.

Griffin also says in reference to Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association) “suggested that if they felt the differences, or localised issues, needed to be further addressed, we would be happy to collaborate by providing a platform through the media, a public forum or online publication”.

Well it’s not every day the Australian Sex Workers Association gets suggestions on how to do it’s work from non sex workers putting on a highly problematic play..  I guess we better take that seriously then?  The meeting was for you to listen to our concerns, but obviously you missed the point of that.

You are still not listening.

You say – “We believe that this play describes violence not to glamorise it as entertainment, nor to create ‘pity’ for the ‘victims’”

Let me be clear: since you have not lived my life, you cannot describe it.

Let be be clearer still: you have no right to access the private accounts of rape, violence and trauma of my community and recycle these as entertainment, no matter how you attempt to justify it.

Listen: I am not your victim.  You do not speak for me.

#uglymugs #iamnotyourvictim

Want to read the Griffin’s excuses?

 

** Updated to include current media coverage as of 8:00pm EST 13th Aug 2014 **

Sex workers accuse Griffin, Malthouse of exploitation – Arts Hub

Sex workers accuse playwright of exploitation – Daily Review (Crikey)

Ugly Mugs & the politics of representation – ABC Arts Critic Alison Croggon (on Storify)

Sex worker union member attacks Peta Brady play Ugly Mugs (Sydney Morning Herald) this story also ran in The Age, Brisbane Times and Canberra Times.

Ugly Mugs: confidential accounts of rape and violence should never be ‘entertainment’

The following is an opinion editorial endorsed by both Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association) and Vixen Collective (Victorian Peer Only Sex Workers Organisation).

rightsnotrescue2

Imagine this: after being raped you tell your story, in confidence, to a local organisation so that it can be collected with others and in a closed publication circulated to help prevent offenders re-victimising others.  This publication is ‘closed’ because were it generally available, predators would recognise themselves in it’s pages and be able to change their appearance and behaviours, going on to commit further crimes with greater ease.

Now imagine this: without your consent the account of your rape and those of other survivors are taken by someone who is not a member of your community, disclosed and used as thinly veiled “inspiration” for a play, while actual accounts are read out mid-scene.  A play with the same title as the closed publication meant to protect your community.  This is your rape played out on stage.  Permission not sought, nor considered relevant.

Welcome to ‘Ugly Mugs’.  The play by Peta Brady recently having finished a run at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre and opening at Sydney’s Griffin on July 18th 2014.  Based on confidential accounts of assaults (rape, violence or trauma) given by sex workers for inclusion in the ‘Ugly Mugs’ publication (closed, for distribution only to sex workers), this represents both a breach of trust and an alarming low point in exploitation of sex workers through “pity porn”.  “Pity porn” is the depiction of sex workers as helpless victims without agency – a far cry from the reality of organised and motivated workers.  The ‘Ugly Mugs’ publication was established in Victoria by sex workers (Prostitutes Collective of Victoria, 1986) seeking to protect their own community in the face of barriers to justice and ongoing stigma against sex workers.

Concerns were promptly raised with both hosts of the play – Malthouse Theatre and Griffin – neither were willing to accept sex workers concerns.  Instead we were offered free tickets by Malthouse – presumably because seeing your rape played out live in front of you always makes you feel better.  Griffin asked if they could have a copy of the current ‘Ugly Mugs’ book for publicity purposes – because disclosing further accounts of rape and trauma would be great for drawing in a crowd – if less so for the health, safety and peace of mind of sex workers.

Peta Brady is quoted in publicity as saying “working girls” provided feedback on ‘Ugly Mugs’, however sex workers that did attend The Malthouse reported back that the play includes readings from an actual issue of ‘Ugly Mugs’ – a shocking breach of trust to both the community and individual sex workers.  It also opens with a sex worker attending her own autopsy, as both corpse and bystander, setting a low point from which there are reportedly still further lows.  This is what can be expected when an outsider seeks to speak on behalf of a marginalised community – you get an agenda (because you cannot get the truth when you have not lived it) coloured by stigma, personal judgement and politics.

This is not a representation of the lived experiences of sex workers.  This is the highly personal view of Peta Brady who is a Salvation Army worker, an organisation known for it’s stigmatising views of sex work. That sex workers confidentially given accounts of rape and trauma are being used as a vehicle to push the views of a non-sex worker and profit from this as entertainment is adding insult to literal injury.  This is the appropriation of sex workers stories, accounts of trauma divorced from the completeness of our lives, as if trauma is all there is.  While publicly supporting the decriminalisation of sex work the Salvation Army continues to portray sex workers as if there is nothing beyond victim hood – sex workers presented without agency or context.

So now imagine this: join sex workers in taking action, online and in person – by contacting the Griffin Theatre to indicate that using accounts of rape and trauma without permission is never acceptable. Sex workers speak for ourselves, our personal stories belong to us and it is our right if, and when to tell them.

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Join us in taking action:

Share this post and spread the word that sex workers’ confidential accounts of rape and trauma are not for entertainment or profit, click on the links at the end of this post to share via Twitter, Facebook, Google or WordPress.

Griffin Theatre Company – Facebook – posts on July 30th and Aug 5th show the autopsy scene and a post on July 28th shows a character holding a copy of the closed sex worker only Ugly Mugs publication.  Comments can be added on individual posts or post to page.

Griffin Theatre – Twitter – the Griffin are using #uglymugs to tweet – I would suggest including this but also adding #rightsnotrescue

Malthouse Theatre – Facebook – post referring to “The play’s great achievement is humanizing the victim..” on June 2nd and a post detailing costume design including “working girl” on May 29th.  Comments can be added on individual posts or post to page.

Malthouse Theatre – Twitter – also using #uglymugs to tweet – again would suggest including this but adding #rightsnotrescue to tweets

Griffin Theatre Company (Website) – Ugly Mugs – comments can be added at end of the page.

In attempts to raise this issue with media organisations – out of seven contacts only two responded, but as of this posting none have published on the issue.

Updates will be provided as available.

 

NOTE: it was erroneously noted in the above opinion editorial that the Salvation Army support the decriminalisation of sex work – although the Salvation Army have supported projects and publications (for example ‘Street Walking Blues: Sex Work, St Kilda and the Street’, 2006) that have endorsed decriminalisation of sex work, the Salvation Army takes no official public position on sex work regulation.
The Salvation Army do however have a long history of stigmatising sex workers, refer below:
‘Salvos use sex workers to get donations again’, Crikey (June 10th, 2016)
‘Salvation Army Continues Distributing “Prostitute” Material After It Said It Wouldn’t’, Buzzfeed (June 2nd, 2016)
‘Salvos apologise to sex workers over ads’, ABC (May 22nd, 2009)

Sex workers must be the stakeholders in any discussion on sex work…

During an AGM in which sex workers were shouted down and abused after being invited to participate in a discussion about the human rights of sex workers, Amnesty International Australia has passed resolutions (see following) in which sex workers are not included as stakeholders,

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Statement supplied by Amnesty on the resolutions passed at the Amnesty AGM, 6th July, Melbourne:

“At the recent Annual General Meeting of all AIA branches in Melbourne, the AGM (comprehensively) voted against the resolution calling for AIA to endorse and advocate for the Nordic Model.

The other resolutions that were passed (see below) called on the NEC to request the International Secretariat investigate the Nordic AND other sex work legislation models and to request the IS to halt the current consultation process and start again.

All of the feedback received to date will be reviewed by the International Issues Committee, a sub-committee of the AI Australia Board, including the results of the survey. To date, 62% of respondents have endorsed the adoption of a policy advocating decriminalisation.  The AIA Board’s view will be represented in international forums by the Amnesty Australia President and National Director.

Resolutions

The National Annual General Meeting asks the National Executive Committee of Amnesty International Australia to request the International secretariat to:

1. Halt the current consultation process and restart the process from a unbiased perspective, with survivors of trafficking and prostitution being positively included in the policy development process.

2. Completely withdraw and abandon the existing draft policy distributed by the international secretariat. 

The Amnesty International Australia National Annual General Meeting requests that the National Executive Committee of Amnesty International Australia shall advocate to the international secretariat and board for:

  • a new global investigation and consultation on the Nordic Model and alternative models ofprostitution legislation, in partnership with survivors of prostitution and people who have been trafficked into the sex industry.
  • A review of the framework in which any policy on prostitution should sit. Alternative policy frameworks, such as the prevention of torture and trauma or ending violence against women, could be possibilities.”

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Excluding sex workers and including only “survivors of trafficking and prostitution” is essentially silencing current sex workersthe very people whose lives will be affected by any policy on sex work.

When a marginalised group is excluded from any process regarding their rights, their rights are harmed – when sex workers are not included as stakeholders in a process regarding their human rights – sex workers are harmed by that process.

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The Amnesty International Australia, National Human Rights Forum and AGM occurred over two days (the 5th and 6th of July 2014) in Melbourne, Australia.  To read the original presentation to the Forum and the statement to the AGM, see below –

Read presentation to Amnesty National Human Rights Forum (5th July): Amnesty International: Decriminalising Sex Work – What are the issues?

Read statement to Amnesty AGM (6th July): Amnesty (again) – Statement to the AGM

Cromwell RE-BOOTED

It is the 17th of December, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, I am on a tram on my way to a rally when I get a text that begins “Hi Jane sorry to bother you if you know this already and if you don’t warning that its about Cromwell…”

It contains a link to a site called ‘Slate’ and mentions interior photos of Cromwell.

The story so far on Cromwell can be found first here MANORISMS & also here Cromwell Re-Visited

But the short version is that a Victorian sex industry workplace was closed with workers records and belongings inside, re-opened as an art gallery (with records and belongings still there), and then the exhibition cancelled after workers protests.  It’s been a highly traumatising process for the workers involved – compounded by persistent failures to communicate with workers, to treat their records/belongings or their work as anything other than some sort of sideshow.

This is probably why I react so strongly to the Slate article.  It includes so much stigmatizing language I don’t know where to start.  I am mystified that Christian Pearson (the photographer) is talking like this.  Did StrEAT not contact this person and explain the situation after the exhibition closed?

Pearson begins the article by mentioning (& linking to) an Arts Hub interview suggesting that Cromwell was “abandoned”.  Actually that’s a LIE, workers were locked out.  But I guess that’s not as interesting as suggesting that Cromwell is the Marie Celeste of brothels?  Also interesting is the fact that Arts Hub have removed my original comment on their article pointing to my Blog posts on the subject…

Pearson continues the Marie Celeste motif saying Cromwell is “frozen in time”.  Talking about “cigarettes..left in ashtrays”, “sheets..dormant in dryers”.  Holy cow!  You can find both of those things in my house at the moment but it’s in no way “abandoned”.

There’s an extended bit about how freaked out Pearson is to be in alone in the building, that they “felt a sense of dislocation from my own reality”.  Seriously?  I’d get that checked out if I was you.

Apparently “the rooms were full of easy-to-make gratuitous images”.  Is that a reference to the fact that sex used to happen there, for money?  Subtle.

But I think my least favourite bit is Pearson stating “he was determined to photograph the brothel in a way that did not place any judgment on the space” – well you know what?  That’s a FAIL.

Talking about my ex-workplace as some weird, scary fucked up place – divorced from the reality of what actually happened – which has now been brought to the attention of both StrEAT (the current lease holders) and RMIT (who were involved in the art exhibition) is actually extremely stigmatising.

I would seriously invite Christian Pearson to take the time to meet with some of the Cromwell workers and other Victorian sex workers who have been supporting us in dealing with this.

As usual I will report back to let you know whether I get taken up on this offer (& also on what StrEAT have to say about this…)

CROMWELL RE-VISITED

… this is a continuation of Mondays post ‘MANORISMS‘…

I am sitting in a sex workers bedroom not wanting to look at the stack of paperwork sitting on their bed.  Sex worker’s individual paperwork and medical information is here.  My own worker paperwork from Cromwell is here.

In an environment of prevailing whorephobia no-one should ever have this information.

Anyone, sex worker or not, would prefer that their personal and medical information is secured.

The worker whose bedroom I am sitting in, who is also an ex-Cromwell sex worker, found the records in an open cupboard in the Reception area of Cromwell, last Friday night at the ‘Manorisms’ exhibition opening.

Cromwell015x

I listen as they describe their experience & show me photos that they took of the ‘exhibition’ –

  • an art ‘installation’ including a handmade knife, pieces of human skin (molded in latex), reproduction human bones, ‘instruments’ laid out on a table as if ready to dissect – in one of the rooms I used to work in
  • a shower unit in one of the rooms, where our names have been painted – having been accessed from records left at Cromwell – my name is there, my best friend’s name is there, the worker who is showing me this points out their name
  • one of the beds left ‘untouched’ as if to memorialize Cromwell, essentially fetishising both sex work and sex workers
  • a sex worker’s belongings left sitting out, accessible to anyone, on top of the lockers in the locker room
  • telephone numbers left taped up behind reception, visible and accessible to anyone in the space

Cromwellxxx1Cromwellxxx2 Cromwell009x Cromwell010x Cromwell013x Cromwell012x

I go outside and smoke a cigarette, my hands are shaking.

We agree that all of the paperwork should be burned.

I call Consumer Affairs Victoria (as I did in June 2012 when Cromwell Manor closed). They advise they will look into it and get back to me.

I spend the day speaking to sex workers.  Online.  In person.  We talk about how angry we are.  We talk about our memories of Cromwell.  It is decided that a public statement is necessary, so I write a blog post.  A pretty restrained blog post given all of the above.  I call StrEAT & leave a message.

Then something happens.  StrEAT call back.

We have a tense conversation – I find myself stating several times “you must let go of the idea that what you have done is defensible, it is intrinsically whorephobic.  Admit that, admit you have made a mistake and we can begin to move on”  I say sex workers feel the exhibition must close, it is non negotiable.  I explain that any meeting is the first step in a process rather than simply a token gesture to make this go away.

We arrange to have a meeting.

We discuss all of the above issues.  We resolve some and make progress on others.  The names have been removed from the ‘installation’ listing sex workers names by the artist.

Cromwellxxx3

StrEAT has closed the exhibition and it will remain closed.

We agree that we will need to meet again.

At the end of the meeting I thank StrEAT.

Why would an angry sex worker thank the organisation that committed a whorephobic act against their community?

Because they did two things that are necessary for progress when an individual or organisation has committed an act of whorephobia:

  • they LISTENED to sex workers
  • they acknowledged they had made a MISTAKE

These are not easy things to do.

People should listen to marginalised communities.  But they generally don’t.  StrEAT did.

It’s not easy to admit when you made a mistake.  StrEAT did.

StrEAT spent time working through the concepts with sex workers and spent time listening to our stories.

Am I still angry?  Hell yes.

There are still sex workers records that need to be handed back.  We have informed StrEAT that these need to be handed to Vixen (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation), so that they are under sex worker control.  Any sex workers that want to access their records should be able to do so (& do so via a peer organisation) and remaining records should be destroyed – by sex workers.

There is still the issue of the breach of privacy, for which there is now a RMIT ethics complaint in progress.

There is the matter of what will happen with the current site & the ‘artworks’, even though it is not re-opening as an Art Gallery prior to re-development.

There is much yet to discuss, but importantly – sex workers are part of the discussion.

Where sex work is the topic – sex workers should ALWAYS be part of the discussion.

To borrow a phrase from NSW sex worker organisation, NAUWU (who hopefully won’t mind):

NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US!

MANORISMS

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

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

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

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

Get that – IT’S. A. JOB.

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

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

The police refused to to take a report.

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

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

Fast forward back to 2013…

Have I heard about Cromwell?

Ex-brothel turns temporary gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do not reserve judgement.

THIS IS WHOREPHOBIA. THIS IS DISCRIMINATION.

What should you do to fix this?

Admit you need to fix this, but

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

Cromwell001

Coming Out As A Sex Worker – For Sex Workers & Our Families

http://youtu.be/QD1i9sfX3KI

My participation in this project was last minute, when I ran into one of the film makers just before the editing process began and ended up talking on camera about one of my more unpleasant coming out experiences (my sister).

Not all my coming out experiences have been negative – as a sex worker or as queer. But in terms of my family many have. I do however feel compelled to provide a positive to balance the negative.

My brother Steve always, without reservation, supported me. When I came out as queer he supported me. Despite that I did not tell him I was a sex worker. I would never have told him. My history & personal experiences with police stood like an invisible wall between us. When he became a Buddhist, changed his way of living and more significantly (to me) left the police force, I decided I would come out, again. But when you only have two family members that regularly stay in contact, it’s a bit daunting to potentially screw that up. I didn’t. Or rather he didn’t. His continuing acceptance was – effortless. When I experience bigotry & hatred I often look at the effort involved, the energy expended and remember that effortless acceptance. I only wish that there had been longer to appreciate it.

[excerpt from eulogy for my brother]
“Steve accepted everything about me, loved me for who I am & celebrated my life with me. It’s unfortunately a gift rarely given. Because of that I was able to include him in all of my life.. I will miss Steve forever.
It still doesn’t seem real that he isn’t here with us.
But that’s just because I don’t want it to be – I never will.
But – Steve was very pragmatic, he’d want us to get on with it.
So I will simply say his love gives me strength – it always did & it always will.”

JG 13.10.2013