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)

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:

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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

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

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.

Eleni from Vixen Collective speaks out at SlutWalk Melbourne

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

Karen Pickering, introducing speakers at SlutWalk

Karen Pickering, introducing speakers at SlutWalk

Crowd at the State Library during speeches

Crowd at the State Library during speeches

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

Members of Vixen Collective supporting Eleni at SlutWalk:

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

Reclaim the Night supports #sexworkers at SlutWalk

Reclaim the Night supports #sexworkers at SlutWalk

Fellow SlutWalk speaker Van Badham supports Eleni

Fellow SlutWalk speaker Van Badham supports Eleni

Sex Party supporting #sexworkers (pictured in Federation Square)

Sex Party supporting #sexworkers (pictured in Federation Square)

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

Full text of Eleni’s speech:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They may say what they like.

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

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

Because I will not be silenced!

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

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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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.