“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

A Pocket Guide to Dealing With Anti’s Online

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Finding the internet a hateful place?  Sick of being attacked by anti’s online, or just looking for an antidote to all the lies?

Look below for information to help recharge or re-engage.

 

Full Decriminalisation of Sex Work – for Sex Workers Health and Safety!

10 Reasons to Decriminalise Sex Work (Open Society)

Sex Work and the Law – the Case for Decriminalization (Desiree Alliance)

Decriminalisation of Sex Work – The Evidence Is In (HIV Australia)

The sexual health of sex workers: no bad whores, just bad laws (Ally Daniel, Social Research Briefs)

Decriminalising Sex Work Would Cut HIV Infections By A Third (Imperial College London)

 

The Swedish Model of Sex Work Regulation Harms Sex Workers

‘We Want to Save You – & If You Don’t Appreciate It You Will Be Punished’ (SWAN Network – Youtube)

The ‘Nordic model’ of prostitution law is a myth (The Conversation)

Swedish Model – A Failure (BAYSWAN)

The Problem With the “Swedish Model” for Sex Work Laws (New Republic)

Nordic Model of Prostitution ‘Makes Sex Workers More Vulnerable to Violence and STDs’ (IBT)

Advocacy Toolkit – The Real Impact of the Swedish Model on Sex Workers (NSWP)

Resistance to the Swedish model through LGBTQ and sex work community collaboration and online intervention (Nicklas Dennermalm, Digital Culture & Education)

Göran Lindberg and Sweden’s dark side (The Guardian)

 

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Bad Science, Lies and Other Anti Sex Work Rhetoric

A Load of Farley (Maggie McNeill, The Honest Courtesan)

Remembering Judge Himel: Bold assertions and inflammatory language not useful to the court (Laura Agustin, The Naked Anthropologist)

The Sex Trade: Lies, the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ and Other Silencing Tactics (Ruth Jacobs, Huffington Post)

Is One of the Most-Cited Statistics About Sex Work Wrong (Chris Hall, The Atlantic)

The War on Sex Workers (Melissa Gira Grant, Reason.com)

There is more to the prostitution debate than privileged sex workers and silent, abused victims (Abi Wilkinson, International Business Times)

Inside the Sensational Business of “Rescuing” Sex Workers (Mike Ludwig, Truth Out)

From aborton to sex work, why the state shouldn’t control women’s bodies (Frankie Mullin, New Statesman)

Rehashing Tired Claims About Prostitution – A Response to Farley and Raphael and Shapiro (Ronald Weitzer)

Amazingly Stupid Statements (Maggie McNeill, The Honest Courtesan)

 

Diversity of Sex Worker Community and Activism

All sex workers have the right to speak out about their lives and work – but the myth of the “privileged few” not only silences sex workers, it obscures the voices of sex workers of colour, those outside the West and the most marginalised in our communities.

Black Sex Workers’ Lives Matter: Appropriation of Black Suffering (Robyn Maynard, Truth-Out)

Why VAMP Supports Decriminalisation of Sex Work (Meena Saraswathi Seshu and Aarthi Pai, Feminist India)

Meet the Thai Sex Workers Fighting for Their Right to Earn a Living (Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, VICE)

South Africa: Coalition Launched to Decriminalise Sex Work (Ashleigh Furlong, All Africa)

What the Rentboy Raid Tells Us About the Gendered Rhetoric of Trafficking (Morgan M Page, Tits & Sass)

Why Cambodia’s sex workers don’t need to be saved (Patrick Winn, Global Post)

The creative protests of sex workers in Argentina (Georgina Orellano, Open Democracy)

Dear Justice Minister, Let’s Discuss The Concerns Of Sex Workers (Naomi Sayers, Huffington Post)

An open letter to Tom Meagher, from St Kilda street-based sex workers (Feminist Ire)

 

Who Are These People?

*NOTE – particular effort has been taken to find pieces written by sex workers, allies or general media about these people rather than referencing their actual work

Cathy Brennan – Outing, platforms, harassment and privilege (Jem, The F Word)

Caroline Norma – Make room for sex workers in the sisterhood … and don’t forget men (Anthony Smith, The Conversation)

Melinda Tankard Reist – “Gaping Arseholes” And “20-Foot Schlongs”: Australia Debated Porn Last Night And It Was Magnificent (Meg Watson, Junkee)

Rachel Moran – Played Out (Maggie McNeill, The Honest Courtesan)

Sheila Jeffreys – Leading feminist launches bizarre ‘racist’ attack on trans community (Star Observer)

 

And now… some humour…

Just Don’t Call It Slut Shaming: A Feminist Guide to Silencing Sex Workers (Feminist Ire)

Hanging Out In the Pimp Lobby (Sometimes It’s Just a Cigar)

Everything You Need to Know About the Pimp Lobby (Charlotte Shane)

 

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Organisations that Support the Decriminalisation of Sex Work

Amnesty International – Sex Workers’ Rights Are Human Rights

United Nations (UN) – Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific (pg.21-31)

World Health Organisation (WHO) – Consolidated Guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations (pg.90-91)

Human Rights Watch – Human Rights Watch: World Report 2014 (pg.47)

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) – Submission to Scottish Parliament in Support of Decriminalisation of Sex Work in Scotland

Open Society Foundations (OSF) – Understanding Sex Work in an Open Society

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – Global Commission on HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health (pg.40)

Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) – Why Decriminalise Sex Work?

Vixen Collective in alliance with Sex Worker Organisations in Australia – Sex workers stand in solidarity in calling for full decriminalisation of sex work!

* Only one reference has been provided for each organisation, when many are available and note that this list is (obviously) not intended to be an exhaustive list of references.

 

Have a reference or link you think needs to be on this list?
Either comment on this post or contact me on Twitter at @sexliesducttape

Trans woman, sex worker – sent to mens prison in Western Australia

The latest news today on the case of a trans woman living with HIV, who is a sex worker, is that bail has been refused and she has been moved to a men’s prison in Western Australia.

“The court heard [name removed] was being supported by the Sex Workers Association which offered to provide a surety and accommodation should she be granted bail.
However Magistrate Paul Heaney refused bail saying the case was “unusual but very serious” and bail would be inappropriate.
[name removed] was remanded in custody and is due to appear in court again next month.”
– February 23rd 2016, ABC

“Outside court, People For Sex Worker Rights in WA spokeswoman Rebecca Davies told reporters [name removed] was distressed and the group was disappointed bail had been refused.
“We’re really disappointed and deeply concerned that a trans woman is being held in a male facility and we call on the WA government to do something to make sure this never happens to another trans woman ever again,” she said.
“Someone who identifies as a woman has been put in a male prison where they’re probably going to be subject to discrimination, possibly abuse from other prisoners, it’s just not a good scenario.”…”
– February 23rd 2016, WA Today

Quoted in the press on Saturday, local advocates voiced concerns about the treatment of the case in the media and the likelihood of a fair trial:

“…”We are here to support a fellow sex worker who is being vilified in the press,” PSWRWA president Rebecca Davies said.
“We are concerned that the person is not going to be given a fair trial … safer sex is the responsibility of everyone engaging in a sexual activity, not just one party.”…
Ms Davies also feared the case would reinforce the stigma against people living with HIV, saying the release of [name removed] personal health information was inappropriate.
“When we criminalise HIV, people stop getting tested. This is a public health issue, not a criminal one. WA needs to get with the times,” she said.” – February 20th 2016, ABC

This follows on from the woman being extradited last week from Sydney, where she was arrested over allegations of unprotected sex with a male client, resulting in charges of grievous bodily harm in Western Australia.
The woman’s lawyer informed the court in Perth today that the alleged victim was not a client but the two were instead in a consensual relationship.

While the case is not scheduled to return to court until next month sex worker organisation People for Sex Worker Rights in WA continue to advocate for the woman to be moved to a women’s prison and for the matter to be treated as a public health issue – not requiring criminal sanctions.

 

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For more, read the media release from People for Sex Worker Rights in WA, supplied by PSWRWA and re-printed with permission below:

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Media Release
People For Sex Worker Rights in Western Australia
19 February 2016

Allegations of HIV transmission have been made against a transgender person living with HIV, who was also a sex worker in Western Australia.

People for Sex Worker Rights in Western Australia, the peer-led advocacy group for sex workers in Western Australia, does not support criminalisation of consensual sexual activity, including when transmission of a sexually transmitted infection occurs. While we cannot comment on a case before the courts, we believe that sexual health should be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal one.

“Safer sex is the responsibility of everyone engaging in a sexual activity, not just one party,” said People For Sex Worker Rights in WA president Rebecca Davies.

“We have continually seen, both within Australia and globally, that prosecuting people for cases of this nature result in poorer public health outcomes, and a reduction in people going in for sexual health testing. UNAIDS has raised concerns that such criminal laws create disincentives to testing, create a false sense of security for those who believe themselves to be HIV-negative, reinforce stigma against people living with HIV, and result in selective prosecution of people with HIV among otherwise marginalised communities. We share these concerns.”

“It has been extremely disappointing to see the media actively encouraging stigma towards people living with HIV, transgender women and sex workers in their reporting of this case. Such reporting only serves to create fear and misinformation, when it should highlight the need for drastic improvement in public sexual health education.

“We are also extremely disappointed to see repeated transphobic reporting towards the sex worker concerned, including referring to a woman as “male”, using incorrect pronouns, and reporting of her birth name. There can be no justification for such transphobic coverage in 2016.”

“The sexual health of sex workers in Australia has repeatedly been shown to be as good as, if not better than, the general population. A public health-focused response centred on peer education and harm reduction is a far better means of promoting sexual health than harmful measures of criminalisation. We suggest that pouring funds into policing measures while simultaneously seeing funding cuts to sexual health services around Australia is deeply counterproductive.”

Contact:
Rebecca Davies
President, People For Sex Worker Rights in WA
Ph: 0451 984 211
rebecca.davies.rd@hotmail.com

To download the media release as a PDF click here – PSWRWA Media Release – 2016 Feb 19

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Support CJ (preferred name of worker) during her case:

“Every dollar raised from this GoFundMe will go towards ensuring CJ can have her family around her and meeting her direct needs in prison. We may not be able to keep her out of male prison today, but we can at least ensure that she has as much support around her from those closest to her as possible while we campaign to have her moved.”

Click here to visit the GoFundMe and donate – Support CJ Trans Sex Worker

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Want to keep informed and support People for Sex Worker Rights in WA during this case?

Follow PSWRWA on twitter here – @sexworkrightswa

Visit PSWRWA’s Website here – sexworkerrightswa.org

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Media Links

Safety fears for transgender woman in solitary confinement in men’s prison

HIV is a Public Health Issue Not A Crime Say Advocates – Gay News Network

Reports of alleged HIV transmission by WA sex worker highlight stigma

NAPWA, SWOP NSW, Scarlet Alliance, WA AIDS Council, Magenta “HIV transmission should be about public health, not criminal law”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problems with this:

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

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

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

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

This is not okay.

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

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

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

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

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

FODI are on Twitter at @IdeasattheHouse

FODI are on Facebook as Ideas at the House – Facebook

St James Ethics Centre are on Twitter at @stjamesethics

 

Updates provided when available, as usual…

 

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