Victorian Greens – still failing sex workers

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Last night local Victorian sex workers protested a Victorian Greens event hosting candidates who are running for pre-selection in the electorate of Richmond.

Why would sex workers be motivated to do this?

Sex workers and sex worker organisations world-wide call for the full decriminalisation of our work, as do human rights and health organisations around the world.

Victorian Greens policy actually supports the “Decriminalisation of consensual adult sex work”, and Federal Greens policy indicates support for “An end to the criminalisation of consensual adult sex work”.
However, the Victorian Greens have repeatedly run a candidate in the seat of Richmond who opposes both the Victorian Greens and Federal Greens policy on sex work.  Kathleen Maltzahn, founder of anti-sex work organisation Project Respect, has run as the Greens candidate in Richmond in the 2010 and 2014 Victorian State Elections and is again in the running to be selected as the candidate for the upcoming election in 2018.

So, sex workers are concerned that the Victorian Greens are – yet again – seeking to run a candidate that opposes the Greens own policy on sex work, a candidate who opposes what is recognised as the best practice model for sex industry regulation.

So why are the Greens doing this?  Their own policy on the issue is clear and one would think that running a candidate who opposes that policy, who opposes the human rights of a marginalised community might be something the Greens would care about.

So, sex workers went to the event last night to ask this question.  We stood outside the event asking people entering to speak to us about the issue and offering them flyers explaining our concerns.  We even saw Kathleen Maltzahn when we first arrived (who given the long history of sex workers protesting her opposition to sex workers rights, recognised some of us from prior protests), we gave her a flyer and explained why we were there – so the Greens were aware of our presence and the reason for it almost immediately.

What was striking was the reaction of a small number of Greens members.  On realising we were there the Greens kept the building locked and posted ‘sentries’ at each entrance.  We overheard one of the people being put on ‘sentry’ duty being told by another Greens member to “watch them and make sure no one talks to them”.  The Greens member who gave this instruction came out a few minutes later and accosted me, trying to snatch the flyers I was holding from my hand, grabbing my hand (with the flyers in it) and refusing to let go for an uncomfortable length of time (literally uncomfortable, squeezing my hand as hard as possible trying to get me to drop the flyers).  The same Greens member later stood on a sex workers foot while attempting to prevent them from talking to people (although it seemed this may have been accidental).

Many people entering did take our flyers and many also stopped to talk to us about the issues.  But why did the Victorian Greens permit behaviour so hostile towards protesters?  After all we were there to ask them to select a candidate who supports their own policies – a pretty reasonable request.

Later in the evening, after the meeting had begun another group of sex workers attempted to enter the meeting to raise concerns, only to be physically assaulted by a different Greens member, who shoved one worker and threw another to the ground.

The Greens then called the police, who later showed up and rather ironically ended up taking a report from one of the assaulted workers about the Greens actions.

The Victorian Greens have previously called for people to “defend your right to protest” and opposed changes to the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill that extended police powers against protesters in Victoria.

So why is a party whose own policies support sex workers human rights, who supports the right to protest, reacting so violently when people exercise that right?  Why do the Victorian Greens object to sex workers pointing out that the Victorian Greens have in the past and may again, run a candidate who rejects part of their own policy platform?

It’s a good question and it is well beyond time for the Victorian Greens to have an answer.

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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

ID2EVASW – Ryan’s speech

SPEAKER 1 – RYAN (reproduced with permission)/Rally at State Library – Melbourne

I would like to acknowledge that this land we are meeting on today is Wurundjeri land, and I pay my respects to elders past and present. Sovereignty has never been ceded. I also want to acknowledge that sex workers in Australia live and work in a racist and colonised space that is impacted by illegitimate and unjust colonial laws including but definitely not limited to Victoria’s Sex Work Laws.

I am speaking as an individual sex worker. I work on the streets, privately and in brothels and I travel around for work mostly in between Sydney Adelaide and Melbourne.

Today I obviously don’t have enough time to talk about the many different ways the laws,  social stigma, victim blaming, whorephobia and many other systems of oppression in our society
work together to create and enable violence against sex workers.

I will just start by talking a little bit about the police.
When visiting Melbourne this year I’ve mostly been working in St Kilda where police have current operations targeting sex workers and our clients.

I don’t think its rocket science to realise having police posing as sex workers to entrap and arrest our clients negatively impacts our work and lives. Apparently it’s very hard to figure out for a lot of university lecturers and left wing activists in Melbourne though. I want to ask these people who support criminalising our clients, or at least don’t speak out against it a few questions.

How does making clients on edge and suspicious of us and not as able to negotiate for fear of arrest help us at work?

How does making our clients pay the money they were going to be spending on us to police officers instead help us… or anyone for that matter? The police don’t even provide any service except for fucking over most people in our society! How does running police operations that pressure us to not work in the areas that we have scouted out, feel secure working at and are within close proximity of our workmates or friends help us?

When there are also police officers (both undercover and in marked cars and uniforms) driving past harassing me and my workmates, to try and entrap us, or just cruising past watching, this makes it even harder again for us to negotiate with our clients. In this environment,  police evasion tactics for both me and my client have to become my priority and this often comes at the expense of me being able to use all of the skills I could be using to assess other non-police related risks and look after my OHS in the most optimal way at work.

One Police Inspector argued last year in the media ‘the reality is, these girls are getting into cars anyway.’ in some attempt to counter sex workers stating that the laws and policing practices in St Kilda are enabling violence against sex workers. These kinds of whorephobic arguments rely on perpetuating the idea that sex work is not skilled work – so it doesn’t matter for sex workers how many ways the police limit our ability to implement these safety tactics- according to them and our whorephobic society we were never expected to have any skills or be able to implement them anyway?

Maybe left wing activists and feminists think they are different to police and conservatives because they pretend to not blame us and instead say its just sex work or our clients that are THE problem. But people from across the political spectrum end up politically united in whorephobia when they frame sex work or parts of sex work as violence. When they see sex work as inherently creating violence they normalise this violence against us.

But Violence is not part of our job descriptions or something that is just part of sex work. It is just as shocking if it happens to a sex worker as it is if it happens to any other person at any time.

Violence is not just something that just comes hand in hand with sex being sold, it comes from whorephobia and often racism, ableism, classism, transphobia, anti- drug user sentiments, xenophobia, homophobia and/or misogyny. And it continues to happen when these sentiments are unchallenged in our society and are reflected in our legal systems. It happens when people think violence against sex workers is normal or just what happens when you are a sex worker.

Ending violence against sex workers is not going to be achieved by non sex workers appropriating our experiences of violence and sickeningly using them to further upper class feminist’s campaigns to make money for themselves harming -I mean ‘saving’ sex workers by campaigning for greater police and immigration powers over sex workers.

SHAME Project Respect, Kathleen Maltzahn SHAME every second author published by Spinifex press EXTRA SHAME Melinda Tankard Reist.

To campaign for the systems that cause violence against sex workers to be further expanded and strengthened in the name of ending violence against sex workers is just evil, especially when sex workers have been so vocal about this for so long.

Ending violence against sex workers will not happen by repeating over and over that this day isn’t political or claiming we can have a ‘peaceful’ gathering with the wider public and police today. Sex workers are not living in peace in Victoria!

To employ non sex workers to run outreach programs and to compile the experiences of sex workers under Victorias harmful laws and to NOT come out publically condemning the laws, policies and policing practices that are key in enabling violence against us IS TO BE COMPLICIT IN THIS VIOLENCE.

We already know that to create the best environment for ourselves at work we need full decriminalisation of sex work which would remove the police as regulators of our industry.  We need the wider community to recognise sex work is work, and that sex work is skilled work. We need our society and courts to recognise that being a sex worker does not in anyway mean you are not a good parent. We need our families and friends and communities to support sex workers.

Any non sex workers and non peer run sex worker services who actively undermine our rights or are complicit in the systems that create violence against us should be held accountable and stop making money off sex workers!  We need sex worker organisations like VIXEN in Victoria to be supported and listened to, for sex workers who are organising together to be supported and listened to.  We are obviously highly skilled in looking after ourselves and our peers at work. Its amazing the ways we do it in the face of such a hostile legal environment and whorephobic culture in Victoria. But we need change and we shouldn’t have to deal with so much of this bullshit! So we continue to fight to be respected and to push back against the systems and beliefs that are violent and enable violence against sex workers.