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

ID2EVASW – Rally in St Kilda

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers begins in Melbourne with fierce sex worker voices raised in St Kilda.  Workers highlight the lack of progress in bringing anyone to justice for sex worker Tracy Connelly’s death and the barriers to seeking police assistance when working outside the licensing system.

St Kilda sex workers Claire, Chrissy and Kat speak about their work, also the need for police and media attention to remain on the person or persons responsible for Tracy’s death.

Tracy Connelly

Tracy Connelly

After MP Clem Newtown-Brown tells the crowd that the government has “no easy answers”, the microphone is opened to sex workers, sex worker Ryan states “there is an answer – and it’s decriminalisation!”…

St Kilda sex worker calls out on Red Umbrella Day for more effort to find Tracey Connelly’s killer

It is clear from talking to sex workers gathered afterwards the perception is the media have moved on, and that there is no communication from police on the status of the investigation.  It took two weeks to get a statement for the purposes of the ID2EVASW Vixen Hour radio show on the 16th of Dec – via S.I.C.U. (Sex Industry Co-ordination Unit) – from the murder investigation, just to update that the case was “ongoing”.

Contrasted to the coverage of Jill Meaghers’ death and relatively swift capture of Adrian Bayley, St Kilda sex workers feel abandoned.  Why wouldn’t they?

There is another clear feeling from talking to sex workers after the rally.  That regardless of how anyone feels about their work – good, bad or indifferent – that it’s work.  If something bad happens a sex worker should be as able to call the police as anyone else.

Without a debate about how “likely” it is they’ll be charged for reporting it.

Reclaim the Night/Take Back the Night – Melbourne, Australia 2013

Reclaim the Night, Melbourne 2013, speaking on behalf of Vixen Collective – Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation

Sex workers do not live in the same night…

My name is Jane Green.
I am speaking on behalf of Vixen Collective, Victoria’s peer only, sex worker organisation.

Worldwide, “Reclaim the Night” or “Take back the Night” protests violence against women.
Sex workers face violence in their lives, in their work, as other people do.
& I as a sex worker am here tonight to “Reclaim the night”
But as a sex worker this does not have the same meaning for me.
As a sex worker I do not live in the same night, or the same day.
Because sex workers are not governed by the same LAWS.
Sex workers are not policed by the same POLICE.
The MEDIA that reports the news does not reports ours, or when it is written – it is written in a way that demeans our community.
The PUBLIC that rallies in times of grief, often finds sex worker grief worthy of abuse.

Victorian Sex Industry Law
– artificially delineates “good” and “bad” whores into the legal and illegal sectors of the industry
– we have three monthly, forced, mandatory STI screening for Victorian sex workers, even when studies prove we have better sexual health & practice safer sex than the general population
– rigid laws make our lives harder, not easier
DECRIMINALISATION, giving sex workers the human rights & labour rights that other workers already have, is very simply what I as a Victorian sex worker need.

Police.
Sex workers are not policed by the same police.
We get S.I.C.U. – the Sex Industry Co-ordination Unit. But we also get the the stigma & discrimination bred from making police the regulators of our industry rather than having them relate to us as general citizens.
On the same day that I was asked to write this speech a friend called me to ask advice on behalf of another sex worker, about whether or not to go to the police.
If you’re not a sex worker this probably isn’t a question you ask yourself if you’re a victim of a crime?
Should I go to the police?
This is part of what I told them:
– Take someone as a witness.
– Your witness should be another sex worker.
– Take a pen & paper, do this:
– write your own record of what happens.
– record the names & rank of every officer you deal with.
When you are deciding whether or not to make a complaint later this information will be useful to you.
– Understand that if you are working illegally there may be consequences, even if you are the VICTIM of a crime.
– In situations when confronting your fear of reporting to police – always prioritise your personal safety.
– Be prepared for the eventuality that they will do nothing to help you.
The reason I was giving this advice?
This was a sex worker visiting Melbourne, Victorian sex workers already know this (or we find out the hard way).
You do not feel safe reaching out for help to the people who are regulating your industry.
Laws in Victoria reinforce whorephobic attitudes within the police towards sex workers.
And so, the police are not the people we call when we need help – we call other sex workers.

I am a sex worker.
I want to make that clear.
From Media coverage in Victoria another word might seem all too common, you might be tempted to use the term “prostitute”.
The Victorian Media seemed fond of this term until a backlash following the death of sex worker Tracey Connelly caused a brief period of humanity.
I often get asked why sex workers care so much about that word?
I do not want to be called “prostitute” because it is an abusive term, it is denigratory to my peers and to me.
It is whorephobic.
The following organisations recommend you use the term sex worker:
– the United Nations
– the World Health Organisation
– The Scarlet Alliance, Australia’s National Sex Worker Organisation
– Vixen Collective, Victoria’s Peer Only Sex Worker Organisation
The Victorian Government actually changed Sex Industry Legislation in Victoria to read “sex work”.
But, still the Victorian Media won’t get it right.
I say WON’T.
There has been plenty of time to catch up to the language – but the Victorian Media won’t get it right because PROSTITUTE makes a better headline.

When Jill Meagher was murdered, her death touched us, we knew her name and her face – it was personalised.
This should have been no less the case when sex worker Tracey Connelly died.
But Tracey Connelly was represented as a stereotype – and that allowed members of the public to depersonalise her, to vilify her and to vilify sex worker community.
The online comments sections of Melbourne newspapers filled up with anonymous vitriol, pointing out how “she deserved it”.
What Tracey Connelly deserved was exactly what Jill Meagher received in death – she deserved to be treated like a human being, by the PUBLIC, not just her immediate friends, family & community.
Because sex workers are just that – part of community.

We are here tonight to “Reclaim the night”
Sex workers do not live in the same night.
We live in a night (& a day) of unnecessary LAWS.
Where POLICE are never just the people we reach out to when victims of violent crime, but also the people that may jail us because of discriminatory LAWS.
Our night is often followed by days of MEDIA that reports our lives (or deaths) in casual or callous tones that would cause an outcry for any other member of the public…
Sex workers are a diverse community.
I don’t claim to speak for all sex workers, because no one can.
But as a Victorian sex worker, I speak for my own experience.
– do not leave us alone in this fight.
ALL of us can speak out against whorephobia when we we see it.
It can & should be called out
Events such as these come and go, but you as allies MUST stand with us , enduring beyond such times.
For sex workers every DAY and NIGHT stands to be reclaimed.