Sex workers applaud changes to Victorian Sentencing Manual

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Vixen Collective, Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation
Media Release – Wednesday 19th October 2016

Sexual offenders who target sex workers no longer able to be given reduced sentences for their crimes under updated Victorian Sentencing Manual

Vixen Collective has repeatedly raised concerns about the Victorian Sentencing Manual which is written and maintained by the Judicial College of Victoria who provides education for judges, magistrates and VCAT members; as the manual had relied on cases AG v Harris 11/8/1981 CCA Vic and Hakopian 11/12/1991 CCA Vic in a topic titled “Victim is a Prostitute”. Previously this topic stated:

“..the prostitute’s experience may tend to reduce the weight commonly given in rape cases to the ‘reaction of revulsion’ of the ‘chaste woman’..”  (AG v Harris 11/8/1981, quoted in “Victim is a Prostitute”)

These cases were also quoted in a topic called Hardy Victims.

Issues with these topics had been raised as an item of concern by our community, and seen as a contributing factor in:

  • Reduced sentences for those that offend against sex workers (whether directly applied, or through influencing opinions towards our community and its members in the courts).
  • Reluctance by sex workers to proceed with charges against offenders (one among many barriers sex workers face in accessing justice in Victoria).

We are therefore extremely pleased to announce that after liaising with St Kilda Legal Service who conducted research on the issue and made submissions to the Judicial College about amending these topics, the Victorian Sentencing Manual has now been updated to acknowledge:

“..that the mere fact a victim of a sexual offence was a sex worker will, of itself, have no effect on sentence. Rather, what is relevant are the consequences of the offence for a particular victim.” (quoted from “Victim is a Sex Worker – 31.6.2.12”)

We also note that the topic “Hardy Victims” in the Victorian Sentencing Manual, which applied similar reasoning to other victims of crime – “..certain victims may be less vulnerable than the standard, and thus suffer less harm from the same conduct..” – has now been removed.

This is a significant recognition of sex workers’ human rights in Victoria and importantly an instance where sex workers’ voices have been heard and acknowledged. We want to thank St Kilda Legal Service for their work and support, the Judicial College for their work and their commitment to addressing this issue as well as Justice Connect for providing pro bono barrister advice.

These changes address discrimination against sex workers as well as problematic views about sexual assault survivors contained within the guidelines.

Sex workers in Victoria, including Vixen Collective (as Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation) continue to call for improved access to police for sex workers and greater justice in the courts.  Although the changes detailed above are an important step for our community, the licensing system of regulating sex work remains an impediment to sex workers’ human rights, labour rights and safety in Victoria.

In line with the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Australia’s National HIV Strategy, Victorian AIDS Council, Living Positive Victoria, Harm Reduction Victoria, Burnet Institute, Australian Research Centre in Sex Health & Society, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, St Kilda Legal Service, multiple medical studies, and sex workers’ representative organisations across Australia and the world – Vixen Collective continues to call for the full decriminalisation of sex work – this is recognised as the world’s best practice model of sex work regulation.

It is critical that the voices of sex workers continued to be centered in all discussions on law and policy relating to our lives and work – it is only in doing so that sex workers rights can be fully recognised.

For further media information/interviews, please contact:

Jane Green, Vixen Collective Spokesperson:  0420 887 845
Email: vixencollectivemelbourne@gmail.com

Suzan, St Kilda Legal Service: (03) 8598 6630
Email: suzan@skls.org.au

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Download a copy of this Vixen Collective media release here – 20161019-vixen-rape-sentencing-guidelines-media-release

The “best of times” & the “worst of times” (SlutWalk 2015)

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My name is Jane Green and I am a current sex worker.

I am speaking today, as a sex worker and also on behalf of Scarlet Alliance[1], Australian Sex Workers Association and also Vixen Collective[2], Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation.

I do not speak for all sex workers, because no one can.
I speak from my own personal experience of sex work.

This has been a difficult speech for me to write, not because there is a lack of things to say – but because there is so much.

Much like the Dickens quote, I often feel like it is both the “best of times” and the “worst of times”.

The “best of times” because as sex workers we are constantly fighting for our rights, often achieving so much, and yet it is still the “worst of times” because conservatives and anti-sex work feminists are arrayed against us trying to erase our successes and criminalise our work and lives.

To us, to sex workers, this fight is eternally visible – it is the fabric of our lives and work. But to those that are not part of our community it is often hidden and I believe this is what makes it easier for people to turn away from our struggles, rather than joining us as allies.

Sex worker organisations across Australia and across the world work ceaselessly for the full decriminalisation of sex work – this is supported by the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, Human Rights Watch, Australia’s National HIV Strategies, Scarlet Alliance, Vixen Collective, sex worker organisations nationally and globally – and most recently Amnesty International. Yet we are still working, we are still fighting.

I would like to take you on a tour of what that work is like for me as a sex worker and survivor of rape, over just the last two months.

Vixen Collective, of which I am a member, recently filed a submission with the Royal Commission Into Family Violence (Victoria)[3] . Sex worker organisations across Australia work tirelessly on violence against sex workers, and laws such as the licencing system in Victoria make it much harder for sex workers to report violence to police, or to seek justice through the courts.

Imagine my depressing lack of surprise when submissions to the Royal Commission began to be published and I realised anti-sex work group Project Respect had claimed in their submission that they were the:

..leading agency addressing violence against women in the sex industry[4]

This strangely omits in Victoria – Vixen Collective, RhED[5] and Melbourne Sexual Health[6] -but also every other sex worker organisation in Australia.

Project Respect, commonly referred to as Project (dis)Respect by sex workers, also states that:

“..failing to address family and other male violence against women in the sex industry makes other women vulnerable to men’s violence..[7]
This is a shocking form of victim blaming – essentially blaming sex workers for violence against ALL women – rather than focusing on perpetrators of violence and the systemic causes of that violence.

Most important is the fact that Project Respect is NOT a sex worker organisation but rather an organisation that seeks to criminalise our work, via the Swedish Model[8] of sex work regulation, which would place sex workers at greater risk of violence.

Project Respect also publicly state that they are working towards the abolition of ALL sex work[9].

But this is common. Anti-sex work groups attempts to silence sex workers in Australia abound.

Vixen Collective held the Festival of Sex Work[10] in August of this year. There were sex worker only peer education workshops. Public events to demystify sex work. Social events for sex workers, a film night, lunches, and much more.

As part of the closing of the Festival a protest was held in Swanson Street and photos (of sex workers that were comfortable having their photo taken) were posted on social media.

We were almost immediately attacked by a member of an anti sex work group on Twitter – claiming that there were no “women of colour..but plenty of white men”.

Now I have nothing specific against white men (many of them give me money), but I only remember five or so “white men” out of about nine-five protesters, and the lead speaker was Rory – an aboriginal street based sex worker.

So either the person attacking us on Twitter was at a different protest or they just made that up to be a troll. Which is actually a common thing – harassing sex workers online.

Second only to harassing sex workers in person.

Since I’ve been involved in sex worker activism I have had my photo taken by radical feminists, been called a “cult leader” on the internet, had “pimp lobby”[11] shouted at me while speaking at an Amnesty International meeting and been called privileged so many times that as a ex-street based sex worker, rape survivor, someone who has experienced homelessness throughout my life, and member of a marginalised community subject to stigma and discrimination – that I’m frankly a little over it.

But I’m also over it because when it comes to the laws that affect sex workers lives and work – the voices of ALL current sex workers are critical. Because regardless of what anyone else says we’re the ones who have to go back to work tomorrow and live with the consequences. It is our lived experience that counts and it is our lives that will be affected.

Crowd at Slut Walk Melbourne, Sept 5th 2015

Crowd at Slut Walk Melbourne, Sept 5th 2015

Finally I want to tell you about what I experienced when speaking in Western Australia, at a forum on sex industry regulation[12], opposite Peter Abetz (a Liberal politician) and Simone Watson (current Director of NorMAC, an anti-sex work group).

Much of the rhetoric of both of the opposing speakers centered around silencing sex workers. Anti-sex work groups often like to claim that either sex workers are so downtrodden we can’t speak for ourselves (and must be rescued) or if we do speak for ourselves then it’s a sign we’re privileged (so we shouldn’t be listened to).

This is a tactic used by anti-sex work groups, designed to silence anyone who does not agree with them. But what is really telling if you listen to anti-sex work groups, is the language they use to describe sex workers:

They call us “product” not people

They say sex workers “sell their bodies”, but my body is still here, I sell a service

But most tellingly – just one day after the Amnesty International decision to endorse decriminalisation of sex work – Simone Watson, Director of NorMAC, said the following:

“…at McDonalds you’re flipping the burgers, in prostitution you’re the meat…”

Let me be quite clear.

Those that seek to deny sex workers human rights – are essentially denying sex workers are human.

Those that outright call sex workers “meat” – aren’t even trying to hide it.

So I go back to what I said at the start.

To us, to sex workers, this fight is eternally visible – it is the fabric of our lives and work.

To you, I hope it is now more visible – make a choice, make a difference – join us as allies.

(If you’re not sure what you can do, ask us how)

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Want more information on joining sex workers in fighting for the full decriminalisation of sex work in Victoria?
Join Vixen Collective on Twitter here: @VixenCollective
Or visit Vixen Collective’s website – vixencollective.blogspot.com.au

Want to support sex worker rights at a national level in Australia?
Join Scarlet Alliance on Twitter here: @scarletalliance
Or visit Scarlet Alliance’s website – scarletalliance.org.au

You can follow me directly on Twitter at: @sexliesducttape

To find the details of other state and territory sex worker organisations – click here

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References

[1] Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association), http://scarletalliance.org.au/

[2] Vixen Collective (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation), http://vixencollective.blogspot.com.au/

[3] Royal Commission Into Family Violence (Victoria), http://www.rcfv.com.au/

[4]Project Respect is the leading agency addressing violence against women in the sex industry“, Project Respect Submission into the Royal Commission on Family Violence, pg2

[5] Resourcing Health and Education (RhED), http://sexworker.org.au/

[6] Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, http://www.mshc.org.au/

[7] Project Respect Submission into the Royal Commission on Family Violence, pg2

[8] Amnesty (again) – Statement to the AGM, https://sexliesducttape.me/2014/07/06/amnesty-again-statement-to-the-agm/

[9] From Project Respect website, ‘Our Vision’: “Project Respect’s vision is for a world where women are free from..prostitution..”

[10] Festival of Sex Work, http://festivalofsexwork.blogspot.com.au/

[11] Amnesty International: Decriminalising Sex Work – What Are the Issues?, https://sexliesducttape.me/2014/07/05/amnesty-international-decriminalising-sex-work-what-are-the-issues/

[12] Forum on Regulating Sex Work in Western Australia, https://sexliesducttape.me/2015/08/12/forum-on-regulating-sex-work-in-western-australia/