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)

proud01x

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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/

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

Eleni from Vixen Collective speaks out at SlutWalk Melbourne

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

Karen Pickering, introducing speakers at SlutWalk

Karen Pickering, introducing speakers at SlutWalk

Crowd at the State Library during speeches

Crowd at the State Library during speeches

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

Members of Vixen Collective supporting Eleni at SlutWalk:

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

Reclaim the Night supports #sexworkers at SlutWalk

Reclaim the Night supports #sexworkers at SlutWalk

Fellow SlutWalk speaker Van Badham supports Eleni

Fellow SlutWalk speaker Van Badham supports Eleni

Sex Party supporting #sexworkers (pictured in Federation Square)

Sex Party supporting #sexworkers (pictured in Federation Square)

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

Full text of Eleni’s speech:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They may say what they like.

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

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

Because I will not be silenced!

Slut Walk, Melbourne 2012 – on Victim Blaming…

Hi, I’m Jane Green speaking on behalf of:

– Vixen Collective, Victoria’s peer only sex worker organization,

& Scarlet Alliance, Australia’s national peak sex worker organization.

I am, & have been for more than a decade, a sex worker, performer, sex worker activist, queer & general trouble-maker.

I am also a survivor of rape.

The problem with being a sex worker & survivor of rape is that blame & victim hood are inescapable.

Let me elaborate on that for you.

First in terms of “victim hood”…

The logic of much conservative & radical feminist theory dictates that if you are a sex worker some trauma – often assumed to be – your terrible childhood or past sexual assault – must have thrown you into a state where you are incapable of making rational decisions about your own needs, desires & life choices.

Most specifically your choice of occupation.

This gives other people (particularly a certain type of academic) the right to inform you of your lack of agency, that what you believe to be your chosen path in life is simply “false consciousness”.

Now I don’t like the idea of being a VICTIM, but I’ll tell you what I like even less – other people telling me I’m not allowed to be anything else, because I’m a sex worker…

So here are some contrasting facts from my life for you.

Because it is not okay to blame the survivor of a rape.

Regardless of the survivors occupation.

I was raped at the age of six by a family friend.

When I was a child I never told anyone because of fear.

I kept the secret of my rape for years.

This is the first time I have spoken publicly of it.

This is a fact of my life.

It is not a pleasant fact.

But it no more contributed to my being a sex worker than it contributed to the fact that I also used to work as an accountant.

Sex workers who have been raped suffer the same trauma & pain as other rape survivors, but do so in a society that repeatedly tells them:

their pain is an occupational hazard,

blame them for choosing that occupation,

– then tell them they lack the capacity to actually make that “choice”.

That is the definition of adding insult to injury.

And that is what I mean by BLAME.

& let me tell you something else…

I really hated being an accountant.

I really LOVE being a sex worker.

It’s not boring.

I don’t usually have to wear a suit

& if I do I have cooler suits than I had when I was an Accountant.

I get to enjoy sex & kink & people in way I never thought I would growing up.

But I do & sex work helped me with that.

But let’s get back to BLAME.

When a sex worker says they LOVE their job – they get blamed for that too.

Abolitionists & critics like to say “well you’re just a ‘happy hooker'”, expecting and implying that you’re coming from some sort of privilege or pro-sex platform & have nothing in common with “the majority” of sex workers.

Well here are some more facts from my life, for you –

I have spent more than 5 years of my life homeless,

I have worked in street sex work,

I have worked in criminalized environments,

I have been raped at work.

Rape is not a bad day at work.

Rape should not be acceptable in the sex industry.

Because rape should not be acceptable in ANY industry or workplace.

What enables enduring risk to the heath & safety of sex workers here in Australia is

– the willingness of the government to continue to refuse to extend to sex workers the same basic protections & dignities under law that average citizens take for granted.

What sustains that risk is the willingness of the public to do nothing when sex workers raise their voices relentlessly asking for change.

Here are some final facts for you…

I happen to love my job.

Not all sex workers do.

Just like not all accountants do.

& I don’t claim to speak for all sex workers – because no-one can.

Sex workers are a diverse community of individuals – with individual voices who can speak to the truth of their own experiences & who do not want to be silenced.

And that’s the problem:

– when sex workers are caricatured as victims & blamed,

– whether they remain within their sanctioned role as victim or express their agency – they are blamed & silenced, and the space & freedom they have as individuals & as a community is reduced.

When studies conclude that sex workers across Australia have better sexual health & practice safer sex than the general population, but are subject in Victoria to forced invasive monthly health examinations to be able to work – that is an invasion not only against sex workers rights but also our bodies.

When police are used as the enforcement arm of discriminatory laws against sex workers – as they are in Victoria – how can we trust & rely on them to protect us when we are the victims of crime?

Abolitionists & proponents of the Swedish or Nordic Model – would try to sell you the concept that sex work needs to be criminalized to ‘protect’ sex workers:

– how am I protected by laws that would deny me the ability to work safely?

– how am I protected by having less rights than you?

– how are sex workers protected by being told what we need, rather than asked what we want?

& what do I, as a sex worker want?

I want the same rights – labour rights, human rights – as everyone else…

Seem fair?

Seem reasonable?

It’s called DECRIMINALIZATION

It has nothing to do with being a victim.

It has nothing to do with blame.

& everything to do with progress.