Forum on Regulating Sex Work in Western Australia

**Please note: this post contains language that may be triggering/offensive, including whorephobic speech, as it reports on comments made by anti sex work groups and their members**

Tonight, just one day after the Amnesty International resolution to develop a policy recommending the full decriminalisation of sex work, the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Western Australia (UWA) played host to a forum on regulating sex work.

buyabadge

Speakers included:

In favour of full decriminalisation of sex work, local sex worker Rebecca Davies, member of People for Sex Worker Rights W.A. (local peer sex worker organisation) and Jane Green, Vice President of Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association).

With opposing views in favour of the Swedish (sometimes called Nordic) Model of sex work regulation, Peter Abetz (Liberal Member for South River in W.A.) and Simone Watson (Director of NorMAC, the Nordic Model in Australia Coalition).

Given the history of whorephobic activity and abusive behaviour at public events by anti sex work groups and their members in Australia, Rebecca and I were apprehensive but determined in defending sex worker rights in this setting.  Also we were encouraged by the decision taken by Amnesty International yesterday.

However.

We were subject to the type of stigmatising speech sex workers who speak out about their rights are often subject to, such as:

“…legalising the right to sell her body…”  Peter Abetz

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

Audience members had to be removed for taking photos of speakers, despite clear advance notice before the event, written notice at the event and announcements before speakers began.

These are the tactics of stigma, intimidation and silencing used by anti sex work groups and their members.

We refuse to remain silent.

Our speeches are detailed below…

_____________________________________

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, the Australian Sex Workers Association. We are a peer organisation, this means at every level – staff, volunteers, members and executive committee – we are all current or former sex workers. We do not allow owners or operators of sex industry businesses to hold membership in our organisation.
We are a sex worker organisation – and like other sex worker organisations we represent and are accountable to our community.

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

That may seem an unusual thing to say when I have just said that I am speaking on behalf of an organisation that represents sex workers across Australia, but let me explain – I am here to speak about facts. Because I believe in facts. I am here to speak about the evidence that sex worker organisations like the Scarlet Alliance here in Australia, but also sex worker organisations across the world have on sex work, on sex workers experiences – and that evidence reflects my own personal experience of sex work.

Scarlet Alliance, through its member organisations in Australia has the highest level of contact with sex workers of any organisation in Australia.

Sex worker organisations exist throughout the world. In some countries it is illegal to openly admit to being a sex worker or to have membership of a sex worker organisation.

Anti sex work groups regularly portray sex worker organisations as run by those in positions of privilege, or as “industry lobby groups”. This is a blatant lie designed to silence sex workers and their representative organisations. Instead of a standard power-point display I have chosen to run a display of images of sex workers and sex worker organisations from around the world protesting for the full decriminalisation of sex work – you will be able to see clearly that our community is diverse, yet united, in calling for sex workers’ rights to be recognised.

You may have noticed during this event that there are some differences in language being used, by the people to my LEFT.

As Rebecca has explained sex workers, generally prefer to be called sex workers. When our community, the representative organisations for our community – across the country and across the world, as well as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations all ask people to use the term sex worker you might not think that would be a lot to ask.

But it’s a different story when the people you are asking are specifically using language as a tactic to oppress you.
Sex work is work.
My work is real work.
& I have never had anyone adequately explain how having less rights would somehow “save me” or improve my situation.

SWParis

So what do we actually mean when we say that – that the Swedish (sometimes called the Nordic) Model would give us less rights?
When anti sex work groups talk about the Swedish Model “only criminalising clients ” what does that mean?
For a start it doesn’t just criminalise clients, it also criminalises all of the surrounding activities around sex work – Rebecca has outlined this.
But also, about “criminalising clients” under the Swedish Model, in reality exactly how does that work?

Do we imagine the police are just following random people around waiting for them to maybe decide to visit a sex worker?
Are there special psychic police that just know when someone might want to pay for sex?
New advanced technology like the Tom Cruise movie ‘Minority Report’ where police can anticipate what you are going to do in the future before you get there?

Surprisingly no.

Under the Swedish Model police actually target sex workers – the police follow, harass and stake out sex workers while trying to arrest clients.
This is what the “criminalisation of clients” looks like in reality.
This pushes sex workers underground, creates barriers to sex workers accessing peer support networks and health services, limits options when choosing clients and negotiating boundaries, increases risk, and makes it almost impossible to go to police if a sex worker is subjected to violence.

Also, so much of the rhetoric put out by anti sex work groups is centred around stigmatising sex workers and encouraging discrimination against my community.
I would like to point out that I am now going to read a quote, made in relation to the attack on Amnesty International’s support of the decriminalisation of sex work, but please clearly understand that these are the words of an anti sex work group (so I apologise for having to read them, and to those that may find them triggering and offensive):

“Shouldn’t Amnesty be focusing more on ensuring women have a real choice – that they have real agency – by addressing the underlying poverty, discrimination and lack of education that lead women into prostitution..”[1]

That was a short quote.
Let me explain why sex workers often seem so angry when dealing with anti sex work groups:

ensuring women have a real choice”

Not all sex workers are women. Sex workers are people. This may mean women, INCLUDING trans women. This may mean men, INCLUDING trans men. But it also means people that identify across the gender spectrum. & I am not sorry that we do not fit into the box in which anti sex work groups seek to put us.

a real choice”

Thanks for deciding for me, that my choice is “not real”, when comparatively I guess everyone else’s is. Anti sex work groups often claim that any one that actually advocates for sex worker community can’t be representative OF sex worker community. I feel compelled to point out:
The individual sex workers and sex worker representatives that have been behind me throughout my speech on the PowerPoint display would like to illustrate that this is a deliberate attempt to mislead you and to silence our community.

KoreanSW2011

ensuring … that they have real agency”

Agency is your ability to act independently and make your own free choices. The structure of society around us (class, religion, gender, all of these things) influence us. They influence ALL of us.
Anti sex work groups sometimes focus on the idea that sex workers don’t have “free choice”.
WAKE UP and smell the capitalism!
We ALL live and work in a world where we all have to LIVE and WORK.
Unless you are part of a select minority born into wealth and privilege, yes, you will have to work.
People across the world experience relative degrees of privilege (for example white privilege) and are also impacted by the social environment in which they live and work.
But no worker is ever helped by having less options.
Attempting to criminalise sex work – any part of our work – is attempting to limit our options and in doing so makes our work unsafe.
To constrain us from making decisions about where, when and how we work – and most fundamentally whether we should be able to work at all is offensive.
Whatever “choices” we have – we have the right to make them. To suggest that we do not is fundamentally offensive.

addressing the underlying poverty”

Poverty is a global, awful, complex issue – caused by rich countries, webs of influence, the IMF, bad government, charities that do not listen to the communities they serve (or even realise they serve those communities), a host of other factors, as well as social and personal indifference to other peoples suffering.
But poverty does not cause sex work – people living in poverty need to work and support themselves and their families – removing another option by which they can do so is not helping them. It is simply makes the lives of those engaging in sex work whilst living in poverty more dangerous.

“..lack of education..”

Okay, thanks for that – it’s nice to know what anti sex work groups think of us.

I’m not sure what level of education they consider appropriate for a particular workforce before intervention and saving is required, but maybe they could tell us? – perhaps a University degree?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures in 2007 indicate that 21% of people aged 25-64[2] in Australia had a Bachelor Degree or above, so by suggesting that “lack of education” (to some standard they have yet to define) is an issue, anti sex work groups may be insulting a larger proportion of the Australian workforce (76%) than they imagine.
& just how educated are Australian sex workers?

In a study conducted by the Queensland Government, also in 2007, 25% of sex workers surveyed had a university degree – so in Australia (or at least in Queensland) we’ve edged out in front slightly[3].

“discrimination”
Sex workers are currently discriminated against in a multitude of ways on a daily basis across Australia.
I would like to give you a list of examples that I keep when I advocate for sex work community – but when I timed my speech including the list it put me three minutes over time.
After this event my speech will be posted online and includes the list of discrimination that sex workers face in Australia, that is NOT a complete list, but illustrative – I would encourage you to access this, as often the concept of discrimination is an intangible concept, invisible if you are not a part of our community.

Johannesburg2013

This is a list of examples of the types of discrimination sex workers in Australia face, that had to be omitted from the speech at the W.A. Forum on Regulating Sex Work, Wednesday the 12th of August, due to the length of time it would have taken to include it into the event.
Please be aware this list is not extensive, also:
a) it is illustrative of the discrimination that sex workers in Australia face, used as examples when advocating for sex worker community (& sometimes when doing sex worker advocates only have short windows of time in which to advocate),
b) many sex workers experience intersecting marginalisation (for example: sex workers of colour and trans sex workers)
c) the last point is (in my opinion) the most important point

  • Sex workers experience stigma and discrimination through ‘outing’, being exposed as a sex worker, this can impact on workers but also on families, partner/s and friends
  • It can affect school age and/or older children if a parent or carer is who is a sex worker is ‘outed
  • Sex workers may experience interpersonal and/or interfamilial violence when ‘outed’
  • Being a sex worker may affect the outcome of child custody cases
  • Sex worker status may affect access to housing and accommodation
  • Sex worker status affects employment disputes & future employment opportunities
  • Being out or being ‘outed’ as a sex worker leads to discrimination regarding health insurance
  • The ‘Leaking’ and misuse of personal information on sex workers can lead to stalking, blackmail & extortion
  • There are less opportunities for sex workers to utilise remedies to address discrimination
  • Sex workers are discriminated against regarding goods and services (including banking and online commerce)
  • Sex workers have been barred entry to clubs or hotels
  • There is discrimination in education against sex workers (including the exclusion of sex workers from University Courses on ‘morals clauses’)
  • Sex workers are discriminated against regularly in medical settings (for example refusal and/or exclusion from treatment ‘on conscience’)
  • Sex workers have been discriminated against in membership of trade unions
  • Sex workers experience the implication of ‘criminality’ that is implied by registration under licensing regimes
  • Sex workers have less ability to access police/justice under criminalised and licensing systems.
  • There is reduced access to health/outreach services for sex workers under criminalisation/licensing systems for regulating sex work
  • Sex workers experience increased stigma and discrimination in media
  • Police attitudes to sex workers, including corruption and harassment from criminalisation, or entrenched stigma/discrimination from prior criminalisation – affect sex workers ability to access police and their treatment when sex workers do.
  • Sex workers are subject to stalking and harassment from anti sex work groups and their members, including outing to family and in social media
  • Lastly, sex workers are often NOT HEARD – OUR VOICES, SEX WORKERS VOICES are always the most critical voices in ANY discussion about OUR lives and OUR work.

If there is a discussion on sex work happening in Australia, in government, on policy, in media, on our LIVES – if sex workers are not INCLUDED, if our representative organisations are not there – then be aware a choice has been made to deliberately exclude us.

And if anti sex work groups attempt to remove sex workers from discussions about our lives and work, we are not required to sit down, shut up, behave politely and wait for them to stop trying to ‘rescue us’.

ProjectRosex

We’ve been ‘rescuing’ ourselves for years. We call it – sex worker activism.

Equality for sex workers is a future that sex workers are creating every day, through the action and voices of our community and our own sex worker organisations.  This future can be achieved more easily with allies by our sides, making space for sex worker voices to be heard and supporting our activism.  It is not aided by anti sex work groups that do not recognise our voices, rarely if ever talk to us, but frequently talk about us – who refer to us as objects: as “bodies”, say that we are “bought” and “sold”, who call us “product”.

I do not “sell my body”.  My body is still here.  I sell a service.

Suggestions from anti sex work groups and the ‘rescue industry’ that sex workers need others to speak on our behalf, that we are not the experts on our own lives and work – that is silencing our community, that IS exploitation of sex workers.

I cannot expect anti sex work groups to stop working against us.

But I ask you to START WORKING WITH US:
– become a sex worker ALLY
– START speaking up in support of sex workers
– DO NOT BE QUIET when people use hate speech to define us, calling us epithets rather than calling us SEX WORKERS, objectifying us and demeaning us rather than calling our work, just that – SEX WORK
Nothing about us, should ever be without us.

[1] ‘Amnesty International – The Sex Trades New Best Friend’, Tasmanian Times, http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/pr-article/amnesty-international-the-sex-trades-new-best-friend/, Simone Watson, 13-Jul-15.

[2] Refer Australian Bureau of Statistics – http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mediareleasesbyTopic/CAB937E9717F783BCA2568A900136267?OpenDocument

[3] In terms of education, about one-quarter of licensed brothel workers and sole operators reported that they had completed a bachelor degree. This compares favourably with the general community. According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics publication, Education and Work, May 2007, 21% of Australians aged between 15 and 64 years had attained a bachelor degree or above..”, Select Sex Industry Statistics, Prostitution Licensing Authority, Queensland Government.

_____________________________________

My name is Rebecca Davies, I am a Western Australian sex worker and a member of People for Sex Worker Rights in W.A., a peer sex worker group that aims to have our work decriminalized and remove the social stigma sex workers face. Our decision making committee is made up of current sex workers only.

In researching my opponent tonight, I have come to a simple conclusion, Peter Abetz is misguided in his attempts to “help” women. Sticking with his Christian background Peter believes that the government and more importantly men, have a role in regulating women’s bodies. This is evident to me with Peter’s long campaigning for more restrictive abortion laws, saying things such as:

“..the silly thing is if a child is injured in an accident, it can claim damages but if a mother says it’s inconvenient and has the baby killed, the law says that’s perfectly okay..”

in the West Australian, and his persistent attempts to undermine sex workers health and safety by campaigning for the Swedish (sometimes called Nordic) model at every opportunity.

NoSwedishModel

I have been a sex worker for over ten years. I have worked within various legal frameworks in my time, and I have also seen the difference between laws, intentions, and how things are actually implemented on the ground. I have worked with other sex workers doing sex work, and I have also previously worked as a peer educator providing outreach services and health promotion to sex workers across W.A., in sex industry venues, private workplaces and on the street in street based sex work areas.

At this point I would like to give some background on Western Australia. Up until 2000 sex work here was illegal. Keeping a brothel, soliciting etc. way back when, even the police knew this would not work, and the W.A. police, understanding even then, that they could not eradicate the sex industry, implemented what was commonly known as “the containment policy”. This policy, which was not law, but rather police policy, started in Kalgoorlie, in the famous (or infamous) Hay Street area red light district. Under the policy police allowed certain premises to operate only in certain areas of town. The police had to know who was working where. The policy was eventually implemented across the state and certain venues were allowed to operate, workers had to be registered with vice. I began working after the law change, although some workers were not aware of the change, and police continued to collect information. Police have never given clear answers about where this information is kept, for what purpose it is kept and who has access to it.

Often groups advocating the Swedish Model do not seem to understand that just like full criminalization and licencing, it still positions police as the regulators of the industry. The police cannot be of full assistance to sex workers whilst they are continually cast in this regulatory role, which they are not given in any other industry. How can we seek assistance if we experience violence, if we are either subject to penalties ourselves, or under the Swedish model, where we would be lining ourselves up for police surveillance whilst simultaneously cutting off our own income? Somehow I don’t see myself reporting under those circumstances. I think it is also really important to point out research conducted by Elaine Dowd in 2003, titled “Sex workers rights, human rights the impact of Western Australian legislation on street based sex workers. Dowd cites research from SARC, the sexual assault resource center, which found of sex workers reporting sexual assaults in Perth, over 50% were perpetrated by police.

Also problematic is the reference within the Swedish Model to literally almost anyone as a pimp. Landlords can be charged with pimping if they don’t evict sex worker tenants. There was even a case of a sex workers adult child charged with pimping because his mother didn’t charge him rent. Another case that particularly resonated with me is that of Petite Jasmine. Because of her status as a sex worker her children were removed from her custody and given to her violent ex-partner. He subsequently stabbed her to death. I don’t understand how people can say this is a step towards equality, when a women can have her children removed and a violent man is deemed a more suitable parent because someone doesn’t agree with how she makes a living. As a sole parent and a sex worker this is one of my biggest fears, to have my child removed because you don’t like my job.

Often when discussing sex worker rights things can become really heated. For us, this is because it is our lives and livelihoods are on the line and at the end of the day, a simple truth remains, changing the law does not actually affect politicians, or even former sex workers, it affects those of us currently working in the industry today. I think the Swedish Model can be summed up by Ann Martin, Sweden’s trafficking unit head who said:

“..of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect that we want to achieve with the law..”

I am tired of not having full access to my human rights. People don’t seem to want to listen to sex workers, often statistics are thrown around by academic types such as “..95% of women in prostitution don’t want to be there..” and “..most start in the industry at 13..” amongst other hysterical claims. When you do a bit of digging you will find that they are in fact all referencing the same material, research conducted by Melissa Farley, an anti-sex work campaigner. Since people don’t pay much attention to sex workers discrediting Dr Farley, I find it much easier to quote one of those academic types that people take seriously, Justice Susan Himel, who was the presiding judge in Canada’s supreme court during Bedford v Canada, in which Canada’s anti-sex work laws were struck down. Justice Himel said of Dr Farley’s research:

“Although Dr. Farley has conducted a great deal of research on prostitution, her advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions. For example, Dr. Farley’s unqualified assertion in her affidavit that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence. Furthermore, in her affidavit, she failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post- traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely, that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.
Dr. Farley’s choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions. For example, comments such as “prostitution is to the community what incest is to the family” and “just as pedophiles justify sexual assault of children . . . . Men who use prostitutes develop elaborate cognitive schemes to justify purchase and use of women” make her opinions less persuasive.
Dr. Farley stated during cross-examination that some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including “that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her”.

On this basis Judge Himel eliminated Canada’s anti-sex work laws, deeming them unconstitutional.

And furthermore, in the words of Dr Melissa Farley’s own research assistant on her research in New Zealand where she attempts to discredit decriminalization, in 2003 Colleen Winn said the study:

“..was not ethical, and the impact has done harm to those women and men who took part in it. It is for that reason that I am writing to the psychologists’ board of registration in California to lay a formal complaint regarding Melissa. I also believe that Melissa has committed an act of intentional misrepresentation of fact”

KolkataFreedomFestival

I’m not here today to ask you to be pro sex work, and I’m also not asking for anything special, I just want my work to be decriminalized so I can be treated like everyone else. I want to be able concentrate on my safety at work rather than police evasion tactics. My colleagues and I don’t want to be rescued, we just want to live and work in peace.

_____________________________________

You can read the live tweeting of the event at: #SexWorkWA

For more information on joining Western Australian sex workers in campaigning for the full decriminalisation of sex work:
Visit the website of People for Sex Worker Rights W.A.
Or join People for Sex Worker Rights W.A. on twitter at – @sexworkrightswa

For more information on joining sex workers nationally in Australia campaigning for their human rights and labour rights:
Visit the website of Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association)
Or join Scarlet Alliance on twitter at – @scarletalliance

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

____________________________________

UPDATE: Jane Gilmore has since covered this issue for the ABC, 11th Nov 2014 – Greens should take their sex work principles seriously

Sex Workers speak out despite exclusion at Festival of Dangerous Ideas

FODI_Protest01

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.

Festival-of-Dangerous-Ideas-Opera-House-Zahra-Stardust001

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.

IMG_0723FODI_WFS_Panel001

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.

FODI-Festival-of-Dangerous-IdeasFlyer001FODI-Festival-of-Dangerous-IdeasFlyer002

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

Festival-of-Dangerous-Ideas-Zahra-Cam-Jules-Harbour-Bridge

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

realwork01_web

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.

______________________________

 

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.

Sex workers must be the stakeholders in any discussion on sex work…

During an AGM in which sex workers were shouted down and abused after being invited to participate in a discussion about the human rights of sex workers, Amnesty International Australia has passed resolutions (see following) in which sex workers are not included as stakeholders,

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Statement supplied by Amnesty on the resolutions passed at the Amnesty AGM, 6th July, Melbourne:

“At the recent Annual General Meeting of all AIA branches in Melbourne, the AGM (comprehensively) voted against the resolution calling for AIA to endorse and advocate for the Nordic Model.

The other resolutions that were passed (see below) called on the NEC to request the International Secretariat investigate the Nordic AND other sex work legislation models and to request the IS to halt the current consultation process and start again.

All of the feedback received to date will be reviewed by the International Issues Committee, a sub-committee of the AI Australia Board, including the results of the survey. To date, 62% of respondents have endorsed the adoption of a policy advocating decriminalisation.  The AIA Board’s view will be represented in international forums by the Amnesty Australia President and National Director.

Resolutions

The National Annual General Meeting asks the National Executive Committee of Amnesty International Australia to request the International secretariat to:

1. Halt the current consultation process and restart the process from a unbiased perspective, with survivors of trafficking and prostitution being positively included in the policy development process.

2. Completely withdraw and abandon the existing draft policy distributed by the international secretariat. 

The Amnesty International Australia National Annual General Meeting requests that the National Executive Committee of Amnesty International Australia shall advocate to the international secretariat and board for:

  • a new global investigation and consultation on the Nordic Model and alternative models ofprostitution legislation, in partnership with survivors of prostitution and people who have been trafficked into the sex industry.
  • A review of the framework in which any policy on prostitution should sit. Alternative policy frameworks, such as the prevention of torture and trauma or ending violence against women, could be possibilities.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Excluding sex workers and including only “survivors of trafficking and prostitution” is essentially silencing current sex workersthe very people whose lives will be affected by any policy on sex work.

When a marginalised group is excluded from any process regarding their rights, their rights are harmed – when sex workers are not included as stakeholders in a process regarding their human rights – sex workers are harmed by that process.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The Amnesty International Australia, National Human Rights Forum and AGM occurred over two days (the 5th and 6th of July 2014) in Melbourne, Australia.  To read the original presentation to the Forum and the statement to the AGM, see below –

Read presentation to Amnesty National Human Rights Forum (5th July): Amnesty International: Decriminalising Sex Work – What are the issues?

Read statement to Amnesty AGM (6th July): Amnesty (again) – Statement to the AGM

Amnesty (again) – Statement to the AGM

Amnesty International Australia, AGM – 6th July 2014, Melbourne
Sex Worker Statement

[note: a edited version of this speech, cut due to a two minute time constraint was given at the AGM, this is the full version]

My name is Jane Green.

I am here today as a representative of Scarlet Alliance the Australian sex workers organisation – whose members, staff and volunteers are all current or former sex workers. I am also a member of Vixen the local peer sex worker organisation. I am also a sex worker – I have worked under criminalisation (NZ prior to Decriminalisation in 2003) and decriminalisation (in NSW), and currently work here in Victoria under a licensing regime.

It needs to be said that just as toxic views that further stigma & discrimination against other marginalised groups are not differences of opinion, views that further stigma & discrimination against sex workers are not differences of opinion.

Anti-sex work rhetoric that:
– denies sex worker agency,
– denies sex worker bodily autonomy,
– seeks to deny sex workers the right to work &
– deny sex workers human rights & labour rights in that work,
IS NOT A DIFFERENCE OF AN OPINION.
THIS IS HATESPEECH. THIS IS WHOREPHOBIA.

Anti-sex worker groups, what is known as the “rescue industry” have a stake in arguing against sex workers rights – it’s how they maintain their academic tenure, keep their funding, and their jobs…

But let me make this clear – I do not want and have never asked to be rescued – & no one is ever helped by having their access to human rights & labour rights persistently denied.

Anti-sex worker groups want you to think this is a debate and there are two sides. There are not. I am a current sex worker and I will be back at work tomorrow – with my human rights being violated – anti-sex worker groups & non sex workers won’t be there with me and other sex workers across Australia who face the daily impact of not having our human rights and labour rights protected under law.

I am asking you to recognise what should be self evident in this – sex workers speak from lived experience – ongoing living experience – we are the stakeholders in this & it is our lives that are effected. Do not let our voices be drowned out by those who seek to deny our rights.

The Swedish Model does not help sex workers or end sex work.

It seeks to cast all sex work in a gender binary model – that clients are male perpetrators and that sex workers are female victims. This is untrue of the demographic of sex workers worldwide, and marginalises male, trans and gender diverse sex workers.

The Swedish Model has had severe negative health and safety outcomes for sex workers in Sweden:
– increased harassment and displacement of street-based sex workers
– reduced control for all sex workers over their working environments
– provisions of the law around renting rooms have caused homelessness
– laws on “living off the earnings” of sex work have caused sex workers working together and even the adult children of sex workers to be charged as pimps
– sex work has been driven underground and sex workers forced into more isolated areas
– sex workers cannot advertise or hire drivers, receptionists or security

It is a failed model:

– ineffective in reducing the size of the industry (Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare said there was no clear trend of development as to whether sex work had increased or decreased)
– it has not led to a reduction in violence against sex workers, violence against sex workers has increased under the Swedish Model (Malmo Police, 2001)

(Also ref: http://youtu.be/7D7nOh57-I8)

It is impossible to criminalise clients and decriminalise sex workers. When you criminalise our clients, you criminalise us.

The “research” cited by anti-sex worker groups is from highly problematic and discredited sources, for example –

Melissa Farley:
Widely discredited for not having her work peer reviewed or using scientific method (noteby – only one study used a control group, ref: http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/a-load-of-farley/)
– In court, Justice Susan Himel in 2010, noted Farley’s testimony was “…problematic…advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions..contradict her own findings…”

Sheila Jeffreys discredited as known whorephobe & transphobe:
– Has compared being trans to entertainers wearing “blackface”
(http://www.starobserver.com.au/news/local-news/leading-feminist-launches-bizarre-racist-attack-on-trans-community/118883)
– In her writing states, “The act which men commonly perform on prostituted women is penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse. There is nothing “natural” about that act”
(‘The Idea of Prostitution’, Sheila Jeffreys, 1998)
As researcher Jody Hanson noted in her review of the book at the time – it was noted by sex workers at the time that Jeffreys was “using sex work to serve her own interests” .
(original quote “prostituting prostitution to serve her own interests”, refer: http://www.scarletalliance.org.au/Reviews/hanson98/

Decriminalization is recognized as the worlds best practise model for sex industry regulation by:
– Australia’s National HIV strategy
– Multiple medical studies
– Reviews of decriminalization
– Sex worker organisations, projects & networks
– Sex workers (past & present)

In studies of the sex industry in environments prior to and after the implementation of decriminalization it has been seen that the number of sex workers in the industry is not affected.
“…the number of sex workers in New Zealand has not increased as a result of the passage of the PRA…” (Report of the PLRC on the Operation of the PLA 2003, page.29)

It has been shown that STI rates & safe sex outcomes are maximized under decriminalization.
“…condom use for vaginal and anal sex exceeds 99% and sexually transmissible infection rates are at historic lows. These gains are attributable to the long-term support of the NSW Department of Health in collaboration with the community-based Sex Workers Outreach Project and sexual health services, facilitated by the removal of criminal sanctions without the expense and access barriers of licensing systems.”
(Improving the health of sex workers in NSW: maintaining success, Basil Donovan, Christine Harcourt, Sandra Egger Christopher K. Fairley, 2010)

In a decriminalised model sex workers have greater access to justice and less barriers in reporting crimes of violence.

Industry transparency and access by outreach services is increased under decriminalisation because there is no longer a need to fear or avoid government agencies or police.

Decriminalisation is recognised as a worlds best practise model having been in place in NSW for almost 20 years.

Conclusion
I believe I should have the same human rights and labour rights as other citizens. Anyone who is arguing against decriminalisation is arguing that I, and other sex workers, should not have human rights and labour rights on parity with other citizens. To quote yourselves – to quote Amnesty – human rights should be:

(From Amnesty Australia website – http://www.amnesty.org.au/about/comments/21681/)
· Universal “they belong to everyone…”
· Inherent “they belong to people simply because they are human beings”
· Inalienable “they cannot be taken away, period”
· Essential “they are essential for freedom, justice and peace”
· But, they can be Violated “inalienable but not invulnerable…”

The vote today is an opportunity for Amnesty Delegates to take a step forward on the path to ending an ongoing violation of sex workers human rights.

I strongly encourage you to take that step.

NOTE: see Amnesty’s response to the abusive behaviour of anti-sex worker proponents of the Swedish Model, on both days of the National meeting in Melbourne, here –
https://www.amnesty.org.au/about/comments/34983

ID2EVASW – Rally at Melbourne State Library

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers in Melbourne begins in St Kilda – ID2EVASW – Rally in St Kilda

Later across town, at a rally organised by individual sex workers, Ryan is speaking again alongside sex workers Nada and myself.  I have received a call indicating media will be attending and we find and introduce ourselves to Simon Lauder from the ABC and arrange for him to wait until after the speeches to talk to people, explaining that it is preferred that sex workers who want to talk approach him rather than him going up to those that who may not wish to be approached.

Central points of the speeches that will soon become relevant in terms of our media presense are:
a) that non-sex workers trying to speak on behalf of sex workers constitute a form of violence
b) advocating a regulatory model that harms sex workers is also a form of violence
c) abolitionists or proponents of the Nordic or Swedish Model are engaging in violence against sex workers (as the Nordic or Swedish Model has been shown to harm sex workers)

Immediately after the speeches, a sex worker comes up to me to say “I think two members of Project Respect are talking to the ABC guy”. 

Note – ‘Project Respect’ referred to colloquially as ‘Project disRespect’ by many sex workers is a known abolitionist group that seeks to ‘save’ sex workers by eliminating our right to work.  I go to investigate…  I discover that a man and a woman saying they are Australians – who just happen to have lived in Sweden, who just happen to be back in Australia, who just happen to love the Swedish Model, who just happen to be walking past when our rally was on, who thought they would come and talk to the ABC guy…  Yeah right.

What they don’t realise is that the ABC is still recording during our ‘discussion’ (I don’t realise at the time either).  What happens next shows proponents of the Swedish model for what they are – people who are actually deeply uncaring, even hostile as to the voices and human rights of sex workers:

Sex workers take fight against criminalisation to the streets

But the main point of all this, is that it is sex workers voices – that need to be heard, so in honouring that I have sought permission and reproduce here the full text of all three speeches from the Melbourne State Library – International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Rally:

Speaker 1 – Ryan

Speaker 2 – Jane

Speaker 3 – Nada

Link to the speeches as recorded on Vimeo, due to fading light the videographer (third speaker Nada) has edited herself out, but we’re trying to convince her to reverse this decision…:

Note:

When the ABC picks this up nationally (the above link ‘Sex workers take fight against criminalisation to the streets’ is ABC 774) the transcript of the conversation between myself and the alleged Project disRespect member will be edited to remove the section where they start using whorephobic language, but not in the sound file.  It does however change the tone of the story if you don’t listen to the sound file.  ie in one story you get the context that the guy was a rude whorephobic dick, in the other you don’t.

Sex workers take fight against criminalisation to Melbourne’s streets