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

Sex workers protest ‘Ugly Mugs’ at Griffin Theatre in Sydney

Theatre goers leaving the play ‘Ugly Mugs’, now on at Griffin Theatre in Sydney, were met last night by sex workers protesting the exploitative “pity porn” narrative of the play.  Handing out leaflets titled ‘We Hope Our “Lives” Entertained You’ sex workers challenged members of the departing audience to stop and talk about what sex work is really like and to discuss the problematic nature of the play.

A sex worker who had attended the play that evening described the work as “..just another dead hooker on a slab..” and said they were “..glad to be near an exit..” due to the high levels of distress the autopsy scene caused them (NSW sex worker).

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Sex workers who came to protest stayed for more than an hour talking to departing theatre goers, answering questions and challenging the misconceptions that arise when non sex workers attempt to speak out on sex work.  More than 30 people stayed to discuss the play with sex workers after attending, some visibly moved after learning that the play was ‘inspired’ by sex workers confidential accounts of rape, violence and trauma, accessed by a non sex worker from a closed sex worker only resource.

Over the last few days sex workers have called for Griffin, Malthouse and Peta Brady to hear their concerns and respond.  Griffin, earlier this week, issued a self serving statement that dismisses rather than addresses the issues outlined by sex workers.  They are still not listening.

“..For Peta Brady to get hold of copies and use them as the title, props and content for a play, including readings from editions of the publication, is a gross abuse of the trust she gained as an outreach worker NOT a sex worker.
How is this play anything other than an insult to sex workers who have built systems of support against the barriers created by bad laws, poor policing and society’s stigma and discrimination?
The Griffin Theatre, the audience, and critics but particularly the author should see this for what it is – a gross invasion of privacy and a misguided grab for publicity through the claim of “authenticity”.
If the play were based on case notes transcribed while working at Lifeline would that be acceptable? Who is the owner of the Intellectual Property and the title? Not Peta Brady, that’s for sure.”

Maria McMahon, Editor of Ugly Mugs, Prostitutes Collective Victoria, 1993-1997, and SWOP 1997-2006

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“..I am outraged by the potential harms using this list as ‘entertainment’ might cause to sex workers. It was never ever meant for public consumption and/or ‘entertainment’ as Brady has used and abused it. Even if Brady says she hasn’t used word for word verbatim from the UGL she still asked for updates of UM Lists from NSW when her victim pawn production was coming to Sydney. ..It is not about not writing about human life experiences. This is simply about misappropriation and exploitation of vulnerable people. The author Peta Brady was in a position of trust working with very marginalised women who had experienced harm at the hands of what we in the sex industry termed all these decades ago “Ugly Mugs”. Brady has made a living off sex worker ‘tragedy’ and now she is making more money off ticket sales of her ‘victim porn’ play. We are not fodder for entertainment.

Julie Bates, Co-Founder of Ugly Mugs, Prostitutes Collective NSW circa 1985

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Sex work is work and sex worker speak for themselves.

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Join us in taking action:

Share this post and spread the word that sex workers’ confidential accounts of rape and trauma are not for entertainment or profit, click on the links at the end of this post to share via Twitter, Facebook, Google or WordPress.

Griffin Theatre Company – Facebook – posts on July 30th and Aug 5th show the autopsy scene and a post on July 28th shows a character holding a copy of the closed sex worker only Ugly Mugs publication.  Comments can be added on individual posts or post to page.

Griffin Theatre – Twitter – the Griffin are using #uglymugs to tweet – I would suggest including this but also adding #rightsnotrescue

Malthouse Theatre – Facebook – post referring to “The play’s great achievement is humanizing the victim..” on June 2nd and a post detailing costume design including “working girl” on May 29th.  Comments can be added on individual posts or post to page.

Malthouse Theatre – Twitter – also using #uglymugs to tweet – again would suggest including this but adding #rightsnotrescue to tweets

Griffin Theatre Company (Website) – Ugly Mugs – comments can be added at end of the page.

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Want to get more background on this? –

Read ‘Ugly Mugs: confidential accounts of rape and violence should never be ‘entertainment’’

Read ‘Ugly Mugs – I am not your victim’

Ugly Mugs – I am not your victim

Ugly Mugs is a play written by a non sex worker about sex workers lives, containing the misinformation and stigma one would expect to result from someone writing about a life they have not lived.  The main character is the nameless “working girl”, played by Peta Brady herself.  Brady in her role as a health outreach worker accessed sex workers accounts of rape, violence and trauma via a closed sex worker only publication and then used this as ‘inspiration’ for her work.  In the play itself one of the characters reads aloud onstage from the closed sex worker only publication of the same name (see picture).

Read ‘Ugly Mugs: confidential accounts of rape and violence should never be ‘entertainment’’

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So what has the response been from Peta Brady and the Griffin Theatre?

Originally when approached by concerned sex workers after the play moved from Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre to Sydney’s Griffin they asked for a copy of the local Ugly Mugs publication for “publicity purposes”.  Indicating quite clearly that they had either completely failed to listen to sex workers concerns, didn’t care, or both.

Now that sex workers have raised concerns on social media and they actually have to be accountable in public?

Griffin Theatre have posted a response failing to address most of the key points in the original blog but instead emphasizing that:

1) The “entire play is a fictional work”

2) Refering to the pamphlet the character pictured above reads from “It is not a real copy of an Ugly Mugs issue”

Well, I completely agree on count 1 and that’s what we’re complaining about – when writing about the lives of sex workers as a non sex worker you get it wrong, because you are not speaking from lived experience.  This is disturbing to sex workers as a marginalized group because we do not need our lives explained to us, we do not need or want to be rescued from our work.  What I want as a sex worker is to have my human rights, my labour rights, recognised.

On point 2, check the photo.  Your denials don’t mean much to Melbourne sex workers when we recognise what’s in his hand.

A reference is made to sex workers (in previously publicity the term “working girls” was used) seeing the play in rehearsals, but Vixen Collective (Victoria’s Peer Only Sex Worker Organisation) met with Malthouse and provided feedback while the play was still in rehearsal and our concerns were ignored.

Griffin also says in reference to Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association) “suggested that if they felt the differences, or localised issues, needed to be further addressed, we would be happy to collaborate by providing a platform through the media, a public forum or online publication”.

Well it’s not every day the Australian Sex Workers Association gets suggestions on how to do it’s work from non sex workers putting on a highly problematic play..  I guess we better take that seriously then?  The meeting was for you to listen to our concerns, but obviously you missed the point of that.

You are still not listening.

You say – “We believe that this play describes violence not to glamorise it as entertainment, nor to create ‘pity’ for the ‘victims’”

Let me be clear: since you have not lived my life, you cannot describe it.

Let be be clearer still: you have no right to access the private accounts of rape, violence and trauma of my community and recycle these as entertainment, no matter how you attempt to justify it.

Listen: I am not your victim.  You do not speak for me.

#uglymugs #iamnotyourvictim

Want to read the Griffin’s excuses?

 

** Updated to include current media coverage as of 8:00pm EST 13th Aug 2014 **

Sex workers accuse Griffin, Malthouse of exploitation – Arts Hub

Sex workers accuse playwright of exploitation – Daily Review (Crikey)

Ugly Mugs & the politics of representation – ABC Arts Critic Alison Croggon (on Storify)

Sex worker union member attacks Peta Brady play Ugly Mugs (Sydney Morning Herald) this story also ran in The Age, Brisbane Times and Canberra Times.

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

ID2EVASW – Rally in St Kilda

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

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

Tracy Connelly

Tracy Connelly

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

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

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

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

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

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