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.

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

The following is an opinion editorial endorsed by both Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association) and Vixen Collective (Victorian Peer Only Sex Workers Organisation).

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Imagine this: after being raped you tell your story, in confidence, to a local organisation so that it can be collected with others and in a closed publication circulated to help prevent offenders re-victimising others.  This publication is ‘closed’ because were it generally available, predators would recognise themselves in it’s pages and be able to change their appearance and behaviours, going on to commit further crimes with greater ease.

Now imagine this: without your consent the account of your rape and those of other survivors are taken by someone who is not a member of your community, disclosed and used as thinly veiled “inspiration” for a play, while actual accounts are read out mid-scene.  A play with the same title as the closed publication meant to protect your community.  This is your rape played out on stage.  Permission not sought, nor considered relevant.

Welcome to ‘Ugly Mugs’.  The play by Peta Brady recently having finished a run at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre and opening at Sydney’s Griffin on July 18th 2014.  Based on confidential accounts of assaults (rape, violence or trauma) given by sex workers for inclusion in the ‘Ugly Mugs’ publication (closed, for distribution only to sex workers), this represents both a breach of trust and an alarming low point in exploitation of sex workers through “pity porn”.  “Pity porn” is the depiction of sex workers as helpless victims without agency – a far cry from the reality of organised and motivated workers.  The ‘Ugly Mugs’ publication was established in Victoria by sex workers (Prostitutes Collective of Victoria, 1986) seeking to protect their own community in the face of barriers to justice and ongoing stigma against sex workers.

Concerns were promptly raised with both hosts of the play – Malthouse Theatre and Griffin – neither were willing to accept sex workers concerns.  Instead we were offered free tickets by Malthouse – presumably because seeing your rape played out live in front of you always makes you feel better.  Griffin asked if they could have a copy of the current ‘Ugly Mugs’ book for publicity purposes – because disclosing further accounts of rape and trauma would be great for drawing in a crowd – if less so for the health, safety and peace of mind of sex workers.

Peta Brady is quoted in publicity as saying “working girls” provided feedback on ‘Ugly Mugs’, however sex workers that did attend The Malthouse reported back that the play includes readings from an actual issue of ‘Ugly Mugs’ – a shocking breach of trust to both the community and individual sex workers.  It also opens with a sex worker attending her own autopsy, as both corpse and bystander, setting a low point from which there are reportedly still further lows.  This is what can be expected when an outsider seeks to speak on behalf of a marginalised community – you get an agenda (because you cannot get the truth when you have not lived it) coloured by stigma, personal judgement and politics.

This is not a representation of the lived experiences of sex workers.  This is the highly personal view of Peta Brady who is a Salvation Army worker, an organisation known for it’s stigmatising views of sex work. That sex workers confidentially given accounts of rape and trauma are being used as a vehicle to push the views of a non-sex worker and profit from this as entertainment is adding insult to literal injury.  This is the appropriation of sex workers stories, accounts of trauma divorced from the completeness of our lives, as if trauma is all there is.  While publicly supporting the decriminalisation of sex work the Salvation Army continues to portray sex workers as if there is nothing beyond victim hood – sex workers presented without agency or context.

So now imagine this: join sex workers in taking action, online and in person – by contacting the Griffin Theatre to indicate that using accounts of rape and trauma without permission is never acceptable. Sex workers speak for ourselves, our personal stories belong to us and it is our right if, and when to tell them.

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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.

In attempts to raise this issue with media organisations – out of seven contacts only two responded, but as of this posting none have published on the issue.

Updates will be provided as available.

 

NOTE: it was erroneously noted in the above opinion editorial that the Salvation Army support the decriminalisation of sex work – although the Salvation Army have supported projects and publications (for example ‘Street Walking Blues: Sex Work, St Kilda and the Street’, 2006) that have endorsed decriminalisation of sex work, the Salvation Army takes no official public position on sex work regulation.
The Salvation Army do however have a long history of stigmatising sex workers, refer below:
‘Salvos use sex workers to get donations again’, Crikey (June 10th, 2016)
‘Salvation Army Continues Distributing “Prostitute” Material After It Said It Wouldn’t’, Buzzfeed (June 2nd, 2016)
‘Salvos apologise to sex workers over ads’, ABC (May 22nd, 2009)