“Pieces of meat” & balance in journalism

On Friday the 1st of April, last week, Vixen Collective (Victoria’s peer only sex worker organisation) issued an invitation to sex workers and supporters to join in raising concerns over the “World’s Oldest Oppression” Conference.  The conference, an event at which proponents of the partial/full criminalisation of sex work will be gathering, runs over the 9th and 10th of April (today and tomorrow).

Sex workers and supporters participating in the protest on social media since then, have been experiencing significant levels of abuse from anti sex work individuals.  This has included being called “pimps”, being told that we are “happy hookers”, that we are “meat for buyers”, “fucktoys”, that we are “commodities to be bought, sold and used”, referred to as “female flesh”, “pieces of meat”, and told that sex workers are the “pimp lobby”.

Vixen Collective itself, a sex worker only collective, made up of current and former sex workers, has been referred to as a “pro sex trade group” and “sex trade apologists” by event speaker Simone Watson.

 

Those involved in the conference have made claims of being “silenced” by sex workers, a proposition that seems ludicrous when examined – that a few sex workers on twitter could silence people who are having a conference to show case their ideas – a conference at which many of the speakers are published authors/journalists, some academics, many with significant social capital and power.

In confirmation of this fact there has been extensive coverage in the media on the conference outlining the anti sex work position, without any balance or effort to give voice to sex workers concerns.  Of the four “articles” carried in major periodicals, which could for the most piece also be characterized as opinion editorials, Vixen Collective has been contacted by none, nor has the national sex worker organisation Scarlet Alliance.

The headlines of the four pieces are as follows (they are deliberately not linked due to the offensive and triggering content):
‘Pro sex trade group Vixen Collective ramps up campaign’ (Simone Watson, Tasmanian Times, 5th April)
‘Van Badham’s freedom of speech for some? (Isla MacGregor, Tasmanian Times, 8th April)
‘I clutched the cash while he used me’: Former prostitutes on why they want the industry banned’ (Emma Reynolds, News.com, 8th April)
‘Sex Trade survivors deserve the chance to speak’ (Meagan Tyler, The Conversation, 8th April)

The first, is by Simone Watson, the current Director of pro-Swedish Model (sometimes referred to as the Nordic Model) group NorMAC, there is more information on the problems with this piece here.

The second, is by Isla MacGregor, close friend and writing partner of Simone Watson – this is an attack on feminist and Guardian columnist Van Badham for having the audacity to support sex worker rights.

The third, by Emma Reynolds, is what could kindly be referred to as an advertorial for the book ‘Prostitution Narratives’ that is being launched at the conference this weekend.  Now, let me be clear – everyone has the right to tell their story.  Being able to be heard when speaking about our lives is a critical part of what we are protesting for, but the fact that News.com ran a story without talking to anyone who wasn’t pro-criminalisation and didn’t contact a single peer sex worker organisation is a critical failure.  This is a failure not just in recognising  sex workers’ voices, but a failure in journalism.

The fourth, one is in The Conversation written by RMIT academic Meagan Tyler, colleague of Dr Caroline Norma, and also known for her work with organisation CATWA (an organisation that holds a pro-criminalisation of sex work view).  Ms Tyler includes quotes from my blog (where the original protest was posted), including that sex workers and supporters should:

“write to RMIT to express concerns about the Conference to the University Chancellor”

But then goes on to suggest that this amounts to:

“.. online tactics used to bully, intimidate and deny people a platform to speak..”

This is purposefully omitting the fact that at no time was there a call by Vixen Collective for the conference to be shut down, simply that we wished for sex workers concerns to be heard.

So what’s the up-side in a week of sex workers being called “pieces of meat” and shut out of the mainstream media?

Well, late yesterday RMIT Catalyst – the student newspaper at RMIT published an article where they spoke to both the conference organisers and Vixen Collective.  It was a moment of, for sex workers, what hopefully will be increasingly common in the future of journalism – being heard.

What traction sex workers do have in being listened to on their own lives and work in the media, shouldn’t be exceptional, it should be the standard.  It should not be an enduring battle to gain space to publish op ed’s of our own – but it is and so we express our thoughts and stories on blogs and twitter.  We’re not silencing anyone because these are so often the only places we have in which to speak.

LoisLane_FFT

RMIT Slammed for Facilitating Sex Work Abolition Conference

We can only hope to see more balanced journalism in the main-stream press in the future.  Given that the above was from student journalists maybe it’s a good sign that we will.

Carrying on the tradition of making our voices heard in the spaces that are available to us, we are having a protest onsite at RMIT today, please see details below:

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Protesting the “World’s Oldest Oppression” Conference – Protest Notice

*Sex Workers & Supporters*

Time: 1pm until 3pm, Saturday 9th April 2016

Location: Outside the Emily McPherson Building (Building 13, 405 Russell St, Melbourne, on the Victoria St side of the building)

**Please be aware of and prioritise your safety, anti sex work individuals/groups have been known to approach & take photographs of people at protests, so if this is problematic or distressing for you then consider if it is safe for you to be in the protest space**

Please Note – we are planning and advocating for a non-violent, non-intrusive protest.

Vixen Collective does not advocate for anyone to enter the conference space or approach conference attendees.

On social media anti sex work individuals have raised concerns about silencing, which, given that the conference contains speakers who are published authors/academics etc. is wildly out of place and unrealistic compared to sex workers raising concerns on twitter.

However, just as sex workers do not wish to be silenced, we do not wish to be perceived as silencing anyone and therefore we ask people participating in the protest to try not to become involved in verbal altercations.

We will have Vixen Collective support people there and please take the opportunity to step back and de-brief.

We have permission to be present on RMIT property and RMIT security is aware that we are having a protest and can be called on if necessary.

If the space becomes hostile due to the presence or actions of anti sex work individuals or groups we plan to exit the space and de-brief off site.

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Vixen Collective

Guide to Making a Submission to the Draft ‘Sex Work Regulations 2016’

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What’s a Submission?

A submission can be as simple as a letter on how you feel about the way you work as a Victorian sex worker:

  • How do you feel about mandatory testing for STIs/HIV every three months?
  • Are you a Private Worker who feels the current restrictions on in-calls are too harsh?
  • Do you feel you have less ability to go to the police if you need to as a sex worker in Victoria?
  • Are you concerned that registering with the CAV/BLA will subject you to future discrimination?
  • Are you a street based sex worker affected by current policing operations?
  • Have you been affected by stigma and/or discrimination as a sex worker?
  • Do you work in a brothel and feel you are subject to working conditions that you cannot organise to change, like other workers would be able to do (through unions, by accessing the Workplace Ombudsman, or WorkSafe)?
  • Is there a way that you would prefer to work? Many sex workers indicate sex work decriminalisation, the system currently in place in New South Wales as their preference – do you feel this way?

A submission doesn’t have to be longer than a few paragraphs and it doesn’t have to be a technical document.
It’s often the case that government receive many form letters to submission processes, writing something in your own words, about your own experience can be very powerful.

What has changed between the Draft ‘Sex Work Regulations 2016’ and the previous regulations?

Very little. The most significant changes are:

  • Full body shots, photographs in advertising will no longer be restricted to head and shoulders only – but only on the internet.
    There are restrictions on these, as advertising cannot contain representations of: “..the bare sexual organs, buttocks or anus of a person, or frontal nudity of the genital region; or bare breasts; or a sexual act or simulated sexual act; or a person under the age of 18 years..”
  • Advertisements may now contain references to race, colour or ethnic origin.

You can see the full listing of changes at – Sex Work Regulations 2016 Consultation – Consumer Affairs Victoria
**NOTE – SUBMISSION DEADLINE NOW EXTENDED TO 5:00PM, FRIDAY 4th MARCH**

Sending Your Submission to Consumer Affairs Victoria

There are a number of methods of sending your submission in:

  • Email your submission directly to the CAV via – cav.consultations@justice.vic.gov.au
  • Post your submission directly to the CAV via –
    Sex Work Regulations 2016 Consultation
    Policy and Legislation Branch
    Consumer Affairs Victoria
    GPO Box 123
    Melbourne VIC 3001

NB – For anyone who wishes to list a return contact email or postal address other than their own please feel free to list Vixen Collective’s email and/or postal address:
Email address – vixencollectivemelbourne@gmail.com or, Postal address –
Vixen Collective
Melbourne Flinders Lane
PO Box 525
Flinders Lane, VIC 8009

Other References

Wanting other information on Victorian legislation/regulations or reference material? Check the list below and hopefully you will find a helpful link:

Information on Legislation/Regulations
Scarlet Alliance: Sex Industry Law – Victoria

General Articles
The Sexual Health of Sex Workers: no bad whores, just bad laws
Sex Work Legislation Stands in the Way of Australia’s Commitments

Academic Articles
Mandatory Testing for HIV and Sexually Transmissible Infections among Sex Workers in Australia: A Barrier to HIV and STI Prevention
Improving the health of sex workers in NSW: maintaining success

Other
Sex Workers Stand In Solidarity in Calling for the Full Decriminalisation of Sex Work! – Media Release
The Principles for Model Sex Work Legislation

 

If you have questions on the submission process, contact Consumer Affairs on cav.consultations@justice.vic.gov.au

 

TO DOWNLOAD THIS GUIDE AS A PDF DOCUMENT, CLICK HERE – VSG_ISW-DSWR2016

 

Have any feedback on this guide?  Contact Vixen Collective on Twitter at @VixenCollective or visit our website for more information at vixencollective.blogspot.com.au

See below for examples of submissions…

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Example of a Submission by a Victorian Sex Worker

 

Sex Work Regulations 2016 Consultation
Policy and Legislation Branch
Consumer Affairs Victoria
GPO Box 123
Melbourne VIC 3001
Email: cav.consultations@justice.vic.gov.au

 

27th February 2016

To whom it may concern,

My name is Nell and I am a brothel based sex worker in Melbourne.

The Victorian licensing system makes it incredibly difficult for both my work and personal life. I’ve described a few of these here.

Mandatory testing is a perpetual reminder that the government views me as “dirty” and a threat to public health. I am treated as though I do not know how to care for my health, like I can’t make decisions about my own body. I am perfectly aware of the risks of STIs, just like other sex workers and we get tested without needing to be told. We are not ticking time bombs of infection and disease. This policy is a blatant attack on our bodily autonomy and basic human dignity.

Within the licensing system, police are not my protectors, but are instead monitor my very existence. This is expressed in legislation, but also in police behaviour. If I am subject to a crime, violent or otherwise, at work or not – going to police for assistance isn’t even remotely an option. The threat of being outed, discrimination, interpersonal violence, and just generally horrific treatment by people as a result. This means that I turn to my peers, other sex workers and community for support, because reporting to the police is not an option.

Stigma is a harm so major and all-encompassing that it is a challenge to explain its damage in only a few words. People’s perceptions of sex work as a social evil, or of sex workers as victims, mean they can become abusive or abandon us when we are outed. My relationships with family and friends were so severely damaged by their discovery of my work, that I’ve been forced to completely reshape and rebuild my life. Other sex workers have supported me, but many of my family and friends have subjected me to emotional abuse and threats. The licensing systems perpetuates this stigma.

Decriminalisation, along with a commitment to alleviate stigma (through media, education, and so on) will make an enormous difference in our lives. We deserve to be heard, to be listened to, to be the decision makers on issues relating to us.

Yours sincerely,

Nell.

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Example of a Submission by an Inter-State Sex Worker

 

Sex Work Regulations 2016 Consultation
Policy and Legislation Branch
Consumer Affairs Victoria
GPO Box 123
Melbourne VIC 3001
Email: cav.consultations@justice.vic.gov.au

 

27th February 2016

To whom it may concern,

I am a sex worker from NSW, I am writing because having worked in Sydney under decriminalisation I know that this is a system that supports my health and safety.

 

Under decriminalisation of sex work in NSW:

 

  • I do not have to register my name with the government like private workers do in Victoria, creating opportunities for discrimination later in life.
  • I am not subject to mandatory STI/HIV testing because, like sex workers everywhere across Australia, I maintain my sexual health as part of my work – and, as studies show sex workers have sexual health at least as good or better than the general population.
  • If someone threatens me or is violent to me when I am working, I can go to the police more easily than a Victorian sex worker. Because the police do not regulate the sex industry in NSW, I can get assistance from the police like any other person in the community.
  • I have the ability to choose between a variety of different ways of working, and do what suits me best. If I want to work privately in an environment I control – which is best for my safety – then I can do this.
  • Although as a sex worker I am still subject to stigma and discrimination, I am supported by sex worker community through a funded state based peer sex worker organisations – SWOP NSW.

 

Victorian sex workers should have access to the same rights and opportunities that NSW sex workers do.

 

The Victorian Government needs to end mandatory testing of STIs/HIV, the registration of sex workers, remove the police as regulators of the sex industry in Victoria, and most importantly fully decriminalise sex work in Victoria.

 

Yours sincerely,

Alice West

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:

________________________________________

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

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

Why we should all get to choose when/if we get an HIV test, yes even me.

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So this week I went to hospital.  Let’s be clear – I hate hospital.  I don’t like being stuck in one place, following often pointless (no smoking) rules, or answering to people who treat me like an object rather than a person.  If I’m really sick I’ll go.  But I have to be really sick.

So this week I get a migraine.  Not unusual.  I have had migraines regularly since I was a teenager.  Never been hospitalised for one.  But this one just kept getting worse, beyond anything I have ever had.  Until I am lying on the floor unable to move and a friend called an ambulance.  So I go to hospital.  The hospital pumps me full of medication (including largactil) that while it did not eliminate, helped the pain.  The medication also rendered me inarticulate, easily confused and clumsy – basically it made me ‘high’.  This will become important later.  Because it means I lost the ability to conceal certain facts about myself.

I am a sex worker.  Often I cannot conceal this fact in medical settings.  As a Victorian sex worker I am subject to mandatory sexual health testing once every three months – regardless of the fact that over twenty years of medical research in Australia (click here to download latest research findings) shows that sex workers have lower rates of STI’s than the general public and higher compliance in prophylaxis use (condoms!).  Because I have had interactions with police (no kidding my job used to be illegal) and medical staff, it is written into some of my medical records that I am a sex worker.  If I am in a setting where these records are accessed then I have no choice about my status as a sex worker being part of any conversation.  It is usually a big part of the conversation.

But I did not expect my status as a sex worker to be part of the conversation when I was in hospital this week.  No prior hospital records or medical records had been accessed.  No other doctors had been called.  I was simply a patient presenting with a migraine.

Then the hospital got me ‘high’, legally high of course, and one of the neurology staff asked “so what do you do?”.  And that was it.  All my usual answers went unused; that I work for a NGO (also true), that I am self employed (just leaving out the “as a sex worker” part), that I work as a lobbyist (I talk to enough politicians that it feels like it).

Because if someone asks “what do you do?” when you’re high the natural reply is to tell the truth.  So I said – “I’m a sex worker” and proceeded to chat about it with them for 15 minutes.  Including when they asked “are people prejudice about it?”, I said “hell yes, all the time”.  But I probably wasn’t expecting them to give me a specific example of prejudice right then.  Which they did.

After our little chat the doctor wandered off for a few minutes then came back to say – “so now we’ve realised that we need to do an HIV test on you” and I asked “this is because I told you I’m a sex worker isn’t it?” and they replied (looking embarrassed) “uh, yeah”.  I then stated “well I suppose what I want doesn’t really matter at this point?” and at that the doctor looked away.

Problems with this:

1) I was not in a state to make or be able to give informed consent to being STI/HIV tested

2) That (1) being the case this constitutes a forced STI/HIV test

3) Given that there is HIV criminalisation for sex workers in Victoria this puts me or any other sex worker treated in this manner in a position of potential instant criminalisation.

This is yet another example of the stigma and discrimination that sex workers live with daily.  But it is not just another example.  Medical professionals have power in society generally – over individual patients lives, through professional associations, through their status as a doctor – but in Victoria the State gives immense power to medical professionals over the lives of sex workers.  Power to test sex workers for STI’s/HIV – despite knowing we have demonstrably lower rates than the general population.  Power to prevent sex workers from working if we test positive – despite knowing condom compliance rates in the sex industry exceed 99% and that not all sex work involves “sex”.  Finally, power to cause sex workers to be jailed for testing positive to HIV as a sex worker (a strategy which demonstrably discourages STI/HIV testing).

This is not okay.

__________________________________________________________________

Want to join me in telling the Victorian Government it’s not okay?

Email the Victorian Health Minister – David Davis – david.davis@parliament.vic.gov.au

Feel free to include a link to this Blog (or not) and make sure to note that sex workers should have the same rights, human rights, labour rights and access to health care and right to refuse health care and testing as other members of the community.

Eleni from Vixen Collective speaks out at SlutWalk Melbourne

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

Karen Pickering, introducing speakers at SlutWalk

Karen Pickering, introducing speakers at SlutWalk

Crowd at the State Library during speeches

Crowd at the State Library during speeches

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

Members of Vixen Collective supporting Eleni at SlutWalk:

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

Reclaim the Night supports #sexworkers at SlutWalk

Reclaim the Night supports #sexworkers at SlutWalk

Fellow SlutWalk speaker Van Badham supports Eleni

Fellow SlutWalk speaker Van Badham supports Eleni

Sex Party supporting #sexworkers (pictured in Federation Square)

Sex Party supporting #sexworkers (pictured in Federation Square)

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

Full text of Eleni’s speech:

_______________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They may say what they like.

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

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

Because I will not be silenced!

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’