Victorian Greens – still failing sex workers

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Last night local Victorian sex workers protested a Victorian Greens event hosting candidates who are running for pre-selection in the electorate of Richmond.

Why would sex workers be motivated to do this?

Sex workers and sex worker organisations world-wide call for the full decriminalisation of our work, as do human rights and health organisations around the world.

Victorian Greens policy actually supports the “Decriminalisation of consensual adult sex work”, and Federal Greens policy indicates support for “An end to the criminalisation of consensual adult sex work”.
However, the Victorian Greens have repeatedly run a candidate in the seat of Richmond who opposes both the Victorian Greens and Federal Greens policy on sex work.  Kathleen Maltzahn, founder of anti-sex work organisation Project Respect, has run as the Greens candidate in Richmond in the 2010 and 2014 Victorian State Elections and is again in the running to be selected as the candidate for the upcoming election in 2018.

So, sex workers are concerned that the Victorian Greens are – yet again – seeking to run a candidate that opposes the Greens own policy on sex work, a candidate who opposes what is recognised as the best practice model for sex industry regulation.

So why are the Greens doing this?  Their own policy on the issue is clear and one would think that running a candidate who opposes that policy, who opposes the human rights of a marginalised community might be something the Greens would care about.

So, sex workers went to the event last night to ask this question.  We stood outside the event asking people entering to speak to us about the issue and offering them flyers explaining our concerns.  We even saw Kathleen Maltzahn when we first arrived (who given the long history of sex workers protesting her opposition to sex workers rights, recognised some of us from prior protests), we gave her a flyer and explained why we were there – so the Greens were aware of our presence and the reason for it almost immediately.

What was striking was the reaction of a small number of Greens members.  On realising we were there the Greens kept the building locked and posted ‘sentries’ at each entrance.  We overheard one of the people being put on ‘sentry’ duty being told by another Greens member to “watch them and make sure no one talks to them”.  The Greens member who gave this instruction came out a few minutes later and accosted me, trying to snatch the flyers I was holding from my hand, grabbing my hand (with the flyers in it) and refusing to let go for an uncomfortable length of time (literally uncomfortable, squeezing my hand as hard as possible trying to get me to drop the flyers).  The same Greens member later stood on a sex workers foot while attempting to prevent them from talking to people (although it seemed this may have been accidental).

Many people entering did take our flyers and many also stopped to talk to us about the issues.  But why did the Victorian Greens permit behaviour so hostile towards protesters?  After all we were there to ask them to select a candidate who supports their own policies – a pretty reasonable request.

Later in the evening, after the meeting had begun another group of sex workers attempted to enter the meeting to raise concerns, only to be physically assaulted by a different Greens member, who shoved one worker and threw another to the ground.

The Greens then called the police, who later showed up and rather ironically ended up taking a report from one of the assaulted workers about the Greens actions.

The Victorian Greens have previously called for people to “defend your right to protest” and opposed changes to the Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Bill that extended police powers against protesters in Victoria.

So why is a party whose own policies support sex workers human rights, who supports the right to protest, reacting so violently when people exercise that right?  Why do the Victorian Greens object to sex workers pointing out that the Victorian Greens have in the past and may again, run a candidate who rejects part of their own policy platform?

It’s a good question and it is well beyond time for the Victorian Greens to have an answer.

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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

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