Thursday 27 June 2013

Stop Tolerating Sexual Assault- Decriminalise Sex Work Now

Tom Meagher: 'The justice system failed Jill'

Adrian Bayley was previously convicted of 16 charges of sexual assault against 5 victims.  He served less than half the maximum sentence for one when he was on parole- and free to attack Jill Meagher. 

"It sends a disturbing message.  What it says to women is if we don't like what you do, you won't get justice. And what it says to people like Bayley is not 'don't rape', but 'be careful who you rape'."

There’s no denying that I, along with many of my fellow sex workers, were very moved by this sentiment.  This is the first time I’ve heard a member of the public articulate the impact of the prejudice that we suffer on their lives.  And for his respect and his compassion during what obviously has been a very distressing time, I say thank you.   

It’s clear.  The more we de-legitimise sex work and exclude sex workers, the more we accept sexual assault, misogyny and degradation as a part of our community. 

The light sentence Bayley received is merely the tip of massive iceberg of whorephobia entrenched in the practice of policy and underpinned by moralistic community attitudes. 

5 victims of sexual assault.  How did you think it was for these sex workers? Do you think the immediate thought that these people had after being violated was, 'I must go to the police'?  These are workers who avoid the authorities on a daily basis- if the role of the police is to prosecute them- routinely initiating operations that threaten their freedom and livelihood, how can police effectively protect sex workers?

Dig a bit deeper; these were 5 people that came forward.  How many more would there be out there that didn’t? We know that sexual assault is underreported in the general community- it's horrific to think of the number of people- including sex workers- that were possibly targeted by people like Bayley.

Turn towards the justice system- we know in our community that the Victims of Crime Compensation sex workers receive is significantly reduced if we continue to work.  This is reduced even further if the victim has been previously convicted of a violent crime. A victim of crime is a victim of crime- it shouldn't matter what their job is or what's in their history. 

We should be furious. Meagher probably doesn't know how true his words are, " What it says to women is if we don't like what you do, you won't get justice. "

Street based sex workers are human beings- they deserve the rights and protections that we all enjoy.  It will not help them if we continue to perceive them as victims or desperate.  If we infantilise them and undermine the perception  of their agency- we perpetuate the idea that what they are different to the broader community.  If we exclude and marginalise them then what we are doing is serving them up to perpetrators of violent crime. 

What’s sickening is the reaction from sex work abolitionists. 

Kathleen Malthzahn was quick to jump on Meagher’s words to push her own agenda. 

In her article appearing in the Guardian, Maltzahn calls for “adequately resource specialist organisations that support women subjected to violence in the sex industry,” a poorly veiled appeal for money for the organisation she founded, Project Respect.  (Or as it has become known as amongst the sex work community, Project DisRespect)

Until recently, the organisation had among its aims, “the  promotion of policies and practices that reduce the conditions which cause the sex industry to thrive.” Perhaps this was changed after it was embarrassingly pointed out to executive director KellyHinton while on air on ABC radio (skip to 26:39) that this runs contrary to their other aim of “supporting and sustaining the wellbeing of women in the industry.” 

What’s clear from its history, its founder, its persistent masquerading as an authority with the prerogative of speaking on behalf of sex workers is that Project Respect is anti- sex work.  They don’t believe in the legitimacy of our work- they just want to rescue the poor sex workers. 

Sex workers don’t need another hero.  

If we experience violence in our workplace there are already mechanisms in place that should appropriately respond to such cases. And if there’s any justice in the world it’s the same service that you would call if you experienced violence in your own workplace- to say we should be treated differently just furthers discrimination against us. 

If we are interested in protecting sex workers in illegal settings from the experience of violence then the first step is the decriminalisation of all sex work.  As we’ve seen in New Zealand, sex workers feel more enabled to access legal recourse in instances of violence.

We don’t need to fund another rescue organisation.  Abolitionsinsts are forever on a crusade to reduce the needs of sex workers to responding to "violence against women." Well guess what?- We're not just women. While violence may be a challenge faced by some sex workers, there is a plethora of other stuff that we struggle with.  If you want to dedicate resources to improving the lives and  working conditions of sex workers then fund sex worker organisation. 

In 1987, Melbourne was the first place in the world to see an organisation of sex workers receive government funding. Through mergers and acquisitions in the community sector, the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria was replaced with a service that was no longer made up of sex workers. It has been more than 10 years since a funded peer based organisation has existed in our state. Maybe it's unsurprising that I was probably the only person who paid tribute to the hard work of sex workers who had come before me.

It’s not like sex workers are incapable of speaking- how about you as a community be more capable of listening?

Sex workers are just like you, regardless of the way we work.  Look around you.  I can guarantee there are sex workers in your life. And if you think that you'll never hear from someone who was a drug dependant street based sex worker- you just finished read reading an article written by him.   


  1. Christian, you are the best. So well and clearly spoken. :)

  2. Hello Christian, as usual well formulated and to the point, especially:

    "It’s not like sex workers are incapable of speaking- how about you as a community be more capable of listening?" says it all.

    And sadly we sex workers get fed up and some are forced to seek alternative protection. Does society really want it that way? Or is the majority only fed with what they would like to hear about us, not the truth.. but it sells?

    More people should really look around themselves and question the statis quo.