Friday, 14 October 2011

Sex Workers Say: Anti-trafficking Crusaders are Not Our Friends 

So when the ABC's 4 Corners decided to air their anti-sex work sensationalist propaganda (see, sex workers were pretty much ignored.  Here's my response :

Sex Workers Say: Anti-trafficking Crusaders are Not Our Friends

Friday, 14 October 2011 12:24

A grieving mother, international organised crime, sensational re-enactments and dramatic music.  Oh and a good dose of sex. It seems like all the right ingredients for a compelling story, one that enthrals the public eye. The ABC’s 4 Corners and the tirade newspaper articles focussed on the so-called “sex trafficking” are demanding everyone’s attention and if you think this stories are affecting, imagine the emotional assault they afflict on sex workers. But what’s driving the hysteria? “While it’s very popular to talk about human trafficking at the moment, it seems the agenda that’s really being pushed is anti-sex work” said Christian Vega, sex worker and advocate for sex worker rights in Victoria.

“Being anti-sex work can be divisive in Australia,” Mr Vega explains, “The community wants to support the rights of workers, they want to have compassion and understanding of vulnerable people and it’s not within our culture to immediately take an abolitionist approach.  All these things are a challenge for the anti-sex work lobby. In order to get around them, campaigners have conflated ‘human trafficking’ with sex work in order to gain funding and broad based support.”

Mr Vega considers the true motivation of the supposed “anti-trafficking” agenda. “Some tax-payer funded organisations and individuals who claim that their goal is to end ‘human trafficking’ are disproportionately focussed on sex work. Yet, we know human trafficking happens in other industries. The obsession with brothels makes it clear: challenging actual exploitation is secondary; they just want to shut down the sex industry.”

Mr Vega continues, “They have successfully diverted funding, community support and political attention away from other instances of actual trafficking in order to bolster their moral crusade against us, sex workers. While brothels are raided every other week to find scant exploitation, sweatshops in Australia operate unchecked, migrant staff in hospitality wait for someone to notice their substandard working conditions and people desperate to migrate to Australia are entering abusive marriages in order to secure what they think will be a better life.  So long as sex work abolitionists hog the spotlight, the human rights of many go begging. ”

Mr Vega reflects on the outcomes of such a prohibitionist approach, “The overreaction of the Victorian Minister of Consumer Affairs further illustrates how the human rights of sex workers are not a priority.”  He refers to the increase of police powers to prosecute non-compliant operators in the sex industry, “To jump on the trafficking bandwagon and say the police are the answer to any human rights crisis is the same as saying carrying firearms increases one’s safety. History, evidence and plain common sense tells us: it’s delusional and absolutely ill informed.”

“It can be overwhelmingly frustrating that we, sex workers, not only have to demand our human rights but also have proposed sound, socially just, evidence based solutions and, yet, are totally ignored.”

Mr Vega gives some examples, “We know that granting working visas for migrant sex workers will bust the business model of people traffickers, who are taking advantage of the fact the Australian government refuses to allow these workers to enter our country like any other worker.  We know decriminalising sex work will bring its regulation, industrial relations and occupational health and safety standards more in line with the expectations of the community.  We know that resourcing us as sex workers to support each other is the most effective way of empowering us against vulnerability and exploitation in our workplaces.  We know all of this, yet the government flounders, chasing its tail to the tune of those who would rather see us out of business.”

“Sex workers need rights not rescue.  We’re not criminals or powerless victims- we are sick of being stereotyped as such.”  Mr Vega closes, “Sex workers are not the problem but we can be part of the solution.”

Monday, 10 October 2011

No One Is Listening To Us: Sex Workers

In all likelihood you probably aren’t aware that it has been 10 years since the death of the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria.  Understandably so; no one is marking the loss of this organisation.  There are few people left in the state who were a part of the ground breaking group.  “But they were significant and their absence is felt in every policy of discrimination, every patronising word and every stigmatising portrayal of sex work,” said Christian Vega, current Victorian sex worker and advocate for sex worker rights.

“There is no funded sex worker organisation in Victoria.”  Mr Vega explains, “What we have are a collection of services that are accessed by a minority of sex workers and whose survival depends on maintaining the stereotype that sex workers are desperate and helpless victims that need to be rescued.”  Mr Vega, who used to work for one of these services, expresses his frustration, “I’m sick of people thinking we are a problem that needs to be dealt with or managed- and in order to maintain funding, our so-called ‘helpers’ are ready to shove us naked and vulnerable before the press in order to justify the work that they do.”

“The approach is wrong, it’s ineffective and offensive,” Mr Vega continues, “No other community group would tolerate such a mischaracterisation; the GLBTI community would not accept a service staffed only by heterosexual people whose goal was to rehabilitate all the gays, no matter how well intentioned,” said Mr Vega, “but sex workers have to endure state funded interventions that depict us as ‘victims of trafficking’ or in need of ‘exit programs.’ And while these activities may serve the genuine needs of a small group of sex workers and victims of crime, the rights of the majority of us go ignored.  As supposed victims or patients, we are not trusted enough to contribute to our own well being; that’s why, in Victoria, it’s rare to find any current sex workers employed by any of these services. Whenever you read a story about us, if anyone has bothered to speak to a sex worker, it is always the voice of a service user of one of these services, not a sex worker who can actually be representative of our community. No one is listening to us.”

Mr Vega speaks about some of the consequences of the current situation in Victoria, “With no sex workers resourced for advocacy to the government, it is no wonder that discriminatory policies that undermine our agency, the proliferation via media of social stigma and substandard working conditions are continually implemented with the endorsement of government and the general community. Not one change of policy has markedly improved the lives and working conditions of sex workers.  If you want to see real change in the sex industry, how about you start listening to us, instead of listening to those who claim to speak on our behalf.”

Mr Vega ponders some solutions to the quandary in Victoria, “In other states, health departments fund their sex worker organisation to not only support vulnerable sex workers but to create an opportunity to connect all sex workers as a community and  provide a genuine voice for these workers.  These organisations have affirmative action policies that ensure the participation of sex workers is not hijacked by anything other than the agenda of human rights for sex workers.  With the constant doom, gloom and misery spoken about the sex industry, it’s clear that we desperately need a sex worker organisation in Victoria.”

Mr Vega reflects on the history of sex worker rights in Victoria, “Victoria was the first place in the world where a government committed funding for a sex worker organisation. And whether we operate in the open and are accepted by the community or we have to work underground, there will always be sex work.  I suspect nothing will get better until we return to the first step of listening to us.”

The Australian Sex Party was the only political party who had a policy of funding a sex worker organisation in Victoria at the last state election.