Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Lies That Obstruct The Human Rights Of Sex Workers

According to academic Caroline Norma, I am a “prostituted woman”. 

While her inaccuracy might be obvious, the layers of her misrepresentation of me and my community are numerous as an onion’s and as eye-wateringly bitter. 

Firstly I am not a woman.  I am male and I am a sex worker.  The assumption that all sex workers are female may be seen as clumsy oversight, innocuous and naive. Did you fall for it?

The representation of the entire front line of the sex industry as female is a deliberate distortion of the actual workforce.  The charade may or may not be obvious but the intention is clear; so long as everyone believes that all sex workers are women then gender plays an active role in defining who are the victims and who are the oppressors. 

There is a sad irony in this rhetoric; supposed “feminists” portray women (sex workers) as weak, inevitable victims of exploitative men (‘pimps’ and clients).  Sad because the truth, ignored by these academics, paints a starkly different picture of sex workers than these doomsayers purport.

Some sex workers are the strongest people I know.  Some have overcome incredible hardship.  Some have reconciled traumatic personal histories. Some have demonstrated fantastic resilience and resourcefulness. They have made choices in the face of immense social stigma, discrimination and prejudice.  I’ve been inspired by what we have achieved together despite our differences. 

Sex workers are of all sexes, genders and sexualities. 

While some estimates place female sex workers at 80% of the workforce, 15% male and 5% transgender, particular sectors of the industry have a different representation of gender (for example, statistics from the Business Licensing Authority indicate independent private workers closer to 50% male, 50% female). 

While these numbers may be interesting, they’re greatest power is that they debunk the traditional feminist representation that all sex work is violence against women.  How do I, a male sex worker who sees male clients, pose a threat to all the females everywhere?

The second misrepresentation Norma and her ilk assert is loaded in the language they use. 
Flatly ignoring the voices of sex workers to be referred to as “sex workers” and continuing to refer to us as “prostituted women” show their true colours. 

By interpreting what we do as “prostitution” her description of my job as “commercially mediated sexual abuse” might pass.  Using these terms, loaded with all of their values and judgements allow for all sorts of prejudice to be expressed at the mere mention of our occupation. 

If one is interested in being objective, upholding values of social justice, equity and fairness then one ought to follow the protocol we have used for all people throughout history- use terms minority groups have determined as appropriate. 

We are not asking for special treatment; history contains many examples of groups demanding the right to be named by themselves- it is why we use the term “African-American” and not “Negro”, it is why we say “Intersex” instead of “hermaphrodite”.  In our case, please call us ‘sex workers’ and not “prostitutes” or “prostituted women”.   

In fact there are already precedents that have come into practice.  UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, considers the words “prostitution” and “prostitute” inappropriate and directs people to use the term “sex work” in their terminology guide

Following this, in 2010 the Victorian Government renamed the law that regulates the sex industry from “The Prostitution Control Act” to “The Sex Work Act” and changed all references accordingly. 

The term “sex work” was coined by American sex worker activist, Carol Leigh, in the 1970s.  The term emphasises what we are doing: work.  The rights we are fighting for are labour rights. 

Framed as work, the problems associated with sex work can be addressed via the recourse available to all other forms of employment: with good standards in occupational health and safety, industrial relations, human rights, equal opportunity and non-discrimination. 

The resistance that some feminists exhibit in using our preferred terminology not only demonstrates a lack of respect towards us but also an unwillingness to address any of the genuine difficulties we face. 

By not framing sex work as work the problems can feel insurmountable. From this perspective, exploitation appears uncontrollable.  The only solution seems to be that we just have to do our hardest to stamp it out at all costs. 

While everyone is emotionally caught up in the tragedy of what is presented no one focuses on real solutions beyond the false promise of prohibition.  Academics can build a career churning out books and articles, profiting from the perpetual myth-making that I am a helpless victim. 

I am not saying my occupation is without its flaws.  The hardships that are present in our work can be overcome, not by abolishing sex work and exiling us to the underground, but by embracing us and allowing the standards that legitimise all other occupations apply to us. 

Put plainly: sex work is work. Anything else is selling us short.   

Anti-Sex Work Academic's Feeble Attempt at Stigmatising Us

On Jun 19, Caroline wrote an opinion piece in the Age, Standing up for sex workers is standing up for pimps.  You can read her vitriolic bigotry here: 

The shortsighted moralist tone of Norma's words isn't lost on the readers, many of whom (both sex workers and non-sex worker) voiced their disapproval in the comments. 

Amongst the 158 posts is mine. You can read it here:
I am a sex worker. This article is moralistic, abolitionist rubbish that further contributes to the debilitating stigma that already negatively impacts on the mental and physical health of sex workers.
From the headline, Norma is arguing that we should not stand up for sex worker rights, as if we have none. She is advocating for our poverty, our prosecution, our social exclusion. She wants everyone to think the worst of us, victims incapable of making a choice. With that prejudice in the minds of the community, it is no wonder we are treated as second class citizens, no wonder people don't recognise our human rights, no wonder we get no protection from the police or the law, no wonder perpertrators of violence against us feel that they can get away with it.
I am sick of constantly being portrayed as a victim. I've never been pimped out. I used to work for an escort agency but I chose to leave and support myself by working independantly. I chose to. The clients I have chosen to see are diverse- some have disabilities, some have lost their long term partners, some are super busy,some are extraordinarily lonely. The reasons they see sex workers are as varied as their lives. None of them want to exploit, assault or victimise me.
I know I'm not alone in my experience because I've also chosen to stay connected to my colleagues - sex workers of all sexes and genders- for emotional, occupational and community support.
We are not going anywhere. We are part of one of the most enduring professions in human history. Elite Academics like Norma can bad mouth us all she likes. But the truth is we are workers and we have human rights- how about you start recognising them?
Commenter: Christian Vega
Location: Melbourne
Date and time: Jun 19, 2012, 11:32AM

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Sex Workers Speak Out For Law Reform, SameSame

After my appearance on the Project, this piece was written in SameSame:

A gay male sex worker has spoken up about his role in the sex industry as the campaign continues for various Australian states to loosen up their prostitution laws.
“The world would be a really sad place without sex workers,” says 29-year-old Christian Vega. “For a lot of people, sex workers are their only form of sexual expression. There’s nothing wrong with those people.”
He adds that sex work helps him supplement the small income he makes doing a job in the community sector that he’s passionate about.
In NSW alone, there are an estimated 10,000 sex workers, with a fair percentage of them working in the queer community. In most parts of Australia, private sex work is legal, but some states ban brothel work and most of them ban street work.
Experts in the sex industry say decriminalising various forms of sex work leads to safer working conditions as workers feel able to contact the police with their concerns. Anti-discrimination laws would also benefit the often stigmatised profession.
“We as a community have a choice,” says Vega. “Do we make these people’s lives harder than they already are, or do we support them as part of our community?”

Thursday, 7 June 2012

On Channel 10's the Project

So I've made it onto prime time television.  

After the Festival of Sex Work was written about in the Age, Festival Organisers were bombarded with a whole bunch of media requests, Channel 10 was on of them.  

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

On 3CR's 'Done By Law'

Podcast of an interview with me on 3CR's 'Done By Law' program on Monday night about the festival, sex work and the law.


Written by Annie on June 5, 2012
Last week venues around Melbourne hosted talks, public forums and screenings for the city’s firstFestival of Sex Work. Sex worker and advocate Christian Vega from VIXEN (Victorian Sex Industry Network) joins Done By Law to talk about how current laws and policies affect the rights of sex workers in Victoria.