Friday, 31 August 2012

International Overdose Awareness Day Speech


So this is an address I made at work on the 31st of August, 2012
When I think of overdose and Overdose Awareness Day, I think, I am truly blessed.  It’s unusual for me, I’m not at all religious or spiritual.  All of the pain, all of the sadness, the people I miss- and yet I am able to find comfort and today I thought I might share why. 
I am blessed. 
But not because my life has been drug free- it has not.  If we are to challenge stigma, as this day of remembrance strives to, then one cannot remain closeted- so I say before you now, without guilt or shame, that yes, drugs have played a role in my life.  I do not condemn or encourage the use of drugs but I can say the experience of using drugs; the hard times it has seen me through, the people who have been there along the way, the lessons I have learnt about senses, about my body about my place in the world- I am truly grateful for. 
But that is not why I feel blessed today. 
Nor is it because I have been fortunate enough to evade overdose- I have not.  Things go wrong, we are not perfect people who do things perfectly and drug use is no perfect process.  I count myself as very lucky- the circumstances were such that I survived and people looked after me.  Upon reflection of my overdose I realise that, life is precious, our bodies are wonderfully forgiving and to be there for each other is a humbling source of strength and life. 
But still, that’s not why I feel blessed today. 
No, today I feel blessed because I remember the gift of many friends, friends who are no longer with me. For me, despite the stereotypes, to be part of a community of people who use drugs has been a blessing.  These friends were strong, talented, bright and beautiful spirits, who, through some twist of fate, crossed my path, gave me something very special and enriched my life in a way I couldn’t put into words.  And though there have been many funerals I have attended and many funerals I was not invited to, to remember our loved ones, I feel truly blessed. 
Today is a day to remember the ones we have loved and the ones we have lost.  This might be the first time you have been able to do this but we gather here today to tell you that you are not alone.  The silver badges we wear signify the profound loss of someone cherished and are a symbol of understanding, of condolences and – when we wear them together as a community- they are a symbol of solidarity. 
But remembering is not the only blessing of the day. 
A friend of mine, Sally Finn, and NSP worker in St Kilda, began Overdose Awareness day back in 2001. At the height of heroin deaths, I was homeless in St Kilda.  Yet Finn and others reminded me that yes, we are important to each other and that those of us who can, have a responsibility to not only remember but to contribute to the bettering the lives of our fellow community members.  I feel truly blessed because I have been given the opportunity to honour the memory of my friends through the work I do today.
The service I work for has had a number of service users pass away in the past year from drug overdoses and they - like those before them- will be remembered on Overdose day and remain in our hearts into the future. 
 As well as being a special time to remember our friends, Today is an opportunity to honour their memory by being aware of the importance of overdose prevention.  Over the past month, Harm Reduction Victoria, our state drug user association, has facilitated workshops to teach drug users the skills to not only recognise but respond to overdose.  We do this to remind those of us who remain and still use drugs to be careful and to instil in each and every current and former drug user that, yes, you matter, that we value you as a member of our community and that you can make a difference.  I believe it is not said enough, but as a representative of my team I would like to say, we believe in you, we are proud of you. 
We thank you for participating in this year’s Overdose awareness day. Please stay and share some food with us and remember those we have lost by placing a star on our memorial board, lighting some incense or burning some prayer paper.    Again, thank you all for being here today.  That you are here with me today is truly a blessing. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Hypocritical Victimisation of Asian Sex Workers in Victoria

This Asian woman was accused of operating an "illegal brothel" in suburban Melbourne. She could not hide her face from the newspaper cameras who published it in their paper and online. Click here to watch the dramatic police raid. All of this because she was offering hand jobs at a massage parlour- evidently all that's required to deem a premises an "illegal brothel". 
  By Christian Vega*
*No, my name has not been changed.

“Are you HIV+? No offence I’m just asking coz you’re Asian.” That was an actual question asked by an actual client to me, an actual Asian sex worker.  I cannot tell you how offended I was and needless to say the only thing this person caught off me was angry vitriol. 

At a pub with an acquaintance I had described the Australian Sex Worker rights movement, the importance of sex worker organisations and the reflected on the reasons I was not only a sex worker but an active advocate for our rights.  The conversation (and our relationship) went downhill when they said, “that’s all well and good for you, but what about the thousands of sex slaves in Australia? ”

During a public forum I organised as part of the Melbourne Festival of Sex Work, a member of the audience and came up to me and disclosed that he had regularly visited a Asian brothel but he felt overwhelmingly guilty because he could not tell if the sex worker he was seeing was a “trafficked victim” or not.  He had conversations with this sex worker but still could not be entirely persuaded to believe that the sex worker was there by choice, even though that is what she had repeatedly articulated to him.

These incidents are a constant reminder of my place within the Australian consciousness- I am presumed to be a vulnerable victim of exploitation, unworthy of being trusted, incapable of agency and in dire need of rescue.  I must be stripped of my human rights, indeed my humanity, in order to fit within the public’s understanding of who I am: an Asian Sex Worker.  

Trans Sex Workers in Thailand Support each other
The constant reporting of the supposed tragedies faced by Asian sex workers is a relentless kick to the guts.  Not merely because I am an Asian Sex Worker and these tales do not at all reflect my experience of sex work, but more so because I am an advocate for sex worker rights whose goal is to work towards a future where me and my community are not perceived to be the bottom rung of Australian society.  These reports do nothing but keep us down. 

Adding extra bitterness to this disappointment is the fact that I have had contact with these journalists.  Both Maris Beck of the Age and Beau Donnelly of the Port Phillip Review, in my conversations with them, had expressed a desire to be respectful of sex workers and listen to their voices.  It is such a shame that neither of these wishes is reflected in their writing.  The bigger shame is that these stories broadcast to the sex worker community a clear message: “We are not interested in your stories unless you fit into our agenda”. They forfeit the trust of sex workers who exercise agency about choosing to be a sex worker (the majority of my community) and, in turn, our stories are seldom told.  Without this authentic perspective being made available to the broader community, enough ignorance is created to perpetuate the prejudice against Asian sex workers. 

The fact of the matter is there is high value attached to the stereotype of the poor exploited Asian sex worker victimised by criminal Asian syndicates- and the money is not flowing our way.  Academics and journalists have built their careers on it and non-government organisations have made an industry of convincing the public that I am some sort of hapless victim. Project Respect, repeatedly referred to in media reports of trafficking as somehow an authority on the sex industry , has an agenda to see the entire sex industry re-criminalised.  It’s interesting, the organisation claims to see approximately 20 “victims of human trafficking” annually, that is  0.2% of the estimated 10,000 sex workers in Victoria, yet this organisation not only provides the representative case studies that journalists base their media coverage on, they are influential at a policy level.  All of this would be harmless charity- except it’s not. 

Cambodian Sex Workers protest
 against police abuse
The rights of sex workers- particularly Asian sex workers- are constantly being undermined.  In addition to the episodes of racism I have experienced directly, this prejudice entrenches itself in the policy and practice of sex work regulation.  Throughout our community we have heard of sex industry workplaces targeted by the race of workers alone.  Where premises have workers from a range of ethnicities, Asian sex workers are sorted out from the rest to be questioned.  Despite the fact the majority of migrant sex workers come from countries such as New Zealand, the USA and the UK, rarely do these sex workers face the same scrutiny as their Asian colleagues.  When discussing our industry, “does not speak English” is treated as an indicator of exploitation.  According to current Victorian advertising regulations I’m not even allowed to say I am Asian, doing so places me at risk of receiving a $5,633 fine.   And while some commentators may point out that this policy applies to everyone regardless of ethnicity, it is undeniable that this policy has much more of an impact on sex workers of colour than it does anyone else.  With the sheer number of the examples of the victimisation of Asian workers it's hard to feel much other than that these are part of the wider racist agenda in Australia.

Sex Workers in South Korea threaten self-immolation in 
protest against the crackdown on their workplaces
Further supporting the investment in the ‘Asian sex workers as victims’ paradigm are the entrenched systemic causes of issues of non-compliance and clandestine activity.  While much attention is paid to alleged exploitative intentions rarely are the more mundane factors examined.  While licensees of non-English speaking backgrounds are over represented amongst CAV’s reporting of non-compliant operators, there is a negligence to report that all of the information resources regarding sex work regulation only comes in one language: English.  

Hong Kong Sex Worker Organisation Zi Teng
Just as ignored is the discriminatory immigration policy that prohibits single women flying in from Asia.  Sex workers wanting to enter Australia cannot elect to do so in an open and transparent way. Instead, they are forced by our policy to engage with agents who organise not only the workplaces and accommodation for these sex workers but facilitate the process that circumvents Australia’s closed door, which may include bribing government officials or paying a male companions to create the facade these women are not single. The expense of this whole process might amount to $40,000 and is then charged to the sex worker (this what is interpreted as debt bondage), which she can pay off in about 2-3 months.  If the Australian government was serious about addressing this problem it could bust the business model of these supposed traffickers, just as it is interested in doing so for people smugglers, by granting working visas to migrant sex workers, as has been recommended by sex workers for years . The product of supposed “people traffickers” is passage, this is an easy enough demand to eliminate with small, cost neutral changes.  But no, if I was a more cynical sex worker I could suggest that the government’s inertia on this issue is more indicative of an interest in maintaining the problem. 

The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Worker
Projects, in Kolkata for the
Sex Worker Freedom Festival
These causes are not sexy topics of conversation.  People would rather read about stories of desperation, victimisation and exploitation.  It’s easier to believe that there are evil exploiters in the world and the solution is to stamp them out.  It’s hard for Australians to believe that their own policy is complicit in the perceived problems of human trafficking.  It’s hard for Australians to believe that people of colour from countries much poorer than our own and who speak a language other than ours could have enough agency to stand and make a choice.  I am not saying that incidents of criminal activity do not exist in the sex industry, I’m saying, if one is genuinely interested in addressing these it cannot be done while ignoring or disrespecting the people who are not only most affected, but the people who are most familiar with the issues and are the people that can most effectively assist in the  implementation any resolution: sex workers. 

I am Asian. I choose to be a sex worker. I have as much control over my life as you do. I deserve to be respected as much as you are.  Just because I use my real name and my real face to tell this story shouldn’t make it less believable than some anonymous case study.  Asian sex workers deserve to be listened to and we don’t need anyone speaking on our behalf.  It’s time the Australian public puts away its prejudice and start listening to us. 

Within Australia, Asian Sex Workers are active in supporting each other as well as representing their own community. 

The Scarlet Alliance Migration Project is staffed by migrant sex workers and supports migrant sex workers and the services that may work with them.  Click here to read about the project, its message and how get contact them.

Organisations of sex workers exist across Australian States and some of these have sex workers of non-English speaking background providing peer education and support for migrant sex workers.  Two such organisations are SIN in South Australia and Respect Inc. in Queensland

Unsurprisingly, there is no funded sex worker organisation in Victoria.  

Monday, 13 August 2012

ABC Radio: Fair Work blitz on sex industry clerical work

MARK COLVIN: The Fair Work Ombudsman is conducting a blitz on Victorian brothels. The campaign will focus on clerical employees in the industry, rather than sex workers.

The Victorian Sex Industry Network has cautiously welcomed the announcement. But it's warned the Ombudsman's office not to get caught up in a moral witch hunt.

Rachel Carbonell reports.

RACHEL CARBONELL: The Fair Work Ombudsman plans to audit about 100 brothels in Victoria, mostly in Melbourne but some in regional Victoria too.

Craig Bildstein is a director with the Ombudsman's office.

CRAIG BILDSTEIN: Each year we run between 5,000 and 7,000 targeted audits so it may be the hospitality sector, could be the cleaning industry, it could be the retail sector. Or in this latest case in Victoria it's the sex industry. But in particular our focus is on the clerical workers, the licensed brothel managers and the receptionists.

RACHEL CARBONELL: Craig Bildstein says it's possible clerical workers in the sex industry may be more reluctant than others to speak out about poor working conditions.

CRAIG BILDSTEIN: It's put to us that a large number of clerical workers in this industry would be female. They'd probably be young women. They're most likely from a non-English-speaking background. They probably have a limited professional and personal network which may be restricted to the industry.

I guess in other words they might be reluctant to rock the boat for fear of jeopardising their employment. So it's important for us to come in and ensure that the employers in these premises do understand their lawful obligations and to remind the staff that there is an employment regulator that can assist them if they are concerned.

RACHEL CARBONELL: The Fair Work Ombudsman is also concerned about sham contracting.

CRAIG BILDSTEIN: The suggestions that have been made to us at the moment is that some brothel owners are requiring their business managers for example to have an ABN and take on the position as contractors.

So obviously we're concerned to ensure that sham contracting is not in play in these premises so we'll be apprising the operators of the modern award, the Clerks-Private Sector Award 2010 and obviously the National Employment Standards.

RACHEL CARBONELL: But some in the sex industry are concerned that the clerical award isn't necessarily the best fit for those in the clerical part of the sex industry.

Christian Vega is a spokesperson for VIXEN, the Victorian Sex Industry Network.

CHRISTIAN VEGA: What I would caution is that there is this assumption that, yes the managers and receptionists do perform a clerical function but that is a small subsection of the skill set and knowledge base that is required to perform their role effectively.

We're talking about people who are in effective control of a workplace, quite often in late hours of the night, dealing with a clientele that can be unpredictable, that can be intoxicated. You know, these are not just normal admin office workers.

RACHEL CARBONELL: Christian Vega says some clerical workers in the sex industry are reluctant to speak out about poor pay and working conditions is because of the stigma attached to the industry and the moral judgements that are often made about it.

CHRISTIAN VEGA: The part that I guess I have concerns about is that whenever somebody does any sort of accountability or investigation into the sex industry, there is this automatic assumption that because things aren't running as they should do, there is either a criminal or an exploitative element that's present there. It has the potential of turning into a bit of a witch hunt.

RACHEL CARBONELL: But he says overall he's hopeful the Ombudsman's investigation will be positive.

CHRISTIAN VEGA: This investigation is a step towards decriminalisation and what that means is treating our industry just like any other industry. I think there should be, there needs to be a frank, open, objective discussion about working conditions in our industry.

And I would urge the Fair Work Ombudsman to actually look at the impact of stigma, you know, stigma that our industry faces on actual working conditions and the impact that it's had on things like reporting, you know, substandard work practices or pay conditions that aren't up to scratch.

MARK COLVIN: Christian Vega from the Victorian Sex Industry Network ending that report from Rachel Carbonell.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Supporting the Human Rights of Sex Workers: Sex Party Policy- And Damn Proud of It!

By Christian Vega, Sex Worker, Secretary of Victorian branch of the Australian Sex Party
Aristotle wrote, “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Conversely, when one has much to say one must be prepared for an onslaught. 

Such has been the fate of the Australian Sex Party in the aftermath of the 2012 Melbourne by-election.  Having been denied a win that was thought to be in the bag, the Victorian Greens have been indignant and rather than take time for some critical self reflection, the party and its supporters has sought to blame everyone else for their loss, targeting the younger and much smaller Sex Party in particular. 

 Megan Tyler, anti-sex industry colleague of senior Greens member, Kathleen Maltzahn, has joined the tirade (Political party or lobby group? The dark side of the Australian Sex Party, 31/07/2012). 

From the headline it’s clear her position, she doesn’t much like the Australian Sex Party. It’s a strange question to ask: Political Party or Lobby Group? Could this question not be asked of any political party? To support the interests of a part of the community- isn’t that what all political parties do? Perhaps she thinks we are somehow different...

One of the Sex Party Campaign pamphlets
Tyler writes, “The carefully selected policies that appear in Sex Party pamphlets, however, fail to mention what is at the centre of the party’s very being; a push for the full decriminalisation of prostitution.”

Well that’s sort of true.  Identified as best practice for human rights throughout the world by international public health bodies as well as Australian sex workers themselves, decriminalisation of the sex industry is a worthy enough goal that the Sex Party would, of course, adopt it as policy. Supported by evidence, upholding human rights, promoting civil liberties, good health outcomes and social justice, I am proud to be a member of a party that would make such a stand.  The centre of the Sex Party’s very being though?  Now that is a stretch.  The decriminalisation of sex work is no doubt an important policy, but to call it the centre? Hmm.   Perhaps if one is obsessed with the sex industry one may fail to notice the range of other policy areas that have shaped the Sex Party’s identity- Anti-Censorship, Equality and Anti-discrimination, Drug Law Reform- hall marks of our civil liberty platform that were around much earlier than our sex work policy.
Tyler portrays decriminalisation of sex work as “basically end the criminalisation of all forms of prostitution and make them free from any special government intervention,” and “legalisation means regulation and the sex industry would rather have free rein to boost its profits.”

This is a fallacy anti-sex work lobbyists often use: to equate decriminalisation with deregulation when the two are entirely different.  To clarify- decriminalisation is the removal of criminal codes related to sex work.  This does not mean that all activities under the label of sex work are allowed to happen; advocates for decriminalisation are not asking for the sex industry to operate “free rein.”  Decriminalisation is not an attempt to legitimise crime; child sexual exploitation and rape would remain illegal under the current criminal code.  It is an approach that seeks to clarify the distinction between acts that are clearly unacceptable and those that are legitimate. It is a system that has been introduced into New Zealand and more recently in Canada; the outcomes of adopting such an approach are clearly outlined in research: greater enablement of sex workers to exercise choices that make them less vulnerable, greater empowerment of sex workers to seek justice in instances of violence and other crimes , the number of sex workers remained stable and in the case of some street sex working sectors- had actually reduced.  Tyler and her ilk (those that have built a career that hinges on the perception that all sex workers are victims) must ignore this legitimacy in order for their position to hold. 
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
has called for the decriminalisation
 of sex work since 2008 
The fundamentals of decriminalisation are these: Sex Work is Work.  Therefore, Sex work should be regulated in the same way that every other occupation is regulated. When additional laws are in place (the current legislative situation in most states throughout Australia) they prevent the standards and conditions that can be expected in any other workplace (industrial relations, occupational health and safety and equal opportunity) from being applied to the sex industry. In short, we just want to be treated the same as everyone else.  This is the position of sex worker activists, this is the policy of the Australian Sex Party. 

Tyler claims, “Patten helped make the real aims of the party quite clear in the lead-up to the election when she claimed that the ASP didn’t attempt a preference deal with the Greens because of concerns about an “anti-sex feminist element” in the party.”

That is an interpretation built on an inaccuracy.  Firstly, the Sex Party did attempt to contact the Greens to talk preferences, as written in the Herald Sun and acknowledged by at least one Greens volunteer, “maybe [it’s] the Greens fault for not picking up the phone.” While it’s our concern that the anti-sex feminist compulsions may have prevented the Greens from engaging with us- and ultimately contributing to their defeat- it hardly defines the “aims of the party.”

Again, Tyler’s attempt to be coy is rather feeble “The “anti-sex” slur was most likely just a veiled reference to Kathleen Maltzahn, who served as a Greens local councillor in Yarra and stood as a Greens candidate in the 2010 Victorian state election.”

Even Maltzahn’s Wikipedia page doesn’t beat around the bush: “The Australian Sex Party have accused her of being an "anti-sex campaigner” and preferenced Labor ahead of the Greens in the election for the seat of Melbourne on July 21 2012 which caused The Greens narrow loss." The tensions between the Sex Party and Kathleen Maltzahn first began to influence the political relationship between the two parties during the state election in 2010.  During a radio interview on Joy 94.9, Maltzahn declared her preferences- even though they had yet to be finalised.  Perhaps it should have been expected but the supposed feminist had preferenced the only other female candidate last- perhaps it was because of that candidate’s status as a sex worker, perhaps it was because she was the Sex Party’s candidate.  Either way, Maltzahn- and by extension, the Greens- had sent a signal that they were not interested in working with us. 

Tyler continues to sing her colleague’s praises, “Maltzahn is also a prominent anti-trafficking campaigner and founder of Project Respect... Part of its vision is given as “a world where there is no longer demand for prostitution.” Now, why wouldn’t a sex industry lobby group be happy with that?”
Supporters of sex workers protest against Maltzahn, 2011

What Tyler fails to mention is that sex workers themselves reject the position of Project Respect.  To quote the Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association, “It was reported in a May 2004 Lateline interview that Project Respect, a Victorian NGO, had called for the re-criminalisation of the sex industry as a way of addressing what the Government refers to as the trafficking of women for the purpose of sexual servitude. These and other anti-sex work views have had a harmful impact on sex workers in Australia. However the anti-sex work lobby has been increasingly using the issue of trafficking to hide their broader agenda of making all sex work illegal.” Organisations such as Project Respect and Tyler’s CATWA are part of the ‘Rescue Industry’, a whole sector of NGOs who gain their funding through the portrayal of sex work as victimising and exploitative. Their positions often hijack supportive and harm reduction based responses for moralistic/abolitionist ones.  The Australian Sex Party believes that front line workers in the industry must be listened to in order to implement policy that is both informed and would support their human rights.  It’s clear that Tyler does not agree.

The Sex Party's Robbie Swan
Tyler, “Many of my colleagues are quite shocked to hear about the intimate relationship between the Sex Party and the sex industry” Uh, really? This may be the first accusation the political party has received that our name is too subtle.  But by establishing ambiguity, Tyler has created an opportunity to make yet another inaccurate interpretation: that when one says “sex industry” one must be talking about brothels, right? Actually, no.  As Robbie Swann explains in an this response to Guy Rundle’s attack on the Sex Party, “The Eros Association stopped taking brothel owners as members over a decade ago when it became the adult ‘retail’ association. As a result we now only have one brothel in Victoria as an associate member on a fee of $590 per year. The only other brothel to have supported the Sex Party with a donation of $500 was The Boardroom of Melbourne, a couple of years ago. Mr. Rundle’s [And Dr. Tyler’s] suggestion that the Victorian brothel owners are big supporters of the Eros Association is demonstrably untrue. Rundle [and Tyler] appear ignorant of the fact that the legal Victorian brothels have their own industry association anyway. The annual returns of both the Eros Association (an incorporated not for profit adult industry association) and The Sex Party (a registered political party) are on the public record.”

“That the commercial interests of the sex industry might occasionally clash with the pursuit of civil liberties, or other important things – like say, gender equality – is apparently unthinkable.” Yet another tired strategy used by anti-sex work moralists, positioning civil liberties against gender equality- as if the two are somehow incompatible.  Tyler fails to recognise the efforts made by the Sex Party regarding gender equality, it is party policy to promote greater inclusion of women in government, to strengthen current equal opportunity legislation and fight discrimination where it currently exists. 

Tyler Claims, “The Australian discussion around the sex industry exists largely in a bubble where liberal notions of choice reign supreme.” If only this were true.  Unfortunately, in the state of Victoria, the law is pretty clear (Sex Work Act 1994, Section 17 subsection 3): “A person must not publish or cause to be published a statement which is intended or likely to induce a person to seek employment as a sex worker; or in a brothel or with an escort agency or any other business that provides sex work services” In addition to prohibiting businesses from advertising for workers, this law also prohibits the distribution of information about working in the sex industry.  This means that the information that would help people make an informed choice about working (or even not working) in the sex industry is not currently available. For many of us, sex work is a choice but clearly it is not the dominant ideal, to claim that this notion “reigns supreme” is more than just a little exaggerated. 

Tyler writes: “This creates an unusual climate where it is thought that, to be progressive, you must be sympathetic to an industry that principally relies on the buying and selling of women.” Placing aside the rancid and disparaging characterisation that sex work is the “selling of women” (as opposed to the consensual trade of services provided by workers of all genders sexes and sexualities), what’s so unusually progressive about supporting people whose rights are being trounced every day? This is another attempt to conflate supporters of sex worker rights with proponents of exploitation, if you want to see similar examples of this one only needs to look back to a time when support for gay rights was touted as promoting paedophilia. 

“Elsewhere in the world, however, socialists, social democrats and other social progressives are moving towards understanding prostitution as a form of violence and as a barrier to women’s equality. In terms of legislation, this is epitomised by the Nordic Model, which criminalises the buying of sexual services, but decriminalises selling” Tyler is speaking about legislation that was adopted in Sweden.  By saying “social progressives” I’m wondering if she is referring to writers of not only this policy, but the policy of sterilisation of transgender people seeking gender reassignment surgery, the forced sterilisation of people with a disability and the zero tolerance approach to drug use.  Yeah, real progressive...

Swedish academic, Petra Ostregren
opposes the Swedish Model
“Despite mounting evidence that the Nordic Model is effective in curtailing prostitution and sex trafficking, it continues to be derided and dismissed in Australia.” Rebranding the ‘Swedish Model’ (perhaps she feels the brand has been too damaged), Tyler ignores the mountain of evidence produced by academics around the world as well as within Sweden itself, that demonstrates how ineffective and harmful the legislative framework is.

“Earlier this year, for instance, the Kirby Institute at UNSW released a report on the sex industry in New South Wales, which claimed that the difference between the Nordic Model and full criminalisation (often favoured by conservative political regimes) may be “largely illusory”.” At this point of her piece, Tyler reveals much about the approach one must take in order to stand in a tenuous position as she does.  Clearly, one has to ignore a highly respected academic body has conducted evidence based peer reviewed research in order to commit to a position that oppresses sex workers.  This “pre-scientific” approach is often adopted by sex work prohibitionist and is well documented.  

“It also trotted out the tired claim that criminalising the buying of sexual services automatically positions “sex workers as victims”.” Actually, the most significant portrayers of “sex workers as victims” were the policy writers to first put together Tyler’s beloved ‘Nordic Model’.  This re-emerges the Swedish government’s evaluation of the abolition of sex work: “[Sex workers] describe themselves as having chosen to prostitute themselves and don’t see themselves as being involuntarily exposed to anything.  Even if it’s not forbidden to sell sex, they feel hunted by the police.  They feel as if they’ve been declared incapable of managing their own affairs in that their actions are tolerated, but their will and choices are not respected.  Further, they believe it is possible to distinguish between voluntary and forced prostitution… (These) negative effects of the ban that they describe can almost be regarded as positive when viewed from the perspective that the aim of the law is to combat prostitution.”  So basically the Swedish model says that sex workers’ sense of stigma, being hunted down and lack of respect are good things, a means to an end.  And Tyler wonders why such a framework is derided in Australia. 

“Assertions such as these continue to fuel an odd situation in Australia. If, when talking about prostitution, you raise issues of exploitation or structural inequality – traditionally hallmarks of Marxist analyses – you get accused of being a right-wing moralist.” No Tyler, no one is calling you a moralist because of your views on equality and human rights, we call you a moralist because you are not willing to apply these to sex workers.  The policies she advocates for are demonstrably harmful towards women, she would rather see us without rights, without protection in an ineffective effort to stamp us out, regardless of the cost. 

“But perhaps this constant bias shouldn’t be surprising in a country where the sex industry not only has its own political party but has also managed to con a bunch of academics, among others, into voting for it.”

Let’s look at what is clear- there are two sides of the debate- pro-sex work and anti-sex work.

Fiona Patten, Speaking at a rally for
sex worker rights earlier this year
 Whatever you believe, the Australian Sex Party -with its sex work supportive policies, it’s consultation with sex workers, it inclusion of sex workers with in its membership and its pre-selection of sex workers as candidates- is very clear about where it stands in this debate- we are not trying to con anyone.  I think The Sex Party has done a great job in promoting discussion of the issue and if people listen to sex workers and happen to agree with them- I don’t think that’s a con. Tyler seems to be labouring under the delusion that people couldn’t possibly make up their own minds to agree with us or not; just as she believes that I could not possibly freely choose to do sex work. 

 On the other hand, the Victorian Greens have not been as transparent.  When Kathleen Maltzahn was pressed on radio during the 2010 state election campaign about her party’s stance on sex work she denied her party had any, despite her party’s website clearly stating it will “end the criminalisation of consensual adult sex work.” Perhaps this omission was an innocent oversight or perhaps it indicates an awareness of the tension within the Greens, that such moralistic conservatism is best covered up- after all it did just cost them valuable support that could have secured them a win in the Melbourne by-election.  So what’s it going to be Victorian Greens- Are you pro- or anti- sex workers?

Monday, 6 August 2012

Whore Pride- A Short Film

So this was a digital story I made a couple of years ago.  It's a snapshot of achievements I had made at the time.  Sex Workers, stigmatised and hiding, are often erased and silenced throughout history.  I refuse to be made invisible.  I am here.  We are here, and if I have anything to do with it, we will not be forgotten.  

I've been lucky enough to screen in a few times alongside other digital stories by other sex workers.  I've even taken these stories across the planet to share with other sex workers.  

I'm really grateful to Zero-One-Zero, an amazing, community minded multimedia collective who gave me the skills to put this- and so many future projects- together.