So here’s what Tess had to say:
- Given that I spent eight years working in Canberra’s studios and still know many Canberra studio workers, I hope that my experience will lend me some credibility when engaging in this enormous discussion.
There is really no point in saying that I’m different because I’m independent. I worked in studios for a long time, and I enjoyed it and found it to be empowering, fun, interesting and positive. Some haven’t had that type of experience, and I acknowledge that each individual has led their own life and their experiences are valid whether they are similar to mine or not. However, to say that the only experience a person can have as a sex worker is negative, whether in a studio or elsewhere, is painting with a broad brush to your own agenda.
Of course I realise that there are people whose minds are made up, and can always find some way of justifying their own position despite any evidence to the contrary. The argument that my experiences must be different to everyone else’s is a common one, although it never seems to correlate that a negative experience also isn’t everyone’s. It’s so much more comfortable to acknowledge that which meshes with your own beliefs. Cognitive Dissonance wins again.
Sex workers who work in studios are not forced to. They can choose where they want to work and if the conditions, rules, receptionists, other workers or general environment aren’t to their liking they can go to a different one.
Some studios have strict rules, some have almost none. Some have a policy against drug or alcohol use, some take the view that it is the workers’ choice. Those who say that the sex industry in general, or the Canberra industry in particular, is ‘rife with drugs, underage girls, organised crime and violence’ are indulging in a rather twisted fantasy.
Why they are choosing to indulge in it is something that I’m not sure I want to explore, but it’s quite common for people to eagerly repeat stories of sex slavery and other sexualised violence against women with a lascivious gleam in their eye while mouthing disapproval. There are times when I can only shake my head in astonishment.
What happened with Janine Cameron is a tragedy, but it would be no less of a tragedy were she to have died elsewhere.
There are drugs all through society, at every level. Please note that when I refer to drugs I really mean drugs and alcohol. Some people use them, some don’t. Some use them for a lifetime without any negative impact, some use for a day and everything falls apart. Sometimes it ends in death, and I would hope that everyone would feel regret at that outcome.
Some people seem to think that cracking down on drug use will stop these problems. Despite the evidence that countries which have a no tolerance policy on drug use and no NSP have negative health and community outcomes.
What happens when drug users have to hide their drug use because of increased harassment? It becomes more dangerous. It increases the risk that if they overdose they won’t have anyone to help them, that they will be rushed and damage themselves while using, that they will take less time and be less careful about how they use. That can result in increases in incidents of death from overdose, Hep C infection, endocarditis and vein problems.
I applaud Simon Corbell for taking the time to get informed about the Canberra sex industry before speaking out, for meeting with sex workers to discuss the current issues, speaking with the police about their interactions with the industry, and for not jumping on the political bandwagon. He’d be much more popular if he was making uninformed statements about the industry needing to be more heavily regulated, but he didn’t take that easy route. Before any conspiracy theorists start, he is not a client of mine and I disagree with some of his past actions, but credit where it is due (sorry dexi, but I know you’ll still love me in the morning, no?).
The Canberra Times should be ashamed of that article. Their inclusion of Julie was unnecessary, not to mention irrelevant to the death of Janine Cameron, as was most of their unrelated incidents that they threw in like a dog’s breakfast. Because Julie was a sex worker her death is in some way related to the industry? How rude. Given the plethora of information floating around Canberra about that court case the Times would surely be aware that it was not. It makes such good copy though, doesn’t it?
For the feminists: please stop reading the likes of Sheila Jefferies, try some Roberta Perkins to even out the perspective.
Those who seek to control our sexuality through feminism are ignoring our right to autonomy and are in fact more insidious and damaging than the worst sexist male, who can be dismissed easily as a relic. A woman saying that the sex other women engage in should be controlled and certain types eliminated is respected as though she is somehow free from bias or cultural conditioning. It is wise to remember that feminists are subject to the same influences as everyone else in society.
I’m still not sure why people assume that regular exposure to male genitals and money would cause a reduction in intelligence, autonomy and strength of character, who knew that that the penis was so potent?
Many sex workers, myself included, are feminists but we tend to form our own opinions on the rhetoric. We could perhaps be described as some of the most radical feminists, in as far as we are distanced even from the feminist movement by those who should be our strongest supporters. Xenophobia manifests in many ways.
The well intentioned ignorant do more damage to the rights of the individual than any regime.
I know there are studies which say that sex workers experience high levels of assault, mental health issues, drug use, etc. I’ve seen them. Most of those studies tend to be from countries which have criminalised or heavily regulated industries, with few exceptions. There are often problems in their methodology including interview techniques, testing protocols, collation and statistical analyses. You should never believe everything you read in a study, you should carefully check their methodology, their critics, their publishing history, the type of journal it was published in, whether the journal is peer-review, their references, whether the study passed an ethics committee and which one, whether it was academic or privately funded and the background and qualifications of those who ran it.
Try looking at the Australian studies that show a very different picture of the industry to those cited by anti-prostitution campaigners, which show high levels of education, job satisfaction and autonomy amongst Australian sex workers. If you can go to the effort of finding the negative studies, then finding the positive ones should be just as easy. If you are confident in your assessment of the industry then you shouldn’t be afraid to look at the other side of the coin.
As for the Swedish model, everyone loves that one except the sex workers in Sweden who have to live under it.
A short excerpt from Petra Östergren, ‘Sexworkers Critique of Swedish prostitution Policy’ says:
“…sex workers in Sweden experience difficulty in finding accommodation and constantly worry about being discovered. Consequently, they are either forced to move or pay exorbitant rents. They cannot increase their level of safety by working in pairs or groups and find it difficult to have any sort of domestic or family life as they are considered to be unfit parents. Östergren writes that sex workers find the law paradoxical, illogical and discriminatory. ‘It further obstructs their work and exposes them to danger.’ The better clients have gone away but the more dangerous and perverted ones remain and when apprehended are likely to deny that they paid for sex, if indeed they have. Greater competition leads to lower prices, but this only means that women take risks and are more likely to perform acts that they would have refused previously. Sex workers feel hunted by the police and dare not report abusive customers. However, they still feel stigmatised as weak, dirty and mentally ill, or as having drug problems. Some of the sample interviewed by Östergren reported that they felt used by politicians, feminists and the media who brag and tell lies about the beneficial effect of the Swedish law in comparison with other countries. They are only listened to if they say the politically correct thing.”
More can be found here for those that are interested:
I’m afraid that it’s true, many people choose sex work who have other options. The studies I mentioned earlier show that sex workers come from all walks of life, and that’s consistent with the range of people I have met through the industry. Does the choice of a woman without a University education have any less validity than that of those who are qualified as nurses, teachers, academics, lawyers and social workers? I tend toward the view that each individual has the right to make their own choices without needing to justify them to others, and certainly not to strangers who persist in referring to them as victims.
Some people have asked why sex workers don’t tend to discuss our work with friends and relatives (or strangers on websites), and then go on to say that we must be ashamed, and that shame is what we should be feeling. Those attitudes are precisely why people don’t discuss it. Why should we expose ourselves to such unwarranted vitriol? Is it our responsibility to have that fight every single time we meet someone new?
You can’t win an argument with an ignorant person.
There are some here (and everywhere) who won’t listen to a word I say, because they don’t want to. It’s better to remain ignorant, because ignorance is bliss, I can see that and even sympathise a little. It must make life a lot easier, god knows mine would be if I believed everything I read in the Times. Why should we publicly proclaim ourselves sex workers and then defend our choices? It just can’t stack up against evidence like ‘What some bloke down the pub told me’, ‘What I saw on A Current Affair last night’ and the all time classic ‘Everybody knows that…’.
Thank goodness there are those who are willing to listen to all points of view before forming an opinion, and who have the moral strength to reassess even their most treasured opinions whenever new information comes to light.
Several people have pointed out that I, and those other sex workers who have commented here in a positive way about the industry, do not answer questions about our personal lives, relationships and partners. When we choose not to discuss it, because it is in fact no one’s business but our own, they jump to the immediate conclusion that the real reason for not telling complete strangers everything about our personal lives must be because our relationships are flawed or non existent.
For the record, the majority of sex workers I have known have been in relationships while working. They tend to break up, make up, fight, love, have children, be romantic and all the other things involved in a relationship just as much or as little as everyone else. The only real difference is in the ‘type’ (god help us we just can’t escape the stereotyping) of partner they have. The partners are men, women, trans, het, bi, gay, young, old and every conceivable variation on human you can think of.
The one thing they aren’t though, is people who judge us for our work.
So to the whole ‘all sex work is wrong.. wrong.. WRONG’ gang, please feel free to MYOB. I don’t need your respect, I have my own.
…and that of my family, friends and coworkers. 😉