Recently there was a drinks night in Sydney for one of the review forums. There was some concern for the welfare of attendees, when some (researched, and many elements of which substantiated) allegations were discovered that could put their safety and privacy at risk. These risks included the possibility of arrest and public outing for sex workers. As a result, a warning was circulated so that people planning to go to along would be fully informed and could best protect themselves from any possible trouble. The allegations were at no time claimed to be fact but suggestions were offered as a safeguard.
End of story. Right? Wrong.
A lot of people are clinging to the belief that these claims were simple rumour and fear mongering, developed for no reason other than to destroy a drinks night. If only this were true.
Dominique Diaz and I circulated this warning both on social media and through sex worker only networks. Bizarrely, we received critique and even abuse for doing so. Some people accused us and other sex workers of lying about a range of things, in response to the sharing of valuable information and experience by these workers. (Remember when I mentioned the researching/substantiation part?)
Since all this began, it's been a sad reminder of the lack of sex worker and client solidarity that suddenly appears when it comes to punter forums. I'm not sure why the very mention of them somehow causes levels of rabid defence for the forum that I'd love to see generated for the sex work community. To see sex workers participating in this nasty attitude towards peers who are simply trying to have their backs is particularly distressing.
Most people who know me know my opinion on forums. Whilst they have their pluses (some more than others), I am not aware of a single Australian punter run forum currently in existence that does not routinely display and perpetuate whorephobia, stigma, discrimination, and utter disregard for sex worker human rights, safety, privacy and boundaries. The fact that there are people wandering around in the world right now who manage to miss these obvious truths leaves me in bewildered despair, but that’s their blind, denial fuelled, possibly male privileged, view.
But, what anyone thinks of forums, cesspit or nirvana, is not the point here. If I think sex workers are at risk ever, what do you think I’m going to do?
In the event that I am provided with reliably checked out information that my community might be at risk, what do you think I should do? This is an interesting question. Ignore it? Close my eyes and block my ears and pretend I’m in a fantasy dream land where forums and everything to do with them exist in a bubble of rainbows and butterflies, and just blow it off? Get dramatically offended for and defensive of a forum that is plainly and clearly flawed anyway and decide that there are people out there who are so bored that they just want to mess around with a drinks event?
You might notice that all those options have one thing in common – kicking sex worker safety down to the bottom of the ladder. You might be comfortable with that, but I’m not. You might have decided that you’re not impressed with my decision to utilise reliable information to potentially protect my community. (I know some people have, because they took the time to waste their breath to tell me.) It’s ok, I’m used to people expecting that sex workers’ interests be cast aside. That our safety is not as important as the safety of the general population. That we should just put up with the status quo that supports the denial of our rights and that it is not our right – even more, it is directly suggested that it is not in our best interests – to stand up and claim our rights to health, safety and boundaries from entitled, privileged men who like to pretend they have the power to make declarations upon us about what our rights are.
I am used to it, but don’t expect me to shut up and tolerate it.
Let’s try to remember that this whole thing actually has nothing to do with punter forums. Or drinks nights. Or ruining everyone’s precious evening. Sure, it's beyond offensive to my sensibilities that I could be arrested for enjoying a glass of wine in the company of clients (yes, I could be - solicitation is illegal in licensed premises, there is an actual law the police could easily refer to in this circumstance). Offence aside, the warning was concerned with the safety of sex workers. Whenever I see my community at risk, it is imperative for the health of the strongly ethical part of my brain for me to do what I can to help. Sex worker safety is serious. Whether you can grasp the concept of being arrested, and being outed as a sex worker or not, the concept is a serious one. Ruining your evening is so far removed, both in relevance and in gravity, from the actual issue here that it's not even in the same stratosphere.
If I invited you round to my place for afternoon tea and there was a legitimate reason for and tangible (remember the reseaching!) risk of you getting arrested, and being outed as a client of sex workers to your wife/family/coworkers/the public, would you not expect me to let you know? Would you not think that it was your right to know?
This is what this issue is really about. Rights. When I see people carrying on that we are out of line in sharing material that could support sex workers, what I hear is, “Sex workers do not have the right to be safe. Sex workers do not have the right to protect themselves. The mere suggestion of considering sex worker safety is a waste of everyone’s time”. This whole issue is so prevalent in so many contexts for us, and it just becomes so exhausting. When you develop an awareness around this, you find it in many places that others often just shrug off. Let me attempt to demonstrate by briefly listing some examples of the spectrum of this.
I hear those same cries echoing in my ears when:
- sex workers making reports to police are not believed, or told they deserve what happened to them (“because you have to expect these things to happen if you're going to do this job” – actual quote from a police officer I spoke to when discussing a stalking problem)
- decriminalisation is reconsidered even for a millisecond in my state
- jokes are made about dead hookers in boots of cars or extra points are given in video games for the murder/assault of sex workers
- sex workers are legally denied medical care because of their occupation (yes, medical practitioners are allowed to deny us care citing conscientious objection)
- antis who think it’s perfectly fine to tell me I’m an idiot, a slut, dirty, an enemy of women everywhere and less of a person because I simply claim the right to do my job
- a client who thinks it’s ok to place the rights and feelings of a sex worker beneath his, disregard the value of the worker’s time, feelings or business, or stalk, hassle or aggravate the worker
- sex workers who take the time to protect their community from the threat of arrest and outing are disparaged and mocked.
If sharing a few dot points of warning before a drinks event is so offensive to you, #sorrynotsorry. If you want to roll your eyes and ignore a chance to understand the complexity of whorephobia and how it infiltrates our lives, that’s your call.
If you care about sex workers, whether as a lover of our industry, an activist, a fellow sex worker, or as someone who just cares because we’re people too, thank you for reading. You can’t be an ally selectively. Sex worker rights are human rights. End of story.