Today is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, held annually on December 17, and I am here to talk to you about how you can play a role in reducing violence-enabling stigma and discrimination against sex workers in our communities!
Each and every one of you will know at least one sex worker in your life, but the number is probably much higher. Many of my loved ones are sex workers, and its likely many of yours are as well!
So read on to learn what you can do to support your sex worker friends and their colleagues!
Remove stigmatising language from your vocabulary. Stop using terms like prostitute, whore, hooker, ho(e). The term accepted internationally is “sex worker” and that is the one you should use when talking about sex work or workers.
This means you may no longer be able to share those funny memes and pop culture references that you love so much. It means you can’t share that one quote from your fave movie, or refer to your promiscuity in any way that uses these words. I don’t care if you like to sleep around on the weekend, unless you’re doing it for money you’re not allowed to call yourself a whore. Suck it up and stop sharing the memes. Stop sharing memes of hotel door tags with slogans like “Please remove the dead hooker from my room”, and don’t buy wine that uses a dead hooker as its logo.
Call the media the fuck out. In the Northern Territory we have a shameful excuse for a newspaper, which often gleefully writes headlines and articles about sex workers and is complicit in making violence against sex workers a joke. In 2004 two Darwin sex workers, Noi and Poncee, were thrown off the Adelaide River bridge. They were alive, but unconscious, and they drowned, their bodies were found down the river. At the time the NT News made the headline a joke about crocodiles, and the article focused on how they were scantily clad, rather than the tragedy of their deaths.
In 2014 Mayang Prasetyo, a trans sex worker, was murdered, dismembered, and cooked on the stove by her husband. The media surrounding her death was not only highly transphobic (one news outlet using “tr*nny” to refer to her), but focused heavily on her job as a sex worker.
The media loves to use sex workers for their articles, because it’s a way they can exploit the view of society that sex work is scandalous and yucky for reader interest and outrage. If you see this happening, call it out! Write a comment, send a letter to the editor, make a complaint. Use your voice to speak up. A lot of sex workers can’t speak out in this way without “outing” themselves, so use your privilege to speak up in these situations.
In April 2013 Jill Meagher was raped and murdered in Melbourne. Her disappearance was huge news across the country. Her murderer was Adrian Bayley, a man who had a history of violent crimes against women, including sex workers, which stretched for two decades. In 2000 he kidnapped, imprisoned, and violently raped five sex workers in just six months. He received a sentence of only 8 years for those attacks. He was allowed to be paroled, and then while on parole he punched a man unconscious in Geelong. His parole was not revoked and he continued to walk free to murder Jill Meagher.
Jill Meagher’s husband spoke out and said that the justice system had failed Jill as well as Bayley’s previous victims because it treated Bayley differently because his previous victims were sex workers.
“I’m aware his previous victims in previous cases before Jill were sex workers, and I’ll never be convinced that doesn’t have something to do with the lenience of his sentence,” he said. “Put it like this: if he’d raped five people like Jill that many times in that brutal a fashion, I don’t think he would have served eight years in prison.”
He says that “sends a disturbing message”.
“What it says to women is if we don’t like what you do, you won’t get justice,” he said. “And what it says to people like Bayley is not ‘don’t rape’, but ‘be careful who you rape’.”
A week or so after the murder of Jill Meagher, a sex worker was abducted, raped, murdered, and her body dumped just like Jill. Because of her work there was barely a ripple in the media, and I can assure you that if Jill had been a sex worker then the media circus would have been about a spectacle of a dead hooker rather than outrage about the shocking and awful murder of a young woman.
Our views as a society against sex workers, and the violence perpetrated against them, means that lenient sentences like these are given without complaint from the community. If you have concerns about lenient sentences given to people who are violent towards sex workers then speak out by writing to your local government. Let your voice and anger at this injustice be heard.
One of the most common form of violence against sex workers is family violence, and you can help by always speaking up against family and domestic violence in your community. Campaign for funding from the government to support DV organisations, and protest funding cuts to these same organisations.
Full and total decriminalisation of sex work is supported by the World Health Organisation, United Nations, and Amnesty International. It is far and away the best policy to support sex workers in our community, reduce violent crimes against sex workers, and reduce the stigma and discrimination that they face. Decriminalisation also reduces instances of human sex trafficking.
Support decriminalisation in your local state/territory/country.
If you know that one of your friends is a sex worker, then respect them and their work. Listen to what they tell you about how they want to be heard, addressed, spoken to/about, and what they want you to do (if anything) to support them. Maybe they want you to speak up when someone is being whorephobic, or maybe they want you share articles about decriminalisation.
Do not ever “out” a sex worker to someone else. A sex worker will choose who they are “out” to about their job, and that is their choice alone. Do not assume someone would already know about your friend, just stay silent and choose a different topic.
Do not ask for “juicy” information about their work. Do not ask them what the “weirdest” thing they ever did at work. Do not assume that they want to talk to you about their (or your) sex lives. Do not touch them without their permission.
Do not talk over a sex worker when they’re discussing sex work. They are more infinitely more qualified to discuss their work than you.
I hope that this post helps you to be more prepared to support sex workers in your lives, and in your communities!
Please see below for further reading: