Like the car crash you can’t look away from….
I explained my suspicion of the anti trafficking rhetoric and I promised I wouldn’t leave it there. I want to tell you about the harms being created by the trafficking hysteria because the problem is not only misinformation and preconceived stereotypes, it has actual detrimental real and measurable effects on the daily lives of sex workers, Asian sex workers in particular. Get a load of this:
Knee jerk reactions to the 4 corners one sided story on trafficking in the sex industry resulted in immediate promises from law makers to introduce tougher laws. The four corners ‘expose’ relied on one sad story, lots of bad recreations, the occasional sound bite from experts only where it backed up the ongoing spin and ofcourse sex work abolitionist and founder of project respect, Kathleen Maltzhern. All set to a predictably dark and sinister soundtrack. Well done 4 Corners award, you certainly got people to bite. even before airing of the show and still continuing media are all over it, opportunists using it and the politicians responded.
Now specifically and admittedly in response to 4 corners sensationalism New South Wales is likely to “toughen up laws on brothels”. NSW has the best laws in the country, and just like that it’s going to be taken away. And WA have just introduced a bill into parliament that among other shockers, criminalises ALL migrant sex workers. Even if you don’t share my opinion about the lack of actual trafficking in our industry, surely you understand that bad laws are not the answer. We already have laws about trafficking, how about we use them rather than making more and more laws that only serve to push us all further underground and make it more difficult for all of us in every way and do not work. Awesome 4 corners is now creating our public policy.
And in states like South Australia, where we are all illegal anyway, it means Asian brothels get raided more often. elping the sex slaves by regularly arresting, harassing and intimidating Asian sex workers, their employers and their clients more than usual. Despite all the hundreds of sex work related charges laid each year, there are very few cases of trafficking ever found. And the few cases where victims of trafficking have been identified, criminalisation did not or would not have helped them. And in some cases victims were not treated appropriately by the cops.
Not only are sex workers generally feeling the effects of harmful laws, and Asian sex workers get more attention from the police, but, our saviours come out of the woodwork, ready to sniff out the sex slave and try out their scriptures or skills. What this means for us? More patronising visits from various health services, church groups or any other outsiders forcing themselves into our workspaces and being inappropriate. In Adelaide, it’s RAHAB. A church group who run a ministry training course charging young Christians good money to do outreach to sex workers. These people visit Asian brothels (among other parts of the industry), forcing themselves onto people while they are at work, often with nothing translated, nothing practical to offer and asking personal questions. Sex workers feel pressured to play along and be friendly because there is a suspicion that they will inform the police if they are not allowed in to a particular premises (on the presumption that we must be harbouring slaves). No one in the industry wants to talk to them, they are untrained and inexperienced christians who say completely offensive things and give us patronising bars of soap and deodorant sticks as bribes. They have even been known to break the conidentiality of one Chinese woman in a serious and kind of shocking way.
Not that publicly outing someone matters when you’re intent on saving a sex slave. People and their lives are just vehicles for furthering an agenda in most cases. Victoria’s Project respect, headed up by the afore-mentioned Kathleen Maltzhern whose agender shone through the 4 corners special, was trading on the misery. Sure enough no sooner had the show finished but there were calls for donations to her organisation everywhere. As mentioned in my previous post on the subject, everyone jumped on board ready to ride the wave, all hoping to get some air time, or some funding or public support. From big sex industry business associations wanting to minimise competition to abolitionist feminists and church groups. And they are all getting the airtime and using it to make things worse while groups that actually represent us desperately need the same support.
And I suggest a lot of the willingness to believe the hype is due to a touch of racism effecting people’s views of Asian women and preconceived ideas about sex work generally. Add that to some sad music and some recreations and the proble seems likely. And so it feeds your views of sex workers and Asian women further. It’s a vicious cycle. I once heard a woman who did outreach with a church based group speak at (one of the many) anti trafficking forums. She told a story about the night she saw trafficking with her own eyes in a South Australian brothel. It was late one night and she said she couldn’t really know for sure if “lets call her Lucy” (her words not mine) was trafficked or not, but it seemed probable for the following reasons (explained in a sad knowing kind of way):
1. “Lucy” didn’t engage at all with the christian outreach worker but sat quietly in the corner listening, with a “sad look on her face”
2. “Lucy” didn’t speak English
3. “Lucy’s” Thai boss spoke English and chatted with the church outreach woman and explained how “Lucy” lives in Melbourne and is only in Adelaide for 2 weeks and will be going home soon.
4. The Thai female boss had a white Australian boyfriend who likes to travel.
That was it.
She told this story to a room full of other keen would be “helpers” and interested public who didn’t seem to bat an eyelid. I shudder to think what urban myths that presumptuous story has now created, and the effects of that story being recreated over dinner tables everywhere.
Can i just mention as a side note, that the constant portrayal of Asian women and sex workers as submissive, exploited and/or abused, is not good for business. It keeps the good clients away and attracts the creeps!
It’s like – what do you want from us?! No one is listening unless we give them victim porn! Reading the accounts by Nicholas Kristof in this awful book (that was a best seller but I had to abandon half way through) about buying the freedom of young sex workers in places like India and Thailand, and he spends an uncomfortable amount of time describing her physical features and her sad brown eyes, before going on to gloat about his own saint like characteristics. JUST PAY HER AND LEAVE HER ALONE ALREADY NICHOLAS!! And you lot just eat it up. Salivate for it even. White saviours rescuing pretty young sex slaves and returning them to innocence. To the point that for some people to believe me, i first need to break down and disclose any traumatic experience i may have had right there in front of you. Before you even hear me! Here – Elena says it better than me.
(Stick with me on this, I am getting to the friendly bits where I hand out all the answers)