Unions NT were joined by a group of sex worker activists. There was so much to discuss that we have split them up into three episodes!
Below is a transcript of our discussion as well as all the references we used!
SWRG PODCAST Episode 2[ Introduction music plays]
Anastasia: Hi, I’m Anastasia and I am here with Lithira
Lithira: We both work at Unions NT and we just formed the Unions Young Workers Centre.
Anastasia: Yeah, the young workers centre has given us so many really exciting opportunities to talk to young people in the Territory and see what kind of issues are affecting them at work.
Lithira: So because we come across so many people ah we have decided to do a podcast. This current one is about sex workers and their experiences and struggle. Please stay tuned as we bring you good industrial content.
Prada: The Northern Territory sex worker reference group would like to acknowledge that we are speaking on land belonging to the Larrakia people. We recognise their continuing connection to the land, water and community. Sovereignty was never ceded. We pay respect to elder’s past, present and emerging, we also wish to pay respect to aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sex workers, past and present who have been a part of our community.
Anastasia: Thank you for speaking with us today, this podcast explores sex work and your experiences as sex workers in the N.T and your collective campaign to abolish discriminating laws that had significantly contributed to criminalisation that made your work unsafe. In the room we are speaking to representatives from SWOP NT – The N.T Sex worker outreach program and The SWRG the N.T Sex Worker Reference Group.
Lithira: Can you introduce how you all fit into the sex worker rights movement?
Sasha: Sure, we are Staff and volunteers of the Northern Territory sex worker outreach program, which we call SWOP for short and there for are members of Scarlet Alliance. Scarlet Alliance is the Australian Sex Worker Association. It is the peak national sex worker organisation in Australia. It was formed in 1989 and the organisation represents a membership of individual sex workers and sex worker organisations, projects, networks and collectives throughout Australia. Through our work and that of our membership, we have very high access to sex workers and sex industry workplaces in major cities and many regional areas of Australia. Scarlet Alliance has played a critical role in informing policy through work with governments and the health sector, both in Australia and internationally on issues affecting sex workers in the Australian sex industry. SWOP NT is a member of Scarlet Alliance Sex Workers Association, their peer based and led program is located within the Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council, which we call NTHAC. SWOP NT’s health promotion service engages sex workers and other sex work industry stakeholders to gain knowledge about the Northern Territory’s laws and policies including sex work laws, and work, health and safety requirements. SWOP NT’s advocacy, health promotion, training/workshops, outreach and broader programming aims to improve sex workers lives by holistically addressing including our human rights. SWOP NT advocates to reduce stigma and discrimination against us as workers via advocacy, information resources and education sessions to health and legal sectors to facilitate equitable access to services and to inform policy development for a safer framework within the NT full decriminalised model for sex work. The sex worker reference group (SWRG) is comprised of past and present sex workers who work in the N.T. SWRG co-represents alongside SWOP NT at roundtable, departmental and political meetings, in the delivery of training to stakeholders and at conferences and forums. The SWRG documents best practice and case studies to support our submissions, recommendations and evidence for reforms based on the lived experience of workers.
Silva: Yay and what a great mob we are
Lithira: please tell us about sex work and being a sex worker? Like type of work experience? , favourite ways to work, what are the clients like?, what do you guys go through?, what do you dislike?
Silva: just before we do that, we just need to give a little bit of context around that and who are sex workers as well.
Silva: so really some of us identify as queer and gender diverse, sex workers are of course of all genders and genderless. Female, Sista girl, transgender, brother boy, male and non-binary. These are some of the names that and terms within our own community other work forces. Online work, private one to one, porn work, pub work, erotic dancers, private dancers, outdoor work, escort work, brothel/parlour/agency work, Peep show work and outdoor work. If we just ask that question around the room, I am sure everyone is happy to share their experiences around different areas of sex work that we have all taken part in.
Prada: My name is Prada, I have been working as a sex worker for the last ten years. I have worked in peep shows, full service, erotic massage parlours and I also do dabble in some online content creating. I personally like to work with minimum effort and maximum return, so anything that can fit into my lifestyle without going to above and beyond really works for me. I work now privately – in calls, outcalls. I generally think there is no demo graph for clients I see all kinds of people, all ages all races, and all genders or non-gendered, in the industry I feel like I struggle the most with stigma which is the most violent thing for me when it some to sex work and the industry.
Accalia: Hey every one, I’m Accalia. I’ve worked in brothels, for escort agencies, from hotels, i’ve worked car base (out of the client’s cars, and I have also worked out of my own home. Currently I work privately. My favourite way to work is – when I want, with who I want and for as much cash as I want. I love clients that are good at following instructions and say super sexy things like money is no object and the ones who like to party, I dislike cock wombles.
Hazel: Hi I’m Hazel, I have dabbled in a bit of everything. I started as a dancer and have progressed to full service. I’ve also done online content, only fans, topless waitressing and I enjoy a little bit of it all. I currently work in full service and my favourite way to work is at the brothel because you there is a community there and I feel like I’ve made the best friendships of my life working there and you gain so much support from peers. My favourite type of client is someone I have built a relationship with. I enjoy new clients and seeing new people but I definitely like to be able to come back to someone I have built some rapport with. I find it exciting when they come in and remember little things about me like “oh how’s your cat? how are things going?” I will add In what Prada said, I definitely dislike the stigma around sex work and I have struggled with that the whole time. It can almost feel like your doing the job and you feel like its right for you and it is right in yourself. I believe there shouldn’t be the stigma and these laws around sex work, unfortunately not everyone believes and has the same views. That is what I struggle with inside and I get scared of what people are going to think of me before they know me as a person. They just judge me based on what I choose to do as a profession.
Sienna: My name is Sienna; I have worked in the sex industry for 4 years. I have had a variety of jobs in my life. I am a full-service sex worker, that is really all that I do. I have had one-week experience in a brothel, and it was not for me. It wasn’t a bad place of work; I just do not do shift work. Definitely my favourite way to work – look I’m fundamentally a lazy person so in calls (which is where the client comes to you) I don’t have to do much to get ready and go out to someone’s hotel is the preferred option for me. My favourite clients are the ones who are; involved, understanding, open minded and respectful. Its important to me that my client treats me as a human first and my job second. I am not my job; I am a person. The stigma is the worst thing for me, you make friends with someone new and you have to weigh up whether or not you’re going to tell them what you do, you have to judge their potential reaction to sex work and bring it up in a sneaky way and often you just have to outright lie or drip feed it to them. On top of that relationships are a whole other board game. The stigma means you must drip feed your job to nearly everyone – do you tell you GP? If the police are talking to you do you mention it? People look at you differently as soon as you mention your job.
Silva: Definitely. Partners really carry another level of stigma, particularly if a partner is needing to take time out of work or has found themselves out of work for a period. If people know you are a sex worker, they automatically associate your partner as living off your earning. Other industries would not have that association at all. As Sienna was saying regarding drip feeding, a sex workers partner also must be cautious of new people and work colleagues. This impacts on sex workers as well as their partners. I have worked for several years in different areas and I agree that internalised stigma and choosing when to disclose is really hard work. Not everyone wants to disclose all the time.
Hazel: Its easier not to say anything.
Silva: It is! Sometimes its easier to say “unemployed” move on.
I think most clients are fairly good in my experience, that may not be everyone’s experience. I certainly rip clients about workers rights, so by asking those questions I can weed out whether someone is going to be respectful of me over the phone before they even get to a booking. I loved full service. I don’t work in that area anymore; I only have a few long-term clients and provide massage and relief. Particular things that stick out for me That I really loved, I really loved working out of trucks usually owner/drivers because big companies would not allow for their drivers to have that companion support. Its really good on a worker’s rights level too because drivers doing long distance by themselves who are owner/drivers need to be stimulated to keep awake and talking to owner-drivers was the pay back. A lot of people would think that the drivers wanted sexual services (some did) but most wanted you to talk to them so when drivers would stop off you can call ahead and pull up at different petrol stations and then use the truck as your work space. I really liked that work. That was good, that was a long time ago. What I don’t like is; disrespectful clients, stigma and discrimination. Regardless of whether we are changing the laws or have changed the laws here, we still have a bit of a way to go with anti-discrimination protections and it’s going to take a while for people to move on from that space of us being criminalised.
Sasha: I’m Sasha, I have worked as a dancer all around Australia. My favourite kind of work is smaller clubs and I also really love doing party work – it takes the pressure off a bit. My favourite kind of clients are ones that trust me, there can be a misconception that we are scammers. When there is mistrust, It’s a lot less fun. I like clients that are going to trust that I’m going to do a great job and they are going to leave with some happy memories. My main dislikes are rude clients. To be honest I have been lucky, especially in the Northern Territory. I haven’t had many bad clients. Also the stigma much like everyone else said is so unnecessary, if I could change anything it would be peoples attitudes about it.
Silva : Its interesting because part of that stigma is that clients who haven’t seen sex workers before do think that you are going to rip them off because that the stigma that goes out through the media.
Hazel: I feel like in the media they portray anything that’s negative because that’s unfortunately what people want to see and read. They will always write something that’s negative about a sex worker, they never write about how a sex worker has started a property portfolio buying all these houses etc. So automatically when you walk into a work space people have this thing where they don’t trust you or they think if they look away you might steal their wallet or you might run off with their cash. When you let a plumber or someone into your house you trust that they are not going to steal from you, not every one is a good person but not every sex worker is bad person.
Anastasia: How has the definition of sex work and sex worker evolved over time?
Accalia: The Northern Territory Sex Industry Act 2019 defines Sex work as; The provision by a person of services that involve the person participating in sexual activity with another person in return for payment or reward and the term Sex worker as a person who performs sex. The N.t government has demonstrated respectful use of language by legislating sex worker and sex work into the sex industry act 2019
Sex workers throughout history have always been clear that sex work is work. Initially the term for our work was whoring and before that the equally derogatory terms of prostitute and prostitution. Sex workers over time have reclaimed the word whore. Sex workers still move in and out of different spaces to work, which is often dictated by legislation that either enables us to work freely under a recently fully decriminalised framework, or having to work inconspicuously under criminalised or discriminating and dangerous licensing laws. The term sex worker was coined as a phrase by Scarlet Harlot, A sex worker and human rights activist from the USA in the 70s. Still to this day the abolitionist of our work refuse to use the term sex worker and refuse to acknowledge that sex work is work. Abolitionists call us slaves without agency and slut shame us for choosing to provide services as workers to our clientele. In 2011 70 sex worker delegates from across the Asia pacific gathered at the ICCAP conference their statement at the conference concluded “we oppose the names the multipole names that researchers and project workers call us. We are not a divided or hierarchical community – we are a sex worker community standing in solidarity together and we demand to be treated as such”. Sex work is work and sex work reforms equal safer work for sex workers.
there are now key international days of significance where as sex workers with our peers we celebrate; International whores day, International sex worker rights day, international day to end violence towards sex workers and international sex workers pride day.
the days of excluding us from conversations as workers are over. Sex work and sex worker are enshrined in our recommendations and in legislations.
Anastasia: In contemporary society technology like the internet is really changing the nature of work across many industries. How do you think digital spheres such as only fans have changed the nature of sex work in the 21st century? Has it?
Sienna: The first point we would like to make in relation to the digital space is that sex workers have been operating within that space for some time before only fans was a thing and before it become mainstream. Other people can speak on this more than I can because they have been in the industry for a lot longer. Our original ways of advertising in a print format were in the newspaper and that has moved onto what is now mainly a online sphere of advertising. That is across all forms of sex work, Strip clubs are expected to have a website, private workers are expected to have advertising all of that is encompassed on the online sphere before you even get to things like camming. Online work is not for everyone, I personally do not do it. I’ve made that choice mostly to protect my partner and because I despise doing it. I personally think selling content such as only fans ( a subscription service where you post videos or images), is quite time consuming and difficult labour. Other people make different choices for themselves and might find in person work far more demanding and so they choose to do something else. COVID19 restrictions on our work like other industries means, we have had a full prohibition on in person work during lock down periods. A lot of people transitioned into that online space, it’s given people not a lot of choice because they can either stop working altogether or they can transition and still make some money. Its difficult and requires a lot of time and attention to your own personal privacy. There are a lot of issues with people trying to find out your in real life details and if you have your face on the internet and even if you don’t it can create unique problems for you. It does not offer the same privacy protection that face to face work does. Its not a space that a lot of sex workers have provided services from, there are other platforms that have been much more useful to our community. There have also been some very recent issues in the public sphere I suppose, probably not on the news. I don’t know if they talk about only fans on the news, i more so on social media and the most recent case being Bella Thorne creating an only fans and ripping off her subscribers by promising something and then delivering something completely different. What it meant was that a lot people who are her subscribers paid for a custom video that was not what she promised, so a lot of people did charge backs. They wanted their money back. Only fans were not equipped to handle that much fluid cash at one time, that now has led to restrictions to people who operate on Onlyfans making it a lot more difficult. They have put cash limits on how much you may charge for custom content, and on how often you can cash out your account. Anyone who was relying on an income every week, can now only cash out every month, That makes things difficult all because a celebrity wanted to dip their toes in and have a little fun. It has ruined the income of thousands and thousands of sex workers. As much as it does have some negative issues there are a lot of people who have garnered positive experiences not just from only fans but from the many other platforms that deal with content selling and creating.
Prada: I would like to point out that as sex workers we use the umbrella term. I think that only fans likes to create division between sex workers and online content creators to suggest we are not the same. We prefer to use the umbrella term. I personally don’t use Onlyfans but I do sell content online. I feel like being a sex worker online is difficult due to censorship. We have laws that have ripple effect from America. Those laws are SESTA/FOSTA. They have made it really difficult for sex workers to have visibility online due to censorship. The rise of social media has pros and cons for sex workers. I feel as sex workers and other communities we can hold space on a bigger scale- a global level, I can communicate with sex workers all over the world because of the internet. I prefer to create content in hardcopy which is old school. I think zines are cool and there is less censorship. When I started doing sex work the internet wasn’t as accessible to everybody and the way I found my community was through small zines that SWOP and other sex worker organisations released, Im very nostalgic towards zines.
Hazel: I have an only fans account and I find it contradicting the fact that celebrity’s have created a whole career in a different industry;, music, acting whatever but they are using our platform to generate and promote income that they don’t even need. A lot of them have said its a hobby for them. They do not go through the stigma that we do. Why are their fans glorifying them for stepping into our industry for fun? No one looks at them and assume they must be certain type of person. Its glorified in a sense, there is even a style that girls try to portray in clothing or the way they want to look. They glorify the way sex workers look but they’re not with us and they are not fighting for our rights.
Sienna: Its quirky and fun for them.
Hazel: Its quirky and fun for people to wear pleasers but at the same time they are the type of people that will say “ that’s disgusting, I would never get my clothes off for money”.
why is that separated? Why are they trying to look like us and be like us but they won’t take whatever else comes with it? Even if they are not doing that kind of work, they are embarrassed or ashamed to say that our rights are important.
• NORTHERN TERRITORY OF AUSTRALIASEX INDUSTRY ACT 2019 https://legislation.nt.gov.au/Bills/Sex-Industry-Bill-2019?format=assented
• FOSTA/SESTA, What happened after Aussie sex workers were kicked off American websites? https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2019-06-22/fosta-sesta-laws-impact-australian-sex-workers-one-year-later/11229724
• FOSTA/SESTA, How a US law broke the internet (and what that means for Australia) https://www.crikey.com.au/2018/07/10/fosta-sesta-law-sex-workers-australia/
• RED BOOK/STI & BBV RESOURCES FOR SEX WORKERS BY SEX WORKERS – Getting started in online/non-contact work https://redbook.scarletalliance.org.au/getting-started-in-online-non-contact-work/
• The stigma of sex work comes with a high cost https://theconversation.com/the-stigma-of-sex-work-comes-with-a-high-cost-79657
• Ending Violence Against Sex Workers is also about ending social stigma discrimination and criminalisation SWOP NT & SWRG – Territory Families