Well, this is usually a legal blog and I tend to leave my advocacy work out of this blog but I promised many people last night that I would respond to the program, Lateline which is run by the ABC in Australia. Lateline is a current affairs program which tends to look at current controversial issues. Well, last night, they chose sex work.
There is so much to talk about that there is in fact FOUR blogs relating to this program, which I will be blogging about over the next 24-48 hours.
How It All Begun
It drew much of Twitter’s attention when Lateline started tweeting about the nature of the program and one of their tweets contained this picture:
Twitter erupted. Now I follow a significant number of people who advocate for sex work. Most vocal was @luciebeexxx who immediately reacted by stating:
“@Luciebeexxx: Its shaming to those women who, regardless of their entry of background in the industry, have enjoyed their work…And pointing that is out is in no way attempting to silence those whose experiences were not positive….Just one quote like that…There’s no quote from Scarlet as part of promotion. This focus on the negative…is so damaging to women in the industry whether they are happy there or not. Some have no choice.”
Already, sex workers were disturbed with the way that Lateline was promoting their program for the night and Twitter was beginning to fire up. We saw many women (and men) debating the fact that many women actually enjoy their work. There was comment about the fact that sometimes jobs need to be done (one example was work in an abattoir) yet the choice of doing it it clear – people do jobs that they do not necessarily enjoy. It does not mean their job is any less worthy of being done.
I drew Lateline’s attention to the fact that their promotion lacked diversity of opinion and that we certainly would have preferred more consultation within the actual industry instead of using “Project Respect” – an organisation which, a number of tweeters claimed had a somewhat notorious reputation for questionable practices in sex work advocacy (something I cannot verify as I have not consulted with them). Lateline’s response was:
“@KateOnTheGo: Hi Kate, we will look at the issue from a number of angles and international perspectives and interview the @scarletalliance.”
I immediately called bullshit and as we saw later on, the interview with Jules from Scarlet Alliance was a diabolical mess but I will get to that later. My concern was that the program was going to deliver a certain dialogue to a specific target market (Lateline watchers) that was dangerous. I ended up being right on that one as well too. More on that later.
Fiona Patten MLC even joined in on the conversation. She was predominately concerned with the use of the word “prostitute” and “prostitution” in the advertising of the program. She raised this issue directly with @Lateline and @albericie by stating:
“@FionaPattenMLC: Hello @Lateline and @albericie. Your tweets vary between prostitution and sex work. Can you please use #sexwork as recommended by @UNAIDS?”
Lateline’s response to Fiona Patten MLC was startling. Emma Alberici responded by stating:
“@albericie @FionaPattenMLC @Lateline official definition of prostitution = engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment.”
Right then. You knew things werent going to be good.
The Program’s Beginning
Well, @HollyInAlbury summed the start up quite well:
“@HollyInAlbury oooh @Lateline is starting….already the p word has been used booooooooooo 2 times in not even 20 secs.”
It was true. Lateline immediately adopted the language which many of us on Twitter has literally begged for them not the use.
Jackie McMillan of @MissDissentEats rightly states:
“@MissDissentEats: As an Australian program discussing #sexowrk @Lateline should be using the term #sexworkers as per the @_afao & @UNAIDS guidlines.”
Once it became clear we were dealing with what was already a problematic program, in came direct reference to the most favourite topic of all when it comes to sex – human trafficking. Apparently, the US Government states that there is a direct link between sex work and human trafficking. Alberici provides a quote on the screen by fails to, like any responsible media program should, provide adequate reference for that quote. Fail. Major fail.
The Swedish Model
She then dives into the Swedish Model. She gives us a little background about the Swedish Parliament enacting legislation. Then surprisingly, Alberici throws in a little comment that sex statistics are generally not trustworthy because sex work is the kind of thing people don’t necessarily tell the truth about. I found that statement to be driven by stigma that sex work is something to be shameful about and drives people to be dishonest about their interaction with it. Stigmatisation by Lateline – No. 1. Box ticked. But the good news from Sweden is that statistics show street work has halved since the introduction of the legislation.
Alberici then refers to Mary Honeybird MEP from the UK (LOL) who says that the legislation “punishes men who buy sex.” We can argue the ridiculousness of this statement until the cows come home. This assumption that all men need to be punished for wanting to seek out sexual transactions, that they are automatically offenders by wanting to engage with sex work, rather than only the marginal number of men that we should be concerned about as violent or harmful offenders.
Their correspondent goes to Sweden. They talk to a Swedish sex worker, Karina, who says she is happy to be a sex worker. But it is the buyer who should be punished. A series of women are then quoted as saying how wonderful the Swedish Model is. I found it not surprising that Lateline would have immediately gone straight into the promotion of the Swedish Model to set the scene for the rest of the program. It then turns to a policeman who (to many of us get the shivers when thinking about) talks about how he sits and spies on men who engage with sex workers through “stakeouts”. They speak of the paradox that really they are essentially hunting the sex workers themselves – the ones that should be protected. They seem to explain their way out of that quite well by….wait for it……
“Men buying sex is equivalent to men being violent against women.”
Lets pause for a moment before we all want to throw our remote controls at the screen in an act of violence against the television after the absolute stupidity of what was just said.
@HollyInAlbury expressed her immediate frustration by tweeting: “@HollyInAlbury: Buying sex is not equal to violence…who is writing this shit? I wana bang my head against a wall…@lateline.”
Then comes more startling statements.
“If a woman is in such a bad situation that she has to be used and sell herself then is it really fair to punish her?”
Stigmatisation that all sex workers are victims. Wonderful.
Mr Henricks Policeman brags that the laws have actually strengthened the relationship between sex workers and police. Karina calls bullshit. She stated that she did not want the police to target her. She spoke of fear. She spoke of being used and stigmatised by the laws themselves.
Former sex worker, Jacobsen then comes hammering in wonderfully about the ridiculousness and reality of the Swedish laws – the renting of apartments (eviction), the owning of the apartment (losing ownership), and the driving of sex workers to do outcalls or work on the streets which places them in direct harm.
Then, probably the most ridiculous of all statements is made by Beatrice from Roks, Women’s Support Shelter….
“I see women in prostitution in the same way as I see women in domestic violence situations.”
Holly’s tweet that was immediately made after the statement was made summed it up:
“@HollyInAlbury: WTF???? sex work is equal to domestic violence ??????? Now I’ve heard everything. This is rubbish and insulting to victims of DV @lateline.”
(Holly goes on to do wondefully ragey YouTube video made after Lateline that she thought the whole entire program stank, but Holly speaks directly about what an absolutely absurd statement this is —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AddriGC0-E)
The program goes on to nicely admit that no one really knows whether the Swedish Model is actually successful but one commentator states that it is not “measured in numbers but measured by attitudes”. How accurate!
“I haven’t met a happy buyer or happy seller.”
So it appears from this attitude that has been “measured” shows us that every sex worker in Sweden is, well, miserable. Oh, and so are the men too.
Commentator then interjects with:
“Well you wouldn’t would you?
“Oh, no, no.”
So, it appears moreso from this measured attitude that sex workers and sex buyers wouldn’t dare be happy to involve themselves in work because its…well, sex work. Stigmatisation of Sex Workers – Tick!
Join me a little later for Part 2.