So after the past 2 segments of Lateline, which was shown on ABC the other night, I would have been guessing that the sex worker community on Twitter either would have (1) switched off their televisions, (2) been unable to watch their televisions because they’d have damaged them, or the most likely (3) become so angry at Lateline that they needed to stay on to watch the next segment. ….the Project Respect segment….. People on Twitter were already talking about Project Respect. There were personal stories of Project Respect entering into brothels on numerous occasions to attempt to rescue them, and there was also talk of more disturbing activities which I cannot write as I do not wish to get sued for defamation. Nevertheless, the sex worker community (on Twitter at least) were well and truly prepared for this particular segment to be negative.
By way of background, Project Respect —> http://projectrespect.org.au/about is: “is a non-profit, feminist, community-based organisation, that aims to empower and support women in the sex industry, including women trafficked to Australia. Established in 1998, we began as a direct service to women in the sex industry across Victoria. We have no religious affiliation, and work with all women in an inclusive and woman-centered manner. Project Respect does not rescue or save women, but works with them by providing specialist. non-judgemental outreach and individual support.”
Now I want you to keep that VERY statement in your head while you read how the next segment goes down.
Lateline’s Interview With Project Respect
Firstly, the segment starts of with Emma Alberici claiming that there are 20,000 sex workers working in Australia. As one tweeter notes:
“@madvillain_melb: 20,000 sex workers in Australia, yet you only represent them with media footage of street walkers.”
That was correct. After some brief discussion of the myriad of laws in Australia, cue the seedy background music, accompanied with footage of darkly lit streets and blacked out figures of women in high heels (I actually had written notes that I noticed this as well – the tone of the segment was automatically set with an undercurrent of seediness).
The representative claims that “all of the women she has worked with in the sex industry has done it for money. They are not there for the sex.”
This was hotly debated on Twitter as this was the statement that Lateline used as its promotional quote. I cannot count the number of tweets that came through from sex workers on Twitter who rightfully claimed that (a) they…well, like their job; (b) as a result of their job (given sex work is work) should rightfully be paid for the work; (c) there are many many jobs out there that people, well, don’t really like that much but still do it because money makes the world go around. It does not make them any less of a person, it does not make them desperate, it does not make them greedy, it does not make them victimised – its make them….employed.
Like millions of everyday Australians.
Jackie McMillan states:
“@MissDissentEats: Can all jobs be “dream jobs”? Does anyone dream about being a garbage person? Why do we need to use this tired trope every time? @lateline.”
They then choose to head to Seaford. To a brothel. An Asian one. Where a woman was found hidden in the walls. They apparently tend not to let her in but miraculously on this occasion, they let her in because “the boss wasn’t there”. The program fails to explain in any way what that woman does in that brothel, what kind of conversation she has with that ONE English speaking woman that she claims to be the one ruling the brothel (because, she says, that’s what tends to happen in these brothels). This program does not in any way go into the kind of work that Project Respect does in there. All we know is that she goes in there and comes out. Hardly what I call investigative journalism.
Lateline tells us the story of the representative of Project Respect, Kate, who started sex work when she was seventeen to support a drug habit. Cue more seedy pictures of streetworkers. She speaks of being drugged and raped. Now while this is a story that is often heard, as she states, but as one tweeter rightfully points out:
“@MissLucy552: Why does the media spotlight only focus on the most maginalised and the most privileged sex workers.”
Miss Lucy hits the nail on the head right there. This program, with its negative narrative to this point has focused solely on the marginalised population of the profession. And it suits their agenda to do so. It was not in Lateline’s interests to reach out to that “everyday” sex worker who works without issue, does proper screening and likes her job. Lateline does not go out and seek a brothel worker who goes to the brothel, who works with good management, who works in a place with good security systems set up, who works in a clean and safe environment. The least Lateline could have said is that they attempted to seek out these people and they do not exist. The thing is, Lateline could not have said this because they DO exist – they just did not want them to exist for the purposes of this particular segment. Kate defends criminalisation. But miserably fails to give us any kind of theoretical or practical reasons to suggest that this is in any way helpful for the industry. All she states that she knows at the very least “it will stop the violence.” Studies have shown, unbeknown to Lateline, that violence actually increases in a criminalised environment.
And then the final comment is made…. “What girl grows up wanting to be a prostitute? What mother wants their daughter to be a prostitute?” This made a lot of people mad.
“@Estelle_Lucas: OMG ITS STARTING. Like why do we need to talk about the aspirations of little girls, do we listen to them when they talk about unicorns as well?”
We will talk about this particular issue in the final blog because Emma Alberici puts this same question to Scarlet Alliance.
But lets go back to earlier in this blog where I outlined the premise of Project Respect: “We have no religious affiliation, and work with all women in an inclusive and woman-centered manner. Project Respect does not rescue or save women, but works with them by providing specialist. non-judgemental outreach and individual support.”
In what way, did we see Kate from Project Respect discuss: (1) how Project Respect works with sex workers where they do not rescue or save them? (2) how Project Respect provides non judgemental outreach?
What we saw in that program segment was exactly the opposite to their goals as stated on their website. In the Lateline segment, Kate specifically talked about trying to get women to exit the industry. Is this not “rescue or saving”? I would say it is. Especially when they provide us with an example of a poor woman who earns $200 a day who is working with Project Respect to one day become a teacher (do the math on that one by the way – if you worked 9-5 for five days a week on the award wage of Australia, she’s actually earning ABOVE the award wage). We saw specific behaviour by Kate from Project Respect of judgemental attitudes towards sex workers and their lifestyles. We saw her make judgemental statements about Asians, we saw her make judgemental statements about brothels, we saw her make judgemental statements about purchasers of sex.
It is safe to say that, in my view, Project Respect was NOT the appropriate outreach program to have been on Lateline. Perhaps what Lateline SHOULD have done was approach outreach programs such as Vixen Australia, or SWOPnsw, who genuinely work with the sex industry in a non-judgemental way to ensure that if sex workers DO choose to work in the industry, they do so in a safe and secure way and if they DON’T choose to work in the industry, they have support to “exit” in a safe manner.
But if that doesn’t convince you that Lateline had dropped to a deep low, I’ll leave you with a parting tweet that was made by the time this particular segment had been completed:
“@LovelyCorrine: Saddest part about lateline story is it reinforces that I’ll never be able to come out to family because they take ABC reporting as the truth.”
Let that sink in.
Note 1: Image: http://www.shouselaw.com/engaging_in_prostitution.html