Bringing sex workers into the light

18/12/2008 3:10:00 PM.  | Tim Brunero

SEX WORKERS SPEAK OUT: Prostitutes talk to Tim Brunero

Yesterday morning I joined a group of Sydneysiders gathered at a Darlinghurst café for some morning tea.

Like any other group they basked in the sun passing around chocolate biscuits, sipping on coffee and puffing on cigarettes.

But these people weren’t you’re average nine to fivers. They were Sydney prostitutes gathered to mark the International Day of Ending Violence Against Sex Workers.

After awarding the ‘Whore of the Year’ award for sex worker activism and a few light-hearted speeches, we took off on a walk through Darlinghurst’s windier, seedier streets on a mission to remember their fallen comrades.

We gathered in a dingy lane amongst the dumpsters, air-conditioning vents and broken bottles to lay a simple wreath, and observe a minute’s silence.

It was here, in this forgotten alley only a few Christmas Eve’s ago, that a woman lost her life while plying her trade on the streets of our harbour city.

But as well as remembering the fallen we were there to continue the struggle of these people to make sure that when they suffer violence and discrimination they are taken as seriously as anyone else.

Of course it’s the stigma that surrounds this, the oldest profession, which means sex workers have to be eternally vigilant to make sure police and politicians look out for them.

Because it’s the quasi-illegality of the profession, driven by our society’s immature attitude to it, that ultimately puts people in danger by forcing them off the radar into un-regulated and unsafe situations.

Only overnight in Brisbane a suspected sex worker was shot in her unit complex in the upmarket suburb of Kangaroo Point. Local sex workers were unequivocal that it was the secrecy around their work that put the woman in danger.

“If she had had someone who knew she was expecting a client, or if she were allowed to have a security guard or a receptionist at the building she was at, then this may have never happened,” one local prostitute said.

As sex worker activist Julie Bates said yesterday it’s not their clients sex workers fear, it’s society’s attitudes.

“Today is the day that sex workers across the world take a stand for justice, dignity and safety and stand against the stigmas that stop us having equal rights under the law,” she said yesterday.

“We are working citizens of the world and we want dignity as workers, sex work is just work after all.”

As well as campaigning for prostitutes the former sex worker and Madame consults to brothel owners, navigating them through the maze of planning and other laws.

She encounters the usual ‘Not In My Backyard’ attitudes of local councils, who seem not to realise prostitution is as ubiquitous as Toohey’s New.

To deny it is simply to fail to recognise that people from all walks of life will seek out the services sex workers offer.

But it’s not just the logistics of trying to get such services treated as legitimate businesses – it’s also people’s attitudes she wants to see change.

She says she is especially frustrated by conservative feminists who paint prostitutes as victims which, she believes, almost condones violence against them, given the logic that they are victims anyway.

Many sex workers complain that the law treats them as second-rate citizens.

Many point to the fact a prostitute had gone missing in Perth during the reign of the Claremont Serial Killer, however her death was never linked to the slayings of the young professional women who were abducted from up market nightspots.

They charge her disappearance, even though she had a young child and partner, was never taken as seriously.

And while those brave souls marking the International Day for Ending the Violence against Sex Workers in this grimy alley were adamant services for prostitutes and police attitudes are much better than in the past, they think still believe more needs to be done.

Look, of course there is vulnerability, mental illness, drug use and broken spirits in the oft seedy world of prostitution. But bringing this world into the light can surely only help.

In a society that is so fascinated by prostitution the workers rightly ask: Why can’t we those in the oldest profession be as safe in their work as anyone else?

Link to original at

1 Comment

  1. Be sure to check out the video too on the original story at!

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