There was a girl, barely 17 years old who had been groomed by a man more than twice her age since she was 14. She would spend her evenings (more than 100 of them) locked in a desolate studio with nothing but a wall of mirrors, an old leather couch and a sink. He would come in, when the urge arises, and use her for sex. Using liquid soap as lube when her arse was too tight to allow for his comfort. Never mind the fact that liquid soap stings and increases her pain. She thought he loved her. She thought he was saving her from the violence at home. He would some times flick her $50 for her time.
There was a sex worker, with rashes on her knees, arse and back from the accidental inclusion of too much bleach in the brothels laundry that week. After 8 hours of gritting her teeth through the pain of the bleach burns she encounters a client that just likes it rough. With scratch marks on her back and skin that is too sore to touch and a vagina which is now dry and starting to swell from too much hard fucking, she asks to call it a day.
“You have 2 more hours left, there are men waiting.”
“ But please this is just too painful now, I can’t do another one.”
“Well if you want a job next week you will.”
With burning skin and a vagina that no amount of lube will help, she grins and bears it through 2 more clients. Albeit lovely clients, any form of human touch right now only feels like hot coals.
There was a girl who thought she might give porn a go. She was impressed at how the scene was mapped out.
“Ok so we do the shoot once were finished you get paid.” Says the director.
When the cameras started rolling it was a different story. In the place of the blowjob was forced deep throat. There was surprise anal digital penetration and arse to mouth fish hooking. Tears well in her eyes as she struggles with what is happening to her. Her body tense with pain from the too hard pounding, in an uncomfortable position. Does she say stop and not get paid or does she try to get through to the end, whats worse being assaulted or being assaulted and not getting paid? The scene ends, the director particularly loved how the tears noticeably welled in her eyes and high fived the male talent for really spicing up the scene that was exactly what they were after.
A Pornstar had just had her contract breached by a porn company as she refused to have a sexual relationship with the one of the producers. This resulted in her filming 7 scenes opposite 5 different stars for no payment. As she fought against sexual harassment and clear contract breach, the producer published her address to intimate her into silence. She sought help from SWOP, the Eros Association and the leader of the Australian Sex Party. All organisations who hold the ethos around consent and professionalism within the Australian sex industry, the organisations that speak about how they care about sex workers, well they turned a blind eye. Well next time you should ask for payment first then…
These are all true stories of the Australian Sex Industry. All too often we hear the happy hooker narrative where we are seen as empowered young women who happily exchange sexual services for pay. And for the most part, especially now for me, I do have the privilege of saying that I do consent to the sex work that I partake in.
But that hasn’t always been true.
From the young girl who’s vulnerability was exploited by the older man who used her as his sex slave, to the young woman who needed to accept painful unwanted sex for the chance to pay her rent next week; right through to the woman who had to question, now that she had already been assaulted would the money ease her pain? To the woman who found her strength to say no only to be punished and ignored by the organisations who are funded to support her. These are examples of what may appear, as consent on the surface but is actually sexual exploitation.
All these stories of women who have been exploited are me. These are some of the darker moments of my life.
Was I a sex slave victim at 17? Or an opportunistic underage sex worker? Was I forced to have sex against my will in the brothel? Or was the brothel enforcing a good work ethic? Did my wanting to get paid negate the fact that I also had been sexually assaulted on camera? Or was that just a job requirement of female performers in the porn industry? And did I assert my right as a professional porn actress to have a workplace free from sexual harassment and still have my contract honoured? Or was I just a troublemaker who feebly believed that she held any right to autonomous power?
This is what I think sets me apart from the “sex work activists” and red umbrella organisations who all cry the happy hooker narrative. I know from my lived experience that there are two sides to the world of commercial sex. And that surface consent sometimes also sexual exploitation. I’ve also experienced first hand how when a supposed “happy Hooker” speaks out about the exploitation within the current Australian Sex Industry she gets excluded, ignored if she’s lucky. If she’s not well it will escalate to bullying, abuse and violence. The price I’ve personally paid for speaking out is the exclusion from the ugly mug list; I’ve had my legal name, personal phone number and home address published. I’ve been stalked, verbally assaulted publically twice, been threatened with physical violence, had the locks of my front door removed and the front door to my building smashed in and been detained and deported from the US all whilst being victim to a smear campaign.
Every week on twitter we see yet another sex worker attacked and bullied by her peers, “shes used the term “high class” or she provides natural oral or we don’t agree with her rates, quick get catty. The Australian Sex Industry is one of the most publically cut throat and bitchy environments around, where bullying has become so engrained its become a form of communication in itself. Its worse if she breaks from the happy hooker narrative or identifies as a survivor who is an ex sex worker.
We’ve recently seen months of targeted harassment aimed at survivors by not only vocal sex work activists but also by red umbrella organisations. Organisations who’s mission statements state that they seek to give a voice to all sex workers past and present, who claim to be against bullying. These activists all use the phrase “Nothing about us without us” but what they really are seeking to is to exclude from the conversation any sex worker past or present who seeks to speak up about exploitation.
If you want to read into this more please read these articles that document the abuse that the survivors have received from the sex worker activists and red umbrella organisations.
I understand that some may think that any of us who break away from the empowered narrative of sex work are endangering our fight for sex worker rights. But we are also contributing to the exploitation and harm to our fellow peers. I am privileged to have worked hard to now be in a position to call my own shots, although I’ve paid for my empowerment with tears and blood literally. But I am still humble enough to recognise that not only was it not always the case for me but it is still not always the case for other sex workers.
We still have situations where brothels are getting their girls addicted to ice, even paying them in ice, where girls are being forced to accept bad behaviour from clients or to work longer and harder than their bodies can accept. We have situations right now, where due their exclusion from the ugly mugs list some private providers aren’t allowed the privilege of vetting their clients to the full extent possible which is leading to actual sex worker rapes that may have been prevented. These are all situations that are known to the red umbrella organisations, which are turning a blind eye to them.
If we as a current sex work population are not listening to voices of our peers who are speaking about their negative experiences, if the organisations who are funded to ensure the wellbeing and health of every sex worker are not listening or refusing to act, how do we expect to improve our industry?
Now I do have to say this, I am aware a lot of the survivors are seeking the Nordic Model as recourse to rectify their exploitation. And I still stand firm in believing that the Nordic model will not improve the industry, in fact I tend to believe it may make it worse. But regardless of what we think will improve the sex industry, their voices and lived experiences are still very important narratives, which deserve to be listened to.
If you are interested in listening to voices of sex workers, please also listen to the voices of the survivors. And whilst I nearly had a breakdown reading Prostitution Narratives by Melinda Tankard Reist and Carolina Norma, I strongly recommend reading it. Whilst I never worked along side the survivors who have contributed their stories to the book, I have worked along countless other sex workers who have shared their stories, sometimes it was like reading my own story.
The Australian sex industry currently does contain exploitation and there are sex workers who are being harmed. But it also does contain good.
I want to finish on a positive aspect to my involvement in the sex industry. I don’t quite know where or how, but sometime during my childhood I never learnt or was never taught to be able to say no, or that I could assert boundaries when it came to my body. Which resulted in me, by the time I was 21, being victim to repetitive sexual abuse and rape by 3 different perpetrators. It was like ground hog day. How did I keep ending up in situations where I would be so abused, by the same men so many times? It was the sex industry, the love and support of a few good madams and the senior girls in the brothels that coached me to help me find my voice. I don’t know if I would have found it otherwise.
So in my life, the sex industry has been both good and bad to me, and I know now, that neither detracts from the other, but I had to confront the darkness to see that. This is why I know the value of confronting the duality of the sex industry. If we never confront or look at the systemic exploitation within the industry, if we try to keep the dark side hushed, if we turn our activism for sex workers rights into movements trying to silence the voices of the survivors, we will never improve our industry for us or for the future generation of sex workers.
Make every sex workers life matter, not just the happy ones.