In all likelihood you probably aren’t aware that it has been 10 years since the death of the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria. Understandably so; no one is marking the loss of this organisation. There are few people left in the state who were a part of the ground breaking group. “But they were significant and their absence is felt in every policy of discrimination, every patronising word and every stigmatising portrayal of sex work,” said Christian Vega, current Victorian sex worker and advocate for sex worker rights.
“There is no funded sex worker organisation in Victoria.” Mr Vega explains, “What we have are a collection of services that are accessed by a minority of sex workers and whose survival depends on maintaining the stereotype that sex workers are desperate and helpless victims that need to be rescued.” Mr Vega, who used to work for one of these services, expresses his frustration, “I’m sick of people thinking we are a problem that needs to be dealt with or managed- and in order to maintain funding, our so-called ‘helpers’ are ready to shove us naked and vulnerable before the press in order to justify the work that they do.”
“The approach is wrong, it’s ineffective and offensive,” Mr Vega continues, “No other community group would tolerate such a mischaracterisation; the GLBTI community would not accept a service staffed only by heterosexual people whose goal was to rehabilitate all the gays, no matter how well intentioned,” said Mr Vega, “but sex workers have to endure state funded interventions that depict us as ‘victims of trafficking’ or in need of ‘exit programs.’ And while these activities may serve the genuine needs of a small group of sex workers and victims of crime, the rights of the majority of us go ignored. As supposed victims or patients, we are not trusted enough to contribute to our own well being; that’s why, in Victoria, it’s rare to find any current sex workers employed by any of these services. Whenever you read a story about us, if anyone has bothered to speak to a sex worker, it is always the voice of a service user of one of these services, not a sex worker who can actually be representative of our community. No one is listening to us.”
Mr Vega speaks about some of the consequences of the current situation in Victoria, “With no sex workers resourced for advocacy to the government, it is no wonder that discriminatory policies that undermine our agency, the proliferation via media of social stigma and substandard working conditions are continually implemented with the endorsement of government and the general community. Not one change of policy has markedly improved the lives and working conditions of sex workers. If you want to see real change in the sex industry, how about you start listening to us, instead of listening to those who claim to speak on our behalf.”
Mr Vega ponders some solutions to the quandary in Victoria, “In other states, health departments fund their sex worker organisation to not only support vulnerable sex workers but to create an opportunity to connect all sex workers as a community and provide a genuine voice for these workers. These organisations have affirmative action policies that ensure the participation of sex workers is not hijacked by anything other than the agenda of human rights for sex workers. With the constant doom, gloom and misery spoken about the sex industry, it’s clear that we desperately need a sex worker organisation in Victoria.”
Mr Vega reflects on the history of sex worker rights in Victoria, “Victoria was the first place in the world where a government committed funding for a sex worker organisation. And whether we operate in the open and are accepted by the community or we have to work underground, there will always be sex work. I suspect nothing will get better until we return to the first step of listening to us.”
The Australian Sex Party was the only political party who had a policy of funding a sex worker organisation in Victoria at the last state election.