A grieving mother, international organised crime, sensational re-enactments and dramatic music. Oh and a good dose of sex. It seems like all the right ingredients for a compelling story, one that enthrals the public eye. The ABC’s 4 Corners and the tirade newspaper articles focussed on the so-called “sex trafficking” are demanding everyone’s attention and if you think this stories are affecting, imagine the emotional assault they afflict on sex workers. But what’s driving the hysteria? “While it’s very popular to talk about human trafficking at the moment, it seems the agenda that’s really being pushed is anti-sex work” said Christian Vega, sex worker and advocate for sex worker rights in Victoria.
“Being anti-sex work can be divisive in Australia,” Mr Vega explains, “The community wants to support the rights of workers, they want to have compassion and understanding of vulnerable people and it’s not within our culture to immediately take an abolitionist approach. All these things are a challenge for the anti-sex work lobby. In order to get around them, campaigners have conflated ‘human trafficking’ with sex work in order to gain funding and broad based support.”
Mr Vega considers the true motivation of the supposed “anti-trafficking” agenda. “Some tax-payer funded organisations and individuals who claim that their goal is to end ‘human trafficking’ are disproportionately focussed on sex work. Yet, we know human trafficking happens in other industries. The obsession with brothels makes it clear: challenging actual exploitation is secondary; they just want to shut down the sex industry.”
Mr Vega continues, “They have successfully diverted funding, community support and political attention away from other instances of actual trafficking in order to bolster their moral crusade against us, sex workers. While brothels are raided every other week to find scant exploitation, sweatshops in Australia operate unchecked, migrant staff in hospitality wait for someone to notice their substandard working conditions and people desperate to migrate to Australia are entering abusive marriages in order to secure what they think will be a better life. So long as sex work abolitionists hog the spotlight, the human rights of many go begging. ”
Mr Vega reflects on the outcomes of such a prohibitionist approach, “The overreaction of the Victorian Minister of Consumer Affairs further illustrates how the human rights of sex workers are not a priority.” He refers to the increase of police powers to prosecute non-compliant operators in the sex industry, “To jump on the trafficking bandwagon and say the police are the answer to any human rights crisis is the same as saying carrying firearms increases one’s safety. History, evidence and plain common sense tells us: it’s delusional and absolutely ill informed.”
“It can be overwhelmingly frustrating that we, sex workers, not only have to demand our human rights but also have proposed sound, socially just, evidence based solutions and, yet, are totally ignored.”
Mr Vega gives some examples, “We know that granting working visas for migrant sex workers will bust the business model of people traffickers, who are taking advantage of the fact the Australian government refuses to allow these workers to enter our country like any other worker. We know decriminalising sex work will bring its regulation, industrial relations and occupational health and safety standards more in line with the expectations of the community. We know that resourcing us as sex workers to support each other is the most effective way of empowering us against vulnerability and exploitation in our workplaces. We know all of this, yet the government flounders, chasing its tail to the tune of those who would rather see us out of business.”
“Sex workers need rights not rescue. We’re not criminals or powerless victims- we are sick of being stereotyped as such.” Mr Vega closes, “Sex workers are not the problem but we can be part of the solution.”
Christian Vega is the elected National Representative of Male Sex Workers for the Scarlet Alliance. He is also the Victorian Branch Secretary of the Australian Sex Party.