Trigger warning – the two links contain descriptions of sexual abuse
Last week I attended an event at the Tasmanian Parliament held by NorMAC – Nordic Model Australia Coalition. The Nordic, or Swedish Model, criminalises clients of sex workers, with the aim of abolishing sex work, and NorMAC’s agenda is to have the Nordic Model introduced in Australia. This is despite the fact that the UN, the WHO, the Kirby Institute, Amnesty International, the Lancet, and the majority of sex workers, agree that the Nordic Model would cause more harm than good.
NorMAC is notorious for its vicious attacks against sex workers who don’t agree with them. Why then would I, as a sex worker, choose to put myself in the traumatising environment of a NorMAC public meeting?
I wanted to know more about why they seem to hate us so much. By us I mean sex workers who don’t want to be “saved” and who have the gall to want some basic human rights. I wanted to understand why Simone Watson, the director of NorMAC, is so angered by sex workers who want to make the world a better place for our community, when she herself claims to want the same thing.
Here are a few of the things Simone Watson and I have in common:
- we’ve both had sex with men for money
- we both identify as feminists and believe that our patriarchal society needs to be challenged.
- Neither of us wants to see sex workers harmed or working against their will.
- We both support exit strategies for people wishing to leave the sex industry.
So why can’t we be friends? Why does NorMAC seem to want to place itself so fiercely in diametric opposition to sex workers who lobby for work place rights?
Watson doesn’t believe that sex workers are able to make informed choices about our lives. In her mind you’re either too traumatised and suffering from false consciousness to be able to make decisions or you’re a part of a tiny minority of privileged white women for whom sex work isn’t harmful. Watson identifies as a “sex trade survivor” who feels deeply traumatised by her experiences. It’s interesting how she uses the idea of trauma to both try to silence sex workers, and to give her own voice legitimacy.
Although sex work isn’t inherently violent, there are factors which are associated with violence against sex workers, including criminalisation and stigmatisation. Increasingly, sex workers who are sexual abuse survivors are speaking out in favour of decriminalisation.
NorMAC believes that they are helping sex workers by lobbying to criminalise clients. The fact that they are not seeking to criminalise sex workers, they say, is proof that they mean us no harm. Yet they are in denial about how the Nordic Model adversely affects sex workers.
In her talk Watson made repeated reference to the idea that most sex workers are “poor”, choosing to ignore the diversity of people who engage in commercial sex. We are from all socio economic backgrounds, all genders and sexualities and are diverse in our cultural backgrounds and ages. I found it particularly offensive that it was implied that “poor people” and drug users are too stupid to make informed choices.
Other offensive assertions that Watson made included:
- sex work is comparable to domestic violence and slavery
- sex workers sell their bodies
- all sex workers are “prostituted”
- sex work is anathema to feminism
- only 2% of sex workers have a voice and the rest suffer in silence
- sex work is paid rape
- 68% of all “prostituted women” have PTSD
But the thing that upset me the most was the notion that sex workers who lobby for workplace rights are evil. That we are pimps, misogynists, people who enable rapists. To add insult to injury, NorMAC proudly supports a system that would cause harm to sex workers.
If the Nordic Model were to be introduced into Tasmania this is how it would affect me personally:
- My family and I would be at risk of homelessness since under the Nordic Model it’s illegal to rent a premise to a sex worker.
- My partner would be seen by law to be a pimp and living off the earnings since she lives with me and we share resources.
- I wouldn’t be able to openly negotiate boundaries with clients before agreeing to take the booking, as any sort of communication like this could be used as evidence against the client.
- The fact that my clientele were criminalised would reinforce the stigma against me, as someone who either enables criminals, or is a victim.
- I wouldn’t have access to peer outreach, as the focus would be on getting me out of the sex industry, rather than allowing me to talk to an understanding community worker who is also a sex worker.
- I wouldn’t have any OH&S and other industrial rights as my work would not be considered “real work”.
- I wouldn’t stop sex working but I would be driven underground, trying to be as invisible as possible. This would severely affect my ability to access services or report any crimes against myself.
- My clients currently understand that I am a person who has rights. At worst they are still more respectful than people who hospitality staff have to serve. Under the Nordic Model these well behaved citizens wouldn’t risk getting a criminal record so I would be more at risk of seeing people who have no regard for the law and nothing to lose.
I genuinely feel for Simone Watson and believe her when she says she’s had bad experiences in the sex industry. Even though she says she got into sex work for the “edginess”, while most of us treat it like serious work, all sex workers should have the right to feel respected at work. In a better world she would have felt more empowered to have boundaries she was comfortable with. We all want that. However if Watson actually cared about the rights of other sex workers, she and NorMAC would look at the evidence and support decriminalisation.