On Sunday night, the 17th of February 2013, I got a distressed call from a young sex worker in Cairns. For the purpose of this Blog her name shall be Gemma.
Gemma had taken an enquiry from a man calling himself Will. He seemed warm, polite and friendly. They agreed on a price, time and place for a 1 hour outcall at an upmarket hotel in Cairns along the Esplanade. She took her time getting ready, making the effort to look and feel her best. She chose light make-up, a lovely but casual dress and 3 inch heels. Her supplies of condoms and lube were tucked away in an evening bag. She headed out the door…
Gemma arrived on time and made her way up to the third floor. A well dressed man in his late 20’s, early 30’s opened the door, smiled and let her in. She looked around the room and noticed empty beer bottles and pizza boxes. She made the comment “Oh is this your bachelor pad?” laughing and gesturing toward the mess in a friendly manner to break the ice. He laughed and said “something like that”. Then another male of around the same age came out of a side room. Then another and another and another. Five in total were in the room and making smiles and lewd gestures toward her.
Gemma asked to speak with Will, looking at the guy who opened the door for her. He replied that Will wasn’t there, that they had borrowed his phone and that they wanted to ‘party’ with her. Right about now she realised she was in her worst nightmare. She stated firmly and calmly that she had made an hour booking with Will and that there was no mention of anyone else being involved. They offered her more money and encouraged her to sit down. Gemma declined. One of them pushed a chair in behind her knee’s to force her to sit down but she remained standing. They had been drinking.
By this time Gemma is trying to reposition herself away from the men crowding around her, to move closer to the door. As she was trying to extricate herself, repeatedly stating that she was not going ahead with the booking, one of the five stated “Prostitution is illegal in Australia and you have to fuck us!”. Another started yelling at her “get in the fucking bedroom!”. She managed to manoeuvre herself in to the kitchen before making a dash for the exit, deliberately knocking everything she could off the kitchen bench onto the floor. She made it out of the door and down to reception. shaken and in shock. She phoned her boyfriend who came over immediately to pick her up outside the hotel. He told reception what Gemma had told him.
Gemma is a 24 year old woman. She lives alone with her pet dog and Goldfish. She has a boyfriend whom works away for a couple of weeks at a time and who is supportive of her choice of work in the interim. They both have goals and aspirations for their future together.
Like a lot of sex workers, Gemma entered into the sex industry to ease social and economic pressures. A cash income meant she could begin to create an independent life for herself and pool her resources into savings, learning and up-skilling, ultimately to improve her chances of competing in a modern society. A global financial crisis resulting in fewer job opportunities, and tighter budget constraints combined with poor leadership and cowardly politicians like Queensland’s Attorney-General, Honourable? Jarrad Bleijie and Mr Premier Campbell-Newman pissing all over human rights, targeting our most vulnerable in society, leaves little hope for our young people to see any kind of future.
This scenario could have been much worse. Gemma was a very lucky young woman to have escaped from those lowlife scum who dared to call themselves men. Could her risk be lowered? You bet; yet under current Queensland law it is still illegal for two sex workers to work together to provide back up to each other and this immediately increases the risk of further abuses being perpetrated against us. Who is more aware of our particular safety needs than another sex worker? In my mind, current regulation is actually perpetrating gross negligence and causing undue harm which violates our basic human rights.
Queensland law does actually allow sex workers to hire a fully qualified bodyguard slash driver whenever we feel there is a need. But lets face it, could Gemma have foreseen what was planned for her that night? The answer is NO. However, when isn’t there a potential risk for sex workers when we have a government that doesn’t support their basic human rights in general and a public who knows this and an element of depravity in some people who will continue to be violent by nature? In Gemma’s case it is unrealistic to expect her to hire a bodyguard slash driver to serve as a chaperone on every single job, she accepts. The cost alone puts this service way out of reach for most sex workers. Where is this fictitious pool of bodyguard slash drivers on standby 24/7?
What about the Police? Gemma chose not to report this incident. That is her right. When I asked her what made her think twice, she said she rang them anonymously and they couldn’t do anything unless she made a statement. She didn’t want to make a statement. She wanted the Police to go around and scare them to make them at least think twice about doing it again to another unsuspecting sex worker. This was not to be. She could not see that making a statement to Police would enable them to visit the men and force them to at least tell their side of the story. The only thing she could see, was that nothing would happen to them and she would become a known sex worker to Police. This made her feel uncomfortable. Sad isn’t it.
I referred Gemma to her local sex worker organisation for support immediately after the incident. Respect Inc have drop in and outreach centres on the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Townsville (Head Office) and Cairns. She was able to debrief over the phone with a peer in Cairns, was given information about her rights and the opportunity to have the respect Peer Educator with her if she chose to make a statement with Police. What an invaluable service! Severely under resourced and very lucky to have escaped the heinous community funding cuts that surged though Queensland last year like a fiscal enema.
What happened to Gemma could happen to any one of us at any time. It has happened to a lot of us. Is this a deterrent? No it is not. We cling to what little support we have within society and lean on each other and pick up the pieces and move on with our lives – and continue to sex work. Men, women and transgender alike have been making the best of difficult situations for centuries. Sex work is not a new phenomenon. It is known as the oldest profession in the world for damn good reason! Historically, it was not always an illegal or heavily regulated profession either.
Australia needs to make a National change uniting the States and follow in the huge footsteps of New South Wales and New Zealand who lead the way with complete Decriminalisation of the sex industry. Draconian laws and heavy-handed, often purely misguided moralistic regulations do nothing but make the lives of sex workers fraught with danger, ripe for exploitation and reek of political potato chips. How many more stories like Gemma’s do you have to hear before you realise that she is a person just like yourself, with a family and friends, neighbours, work colleagues and a guy that comes around to mow the lawn every 2nd Wednesday. A person who deserves to have laws in place to protect her human rights to live and work free from harrassment.
Why is Federal Australia still turning a blind eye to screeds of evidence-based research stating how decriminalising sex work removes so much unwanted paper work for bureaucrats, free’s up resources for Police to actually focus on real crimes, empowers people to make better choices, makes would be criminals think twice, and more importantly begins to improves negative stigma and discrimination which in turn raises self esteem and a feeling of belonging in society for a vulnerable minority group? Perhaps we need to invest our hard earned tax payer dollars into buying a pair of thick lens glasses so that each and every Member of Parliament can begin to read the not so small print in front of them.
Finally, I have one last statement to make. Sex workers are here to stay. Sex workers are uniting and growing stronger every single day. Sex workers will not tolerate abuse of any kind. There should be ZERO TOLERANCE against violence full stop! To those of you who are foolish enough to try to hurt or belittle us, remember we are watching you with eye’s in the back of our heads. We are becoming organised and united. These men were exposed to the hotel reception staff who also took great offence and I have no doubt they would have been uncomfortable attempting to explain it away. Be prepared to be questioned, stood up to, refused, denied and exposed as the low-life scourge of society that you are. We are the majority. You are merely that 1% of the population that resembles a sharp prick we encounter occasionally when pulling out the weeds.