The latest affront in an ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment of Prostitution Narratives contributors and survivors
Prostitution Narratives: Stories of survival in the sex trade was released by Spinifex Press in April. Since then, all connected with the book have been subjected to abuse, insults, vilification and threats. Our survivors have been endured torrents of verbal aggression, forced to run a gauntlet of sex industry representatives at book launches and book related events around the country. While testifying to the violence they lived with in the industry, they now confront intimidation outside it. We have had to line up security at a number of events. I was provided a security escort out of the ACMI venue at the Melbourne Writers Festival two weeks ago due to a protest organised by the Australian Sex Party (consider this – protesting two books, between them documenting the lives of 85 women, 65 of them murdered). The worst demonstration of the industry’s determination to protect its vested interests was on show in Townsville last month, when the local prostitution lobby forced the domestic violence service to cancel the conference room booking for our launch, then turned up at the new venue to harass and disrupt our event. I’ve seen a lot in more than two decades of activism, but I’ve never seen anything like this. Well known former head of Scarlet Alliance, Elena Jeffreys, approached our youngest and most recently exited survivor Alice (‘Charlotte’ in the book) and tried to re-recruit her into the industry. Brisbane writer Jas Rawlinson has written this account.
Sex industry survivor told to ‘give sex work another go’
By Jas Rawlinson
For 28-year-old trafficking survivor Alice, the last thing she expected when publicly sharing her story was to be encouraged by a prominent sex-industry figure into returning to a life that had almost killed her.
Attending the recent Townsville book launch of Prostitution Narratives, a collection of autobiographical stories from survivors of sex-industry abuse (edited by Dr Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist), Alice says that she and another fellow survivor were bullied and disrespected by members of sex industry group RESPECT.
“Some of the women deliberately chose to sit with their backs to me while I was speaking, and as another survivor spoke, they continually called out over the top of her,” said Alice (known as ‘Charlotte’ in Prostitution Narratives).
At the end of her speech, Alice says she was singled out by Scarlet Alliance representative Elena Jeffreys, and encouraged to return to prostitution.
“She said to me: ‘’I'll admit the Queensland girls have it really rough up here, but I’d really encourage you to give sex work another go down in New South Wales where the [working] conditions are a lot better.’
“I couldn’t believe that not even 10 minutes after speaking about the trauma I went through – and have been left with as a result of working in the industry – here was this person suggesting I go back!”, Alice said.
“I thought it was completely disrespectful towards me – she doesn’t know anything about where I am now in life. I have no need to go back and never would.”
Women’s rights activist and Prostitution Narratives co-editor Ms Tankard Reist, was also shocked.
“That was definitely the worst element of the day, it surprised even me,” she said. “To see Alice told to just ‘give it another go’ after she had just described the multiple levels of trauma she had been through was deeply disturbing.”
Alice, who was sold to pedophile rings by her own father at just five years old, and had suffered serious trauma from her time in the Australian sex industry as a young woman, says the ‘immature behaviour’ of the sex industry group was extremely disappointing.
“I am just disappointed that they aren’t interested in listening to what anyone with an opposing view has to say, and concurrently, that they want to silence our voices so no-one else can hear us either.”
Initially the event had been scheduled to take place at a northern Queensland Domestic Violence centre, however, the location was changed after members of RESPECT approached the service expressing disappointment with the centre for allowing the book launch to be held in their venue – even though it is used by a diverse number of other groups.
Several attendees, including Ms Tankard Reist, and Collective Shout Coordinator Angela Burrows, revealed that the venue was warned against providing their space to the ex-industry survivors.
“Members of RESPECT told the Domestic Violence service that their group ‘could not be held responsible for the actions of some of their more radical members, should they allow us to use the space,” said Ms Burrows.
Ms Tankard Reist said it was ‘ironic’ that the lobby group would react in this way toward a service that aims to support women fleeing abuse.
Forced to change venues at the last minute, the survivors and event coordinators attempted to go ahead with the book launch at a new location.
“Because we had to move the venue, we ended up jammed into a corner of a bar, with a live band right next door, where people could barely hear us. It was terrible for the survivors to have to tell their stories in this kind of environment,” says Ms Tankard Reist.
However, despite the less than ideal location, the women’s rights activist said it was the ongoing intimidation and bullying from sex worker activists that was most disturbing.
“At one point Elena Jeffreys got up on a stool and stood over us, just raining down abuse; booing, hissing, calling out…”
Despite claiming to support current and former sex workers voices, various Australian sex-worker groups have in recent months, made several attempts to de-platform trafficking and sex-trade survivor events.
In April, pro-sex industry activists targeted survivors at ‘The world’s oldest oppression’ conference held at RMIT University, where panel speakers included Irish prostitution survivor and author Rachel Moran.
Ms Tankard Reist says it is horrible the way survivors of trafficking and sexual abuse are treated, given that such groups claim to support former sex worker voices.
“This is really just part of a broader campaign against prostitution survivors,” she said.
For survivors such as Alice, sharing her story of abuse and survival was not an easy decision to make, but one that she felt important.
“Speaking at the Townsville book launch was honestly one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was shaking the whole time but I am very proud that I didn’t let anyone stop me from speaking about my truth and my experiences,” she said.
“This was not the first time people have tried to silence me and it will not be the last either. But I am stronger than that, and I am not going to be quiet and go away.
“I will continue to speak out and pull back the glamorous and glitzy facade the sex industry likes to maintain, because it is an important message.
“There are people out there who want to hear what survivors like me have to say.”
Note: Several attempts were made to contact Ms Jules Kim (Scarlet Alliance CEO) and Ms Elena Jeffreys for comment, however no response was given.
See also: ‘The men who buy women for sex’, Caitlin Roper, ABC Religion & Ethics
Prostitution Narratives can be purchased here.