Former Australian sex workers who have spoken out about their experiences in the sex industry, claiming human rights violations are rampant, say they have been harassed and targeted by pro-prostitution groups since coming forward.
A controversial new book titled Prostitution Narratives — Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade details accounts of rape, assault, blackmail and coercion.
Former sex workers Alice* and Simone Watson say the book is a way for their voices to be heard and for the curtain to be lifted on an industry that caters to pimps but does little to protect the rights of workers.
The women are fighting against the legalisation of prostitution, saying it is a myth that sex workers are safer under this model, and are pushing for safe exit strategies for women who wish to leave.
Ms Watson said “illegal” street sex workers had more rights than women working in a legal brothel because they had more control over who they chose to accept or decline as clients and could negotiate their own payment.
“People on the street can negotiate pay better than workers in the industry,” she said.
“People hear decriminalisation and they think it will make the industry safer, but this is just catering to the pimps.
Alice said when she worked in the industry she was blackmailed, had clients make sexually violent requests of her and was subjected to clients who expressed a desire to play out pre-pubescent fetishes.
“I would have clients who would say ‘oh you look like my daughter’s age, oh you look like you could be in high school’,” she said.
Ms Watson said it was imperative for her to expose the reality of the sex-trade.
“To be offered the opportunity to contribute with other survivors was perhaps one of the most important and validating experiences I can think of.”
Ms Watson said women working in the sex industry were more likely to be murdered or die prematurely due to overall poor health or substance addiction.
“PTSD is a leading cause of overall general poor health, and not just suicide, but slow death through smoking, alcohol and so on,” she said.
“The backlash against the book has also highlighted that this reality is uncomfortable for those with a vested interest in keeping the sex trade going.”
Alice said her self-worth diminished rapidly while she was part of the industry and both former workers say since speaking out they have been harassed by pro-prostitution groups who label them traitors.
‘Legalising prostitution does not reduce crime’
Co-editor of the book Melinda Tankard Reist said the sex industry did not want the women to be heard because there was a financial motivation to maintaining an unregulated industry that allowed for “pop-up” brothels with minimum transparency.