career

'My close friend is a sex worker, and I say good on her.'

Can I get a little respect for my friends? I’m tired of having to defend some of my favourite people simply because of the way the earn their living.

You see, over the years through my work I have interviewed many sex workers. One in particular, Christine, I have grown to regard as a close and loyal mate.

She is at the top of her field, earning thousands a night. She doesn’t dislike her job or find it degrading as many assume she must. Instead, she sees her body as her own business, literally and metaphorically. She claims she is in charge, always, and will never do anything she doesn’t want to. Her work, she believes, is empowering and necessary.

And I say good on her.

This lady isn’t the only sex worker I have grown close to however. Upon moving o Melbourne some five years ago I made a friend in a woman called Tracy Connelly, who worked the corner close to my home. Every day while walking my dog I would chat to Tracy, who was always witty and warm.

Hey Mia Freedman, is it true you don’t like sex workers? (Post continues after video.)

To say I was devastated when she was brutally robbed, raped and murdered one cold winter night three years ago doesn’t fully explain my heartache. This horrific event changed my life and led me to become involved with the St Kilda Gatehouse, a safe place for street based sex workers that offers much needed sanctuary and dignity.

I truly respect and cherish both Christine and the women I have met through the Gatehouse. But I am fed up with the fact others don’t.

There is an underlying prejudice that exists around women who engage in sex work and that is that they are somehow less than us, dirty and depraved or pathetic and pitiful. It is a bias that I believe is undeserved and ignorant. But here is the paradox that is often overlooked – it is also blatantly sexist.

Why is it that women who rent their bodies are condemned for their actions and not the men that hire them for their enjoyment? Why is someone who gives demonised and not those that receive?

I used to see Tracy’s customers pull up, often with kid seats in the back of their cars. These were men who have families, jobs and socially acceptable lives.

In Tracy’s case, these men knew she was hopelessly addicted to heroin and recognised the danger she placed herself in working the streets. They would have probably surmised her habit stopped her from getting work in a reputable brothel and that there was probably a tragic back story to her life that led to said addiction. Which there was and almost always is.

These men knew she was hopelessly addicted to heroin and recognised the danger she placed herself in working the streets. (Image: iStock)
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Yet these same men would try to wangle a discount out of her or, in the heat of the moment, want more than they paid for, resulting in rape. Yet these men get to drive back home to their safe and comfortable lives with untarnished reputations. Tracy was not so lucky as the jeering and insults from passing cars I heard her being subjected to proves.

Christine’s clients are also unaccountable for their actions, regardless that may entail adultery or cheating. In fact, many view their decision to pay for sex as a perk of having a high disposable income. No shame in indulging in a little on the side. The men would be mad not to!

But let’s look at the language used to describe the women who service them sexually: whore, hooker, strumpet, fallen woman, concubine, slut loose woman, tramp, floozy, concubine, courtesan, harlot and hustler. And the men who procure? Well, there’s customer, client, John and that’s about it.

Fair much? I don’t think so.

The reason this is on my mind of late is thanks to an extract written by  sex worker called Tanja Rahm which was published in the book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, by Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reis.

Tanja’s writing was addressed to her former clients, the men who paid her for sex. And it is scathing.

"When you praised my appearance, my body, or my sexual abilities, you could just as well have vomited on me." (Image: Spinifex Press) 
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When you praised my appearance, my body, or my sexual abilities, you could just as well have vomited on me. You did not see the person behind the mask. You only saw that which confirmed your illusion of a raunchy woman with an unstoppable sex drive.

And:

Prostitutes only exist because men like you feel you have the right to satisfy your sexual urges using the orifices of other people’s bodies.

Prostitutes exist because you and your peers feel that your sexuality requires access to sex whenever it suits you.

Prostitutes exist because you are a misogynist, and because you are more concerned with your own sexual needs than the relationships in which your sexuality could actually flourish.

I don’t think my friend Christine would agree with Tanja’s views. She is friends with many of her clients, men who often want more from her than just sex such as companionship and a listening ear.

But I bet if my lovely friend Tracy was still alive she would be high fiving Tanja and agreeing wholeheartedly. Because many of the men who hired Tracy saw her as nothing but a vessel, an outlet for their sexual relief.

They were the ones who would push themselves in to an obviously damaged woman in the back of a car or down an alley and haggle over money yet it is Tracy and her ilk who are perceived as the immoral ones.

Perhaps if Johns were the ones on the street corners and sex workers were trawling from the safety of their cars perceptions would be different.

But with a domestic violence epidemic in this country engendered by an underlying hatred of women, I doubt it.

It is so much easier to condemn those already in pain such as Tracy, or censure those in command of their lives like Christine.

In other words, blame the supply instead of the demand.

What's your experience with the sex work industry?

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