real life

"When the sun falls beneath the sea, you emerge. And I never know how to feel."

In mid December, I moved in with my boyfriend to an apartment in St Kilda – Melbourne’s (slightly inferior) answer to Bondi.

It’s where the city meets the beach. It’s young. It’s generously lined with bars and restaurants. It’s the unapologetic home of Melbourne’s Pride festival.

But when the sun falls beneath the sea, one of St Kilda’s most notorious strips, Grey Street, also becomes home to sex workers, pimps, and johns.

In fact, if you Google ‘street prostitution’, the Wikipedia page for Grey Street is the very first option – before the page for street prostitution itself.

When the sun falls beneath the sea, one of St Kilda's most notorious strips, Grey Street, also becomes home to sex workers, pimps, and johns. (Image: Getty)

Before moving into the area, I had never seen a sex worker before. Now we've been living here for over two months, I am familiar with the regulars, who stick to their respective corners. Every night they emerge around 10pm - handbags in tow - to claim their territory under the deep navy sky, and wait for the next car to roll up.

I see these same women shuffle their feet on the pavement, blank expressions painted across their faces, night after night. One who has brown regrowth peeking through her bright blonde hair claims the corner closest to my house. Sometimes, I wonder what I might say to her if we ever crossed paths at the local Coles, or the nearby petrol station.


I try so desperately to avoid assuming things about her - that she's enslaved, or unwilling - but still I find these thoughts creeping into my mind.

Because really, there are so many things I want to ask this woman, who works down the road from my house; who stands on that corner until the sun rises again, while I'm wrapped up tight in bed.

Are you happy? Are you safe? Are you okay?

I'm aware how condescending those questions might sound. I'm also aware that sex workers might read these words and feel sheer frustration at my apparent unease.

I don't mean to offend. But when I see the conditions these women work in, it's hard not to be concerned.

In July 2013, on the nearby Greeves Street, 40-year-old sex worker and mum Tracy Connelly was fatally stabbed in her home - a white Ford Econovan parked on the side of the road. Her mutilated body was discovered 12 hours later by her longterm partner, Tony Melissovas.

Two weeks before her murder, Tracy released balloons into the sky at the funeral of her close friend Blayne, a fellow street worker and mum to a little girl. Blayne had died of a heroin overdose.

According to volunteers at the St Kilda Gatehouse, an organisation offering support to street workers, Tracy Connelly was the one with "a getaway plan". She took every safety precaution possible. Yet, gripped by her and Tony's heroin addiction, every attempt to leave the streets saw her crawling back.

"She always knew where the car door handle was," one volunteer, Ruth Baker, told ABC last year. "That is what was so scary for the women, that it was Tracy who was killed."

While police insist they are "committed to bringing this investigation to a successful conclusion", Tracy's murderer has not been found almost four years later.

I wonder if Tracy Connelly was an administrative assistant, or worked in the local bank, if the outcome of the police's investigation would be different.

According to sex worker and pornstar Madison Missina, our systems fail the women of Grey Street.

"Street work is a part of the sex industry that has completely fallen through the cracks," Madison tells me.


"The law fails street workers because it tells them they’re not allowed to hire any security for periphery reasons. This is considered as a 'pimping action', so the women who work won't be able to hire someone who is professionally trained or licensed. Instead, they will rely on pimps to protect them - who are people generally living outside the law.

"The law’s meant to be there to increase safety, but really it’s there to abolish street work, and that's just never, ever going to happen," she added.

There's another dark side to the street sex work industry that's seldom spoken about, Madison says.

"Some brothels will take in young girls... and will intentionally get them addicted to drugs, often ice, to give them an incentive to keep coming back and work. Then eventually, when the drugs start to change the way the girls look, they shut them out. Now these women have got a mad drug habit, and no source of income, so of course they turn to the streets."

According to Madison, feeding their addiction can cost some women upwards of $500 a day, further cementing their disadvantage. Often, the women's lives are so deeply chaotic, "their ability to set up appointments, or to solicit in legal ways, is really out of reach".

"They're in a really hard position, and we need to not treat these women like they’re invisible.

"Street workers don't need pity, or for people to attempt to save them," Madison told me. "They need respect. They're people who have walked a different path and have ended up in a different circumstance.

"If you put me and a street worker side by side, [most people are] going to see me as the palatable person. I’m not cool with that, because ultimately, a street worker and me are doing the same job, just in different ways.

"We're all women, you, me, a woman who works on the street. And we're all worth the same."

After I spoke to Madison Missina, I passed the blonde woman in my car, and tried read that look on her face. But she wasn't looking at me. She was staring off into the distance, thinking about something or someone I do not know in my cushy, privileged, lucky, white bread life.

Next time I pass her on Grey Street, I'm going to say hello.