Sex worker villified by Australian politician mired in union fund scandal
Executive director, Project Respect
The Australian media has been flooded with stories about federal MP (and erstwhile general secretary of the Health Services Union) Craig Thomson and his alleged misuse of union funds, said to involve payments to companies linked to prostitution and the provision of escort services in Sydney.
The question of whether or not he actually did this has been lost in the scandal that arose as a woman who was previously in the sex industry dared not only to come forward publicly saying she could identify him from a photo, but accepted money to do so.
It seems that what she has to say is irrelevant – we have already scrutinized, judged, degraded and discredited her in a public trial by media.
Potentially identifying details of this woman’s life that are completely unrelated to the story have been published. Ratings may have boomed – but at what cost, to this woman, and other women in the sex industry?
The reporting of this issue has further marginalized and stigmatized an already isolated and often vulnerable group, as one woman continues to be brutally attacked from all sides.
Owners of escort businesses and brothels in Sydney (whom you would be forgiven for thinking would be on this woman’s side, and not that of a union official) have been quick to discredit her (and ultimately, other women in the sex industry).
Instead, they have gone to the lengths of depicting women in the industry as stupid ‘some girls can’t remember what happened last week, let alone last year or before that’, to manipulative ‘it could be a con job’, to citing that a ‘typical escort’ would have sex with so many people there is simply no way she would remember each one.
Mr Thomson himself, of course does not support her story being aired. Does that give him an excuse to vilify all women in the sex industry – legal in many states of Australia now?
Mr Thomson is quoted as saying: ‘To buy a story from a prostitute is cheque book journalism at its worst’. Why is that? Is a woman who has been in the sex industry some form of second rate citizen? Is he suggesting that because she has been in the sex industry, we must assume she has no morals, is a liar and will do anything for money?
One particularly derogatory opinion piece published recently went so far as to describe this women as potentially a ‘reasonably busy tart’. The writer then says that were he the ‘sort of girl involved in that trade [he does not elaborate on what sort of girl that is] ….might be prepared to have an exact recollection of the event if $60,000 was waved in my face’ – further compounding the image of those in the sex industry as manipulative liars who will do anything for money.
He goes on to suggest it is this one woman (not the media, not Mr Thomson and definitely not the writer himself) who is destroying the reputation of those in the sex industry. Apparently, by saying she will corroborate a story, and accepting financial compensation for this – this woman is single handedly destroying the reputations of all women in the sex industry.
The effects of this media storm will surely devastate current police efforts to encourage women in the sex industry to come forward and report crimes within the sector, which include trafficking, assault and rape.
As we watch this woman being treated with clear contempt and disbelief, throughout mainstream media all the way up to Federal Parliament, can we truly question why crimes against women in the sex industry continue unreported?
Project Respect has worked with women in the sex industry since 1998. In our experience, women enter the sector for a variety of reasons, including inability to gain flexible or adequately paid employment, being a single mother, to escape a violent relationship, to pay off debts, or to secure a future they may not otherwise be able to access, including establishing their own businesses or studying.
Let us consider, for a moment, this woman, not as a hooker/prostitute/various other dehumanizing titles, but as a woman. This woman is someone’s daughter, may well be a mother, a sister, a friend, a colleague. She may volunteer for a local charity. She may be the woman behind you in the supermarket buying milk.
She may have accepted the money for the story knowing the public trial that would ensue, but wanting Australians to hear another side to the story. This woman is not known to Project Respect – however her public persecution is all too familiar.
The only way this woman can defend herself is to publicly out herself, and as is often the case, she may well consider that too high a cost. At this stage, her anonymity is the only thing protecting her. Yet again, the voices of women from the sex industry are silenced.
The sex industry in Australia is complex, controversial and women involved in it have enough to deal with. The portrayal of this issue is perpetrating the stigma, public misconception and social isolation that these women face on a daily basis.
Call it cheque book journalism, call it a political conspiracy, but don’t judge and degrade women based on what they have done, in a system we have developed, in order to survive.
*This opinion piece was a collaborative effort between Project Respect’s Executive Director Kelly Hinton, and a woman who has recently exited the sex industry, and wishes to remain anonymous.