Sex workers and their supporters are celebrating today’s International Whores’ Day with a special online rally, marking the birth of the contemporary sex workers’ rights movement and bringing attention to the need for decriminalisation around the world.
2 June has been recognised as International Whores’ Day, or International Sex Workers’ Day, for 45 years.
It marks the courage and resilience shown by over 100 workers as they protested inhumane treatment at the hands of police in the French city of Lyon in 1975.
Sex workers celebrate and acknowledge the day because the community is still marginalised.
Rather than the usual public demonstrations, due to the pandemic, this year’s celebration is an online rally.
Sex workers and advocates are showing solidarity on social media by sharing photos and memes with the hashtag #IWD20challenge.
Workers and supporters are sharing photos of themselves, friends, family, and pets with sex work–positive shirts and signs and red umbrellas, the international symbol of the sex worker rights movement.
Kat Morrison, general manager of South Australian sex worker group SIN, said that while social fabrics and moral compasses have shifted since 1975, South Australia is today the only Australian state still completely criminalising the sex industry.
A bill to decriminalise sex work was last year defeated in the lower house by a slim margin.
“South Australian politicians, for the 13th time, decided to retain sex work within the criminal code,” said Morrison.
“The South Australian Police, tasked with enforcing the law, broke protocol and added to the alarmist narrative circulating at the time.
“Police, through media channels, made comment on reforms to the law that gave rise to unfounded concerns and fed the conservative discourse snaking its way through the House of Assembly.”
Polls last year nevertheless showed consistent public support for sex industry law reform.
“Sex worker voices are often silenced,” said sex worker and PhD candidate Roxana Diamond.
“Unless our narratives fit into the popular myths and stereotypes surrounding the sex industry, our experiences are often minimised or ignored.
“Often, we are forced to create both palatable and sanitised renditions of our sex work, when in reality we are whores, and we are loud and proud!”
A key message of sex work activists is that everyone deserves to feel safe when they go to work, and sex work is skilled labour and must be treated as such.
“Industrial rights and protections are the hallmarks of a healthy and robust workforce,” said SIN president Ari Reid.
“Sex workers are demanding an end to the discriminatory legislation that denies South Australian sex workers access to unionisation, workplace health and safety regulations, and all the other workplace protections afforded to non–sex work industries.”
The current regulations for sex work during the pandemic and when people may return to work vary by jurisdiction.
Workers in some Australian states are already back at work, with others set to be permitted to soon, but Queensland is among the states with no date in sight for returning to business.
Advocates in Queensland have also been fighting for decriminalisation of the industry.
“When sex workers are singled out with no end date, even though other personal services like massage therapists are returning to work, it feels like discrimination and has a real impact on our mental health,” said Janelle Fawkes of DecrimQLD.
“The stress of not being able to plan ahead, particularly for people who haven’t been able to access government support, is unfair.”
Fawkes said sex workers have developed plans for working more safely during the pandemic, and called for state governments to prioritise determining a date for then to return to business.
This International Whores’ Day, sex workers are reminding the public and politicians that they will not be silenced.
Evidence shows that decriminalising the sex industry provides the best health and wellbeing outcomes for workers.
Community members can show their solidarity by contacting their local member of parliament to demanding decriminalisation of the sex industry, and by donating to the campaign to support Australian sex workers who are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.