The idea that ‘sex worker voices’ are ignored by the media is a joke

listen to sex workers

In the spirit of the popular “sex workers are underrepresented” stance, repeated by liberal media and prostitution advocates, ad nauseum, Daily Life has published yet another article repeating the myth. The author, Kate Iselin, aside from being a self-described “sex worker” and published writer, is also “furious.”

This time, the article targets the Melbourne Writers Festival for not having a “sex worker” on the panel, “Invisible Women” — a panel about prostitution featuring Melinda Tankard Reist, Meagan Tyler, and Ruth Wykes.

“Sex Workers are not invisible. We’re just being ignored,” the headline reads.

No, you’re not.

Pro-sex trade voices are so ubiquitous that even calling prostituted children “sex workers” has become entrenched in the media and public psyche.

“Sex workers” are so far from being ignored that when writers who expose the dark side of the sex trade appear on a panel to talk about their work and research, a “sex worker voice” is published in Daily Life opposing it.

The pro-sex trade are so far from being ignored that Amnesty International is pressuring their membership of some four million people (and just about every so-called leftist I come in contact with) to support the full decriminalization of the sex trade.

Prostitution survivors constantly hear “Prostitution is just  ‘sex work’ — a job like any other? Anyone who says different is just a pearl-clutcher,” from both the media and the public.

What Iselin really means is not that “sex workers” are being ignored, but that her particular voice and the voices of those who unequivocally support the full decriminalization of prostitution are not on this particular panel.

But why must every discussion of prostitution include the voices of those who support the trade? Would a panel of socialists arguing against capitalism be expected to include a billionaire to represent pro-corporation voices? Would a panel of environmentalists arguing against fracking need to invite an oil worker on stage to discuss the fact that they personally support the industry?

Scarlet Alliance, a pro-decriminalization lobby group, were, in fact, offered an entire session at the Melbourne Writers Festival but they declined. I guess unless there is an opportunity to attempt to discredit feminist authors, “sex worker voices” aren’t really worth their time. By comparison, as a prostitution survivor featured in the book, Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, the festival declined to have me on the “Invisible Women” panel and I wanted to be there.

Arguing this is not the first time a festival has ignored “sex workers,” Iselin points to the 2014 Festival of Dangerous Ideas, which didn’t have a self-identified “sex worker” on it’s panel, “Women for Sale.” In order to remedy this, pro-prostitution journalist Elizabeth Pisani invited a “sex worker” to take her place on stage during the panel. This orchestrated stunt provided the audience with the voice of Scarlet Alliance’s then-“Migrant Project Manager,” Jules Kim. (According to Scarlet Alliance’s website, “The Migration Project” is focused on “migrant sex workers” –also known as trafficked women…) Kim is now the CEO of the organization, replacing Janelle Fawkes who, like Kim, calls herself a “sex worker,” despite the fact there is no evidence that either, in fact, sell sex. (I don’t doubt that some members of the government-funded group, Scarlet Alliance, sell sex, or used to, but the media and the public need to be wise to the fact that many members do not and never have, despite the fact that the organization claims to be “run by sex workers, for sex workers.”) In other words, the push for “sex worker voices” is not about accurately representing marginalized voices — it’s about political maneuvering and creating a scene wherein the audience is made to accept arguments made in favour of decriminalization, unchallenged, because a so-called “sex worker” says so.

Yet another piece, this time in the New York Times, promoting "sex worker voices."
Yet another piece, this time in New York Times Magazine, promoting “sex worker voices.”

Iselin is not “furious” about there not being a “sex worker” on the “Invisible Women” panel, she is merely furious that feminists, Tankard Reist and Tyler are, and will be speaking to the harms of prostitution, rather than working to neutralize and normalize it.

Iselin is clever enough to pay some politically correct lip-service to the survivor testimonies in Prostitution Narratives, going so far as to say she thinks our stories should be “believed, trusted and amplified.” But I wonder if Iselin would have a go at the festival because they declined to include me on the panel?

You see it is, in fact, the voices of prostituted and formerly prostituted women who are speaking out against Iselin and Scarlet Alliance’s agenda to expand the sex-trade that are actually “excluded, stigmatized, and marginalized.” Voices like Iselin’s and the Scarlet Alliance are not. In the U.S., for example, a lengthy article published in New York Times Magazine purported to ask the question, “Should prostitution be a crime,” but featured almost solely self-described “sex workers” from the organization, Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), yet another pro-decriminalization lobby group.

Iselin is “furious” that our survivor voices were included in a book and that a feminist publisher and two editors were brave enough to publish our testimonies. And believe me, in this pro-sex trade climate it is incredibly brave — those who don’t support the rights of men to buy women to use as their personal sex toys are repeatedly vilified and discredited by pro-sex trade voices who want to push their agenda at any cost.

An article at The Nation, "Let’s Call Sex Work What It Is: Work"
Cover image from an article at The Nation, “Let’s Call Sex Work What It Is: Work”

Iselin’s piece is manipulative and disingenuous. She says she doesn’t doubt the veracity of our testimonies, but dismisses us, taking aim instead at the women who actually did listen to survivors and amplify our voices, claiming they are just headline grabbers. By reducing Tankard Reist and Tyler’s exhaustive research, intelligence, and courage to “tragedy porn” or some evil “anti-sex worker” agenda, she erases the realities and voices of survivors as well.

The actual stories of prostituted women are not “tragedy porn.” It is truly callous to claim to support a group of people who have suffered torture, abuse, and degradation, then imply we are just a few who happened to have been dealt a rough hand and don’t represent the majority, when, in fact, we do. Research shows that prostituted women suffer from PTSD at the same rates as combat veterans, and most have suffered ongoing sexual, verbal, physical, and psychological abuse.

Iselin may have paid survivor testimonies lip service, but because she goes on to paint us as sad but nonetheless unreliable dimwits who simply fell under the spell of dodgy anti-sex worker advocates, her efforts at displaying empathy fail.

The message Iselin sends is that voices of survivors and advocates who oppose the system of prostitution shouldn’t be “believed, trusted and amplified” after all. In fact, unless we highlight and include pro-industry voices, we are, apparently, unreliable narrators and our work is illegitimate. While certainly everyone has a right to an opinion, it doesn’t mean that all opinions must be heard at all times. The promotion of prostitution gets more than enough air time throughout the world, through media, pop culture, and in leftist and liberal discourse. The idea that Iselin’s perspective is “ignored” is nothing more than a tactical lie. Like so many liberal media outlets, Daily Life fell for this too. Quelle surprise.

Simone Watson is an Indigenous woman living in Western Australia, and the Director of NorMAC (Nordic Model in Australia Coalition). She is a prostitution survivor and a contributor to the book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade edited by Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist.

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  • esuth

    For years I’ve been called a pearl clutcher, all I want to know is when do I get my god damn pearls?!?!

  • oneclickboedicea

    The sex worker lobby completely fails to address child rape, adult rape, slavery, the use of hate speech and violence as part of the package they sell. Until it becomes work that respects the human rights legislation of every other legitimate industry then it simply is not work like any other, it is abuse, albeit paid for but abuse nevertheless.


    Very important article. THANK U Simone Watson.

  • stephen m

    This is old news to the long term followers of Meghan’s blog but I felt a review would be interesting to newer readers.
    Blog material from:

    Cath Elliot &Julie Bindel:
    Comment: rmott62 says: to Cath Elliot’s blog article below.
    February 7, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    Thanks so much for doing, this made furious and also very sad.
    Punters in their union, that is unbearable. You both did very not
    smashing your plates on his arrogant head. So he is manager is he?
    Thanks you for shining a bright light on how callous and full of lies
    the IUSW. Thanks to Julie as well, you both are doing for the
    prostituted, it means so much, I am very moved.
    “What you call pimps, we call managers.”
    Cath Elliott
    Posted on February 7, 2014


    “What you call pimps, we call managers.”
    Cath Elliott
    Posted on February 7, 2014


  • TheArtistFormerlyKnownAsYoya

    Interestingly, sex worker voices ARE ignored by the media – those voices that do not spout the choicey choice rhetoric are drowned out, silenced and no platformed all the time.

  • Wren

    So we’ve all probably heard that the justifications for prostitution mimic the justifications of the African slave trade, but I just came across this passage that I thought was worded in an interesting way:

    “Free men should be able to become slaves if they want to”

    It can be argued that this sort of slavery isn’t real slavery until some form of coercion is involved.
    Since it would only apply to a tiny proportion of cases of ‘slavery’ it is not a justification for slavery itself.

    By and large people aren’t concerned about the ethics of voluntary
    slavery; what concerns them is the situation where people are forced to
    become slaves, or where people who have chosen to be slaves are
    prevented from regaining their freedom.

    We also need to be alert to cases where people are conditioned to
    find slavery acceptable, and where it can be argued that their choice is
    not a free one.

    Finally, if free people choose to become slaves they may weaken the
    general prohibition against slavery, and this would be a bad thing.”

    The last part, in particular, explains everything, imho.

    • melissa

      “We also need to be alert to cases where people are conditioned to
      find slavery acceptable, and where it can be argued that their choice is
      not a free one.

      Finally, if free people choose to become slaves they may weaken the
      general prohibition against slavery, and this would be a bad thing.”

      Maybe I’m reaching, but i would say that applies to the relentless glorification and normalization of BDSM right now too, both in and out of the bedroom(i mean the male lead in 50 shades ticks every box on the DV checklist ffs.this is whats being presented as the most lusted after example of a man to men and women ), as well as religious indoctrination leading to women often ardently defending patriarchal institution and cultural roles themselves.this is definitely conditioning to make these things acceptable, and definitely weekens the intolerance or aversion towards abuse against women and uneven power dynamics in relationships and in society between the genders.

  • Wren

    Yeah, it’s called BDSM and it’s fun!

  • northernTNT

    This is what I wish:
    I wish that every single person who thinks prostitution is “work” to go out and actually do it for a year. Not as an autonomous two-women protection team, but as a brothel worker with a pimp with a bunch of desperate foreign or indigenous women. See how fuckin long they last fucking dirty males for money.
    I guarantee they will not last.
    I never copulated for money, but I have done a lot of other sex acts for money. I “loved sex” , “a lot”, so it is assumed that all of us who “love sex a lot” are the perfect women to work in the prostitution.
    But I can lend my voice to the FUCK NO crowd.
    After a hundred or so males, the novelty really fucking wares off, and they all look vomit inducing after a while… and then you gotta fuck that… no fucking way.
    One needs to be in an absolute state of dire desperation to overcome that vomit reflex and have physical sexual contact with males who are despicable.
    For these males ARE TRULY DESPICABLE.

    • Petronella

      Absolutely, northernTNT! I’m so sorry that you went through that. Prostitution apologists love to avoid discussing the specific acts that they are advocating women and girls perform for men. I agree, most of them would not last one day if they were the ones doing it. I also suspect, and I think it’s been discussed on FC before, most of the most vocal self-styled present and former “sex workers” do or did things like internet nude posing or phone sex lines or artsy burlesque acts in safe, clean theatres and clubs. They are NOT the ones being penetrated by 6-10 strange men per night.

    • lk

      I always find it interesting that people will defend prostitution but know that it is something they would never want to do, nor want their daughter to do. If its work like any other, if it is empowering, why wouldn’t you want your daughter to be a prostitute?

      The owner of one of the brothels in Germany was in a documentary and they asked him if he would be okay with his daughters becoming prostitutes: “Unthinkable, unthinkable,” he says. “The question alone is brutal. I don’t mean to offend the prostitutes but I try to raise my children so that they have professional opportunities. Most prostitutes don’t have those options. That’s why they’re doing that job.” He pauses and looks away.

      “Unimaginable”, he repeats. “I don’t even want to think about it.”

      I think his response just says so much.

    • susannunes

      Only sociopaths buy women. A man has to be one to totally dehumanize and disregard the feelings of another person.

  • susannunes

    The legalizers are liars, pure and simple. They play the prude card because they have no argument whatsoever in favor of what amounts to human rights abuse. These disgusting women fronting for the sex trade–really slavery–can’t get it into their thick heads that no man EVER has the right to buy human beings for the purpose of degrading them, as prostitution does by definition. Men have no right to women’s bodies, period.