By Caitlin Roper
This month, we made history.
For the first time, sex trade survivors and their supporters came together for ‘World’s Oldest Oppression’ conference, Australia’s first ever national abolitionist meeting.
Approximately one hundred people spent two days at RMIT Melbourne hearing from exited women describing their experiences in the sex industry, from those organisations that work with and support them, and in strategizing how to move forward in our campaigning efforts to implement the so-called ‘Nordic model’. We were also privileged to be addressed by international guests journalist Julie Bindel and Irish campaigner and survivor Rachel Moran.
Only days before the conference began, France had voted to pass the Nordic model- much to the excitement of survivors and advocates. There was something very special about being all together in the company of such courageous women, women who bared their souls to us in sharing stories of abuse, rape, violence, drugs and trauma. We laughed together at times, we cried, and at times we sat silently, listening to the horrors some women endured in prostitution.
One of the survivors we heard from was Ally. Like many women, she entered prostitution when she was young and destitute. She tearfully described her initiation into prostitution (twenty men on her first night) and crying herself to sleep after, while the man at reception collected all the money. Ally’s speech was recorded and may be viewed here. This gathering of survivors and allies posed such a threat to the profits of the sex industry that members of the pro-sex lobby tried to bully RMIT into cancelling the event. When their attempts to silence survivors failed, they made plans to protest survivors speaking outside the venue. A whole nine protestors turned up (to the wrong venue) with signs, one of which read “Why be poor?” While survivors inside spoke of being repeatedly raped, and friends being beaten to death by sex buyers, members of the pro-sex lobby stood outside not simply protesting, but recruiting.
The weekend came to a close with the launch of a new book of survivor stories edited by Dr Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist, Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, featuring the powerful stories of twenty women who had been prostituted. Having read just a few chapters so far myself, I cannot see how anyone could read these accounts and come away thinking prostitution is anything other than violence against and exploitation of women. We said our goodbyes and left the conference with a renewed energy to push forward and to fight the commercial exploitation of women and girls. Slowly, slowly, the tide is turning.