What kind of people are sex workers? In Australia, hundreds of them are telling the world about themselves using social media.
“College student. Aspiring lawyer. Activist. Daughter, sister, sex worker. I don’t need rescuing”.
These are the kinds of statements that hundreds of Australian sex workers are making about themselves using the #facesofprostitution hashtag. It was started last Sunday on Instagram by 21-year-old sex worker and history graduate Tilly Lawless. She was responding to an blog post re-published last week in the popular online Australian women’s magazine, Mamamia. The blog was written to mark the 25th anniversary of the prostitute-meets-prince-charming film Pretty Woman, and argued that the reality of sex work was much uglier than in the movie.
Tilly Lawless was angered by the way the piece “generalised sex workers” and “depicted all prostitution as harmful”. She herself has been working as a sex worker for two years but only started identifying publicly as a sex worker two months ago in Sydney, where prostitution is legal. She decided to post a picture of herself on her Instagram feed to show another face of prostitution – the face of a young woman who had made an informed choice to be a sex worker – as a protest against the blog.
Shortly after, Tilly was contacted via the Scarlett Alliance – the Australian Sex Worker’s Association – who asked if she would post the hashtag on Twitter. And then it began: a mass of hundreds of mostly Australian and mostly female sex workers posted images showing their faces to the world, many coming out publicly as sex workers on social media for the very first time.