Sex workers are increasingly at risk of violence, and being forced to do things they don’t want to – and the internet is at least partly to blame. That’s the frank assessment of women who have worked on the streets and in the legal and illegal brothel industries, and have been interviewed by Fairfax Media.
All say that there is considerably less demand for sex work than five years ago and, as women compete for fewer clients, they are facing demands for unsafe sexual practices and regular violence.
Project Respect, a not-for-profit group that supports women in the sex industry, is calling for the everyday violence against sex workers to be recognised as just as significant a problem as violence against women more broadly.
Kathleen Maltzahn, the group’s founding director, says there was a view that once sex workers had taken a client’s money, they consented to everything that occurred with that client.
“As long as people think, ‘you took the money so therefore you consented’, that’s going to be a big problem,” she says.
The women interviewed by Fairfax Media said the rise of internet “hook up” sites such as sugardaddyforme.com and f—book.com were making it easier for men to connect with sex workers and sexual partners, and contributing to a downturn in the industry.
They say violence is a daily part of their life. The most common forms are biting, slapping, pinching, hair pulling, verbal abuse and rough sex, which they say is present in almost every interaction. None had reported being victims of this violence, which they considered “part of the job”.
At Project Respect’s Fitzroy office, four women who have recently left the sex industry sit around a table. Haltingly at first, they tell their stories.
Jen* says when she started brothel work five years ago, women could make $500-$600 over a seven-hour day shift. Now, they’d be lucky to make $200.
Hannah, who spent about six years doing street sex work in St Kilda, says that as the industry declines, sex workers have been forced to drop their prices, and offer services that would have previously attracted a high fee.