Last week, Tracy Connelly was murdered in the van where she lived with her partner. Police suspect the killer was a client; Connelly was a sex worker who lived across from St. Kilda Gatehouse. She was also a loving partner and beloved friend to other women in her community. At the King’s Tribune, Jane Gilmore talks more about the importance, significance, and worthiness of Tracy Connelly as a person, to mourn and miss, rather than simply as a sex worker as the media portrays her.
In the Guardian, SA Jones reflects on how attitudes toward sex work reduce women like Connelly from a person to a salacious story and a political issue for debate.
This othering means that when a sex worker is murdered — as happened in Melbourne’s St Kilda suburb last week — our outrage is muted, Yes, we think it’s awful and we hope the assailant is caught, but she was putting herself at risk, but she knew the dangers, but she didn’t “keep herself safe” — as if what Tracy Connelly experienced in the last moments of her life was any less horrifying for her than it would be for us. Or as if her family and friends grieve differently, or her partner is any less traumatized by finding her body, or her assailant will confine their violence to sex workers so the rest of us can live without fear (Adrian Ernest Bayley, anyone?).
I’m done with the buts. To (mis)quote EM Forster, in any contest between an ideology and a friend, I’m coming down on the side of the friend, on the real, flesh-and-blood reality of the person. My support and my energy must be at the service of the sex worker rather than a politics that, however well-intentioned, diminishes their personhood and allows Tracy Connelly to be reduced to a tawdry headline.
The conclusion to which Jones has come reflects my own attitude about sex work — that we have no place dictating to any woman how she should feel about sex, and that if she feels comfortable using it for commercial purposes, it’s not ours to tell her she shouldn’t. That it’s force and coercion, not the commodification of sex, that we should be fighting. And the sad truth is that, unlike Jones’s friends who are sex workers, not all — or even most — sex workers are middle-class and well-educated with options that allow them to approach sex work as a choice rather than a last resort, or a prison from which they can’t escape.
But that othering, the focus on sex work as ideologically okay or not okay, ultimately leaves sex workers in a place of judgment to be deemed okay or not okay. That doesn’t help women who choose to engage in sex work or women who are forced into it. It doesn’t keep them safe, and it doesn’t fix the multitudinous circumstances that press women into sex work against their will. And it doesn’t let us remember Connelly as a murdered woman rather than a murdered sex worker.
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