Blitz sat down with sex work advocate Tilly Lawless to find out about her fight for respect and rights for sex workers.
What inspired you to be a voice for the sex work industry?
Nothing really inspired me to be it. I started out accidentally because I wrote an Instagram post and the hashtag went viral. I was given this platform that I haven’t had before and I felt a great responsibility and obligation to utilise that platform because not many sex workers are in a position. So I felt as if I had to thrive with that and utilise it in a way rather than being inspired to do it.
How did people react to your “#thefacesofprostitution” movement?
At the time, there was a positive reaction from the sex worker community generally. I think it allowed a lot of sex workers to maybe connect in ways that they haven’t before or lobby in ways. There was also a negative reaction and lots of people were anti-sex work. That was such a flurry and a chaotic time for me that it was hard for me to even perceive if overall it was negative or positive.
What image were you trying to change when you created the hashtag?
We see a lot of focus on sex workers bodies. For example, TV shows often depict a body of murdered sex workers and things like that. But, we see very little focus of who they are as people so that’s why the hashtag was about faces rather than bodies. So the plural – faces – was trying to point out the fact that there is no one face of sex work. The reality is that most people exist somewhere between in that space and that they aren’t just one or the other and they are actually complex human beings like any person in any industry. So that’s why #facesofprostitution was about focusing on the fact that there is no one story.
Is that what you mean by your term “whore-archy”?
No, “whore-archy” is different. “Whore-archy” is the hierarchy that exists in sex work and shouldn’t. So the “whore-archy” is, for example, the fact that street-based sex workers are seen as worse than brothel workers, and brothel workers are seen as worse than escorts. The “whore-archy” is based on seeing certain sex workers as more valuable as others and others as more disposable than others. This allows sex workers to throw other sex workers under the bus to save themselves.
In line with TEDxYouth@Sydney’s theme, how else would you like to shift the future perception of the sex work industry?
Ideally, sex work should be viewed the same way as any other job. If there was no commenting on our job but that is something that there are generations and generations of so I don’t know. It would be great only if in this new generation of young people, we saw more acceptance of sex work, less fetishisation of it and just like, more of it just being seen as anything else. But, you know I’m cynical I don’t know if that would happen. But you can still try right!