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sex workers protest against salvos’ ongoing discrimination

Image via SBS

Image via SBS

In 2009, the Salvation Army capitalised on the discrimination of sex workers through a derogatory promotion for their Red Shield Appeal. After protests and a threat of a “red ban”, the Salvation Army were forced to publically apologise and withdraw their ads about “Rick”, an alleged sex worker they had “rescued” from his industry.

Unfortunately the Salvation Army were back at it again earlier this month with more offensive fundraising material that has angered not just sex workers but also breached mental health reporting guidelines. Printed on their donations envelope was a picture of a little girl crying with the captions, ‘My mother was a prostitute. She’d lock me in the bathroom. So I started cutting myself. I was 5…’

Following outrage from sex workers and supporters throughout social media, the Salvation Army entered into negotiations with the Sex Workers Outreach Project NSW (SWOP NSW), Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association and their members throughout Australia. As the Scarlet Alliance’s CEO, Jules Kim explained:

‘Scarlet Alliance was undergoing negotiations in good faith with the Salvation Army. We had significant issues about not just the offensive vilification of sex workers they were using for fundraising promotions, but the fact that they were doing it again. This time it was understandable that sex workers wanted more than an apology. We wanted assurances that they had taken measures to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.’ 

After protracted discussions on the form of the apology and retraction to be issued, no retraction was issued and the apology that was issued as a media release did not meet the criteria that had been agreed. Not only did they continue to distribute the offensive material, but they also failed to understand the nature of sex worker complaints and in doing so they issued, without the promised consultation, replacement material more disgusting than the original. ‘I guess they must have figured that sex workers wouldn’t find out about it because we aren’t part of the community, and in any case it didn’t matter,’ Kim said. ‘When it comes to sex workers, obviously the Salvos finds it acceptable to continue to vilify, stigmatise and exploit us for financial gain.’ 

According to sex worker and CEO of SWOP NSW, Cameron Cox says ‘in stigmatising sex workers the Salvos campaign crosses a very important line’. ‘Organisations that stigmatise the very people that they purport to help do so at their own risk,’ Cox said. ‘Not only will NSW sex workers be unlikely to utilise Salvos services in times of need, sex workers and their supporters, will also be less likely to donate or collect for this charity.’ 

On June 2 – International Sex Worker Day – sex workers and allies protested outside the Salvation Army Territorial Headquarters in Redfern at 4PM to send a message that sex workers are part of the community and our voices count. The overwhelming sentiment was a strong, ‘we don’t need your pity, we need our rights’.

Jules Kim masterfully summed up the situation by outlining the damage that has been done and the costs that must be paid. ‘The Salvation Army has again exploited stigma against sex workers in order to make money,’ Kim said, pointing out it has happened too many times. ‘We have been having ongoing negotiations in good faith with the Salvos and they have made a public apology and stated they would no longer use offensive depictions of sex workers. Obviously their words are meaningless because they have continued to use this material during their door knock appeal this weekend was still online,’ Kim added. ‘Their fundraising materials state that sex workers are bad parents who abuse our children and continue to call us prostitutes. This is unacceptable.’

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