Friday, 31 July 2015

Safer Spaces Policy (2015)

Melbourne Festival of Sex Work 
Safer Spaces Policy (2015)

The Melbourne Festival of Sex Work Safer Spaces Policy is about taking a positive, proactive, preventative step towards making spaces safer in our community. We use the word ‘safer’ to acknowledge that no space can be entirely safe for everyone and not everyone experiences spaces in the same way as others.

We want the Melbourne Festival of Sex Work to offer sex worker friendly environments that are welcoming, engaging and supportive: spaces where people take care of one another whilst promoting lively and productive debate. We want people to feel they can be themselves and that different opinions are important and can strengthen our community. We are asking people to be proactive in creating a safer, sex work positive space that is comfortable for everyone attending. We won’t be micro-monitoring behaviour at the Festival, but each event will be facilitated and we expect that everyone attending will respect our safer spaces statement and take responsibility for their behaviour at all times.

Just as we use the word “safer” because no space can be 100% safe for all participants, we also acknowledge that no policy can eliminate 100% of risk and danger for people participating in any event. With that in mind Festival organisers would like to make clear that this policy is a guiding document, one that is live and can be amended as necessary. Festival organisers are open to feedback regarding the Safer Spaces Policy and this can be given by emailing

Every event is a safer space for all participants.

Being a safer space for participants means a number of things:
1. Event content must not discriminate, exclude or perpetuate stigma against its potential

participants. Each event, its facilitators and participants must avoid making judgements and/or promoting prejudice about race, sex, gender, sexuality, ability, drug use, mode of sex work, legal status, and mental health. If it is necessary to be exempt from this (for example, a workshop’s content may only be relevant for only cisfemale participants), these stipulations and the reasons for them must be made explicit to festival organisers and will be absolutely clear from the beginning in all promotional material.
2. Privacy and confidentiality of participants is paramount. It will be made clear to participants that no personal or identifying details are ever required for participation in a workshop; that no contribution made by participants at a workshop will be shared outside of it unless consent is clearly and explicitly given; and no recording devices (including cameras) will be used during workshops.
3. Event facilitators must be aware that some content may trigger a negative emotional impact on participants. Any planned event content that may be at all traumatic (including discussions of violence,  abuse, suicide) must be made clear to participants prior to the event. It must also be made clear to participants that they can leave the event whenever they want and should debriefing be necessary, festival organisers will arrange this in accordance with our Safer Spaces Policy.
4. The Festival is made up of events that are either sex worker only or open to the public. In terms of ensuring the safety of event participants, public events will be clearly indicated as such. (Further discussion of this below)
5. Festival organisers will ensure that a safer space and debriefers will be made available at all events. Participants will be made aware that their involvement is completely voluntary and the right to exit any event plus access to a debriefer will be upheld.
6. Festival organisers are sex workers. As such we also need to ensure our own safety. While we are responsive to concerns individuals may have regarding the operation of our festival we will not tolerate abuse or harassment of individual Festival organisers or the collective.

This Festival is a celebration of Sex Work.

Events must reflect this. We want the experience sex workers have at the festival to be a positive one. We recognise the diversity of experiences of sex work and festival organisers do not want to make invisible any sex workers experience. However, the festival is a constructive and positive space; it is not the right place for working through people's personal issues; it is not the space to attack or critique any individual sex worker.

Each event must
1. ...affirm or further the goals of sex worker rights
2. ...contribute to participants understanding of the diversity of sex work
3. ...give priority to focusing on the skills, character and strategies that sex workers use in
combating stigma and discrimination

Sex Worker Only and Public Events
The Festival organisers acknowledge that negotiating safety in a sex worker only space is different to negotiating safety at a public event. The festival organisers value the contribution of sex workers and recognise that particular goals of promoting sex worker rights, health and well being can only occur in sex worker only spaces. However, Festival organisers would also like create opportunities for the general public to engage with the perspectives of sex workers. With this in mind the following guiding principles are adopted by Festival organisers:
1.  The location of sex worker only events will not be publicised in any public document.
2.  All events that are open to the public will be made explicitly clear to all participants.3.  The full details of sex worker only events will only be promoted in forums that are clearly and
explicitly sex worker only networks.4.  No one has the right to compel an individual to produce evidence of their status as a sex
worker. However, Festival organisers recognise the need to engage in strategies that ensure sex worker only events are attended by sex workers only. This will be done through promotional strategies that enable a degree of verification . Festival organisers reserve the right to refuse participants attendance of sex worker only events.

Specific Events:

All workshops during the day and social events during the festival will be sex worker only spaces.

The art exhibition, 'Ask A Sex Worker A Question' night, rally and film nights will be public events. The Safer Spaces Policy will be made available at these events and awareness of this will be stated as part of each events formal process.

No participant is compelled to attend any public event if they do not wish, and participation in thefestivalcanbeentirelyatsexworkeronlyeventsiftheparticipantwishes. Publiceventsare designed to engage our allies and friends as well as the broader public.

The end of Festival party will be an invite only event for those sex workers who have already attended sex worker only events as part of the Festival. Participants are strictly sex workers only.

Examining our own subtle and not-so-subtle prejudices

If we profess to be concerned about issues such as race, gender and sexuality, we need to live our lives in a way that proactively seeks to subvert prejudice and undermine discrimination. This means treating people equally and acknowledging that everyone has something amazing to contribute. It means not being tokenistic.

We may like to think of the Melbourne Festival of Sex Work as an alternative space where people reject the prejudices associated with ‘mainstream’ anti-sex work values. However, sex worker communities can often carry the same prejudices as the so-called mainstream and we all need to address this. We are part of this broader society. All of us have to challenge our own internalised sex worker stigma. By participating in making the Festival a safer space, we can all learn about how to overcome this stigma.

People attending the Melbourne Festival of Sex Work are asked to be aware of their language and behaviour and to think about whether it might be offensive to others. The Festival is no space for violence, sexual assault, touching people without their consent, being intolerant of someone’s religious beliefs or lack thereof, being creepy, sleazy, racist, ageist, sexist, heterosexist, homophobic, transphobic, cissexist, ableist, classist, fat shaming, sex negative, slut shaming, victim blaming or any other behaviour or language that may perpetuate oppression. Please also consider whether anxiety, new environments, being surrounded by new people, drugs, alcohol, etc could blur your ability to gauge how your behaviour is affecting others.

A note to people who aren’t sex workers attending the Melbourne Festival of Sex Work

The Festival strives to create a safer space for sex workers, even at public events. We want people who aren’t sex workers to come along to public events and learn what it takes to support sex workers. The following are some pointers about how to be an ally to our community. Festival organisers would like to acknowledge that these pointers have been adapted from a document originally published by the Sex Worker Outreach Project, Chicago.

1) Don’t assume anything about anyone you may meet at the festival. Don’t assume you know that a person is in the sex industry or that you know their reasons for being there.

2) Be Discreet and Respect Personal Boundaries. If you know a sex worker, it’s OK to engage in dialogue with them in private, but respect their privacy surrounding their work in public settings. Don’t ask personal questions such as “does your family know what you do?” If a sex worker is not “out” to their friends, family, or co-workers, it’s not your place to tell everyone what they do.

3) Don’t Judge. Know your own prejudices and realise that not everyone shares the same opinions as you. Whatever you may think about sex work is irrelevant compared to the actual experiences of the person who works in the industry. It’s not your place to pass judgment on how another person earns the money they need to survive.

4) Watch Your Language. Cracking jokes or using derogatory terms such as “hooker”, “whore”, “slut”, or “ho” is not acceptable. While some sex workers have reclaimed these words and use them among themselves, they are usually used to demean sex workers when spoken by outsiders.

5) Address Your Prejudices. If you have a deep bias or underlying fear that all sex workers are bad people and/or full of diseases, then perhaps these are issues within yourself that you need to address. In fact, the majority of sex workers practice safer sex than those in the general community and get tested regularly.

6) Don’t Play Rescuer. Not all sex workers are trying to get out of the industry or in need of help. Ask them what they need, but not everyone is looking for “Captain Save-A-Ho” or the “Pretty Woman” ending.

7) If you are a client or patron of sex workers, be respectful of boundaries. You’re buying a service, not a person. Don’t ask for real names, call at all hours of the day/night, or think that your favourite sex worker is going to enter into a relationship with you off the clock.

8) Do Your Own Research. Most mainstream media is biased against sex workers and the statistics you read in the news about the sex industry are usually inaccurate. Be critical of what you read or hear and educate yourself on who exactly is transmitting diseases or being trafficked.

9) Respect that Sex Work is Real Work. There’s a set of professional skills involved and it’s not necessarily an industry that everyone can enter into. Don’t tell someone to get a “real job” when they already have one that suits them just fine.

10) Just because someone is a sex worker doesn’t mean they will have sex with you. No matter what area of the sex industry that someone works in, don’t assume that they are promiscuous and willing to have sex with anyone at any time.

11) Be Supportive and Share Resources. If you know of someone who is new to the industry or in an abusive situation with an employer, by all means offer advice and support without being condescending. Despite the situation, calling the police is usually never a good option. Refer someone to their nearest peer sex worker service (this means a service run by and for sex workers).

12) As you learn the above things, stand up for sex workers when conversations happen. Don’t let the stigma, bigotry and shame around sex work continue. Remember it’s important that sex workers be allowed to speak for themselves and for allies to not speak for sex workers but to speak with sex workers.

Realise that sex work transcends ‘visible’ notions of race, gender, class, sexuality, education, and identities; sex workers are your sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, lovers, and friends. Respect them!

Grievance Process

1) If you wish to proceed with a grievance, directly approach the person whose behaviour has caused you to feel unsafe to try to resolve the issue. Please do so while maintaining safer spaces yourself – refer to section above.


Walk away if you can’t reach a resolution, we don’t endorse individuals aggravating conflicts that exist over differences of opinion. Acknowledge the difference of opinion. Make your opposition known. Find your friends, go to a quiet space and debrief.

2) If unresolved, approach the designated grievance contact/s for the Melbourne Festival of Sex Work Collective (ask any Vixen Collective representative and they will advise who this is).

3) The collective member will ask you if you have approached the person involved already. If you have not, see step one.

4) The collective will meet daily during Festival of Sex Work and will hear complex and unresolved grievances if necessary. This is an absolutely last step and we encourage individuals to take responsibility for their one-on-one conflicts maturely if possible PRIOR to needing the collective to intervene.

5) Excluding people from Festival Events is an absolute final resort and will only be done by consensus decision of the collective

If you decide to confront a person you have a grievance with, or ask a third party to do so on your behalf, or you have been asked to approach a person on behalf of another, please keep in mind that YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS regardless of your grievance with another person. At no time are you acting on behalf of the collective.

The Festival Collective recognises that some people have ongoing conflict/grievances which have originated in a space outside of the Festival. It is not the role of the Festival, its organisers or this policy to resolve such conflict. Please inform Festival organisers if you feel this may impact on your ability to feel safe whilst attending the Festival. Please be aware that while we will do our best to provide a safer space for all participants, we cannot necessarily mediate all tensions that are brought to our Festival. Again, Festival organisers would like to reiterate, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS.

Distribution of the policy

We want everyone who attends the Melbourne Festival of Sex Work to be aware of this safer spaces policy. This statement will be on the website, displayed around the venues, distributed to those facilitating workshops and hopefully it will come up in discussions. Feel free to alert your friends to the existence of this policy.

We hope that the very existence of this information will assist in the following ways:
  •   As a visible/constant reminder of everyone’s need to take responsibility for their own behaviour
  •   To keep the issues fresh in everyone’s minds
  •   As a reminder that words, body language, actions and behaviour affect other people
    and make them feel certain ways – a reminder to be aware of other people’s personal
  •   To work preventatively
  •   To follow the Grievance Process
  •   To take responsibility for your own actions when confronting or addressing a third party
    with whom you have a grievance.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    Festival organisers would like to acknowledge and thank Camp Betty, the Scarlet Alliance and SWOP-Chicago, whose own safer spaces policies and publications have been influential in the creation of the Melbourne Festival of Sex Work Safer Spaces Policy. 

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