A social science student who has worked in brothels across Melbourne and Tasmania to pay university fees has called for an end to the “social stigma” she encountered as a sex worker.
Kitten,* 28, said she had chosen to work in the industry and loved it:
“Until we address the stereotype of sex workers as victims and ‘crack whores’, people will keep that image and it will stay just as illegal, and just as wrong.”
Up to 20,000 people nationwide are estimated to be employed as sex workers, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology.
According to Kitten, who is no longer one of them, “It really is just like any other job. I think it’s one of the most empowering industries a girl can be in.
“What’s more empowering than literally having men fork over hundreds or thousands of dollars just to see you naked?”
Motivated by the urgency of paying her student fees, Kitten emphasised that nothing and nobody forced her into prostitution, as many people seemed to think was the case with sex workers.
“I was kind of broke, but not too broke. After my first shift, I got another job working in retail but decided to keep both jobs. I loved it.”
Money she singled out as one of the best things about sex work – work she described as “difficult” – and she has made a living off her former profession.
Scarlet, * 23, a current adult entertainer who is also a university student, shared a similar pathway to her unorthodox occupation.
“I chose to do this. People make it sound like I have such a difficult life: I’m here because I chose to be here. I may be a stripper but I’m still a person.”
Like Kitten, she characterised her work as both ‘empowering’ and ‘difficult’, adding that it could be high- or low-paying, depending on the night.
“On my best night I made $1000 and on my worst I made $20. You’ll earn a lot less if you can’t be bothered.
“People don’t understand how empowering it can be. Every job has its own uniform: just because I do mine without a shirt it doesn’t make it less of a job.
One criticism she made was that Australian adult entertainment clubs did little to “portray [adult workers] as real, normal girls” and even less to improve their “dirty” image.
“The clubs want to be a fantasy land. People forget sometimes that you’re a human being with feelings.”
Sienna – a 20-year-old dancer and Communication Design student – said, like the others, that she had embarked on her career to fund her way through university, but also as a hobby.
“I enjoy my job almost completely. I struggle with borderline personality disorder, and working is the only time I feel confident in my own skin.”
Sienna blamed the stigma attached to sex work on jealousy, saying: “People who judge what we do don’t have the confidence to do it.”
Normally she found the work fuelled her confidence, but certain clients’ sense of entitlement and their inappropriate behaviour, based on their stigmatising conduct, could make an encounter traumatic.
“We aren’t there to waste our time,” she said. “We have a job to do. Respect us. We aren’t pieces of meat put on this Earth purely to please men.”
Sienna said the adult entertainment sector could foster friendships and instil confidence, but at times it could pose an overwhelming challenge. “Sometimes the industry can eat you alive.”
Tasha, currently a bartender at Goldfingers Men’s Club, and formerly an erotic dancer and university student, said she felt the work was wrongly stigmatised.
Now 24, she initially applied for a job at The Men’s Gallery “as a joke”, but realised she enjoyed the work, and later switched to Centrefold Lounge where she stayed for three years.
Despite finding the work enjoyable, Tasha said it was difficult to handle the dual identified of “stripper” and student.
“It wasn’t easy to be open about it. I experienced stigma in my daily life because I didn’t look like the stripper I said I was,” she said. “I didn’t have my extensions in or my fake tan on, or my massive high heels.
“People don’t really get it. Just because I’m sexy at work [that] doesn’t mean I have to be sexy in real life.”
Tasha voiced the hope that in future the Australian sex industry would implement stronger regulations and policies to protect workers and support the rise of female empowerment.
* In the interests of privacy, this article does not use interviewees’ actual names.