“Racist and disempowering”: NSW Asian migrant sex workers speak out on rescue industry

“Racist and disempowering”: NSW Asian migrant sex workers speak out on rescue industry
Image: Attendees at the Asian Migrant Sex Worker Advisory Group speak out at Martin Place, May 21. Photo: Grace Johnson

This article was originally published on CityHub.

A speak out at Sydney’s Martin Place yesterday evening has shone a light on the key issues that Asian migrant sex workers regularly face.

Organised by the Asian Migrant Sex Worker Advisory Group (AMSWAG), the speak out was held in response to the NSW Anti-slavery Forum, which started earlier that day.

The gathering saw a small crowd of roughly 20 people attend. Despite small numbers, there was no lack of support, with attendees dressed in red, or equipped with red umbrellas, as a show of solidarity. The group listened attentively and cheered warmly for speakers struggling with umbrellas in the cold wind, office workers streaming past and those waiting in line for a hot meal looking on.

At the heart of the discussion was that while stigma and discrimination affect all sex workers, Asian migrant sex workers face intersecting marginalisation from racism and stigma due to assumptions that they are victims.

These stereotypes often lead to increased police raids, harassment, and sometimes deportation, according to Scarlet Alliances’ 2021-22 Annual Report.

Assuming that Asian migrant sex workers are victims of human trafficking and modern slavery are harmful stereotypes from the “rescue industry”, perpetuated by the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) and Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), according to AMSWAG.

Na Mon Cheung from Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) NSW, who also spoke yesterday evening, told City Hub that these assumptions are “racist and disempowering”.

“Raiding sex worker workplaces by Australian Federal Police and the Border Force make Asian migrant sex workers unwilling to report violence, because there’s a mistrust there.”

Police also fail to take reports of sexual assault seriously, she said, and Asian migrant sex workers are often subject to discriminatory questioning by health care practitioners.

A report by Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women showed that increased policing and surveillance negates the positive impacts of decriminalisation in Australia and that raids don’t protect migrant sex workers, but rather force them underground.

In a statement, AMSWAG said, “Police and immigration raids on the workplaces of people who have been exploited or in unfair conditions has negative impacts: the raids push us underground and make our community hide away from authorities. This harms people who work in the sex industry.”

“Do not raid us. Instead provide access to a fair visa program for workers from any industry to work in Australia, including sex workers.”

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