Lessons in ventriloquism: Refocusing after the disruption at ASASE 2018

WAAC members were thrilled and excited on Saturday afternoon when real-live ‘sex worker activists’ disrupted the Australian Summit Against Sexual Exploitation (ASASE) that we were attending in Melbourne. It was what we were expecting, almost what we waiting for.


But that’s not what we are here for — not the WAAC, at least.

We’re not here to fight these youth who, although badly behaved and misguided and lacking in rationality and clear thinking, didn’t really do much more than cause a disruption, tear up a few brochures (ours included) and throw a lanyard or two around the place. Don’t get us wrong, that last was totally unacceptable, but as far as we know it caused no physical injury. (Non-physical injury might be another matter, however, and considering that just about every woman — and the few men — in that room has probably been a victim of male violence and male aggression at some stage in their life, there is no telling how psychologically triggering this disruption might have been to people.)

So, it was a disruption. It wasn’t a protest (What are they protesting against? It seems nonsensical to protest against people who are fighting for a humane and humanising life for all persons, and especially them). It wasn’t activism (What political change are they seeking? Decriminalisation and legalisation are already unhappy facts of the Australian prostitution landscape). And it wasn’t a demonstration (What system of oppression are they defying? They are not identifying a clear strategy to challenge power). As a disruption, it had little political effect. Except … except …

The point of a disruption is that it causes a disturbance. In a physical and temporal sense it prevents the flow of something, and this particular disruption was successful in that it prevented — for a short time — a highly respected speaker on and survivor of child rape and abuse from educating us. But a disruption can also disturb in the mental sense, and it is this is we find distressing, as we sit peacefully in a room that is no doubt full of survivors of rape, abuse, domestic violence, and exploitation, and who are already partially triggered to their past experiences but who are valorously managing to keep their grief wedged into the isolated fissure they found for it years ago. All for the greater good.

The effect of this particular disruption was an emotionally destructive one and in this sense, it succeeded: it distressed and troubled, and remembered people’s pain.

All that pain, and none of it necessary.

And so when a disruption like this happens, our pain makes us angry. And it makes us angry at them: at the misguided and irrational shadow persons who have no analysis, who lack consciousness of their own condition, and who, as a result — and let us never forget this — are victims of exploitation. Because that is who we fight for: victims and survivors of exploitation — all of them, all of us, past and present, then and now.

It might be hard to hear, this bleeding-heart gospel of love. But to treat these kids — for that is what they are — as different from ‘us’ is to make a basic category error, a basic feminist error, and a basic human one. We cannot say we will accept them only when they stop disrupting us.

Because here is something about one of the ‘disrupters’ that most delegates probably didn’t know.

One of them accidentally dropped her phone and left it behind. And in her phone case was a pension card. And on that pension card was her name and address. And her name was not an anglo name and she had no fixed address. Let’s start putting some of that together.

Should we be angry at this person? Who, on the evidence just indicated, would appear to be vulnerable, and who, on the evidence of the disruption itself, is in a whole world of pain and hurt? Or should we be angry, instead, at the puppeteers (who just outright make things up), the Scarlet Alliance, and those others who exploit the vulnerable, the marginalised, the mentally ill? In other words, those with political power who, ventriloquist-like, send kids such as these into greater-good conferences to disrupt proceedings whilst benefitting from the government-sponsored grants* that support them in their use and victimisation of other human persons?

Maybe it is at this point that we need to distinguish between the pro-prostitution lobby (those who have political power and who exploit the poor, vulnerable, and ill) and those who the pro-prostitution lobby manipulates into thinking of themselves as ‘sex workers’. The disrupters at ASASE hold no power, and it is doubtful they ever will, and certainly never as long as they remain in prostitution, if they are in prostitution, for being prostituted by definition means that you have no power. We, on the other hand, have power because we have knowledge and a rigourous, time-proven, and refined analysis; it is no great accomplishment to kick downwards.

We should therefore focus our anger and our efforts on those with power, not on the powerless. This doesn’t stop us from condemning disrespectful, belligerent behaviour, and it doesn’t mean that we should support the disrupters and those like them in their delusions that being prostituted can be equated to what happens in any other job.

But it does mean that we must not go after misapprehending youth such as these (they are almost all young), even though they are easy targets because of their open hostility and because of their simple-minded confidence in the very people who exploit them. We must not ourselves be misdirected; we must not waste our costly time and energy on people who have been fooled and tricked. It is a simple appraisal to suggest that that is precisely what the human racketeers want.

We need instead to focus on the procurers — the exploitation ventriloquists — who make the debilitating situation of the disrupters (or at least some of them, if not all) possible. And that includes those in ‘respectable’ positions in parliament who enact laws that erode, year-by-year women’s rights — in this and in all spheres — not just the brothel owners who profiteer from human trafficking.

So let us use incidents such as this to galvanise us, but let us not use them against the vulnerable, because in doing so we become the marionettes, playing on the palms of the pimps.


*Scarlet Alliance received around a million dollars in government grants in both the 2016 and 2017 financial years in addition to tax concessions for being a ‘charity’. See page 59 of their 2016-17 annual report.

Post image taken from Puppetry, ventriloquism and inner politics from Antiuniversity Now

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