Project Respect is a Melbourne based support service for women trafficked for sexual exploitation and women in the sex industry. On March 16, Project Respect released this statement with “a heavy heart” via email and a social media post, informing their community and supporters they will be closing their doors in a month unless “there is a miraculous response to this letter.”
“Project Respect has survived by hard work, good will and financial support by many organisations and individuals (for 17 years) however, without funding which is sustainable, we will have to close on the 15th April 2016.”
In a 2015 interview with Emma Alberici on Lateline, Kate Connett, who before becoming an outreach worker for Project Respect, was a sex worker on the streets to support her heroin habit from age 17 to 23, speaks of how vital these services are for women and why they are so desperately needed,
“I think nearly every single woman I have worked with at Project Respect has gone into the sex industry because of financial hardship. All women are there for the money, they’re not there for the sex, they’re not there because they enjoy having sex with men, they are there to get the money… Homelessness is a huge issue. We find many women that are homeless. We find a lot of women that sleep in brothels which is illegal, so I guess it’s kind of hidden homelessness in women.”
(Every month Kate visits legal brothels, offering support to women.) … and says it is “quite typical that in all Asian brothels one woman will speak for all the women and just kind of take over, and it’s very hard to kind of get in and speak to individually to women in Asian brothels. Outreach can be really difficult, actually, because sometimes you are met with really volatile people.
“We meet women constantly who have been either raped or beaten. Currently working with a woman at the moment who is pregnant due to a client raping her. I don’t think legalisation works. I don’t think decriminalisation works either. Again, it hasn’t stopped the incidence of violence.”
“The Nordic model which looks at criminalising the buyers which are predominantly men and making it legal for people to sell sex which is predominantly women, I think so far that’s the best option that I’ve seen come out. What girl, what young girl goes, “I want to be a prostitute when I’m older”? What young girl ever has that aspiration? What mother ever wants their child to become a prostitute when they are older? It’s not a dream job for anybody.” (Transcript and Video here)
The work of organisations like Project Respect is vital to the Nordic Model of prostitution. Vital to supporting women in the sex industry with the availability of exit programs.
Project Respect works in three ways:
* One, we assist women one-on-one and help them access essential services – such as healthcare and legal representation. We support women in making police reports, gaining child custody, even applying for jobs in a new industry. While many community organisations become targeted, offering just one service, Project Respect remains broad. Led entirely by the needs of women, we place no limits on the length or type of support offered. At the centre of our support work is regular outreach, where we visit brothels in Victoria. We do this so women know we are available to them – without judgement – should they need us.
* We also connect women together, supporting them to support one another, in their shared experiences. Intense stigma around the sex industry means it can be isolating. Through community lunches and weekends away we nurture a safe, non-judgemental and supportive network. For many women, Project Respect is simply and powerfully about belonging. It their place to be. Outside the mainstream, in these rare spaces, women are understood, welcomed, and finally treated with respect.
* Lastly, we advocate for women’s rights against violence, trafficking and exploitation. To improve life for women in the sex industry, we must improve the status of women overall. That’s why we work directly with all levels of government, lobbying for broad policy change. We argue for better conditions for women while they are in the sex industry. We argue against the trafficking of women. We help expose violence against women, and push for solutions to eradicate it. In all of this work, we ensure women’s voices are heard. We offer women a platform to write, speak and meet directly with decision makers. We know that their voices and leadership will create the positive change we seek.
At Project Respect, we believe that all women have the right to feel safe and respected. We are fundamentally for and about women – supporting their entire life and future potential. To achieve a world free from sexual exploitation we are committed to doing what others can’t.
* The Government must fund services like Project Respect for women trafficked for sexual exploitation and women inside the sex industry in Australia.
* Expunging prostitution convictions essential for those exiting the sex trade – Simone Watson, Director NORmac