Soapbox: Sex Worker Health and Safety


sex worker health and safety
Image: Destiny Rogers

Queensland history reveals that governments ignoring the pressing issue of sex worker health and safety end up with blood on their hands.

I’ve enjoyed some interesting careers during a long and eventful lifetime: drag queen, crocodile showperson, writer, whore — or in more respectful parlance for non-whores — sex worker. Thus, I take a strong interest in moves to reform the industry and improve sex worker health and safety.

Despite promises from the Queensland Government earlier this year to introduce a bill decriminalising sex work, parliament’s final sitting for the year went by without a whisper of any legislation.

So still, sex workers in Queensland endure laws that put their safety — indeed, their lives — at risk.

Next year will see a state election. During election build-ups, Queensland Labor inevitably becomes hostage to the idea that the state remains beholden to the Joh Bjelke Petersen fan club. So, in 2024, do not expect any reform the LNP could pounce on to portray as the end of Western civilisation. Labor continues to fear that people who’ll never vote Labor, won’t vote Labor.

Gladstone: riches came at a price

In 2012, I traveled the length and breadth of Queensland. I spent late November working in Rocky with plans to move on to nearby Gladstone in early December.

Gladstone had a reputation among sex workers. It was a great place to make money but the riches came at a price.

It was a tough town.

Not that the customers caused any excess trouble. They were fine. It was instead the men who called with absolutely no intention of making a booking but every intention of causing another human being grief.

At the time Gladstone operated basically as a dormitory for (mainly) men installing infrastructure for fracking across central Queensland. They worked long hours and lived in generally abysmal accommodations, sacrificing their normal lifestyle for big wages. Many drank too heavily or took too many illicit drugs.

Some relieved their boredom by making abusive and threatening phone calls to traveling sex workers.

A violent death

Traveling sex workers hate to miss a call. They have a lot of overheads: travel, accommodation, advertising…

A high proportion of calls are wankers or abusers. Both take it out of you. You lose the enthusiasm for work — the zest for life, the spirit. The smile leaves your face along with your ability to f_ck like you don’t have a care in the world.

Successful sex workers toughened up in advance of trips to Gladstone in those days. They steeled their minds against the anticipated abuse and prepared to process a lot of shit.

But there was nothing could help prepare for Sunday, December 5, 2010. In fact, I canceled my own scheduled visit and avoided the place for many months to come.

On December 5, young local man James William Glenn stabbed sex worker Shuxia Yuan 23 times with a newly bought fishing knife, killing her.

Why?

Why did he kill her?

It was not a dispute over services, ethnicity, age, physical appearance, or any of the myriad other issues people immediately conjectured prompted the crime.

The murderer himself claimed not to know why he committed the horrendous crime.

But his internet search history indicated an interest in violence. He had attacked a food delivery driver for no apparent reason previously.

So it seems Shuxia Yuan died not because she was a sex worker but because being a sex worker made her accessible.

Unlike other Queensland workers, she could not take reasonable safety precautions because state law prohibits sex workers from protections mandatory in other industries.

Sadly, the Queensland Government this year failed to deliver on its promise to fix this situation.

Tonight, sex workers across Queensland will risk their safety — even their lives — because of ill-conceived laws that achieve nothing but place people just trying to earn a living in needless danger.

Shuxia Yuan RIP. 🌹

More?

Stark choice for Qld sex workers – work safely or obey law?

Sex workers welcome Queensland decriminalisation review.

Historic queer Aussie sex workers:

1902: Vintage Melbourne Rentboys – a male sex worker exposé.

vintage rentboys male sex workers

1943: Hawking the fork in wartime Brissie.

Sydney Thomas Smith hawking the fork
Sydney Thomas Smith, in and out of drag.

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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