Jules Kim is an Australian-based migrant sex worker activist who is currently CEO of Scarlet Alliance, the national sex worker organisation in Australia, and Chair of APNSW Management Committee. Jules previously managed the Scarlet Alliance Migration Project, an initiative completely staffed and led by migrant sex workers. Jules is also an accomplished and respected musician and currently plays bass in the Sydney-based sex worker group, Whore-Core
Can you describe yourself, your personal history, interests, and passions and how this relates to when and why you become involved in the sex industry?
My background is Korean. I was born in Seoul and migrated with my family to Australia at a fairly early age. As my dad was the eldest son it meant my grandmother lived with us too, which was great as it kept me connected to Korean culture and meant I didn’t lose the language out of necessity, as she was not going to learn English. She was very wise in her own way and knew important things like acupuncture and traditional healing but she wasn’t big on reading and writing, so, for her learning English wasn’t really an option.In terms of sex working, for me, it is tied very much to my passions. I first got involved in the sex industry in order to buy musical equipment. I started out by fronting up to a strip club with another girl who was in my band. We were playing a lot, but the money didn’t really cover the costs of good gear and recording time and as we were used to performing on stage, it seemed like a logical step. Since then I've worked in various areas of the industry in Australia and overseas. It’s a skill that is has afforded me the opportunity to get work wherever I landed in the world as sex work transcends language barriers.
What has your involvement and history in the sex worker rights movement included, and what inspired you to become a sex worker activist?
My experience of sex work has spanned many different legal frameworks. I started working pre-decriminalisation in New South Wales and I experienced firsthand the changes brought about by the introduction of decriminalisation of sex work. I think the anti-sex worker lobby try to paint sex worker activists with the “happy hooker” stereotype. That is not representative of the experiences of most sex workers, but like many sex workers - or all workers in general - I've experienced good and bad workplaces and it’s the bad experiences that make me passionate about sex worker rights.Having worked in a variety of jobs in and out of the sex industry has shown me that sex work is just another job and the people I have worked with are no different, so, to me the stigma, discrimination and criminalisation sex workers experience makes absolutely no sense! We deserve and are entitled to dignity, respect and rights.
What does your role in the sex worker movement as an advocate for the rights of migrant sex workers involve, and what are the processes and actions you engage in to undertake activism around these issues?
"Some of the best media work I have undertaken is stuff you will never see published as it has involved convincing journalists out of doing yet another hideously racist and stigmatising article."
"Unfortunately, I spend far too much time responding to bad media, bad research and bad policy that is not evidenced based or even reality based. There seems to be a never ending fascination with the construct of migrant sex workers as 'victims' and 'slaves'.At Scarlet Alliance we are constantly contacted by many people, including those involved in the media or academia, who want to do a story, research study, facilitate a program, or undertake a PhD on 'trafficked migrant sex workers'. These people usually have their own agendas and have hatched ill advised schemes to rescue us poor migrant sex workers from ourselves.A large part of my job involves dispelling the myths and stereotypes around migrant sex worker issues, and the narrative about us which directly influences their agendas. My role is to challenge their perceptions of us and often involves, and results in, discouraging them from pursuing their proposed media piece or research project.Some of the best media work I have undertaken is stuff you will never see published as it has involved convincing journalists out of doing yet another hideously racist and stigmatising article. This form of reactive work is unfortunately a part of sex worker activism we have to engage with.On the more positive and proactive side of advocacy, we have a migrant sex worker steering committee that guides the Scarlet Alliance Migration Project. The steering committee directly guides our activities and the project’s priorities.When I am engaging in representing migrant sex worker issues to the government, within the media, at conferences, or within other public forums, I am directly representing the voices and views of the large group of migrant sex workers who are, and have been, the steering committee over the last 6 years.It is essential that what the Migration Project advocates is not just the opinion of one person, or what I think is important, but that what is being conveyed is coming directly from the community of migrant sex workers in Australia. In this sense, I am simply a conduit for the voices of other migrant sex workers.
What are the major challenges you face as a migrant sex worker activist, personally and politically?
There is still a lot of racism towards migrants in Australia, and in addition to the pervasive whore-phobia and gender disparity and discrimination, advocacy around these issues is an ongoing, uphill battle.I'm always astounded by the willingness of broader society to believe the rhetoric around the broadly perpetuated stereotype of the submissive, victimised Asian woman, even in the face of the mountain of evidence to the contrary.The anti-trafficking agenda has provided somewhat of a platform of legitimacy for this deeply seated racism, and whore-phobia and it often seems as though there are no limits 'abolitionists' have on wanting to deprive us of our social, industrial, economic and human rights. Of course, because they don’t recognise our autonomy, they believe that what they are doing is all for our own good.With the constant recycling of the tired old myths about us being perpetuated by the media, in academia, in policy making and by broader social attitudes, at times it can feel like ground hog day. Really, why do they care so much about what we do for work?There is so much fear and fascination about the idea of foreign womens’ sexuality that it makes other aspects of the sex industry invisible; and fails to recognise that as sex workers we are diverse in regards to sexual and gender identity, race, age, backgrounds and experiences.
What are the major issues affecting migrant sex workers in Australia, and what do you perceive as being the most effective and beneficial advocacy outcomes for migrant sex workers regarding sex work policy, migration issues and institutional racism?
In Australia there is still a lot of discrimination against sex workers in general and for migrant sex workers in particular. Like many other countries, the Australian Government has adopted a criminal justice approach to anti-trafficking issues, which essentially manifests a form of discriminatory migration policies and sex industry surveillance and control.This has resulted in increased discrimination and harassment of migrant sex workers and has not produced any positive outcomes or rights for any sex workers, including those who may be experiencing workplace exploitation.Ultimately, if the goal of Government policy regarding migrant sex work was the prevention of exploitation and trafficking for sex workers, this would be better achieved by:
providing access to accurate translated information to facilitate greater understanding of our industrial rights and recourses;
to promote independent travel;
by providing migrant sex workers, irrelevant of their migration status, with access to rights protected by relevant legislation;
by facilitating safe migration pathways to sex workers from all countries, not just the richer ones;
and the recognition of sex work as work through the full decriminalisation of sex work, so that we can choose where and how we work and seek support for workplace issues or receive assistance through the justice system for criminal issues.
What do you hope to achieve as a result of your activism?
I want to see the full decriminalisation of sex work! That would be an amazing outcome for all sex workers, including migrant sex workers.Even in New South Wales, where sex work is considered decriminalised, I don’t think we currently have a fully inclusive policy model reflecting the principles and implementation of decriminalisation which would be of most benefit to sex workers.Thus far, law reform in relation to the decriminalisation of sex work has come at the sacrifice of the more marginalised, less “acceptable”parts of the sex industry.For example in New South Wales, street-based sex work is still criminalised for the most part; and in New Zealand, which has a national model of decriminalisation, migrant workers are still highly criminalised.Scarlet Alliance continues to advocate for the full decriminalisation of sex work and for anti-discrimination protections for sex workers.Currently there is a Bill before Parliament in the State of South Australia, which sex workers were heavily involved in drafting. If this Bill is passed, it will be the first full model of decriminalisation in the world, which would be a major outcome for all sex workers.
How do you see yourself continuing to advocate for migrant sex workers in the future?
In terms of my future advocacy efforts, I hope to continue representing issues for migrant sex workers in Australia, to challenge stigma, discrimination and racism against us, and to support our community in participating, leading and influencing the issues that affect us.The research report on migrant sex workers in Australia is the culmination of years of work by sex workers in Australia, and has involved over 1000 sex workers from around the country. Hopefully the findings of this report will be used as an advocacy tool and as a primary evidence base to further challenge the damaging stereotypes about us and our work.