Resourced and organised: achieving formal recognition of sex workers' skills in Australia

Over the past 15 years, Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Worker Association, has developed and implemented an exciting and innovative national project that recognises the unique skills sex workers use while engaging in peer education within our communities and workspaces.The Scarlet Alliance National Training and Assessment Program (SANTAP) contains both a learning tool and an assessment framework. The learning tool provides new or existing sex worker peer educators the required knowledge and grounding; and the assessment framework offers sex workers the opportunity to have our peer education and community mobilisation skills formally recognised. On completion of the multi-module assessment process, participants are awarded a nationally recognised diploma.graduates of scarlet alliance education program in red robes throw red hatsSANTAP provides a unique example of how sex workers have pro-actively responded to stigma, discrimination, and ignorance about our profession. The program highlights the important skills we develop in our work and their application in education. Sex workers educate our friends, peers, workmates, clients, and broader society about self-health, human rights, workplace rights, and the impact of criminalisation. SANTAP is also a best practice model of how sex workers can mobilise for the benefit of our community when we are adequately resourced and organised.Scarlet Alliance initiated the program in the early 2000s; however, through the years it has undergone several incarnations as a result of budgeting constraints, staffing issues, and in response to the needs of the sex worker community. Under the name "Scarlet Alliance National Training Project" (SANTP), the program initially offered only a diploma, and  for several years was an assessment process only. SANTP  went through phases of being funded and defunded.SANTP was developed to implement a national training framework for peer educators working with sex workers by designing a nationally consistent and accredited approach. In 2011, Scarlet Alliance secured ongoing funding for the program. As a result of obtaining funding in 2011, the program was rebranded the SANTAP, and expanded to include the creation of a national sex worker peer education training package.Key objectives of the SANTAP include:

  1. Develop customised national competency standards and conduct assessor-trainer training with peer educators across Australia
  2. Improve the competency of sex worker peer educators to deliver health education services to sex workers
  3. Identify both the key areas of sex worker organisations’ work, and the appropriate skill levels and standards required of sex worker peer educators for this work to be conducted

Completion of the SANTAP is not a requirement of all peer educators employed within Australian sex worker organisations, but peer educators are encouraged to engage in the program for the professional recognition it affords them. Both the SANTAP training certificate and diploma modules were written and/or developed by sex workers,Mish Glitter Pony, the current coordinator of SANTAP, explains the program as:

setting a national benchmark for sex worker peer-education, providing a set of nationally-recognised qualifications as well as a nationally-consistent, best-practice approach to sex worker peer-education.”

Mish further explains SANTAP as “aiming to increase the workforce development of, and number of, trained, qualified sex worker peer-educators”, through “providing participants with a deeper understanding and analysis of their work practices and ways in which they can be improved, identifying areas for further education and training, and empowering participants, giving them more confidence in their work.”Sex workers undertaking SANTAP study can access learning materials online. Further support is available through the SANTAP coordinator. The online Peer Education Training Program, of which there are 8 modules, can be undertaken at the student’s own pace. Modules include:

  • The Diversity of sex workers;
  • Peer Education;
  • Migrant Sex Work versus Trafficking;
  • Community Development;
  • Activism and Advocacy;
  • Law and Reform;
  • Safer Sex Education.

Each module uses a variety of learning methodologies, including written articles, video and film, presentations, links to related websites, and further recommended reading. Upon completion of the online training program, sex workers are assessed by sex worker trainers and awarded a certificate.SANTAP’s assessment tool uses a recognition of prior pathways to issue the Scarlet Alliance Diploma of Community Development; and formally recognises the skills of peer educators with at least 12 months experience. The Diploma, which is nationally recognised, was adapted from the Community and Health Industry Training Package by Scarlet Alliance especially for use in sex worker communities and within peer-led sex worker organisations.The assessment process involves sex workers, in consultation with their peer assessor, collecting evidence that demonstrates their knowledge of best practice principles within sex worker community mobilisation and peer to peer service provision; experience in sex worker community organising; and knowledge of the principles of the sex worker movement and how they translate into local community contexts.To achieve the Scarlet Alliance Diploma of Community Development, a sex worker must demonstrate competency in 15 units. These units fall under 5 modules, which include:

  • Community Development;
  • Working with Sex Workers;
  • Project Management;
  • Public and Community Education;
  • Research & Ethics.

Sex workers can draw upon their previous work as community organisers, activists, or peer educators to demonstrate understanding and experience in the 5 modules.Students are encouraged to work closely with the national coordinator throughout the process to ensure all modules are completed satisfactorily. The peer assessor then supports sex worker students to submit their work to a national training organisation for accreditation.Credit from prior higher education can be used towards the diploma, but the Working with Sex Workers module remains compulsory.As of 2016, there have been 44 sex workers graduate from SANTAP. Unzip the Lips logo - yellow background, red lipstick mark, name in purple text and "a space for unheard voices" in white on pink, red ribbon in bottom right.(This article is part of a series in collaboration with Unzip the Lips highlighting barriers to education for many marginalised women and girls and how to overcome these barriers. The series marks this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.)