Within the program of the Zagreb Pride Week, Zagreb Pride and Trans Aid Croatia organized an ‘Open Dialogue About Sex-work’ with the aim of broadening the discussion about this topic that was started with the round table ‘Models of regulation of prostitution and practices’ in April. It was moderated by Nina Čolović – member of the LGBTIQ Initiative of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities AUT and Trans Aid Croatia, and included two sex-work activists (ex-sex-workers) Vanja from Trans Aid Croatia and Mirjana Hajduk, Vreer Sirenu form Transgender Europe and Vreerwerk (Netherlands) and Clémence Zamora-Cruz from Transgender Europe and Inter-LGBT (France). The event started with the screening of the documentary ‘When I Was a Boy, I Was a Girl’ about Gordana Mitrović – activist for trans-rights in Serbia.
The first discussed topic regarded the different models of regulation of sex-work in Croatia, the Netherlands and France. As we already wrote, the Croatian model criminalizes both the sex-worker and the client. In the Netherlands, sex-work is decriminalised but still not regulated, and it is very hard for trans-persons to work legally, reported Vreer. Clémence, whose organisation works with trans sex-workers, mentioned two French laws: the Domestic Security Law from 2003 that penalizes passive solicitation, and the Bill that was passed in 2013 that penalizes the clients. Both regulations make sex-workers invisible and forces them to work in dangerous conditions. More than 80 per cent of the sex-workers in France are migrants, and since most of them do not have the necessary documents, they do not have access to social services and therefore can not actualise their human rights. The 2013 bill was said to prevent human trafficking but it is suspected that it only has the aim of controlling migration, warned Clémence, since most of the sex-workers she worked with came to France voluntarily.
Mirjana and Vreer talked about the media representations of sex-work and how much harm they can do if they are sensationalistic and not truthful. Mirjana again pointed to the need for more sex-workers to be included in the discussions and representations of sex-work, and Vreer added that it is important to have good connections with very professional journalists in order to prevent such harmful representations. The media could be useful to inform the sex-workers about their rights, since most of them in Croatia are not aware of them and often do not recognise when the police does not act according to the protocol during the arrest, said Mirjana. Vanja added that trans sex-workers are even more invisible. She talked about her experiences in sex-work, but also about the sexual harassment she experiences in the health care and legal system. Truthful representations are needed also because of the high status the clients enjoy against the classism and underestimation directed toward the trans workers, she pointed out.
An important topic that was discussed was the solidarity among different groups in the struggle for human rights. Clémence talked about the solidarity between sex-workers, migrants and students. Namely, migrants are not the only deprived group that is forced into sex-work in France, but also many students, since education is very expensive and the scholarships very scarce. Vreer talked about the gentrification of the red district in Amsterdam and how the sex-workers protesters were also joined by the students and migrants. Regarding the relationship between the sex-work and the trans movement, they said that the sex-work movement is very open to the issues of the trans workers, but on the other hand, in their opinion, the trans movement is too white and middleclass and therefore not aware enough of the issues related to labour in general. They and Mirjana agreed that sex-work does not only include sex, but a whole range of things like affective labour – talking, smiling and comforting the clients. In order to be protected, sex-work must be recognised as work and legalised, Vanja and Vreer pointed out. Vreer called for sex-workers to unite – in already existing workers unions or to establish separated sex-workers unions. Since to fight for legal sex-work is to fight in the field of economics, against precarity and against neoliberal capitalism. Unfortunately, they said this was only their private opinion and not the official position of TGEU.
Even though the situation for sex-workers is not satisfying in Croatia, two events of this Pride week opened up new perspectives on this issue: the discussion “Solidarity: the Workers’ and the LGBT Movement Today” with OWID (Organization for Workers’ Initiative and Democratization) and the above discussed panel with Trans Aid Croatia and TGEU. OWID and Zagreb Pride are organising another discussion next week (on June 23ͭʰ): “Together from Below: A Perspective on the Solidarity Between the LGBT and the Workers’ Movement”. This will hopefully ensure a continuity and a lasting cohesion between these two activist groups, also in order to bring about the organising of a Croatian sex-workers support group as a first step toward a movement foe sex-workers rights.