Image: Tracy Connelly, who was brutally murdered in July 2013.
This article was written by Rachel Lennon from Women’s Health in the South East during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.
Warning: This article contains graphical depictions of violence that may cause distress.
16 Days of Activism is a campaign designed by the United Nations to raise awareness about issues contributing to gender inequalities and Violence Against Women. For 16 days, information about the plight of women on a global and local level is distributed across the community through individuals, community based organisations and some local government.
Of the topics that are covered over the 16 Days poverty, human rights, sexual and reproductive health, disabilities, youth and sex workers are included, all of which are very relevant and important.
As a researcher collecting fieldwork at St Kilda Gatehouse, I was able to see the violence these women were exposed to on a regular basis. I was able to hear about how women enter into street-based sex work through drug addiction, mental health issues, poverty, childhood trauma and tragedy. There are many ‘push factors’ attributed to women who work on the streets.
When considering violence against street-based sex workers it’s hard to not remember Tracy Connelly who was murdered early in the morning of July 21, 2013. Her partner Tony (also her minder) was not able to look out for her that night because of a hand infection that sent him to hospital. Tony recalls a text message that she had sent him telling him that she loved him at about 10.20pm. This would be the last message she would send. Tony pulled from a van that following day around 3pm Tracey’s mutilated body. The van was parked out the front of the St Kilda Gatehouse at the time of the murder. Tracy had been stabbed to death. The murderer intentionally stabbed her face, indicating an act of hatred against her.
Sex workers are routinely exposed to violence from not only clients but also from their intimate partners. We can only theorise that this is because as sex workers they are perceived as second class citizens, as ‘ruined, tainted women’. This stigma has detrimental impacts to their wellbeing and self-esteem.
This happens under our noses constantly. This year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign, think about all those women who walk the streets. Think about the pathways that led them to where they are. Think about how some men treat them – appallingly and without humanity. They are mothers, daughters, sisters and friends just like me and other Australian women.
Rachel Lennon is Health Promotion Manager at Women’s Health in the South East. Rachel is currently completing her thesis on the impacts of stigma and discrimination on female street-based sex workers. She collected her fieldwork over a two-year period at the St Kilda Gatehouse.
Where to go to for help:
If you are in immediate danger, call Police 000
For 24/7 state-wide crisis support and information, call Safe Steps 1800 015 188
For family violence support and information, please visit asksomeone.org.au