Sex workers are increasingly using the Internet for finding business, organising themselves, and fighting for their rights. The Internet allows them to find work without leaving home or revealing their identities. They use social media, upload videos, have their own websites and use mobile applications in order to implore and connect with their clients online. In India for instance the mobile phones have taken them by storm. All of sex workers have a cell phone. Some of them have two mobile phones, one for their family and one for their clients. They have different ringtones for their clients, know the preferences of what song to play when the client calls (Rao, 2014). However sometimes usage of the new technology comes with drawbacks , such as vulnerability of being cheated and defrauded of their earnings.
Usage of media goes even further. It takes shape of sex workers’ online activism, which extensively gives them voice and presence.
In 2002, Sangali based NGO Sangram initiated the first email campaign for sex workers’ rights in India after following accident where one prostitute was assaulted and threaten with rape by the police. As a result chief minister of Karnataka who was the only chief minister in India with an email was bombarded with a huge number of emails from other sex workers from all over the world. Those emails become a fundament for sending a petition to National Human Rights Commission, which initiated action against the errant police personnel. Creation of VAMP, community based organisation for sex workers in South India followed the success of the Sangram campgain. VAMP (Prostitutes Collective Against Injustice) made a video in response to Sarah Harris’s documentary ‘Prostitutes of God’ for Vice US magazine. This documentary features some of the VAMP members , their work and family lives in over- painted manner. They become stereotyped, victimised subject from Global South, an end product only watching the film ; while film makers are citizens of superior Global North. Moreover film does not investigates the root causes of poverty , but obsesses with prostitution industry. The matter is fetishised. Some women are more vulnerable to HIV while being married because they are not able to ask their husbands to use condom. To some sex workers their deliberately chosen profession gives freedom.
VAMP members were very upset by how they are portrayed in the film. They have used their media to speak up about the film – read their below statement and watch the video directed to the film’s producers.
“If I had come to your town and insulted your Gods, would you have liked it?… O white woman, you have insulted our devi and our women. We demand you apologise to us. Accept you have made a mistake. We will not forgive you,” says Bhimavva, a sex worker in a video (in Rao, 2014)
Vamp’s members do not want to be “saved” by foreign organisations; they want to be treated with respect, as humans who have capacity to determine their own destinies and fight social injustice while working together. Online spaces can hold power for the collective action, women’s empowerment and improvement of their working conditions and rights (Cornwall, 2012). So let’s keep talking.
Moreover solidarity of Indian sex workers is about engaging beyond the click of the mouse. Internet does not necessarily leads to greater integration due to restrictive policies on external links on web pages adopted by the civic society. But internet with its networks can assist collective identity and reinforce solidarity (Fenton in Cammaerts and Carpentier, 2007: 236). Mutual trust and shared understanding is a important drive for a collective action.
Cammaerts, B and Carpentier, N (2007) Reclaiming media: Communication rights and democratic media roles. Intellect: Bristol, UK
Cornwall A (2012) Indian sex workers are shining example of women’s empowerment. Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2012/jul/26/india-sex-workers-female-empowerment?CMP=share_btn_fb
Rao M (2014) Sex work and the Internet. Gender It Organisation Blog http://www.genderit.org/es/node/3961
Ray A (2010) Indian Sex Workers Fight back against Misrepresentation. Waking Vixen Blog: http://www.wakingvixen.audaciaray.com/2010/10/04/indian-sex-workers-fight-back-against-misrepresentation/
Rennie, E (2006) Community Media: A Global Introduction. London: Rowman & Littlefields
Lori A ( 2010) The Means to Speak for Themselves: Sex workers in India respond to Flawed ‘Prostitutes of God’ Film. Feministing.com: http://feministing.com/2010/10/06/the-means-to-speak-for-themselves-sex-workers-in-india-respond-to-flawed-prostitutes-of-god-film/