The Second Ever Sex Worker Film Festival in London

// 15 October 2013

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Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) is proud to present The Second Ever Sex Worker Film Festival that will take place this Sunday in Rio Cinema in Hackney, London.

I’ve chatted to Luca Stevenson, SWOU’s co-founder currently based in Glasgow, involved in the First Ever Sex Worker Film Festival in 2011, and Pony Mac from London, involved in this year’s edition.


Please tell us a bit about Sex Worker Open University and what it does.

SWOU has three branches (London, Glasgow and Leeds) and all are made up of current or former sex workers. SWOU organises stigma-reduction workshops and panels with the public all around the UK, skill-sharing classes for other sex workers. We organised a five day conference in Scotland earlier this year and most recently, SWOU has set up Confide, a free phone service for sex workers to call if they need safe, confidential support.

Looking back at First Ever Sex Worker Film Festival in 2011, did it meet the expectations you had for it?

The first Film Festival was an amazing success. Not only because we sold out (425 tickets sold, many people could not get in!) but because of the celebratory atmosphere of the event. We met many new sex workers, some of them became involved in SWOU and are now amongst the fiercest sex workers’ rights activists in UK! The event received good media coverage and I remember one of the reviewers, a local green councillor, writing: “The Film Fest brought more questions than answers”. And this is what SWOU is all about! Sex work is full of contradictions, questions, lives hidden and stories untold. Don’t believe fundamentalists (either religious or feminist) who say: “Prostitution is violence, prostitution is immoral”. Sex work is what feeds millions of people around the globe, it’s time people really listened to our stories!

Why was there no festival in 2012?

SWOU is all volunteers; most of us are current sex workers, some of us are students, single mothers, artists or involved in other activism projects. We sometimes don’t have the time and energy to run all the events and projects we would like to. We were very focused on establishing the Glasgow branch and fighting (and winning!) against the proposal to criminalise clients here in Scotland!


SWOU members protesting outside the Scottish Trade Union Congress against being excluded from the building in April 2013.

What are The Second Ever Sex Worker Film Festival’s highlights?

The selection of movies this year follows up the 2011 edition: among others, we are showing another of Dr Nick Mai’s movies, Normal, which we believe will really challenge viewers’ ideas of who / what is a ‘victim’. We are also really proud to show two movies produced or co-produced by SWOU collective themselves! These are Honeybringer, shot at Kolkata’s Sex Worker Freedom Festival in 2012, a really powerful documentary about the struggles of sex workers all over the world, and Whores Fight Back, about our comrades from STRASS, the Sex Workers’ Union in France, who are fighting against criminalisation of clients there too. The 2013 edition also includes three performances by SWOU members, so it is not just films but also live a

Why do Sex Worker Open University members find a film festival useful?

SWOU has so many events and projects, it is sometimes hard to keep up: from organising classes for sex workers to advocacy and lobbying for recognition of our labour and human rights; we will also soon start publishing academic papers in our own Evidence Collection to counter myths and stereotypes about sex workers. The Film Fest holds a special place in our hearts as it is a moment to celebrate the lives, struggles and victories of our movement all over the world with all our friends, families and allies. Things are moving fast for sex workers and it’s time for everyone who cares about safety, respect and rights for sex workers to get on board and support us. Coming to the Film Fest and educating yourself about our lives and work is a good step towards becoming a great ally!

The Festival’s programme showcases sex workers’ voices, struggles and experiences from Brazil to the UK, Thailand to France… And some extra surprises!

You can book your tickets on Rio cinema’s website.

Comments From You

Hera // Posted 17 October 2013 at 12:43 am

Feminism recognises prostitution as men’s violence against women and children. Prostitution is one of the final strongholds of sexualised male dominance which genuine feminists continue to fight against the legal normalisation of prostitution.

Why then is the fword which promotes itself as feminist promoting prostitution? Pro- prostitution discourse, presents prostitution as ‘sex work’ not sexual exploitation? Pimps are third-party business agents instead of first-class exploiters. Legal brothel owners in Australia are designated as sex worker service licencees. Instead of johns the men are now called clients providing women with incomes ,not abusers. Sex work advocates have become the modern-day mythmakers who prop up the globalized system of prostitution. Through the myths generated by apologists for sexual slavery, pro-prostitution ideologues have helped to launder prostitution and sex trafficking in many parts of the world.

The fword or more honestly the mword, is giving the sex industry and pimps free advertising which is about as far from feminism as it is possible to get.

Anyone in any doubt needs to read ‘Not a Choice, Not a Job -Exposing the Myths about the Global Sex Trade’ by Janice G Raymond.


MariaH // Posted 19 October 2013 at 4:08 am

Sex workers promote male sexual entitlement. Sex workers never speak of slut shaming or the sexual needs of women – the wives and girlfriends of their johns.

Kate // Posted 22 October 2013 at 7:48 pm

I refuse to take the “no true scotsman” stance regarding other feminists and defending prostitution. While I do not agree with the choice of these women I nontheless respect that the right to make this choice is their right.

Prostitution and pornography in the UK are not under the same conditions as they are in the rest of the world, these women are choosing to do what they do as a career and are not being forced at gun point. While many may feel they are being exploited my male sexuality there will be others with the view that it is sex workers who are exploiting male sexuality to make money.

I do not think these women seek to undermine feminism. These women are simply asking for us as their sisters to respect their choices and help to make sure that laws are in place to protect them from being exploited, to ensure that the only activities/work they do are what they consented to and no more. Sex workers, whether you agree with their choice or not are still women worthy of our respect and protection as such, and as a feminist I will not simply turn a blind eye to the perspectives of these women simply because I feel they made the wrong choice. To demonise another woman for her choices I believe would be divisive and counter productive when we seek the unification of all women for the rights of all women.

MariaH // Posted 23 October 2013 at 2:11 pm

Respect for sex workers will enshrine the status quo – disregard for female sexual desires and needs and continuation of the Madonna/Whore syndrome.

Ania Ostrowska // Posted 23 October 2013 at 3:24 pm

I would like to clarify: not all sex workers who are Sex Worker Open University’s members and allies are women. They are women and men, both cis and trans, as well as people who identify as neither.

Additionally, SWOU manifesto

says among other things:

“We support the right of any woman, man and transgender person to exit the sex industry, and see the core problems for many who wish to exit not as sex work itself but poverty, lack of education, domestic violence and the criminalisation of drug users.”

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