JULIE Bates has a lot of sex. Heaps. With a lot of different people. And she really couldn’t care less what you think about it.
“I don’t get it, it’s just sex. If we’re lucky, we all get to have some sometimes,” she tells news.com.au. “Thank God there are people like me to provide a service.”
Ms Bates, who sometimes goes by the name of “Darlo Debby” — after Sydney’s inner city suburb of Darlinghurst — will be grabbing her red umbrella and marking International Whores Day on Friday.
Sex workers will gather outside a bar in Kings Cross which was once the Nevada, a brothel that claims it had the largest bed in the Southern Hemisphere.
“I’m proud to be a sex worker,” Ms Bates says. “Every year sex workers stand tall under the scarlet umbrellas where we take pride in who we are, our lives and work.
“But unfortunately, stigma is rife and very few sex workers can stand tall as we’re still treated as second class citizens.”
The choice of the Nevada is not by random. As HIV took hold in the 1980s, it was the first brothel in Australia to take the sexual health of its workers seriously
“Previously you’d get a shot in the bum and it would be OK, but this virus would kill you,” said Ms Bates.
“The Nevada was the first place to say any man that passes here will be expected to use a condom or he’ll be shown the door. If it’s not on, it’s not on.”
The decision by the Nevada was a turning point in the Australian sex workers’ rights movement.
Globally International Whores Day is held on 2 June, to recognise the anniversary of the day in 1975 when hundreds of sex workers occupied a church in the French city of Lyon. They were protesting against the inequality of sex workers and police brutality.
Ms Bates likens the incident to the New York Stonewall riots of 1969 that saw the gay rights movement burst into the mainstream.
“It was like the OK corral for sex workers,” she tells news.com.au. “It’s when we said enough is enough, sex work is work and the rest of you should just get over yourselves.”
These days the term “prostitute” is frowned upon by sex workers. Ms Bates says it’s a “bad, bad word with demeaning and ugly connotations for what is legitimate work”.
So why revel in a term as strong as “whore”?
“I don’t mind being called a whore by my sisters in whoredom,” she says.
“In the beginning it wasn’t even a bad word. ‘Whore’ is a word we reclaimed to be used by ourselves to take the sting out.
“To me the word whore is an honourable term to be used among ourselves, but go to Europe and it’s a word that’s used quiet freely.”
Ms Bates had no inkling her career would lead her into sex work when, in the 1970s, she was a young law clerk. Her firm dealt regularly with sex workers who had complaints against police or trumped up drugs charges. Eventually she jumped the fence.
“I was on the outside looking; now I’m on the inside looking out”.
Ms Bates has spent more than three decades in the business. She also works as a sex workers’ rights advocate, is a board member of SWOP — the Sex Workers Outreach Project — and runs a town planning, health and safety consultancy.
As part of the ideas section of the Vivid Sydney festival, Ms Bates will be discussing her life as a sex worker at a panel discussion called ‘Sex in the City’.
Also during Vivid, Ms Bates’ image will also go up in lights on the iconic Coca-Cola signs as part of an installation called “Characters of Kings Cross”.
“I’ve worked in every area of the sex industry,” she says. “From escort agencies, from the street, from brothels and privately. I’ve covered all the bases.”
She says she’s an “old fashioned girl” and hasn’t gone online. There’s no need with her dedicated list of long term clients.
Sex work was fully decriminalised in NSW in 1995. Along with New Zealand the state is one of the only places in the world where sex work is completely legal. Elsewhere sex work is either illegal or restrictions apply that can criminalise either the worker or the client.
Decriminalisation took the police out of the sex work industry and put regulation into the hands of local councils.
A constant bugbear in NSW is the number of illegal brothels that exist, often disguised as massage parlours, despite it being perfectly legal to set up a brothel.
Ms Bates sees this as less of an issue with the industry and more of puritanical councils refusing development applications for brothels forcing sex work underground.
“Councils put huge hurdles in the way of brothels. Their natural habitat is on small shopping strips, usually upstairs, where workers and clients prefer to be.
“But if you want DA approval you usually have to be on an industrial estate.
“The absurdity of female workers sent to the boondocks and left their like sitting ducks when everyone goes home. How safe is that? It’s dangerous, it’s ridiculous,” she says.
Ms Bates says she wants to see a “uniform approach” to sex work both globally and here in Australia.
This week a parliamentary committee in South Australia recommended a bill to decriminalise sex work in the state should continue unamended to a vote. Currently, sex workers in the state can cop jail time and fines of up to $2500.
“We need to protect and uphold the human rights of sex workers who are supporting their families, making a living and putting a smile on people faces,” Ms Bates says.
“There are no bad whores, just bad laws.”
International Whores Day will be marked on Friday 2 June outside World Bar, formerly the Nevada, on Bayswater Road, Kings Cross.
Vivid Sydney’s ‘Kings Bloody Cross: Sex and the City’ will take place on 10 June, also at the World Bar