opinion

"We're asking the wrong questions after the murder of 24-year-old Michaela Dunn."

A couple of weeks ago I made my way home after a work appointment.

Thinking my partner would be asleep, I didn’t send my usual “I’m safe” message. I arrived home 30 minutes later, which was also perfectly on time, to a partner who was in a state of extreme worry that something horrible had happened.

This is an experience that most sex workers and our loved ones involved in managing our safety know. The anxiety that comes with the little-too-late safety check in. It’s a heart stopping, hold-your-breath type of fear.

For those of us within the sex work community and those who love us, our worst nightmare happened this week.

One of us – 24-year-old Michaela Dunn – went to work and was murdered.

It’s a sucker punch to the chest. It’s compounded by memories so many of us have of that ‘close call’ with a client. A knowing that there is no difference between Michaela Dunn and any other one of us. It’s an unspoken truth we all know too well, that no matter how good our safety and screening procedures are, perpetrators can still slip through.

To us as sex workers, the news that one of us has been murdered at work doesn’t come as a shock.

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Madison Missina: "We seem to have a need to simplify the blame for heinous crimes like these." Image supplied.

We all live with the knowledge that maybe one day we will open the door and let a perpetrator inside. The news this week is very personal to our community. The industry as a whole are feeling grief, anger, and of course, fear.

Jessie Lee Pierce, a colleague of mine, spoke to news.com.au about the worry we all carry with us as sex workers.

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“Unfortunately, I think the stigma attached to our profession leads us to be looked upon by lots of men as second-class people," she said, “… and that leads some men to believe they can do whatever they want with us.”

It speaks to the broader issue of toxic masculinity and its link to gendered violence.

But sadly, Jessie's voice, as well as those of other sex workers, have been drowned out by other people in the media asking the wrong questions.

The latest have been about the advertising site, Locanto - well-known as a site Aussie men use to book sex workers.

“All the guys know it (Locanto)”, she said. “It’s either very cheap or free for sex workers, unlike some of the top-end sites like Scarlet Blue where you can end up spending hundreds of dollars to advertise.”

According to Jessie, when she was asked whether blame can be attributed to this site, she said “Locanto was irrelevant in this instance". But that hasn't stopped people looking at the dangers associated with the site, and linking it to what happened to Michaela Dunn.

We seem to have a need to simplify the blame for heinous crimes like these.

It's natural. It's how our brains are wired to keep us safe, to keep us alive.

Watch: The confronting truth about what would happen if a man lived like a woman for a day. Post continues after video.

When we hear about a rape or murder, we tend to look towards the victim first. What did the victim do that lead to them being a victim?

Ultimately, this places the burden of the crime more and more into the victim’s own hands, distancing them from the greater population.

But the fear we experience as sex workers is a fear all women and some men are familiar with.

The fear of walking alone down a dark street, keys clenched through our fingers as a make-shift weapon. The fear of entering our home because someone could be inside. The fear that we won’t be believed, that we'll be asked, 'why didn’t she leave?' not 'why did he do that?'

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As sex workers, we fear our sex work status will define us and inhibit our ability to be believed. But no matter whatever form it comes, identifying what the victim could have done differently to avoid being the victim can only ever be harmful.

Now is not the time for a public debate about the morality of sex work. It's not the time to discuss the portrayal of sex workers in the media, or a time to push agendas and discuss sex worker law.

According to Jules Kim of Scarlet Alliance, it's believed Michaela had seen her accused killer, Mert Ney, as a client before. He had been screened and there has been no community reports found for him. In the sex work community, we all know it could have been any one of us. We know that no matter what safety measures we all take, sometimes, violent perpetrators slip through.

Michaela did not lose her life this week because of sex work. As former sex worker Samantha X states, Michaela lost her life because of a violent man.

It is time that we as a society stopped responding to serious crimes with a dissection of the victim. The question is not about what site she advertised on, or whether she put herself at risk. We need to drop the mythology of the perfect victim and stop opening up the victim’s life and holding them to scrutiny.

Instead, it's time to shine a light on the underlying dynamic of toxic masculinity, coercive control and how our justice system is broken. Gendered violence is happening because violent men believe they can get away with it. Sex worker violence is happening because violent men believe we are easier targets, due to our sex worker status being an element of further marginalisation and a barrier to us being heard and believed.

The question and the sole investigative focus should be on the perpetrator. It's his life, his attitudes, his choices, and his morality that require dissection.

We should all be expecting in depth investigations to take place into our justice system and mental health system. There are already reports that the alleged perpetrator should not have been out of hospital and was known to police.

As for us sex workers, I know it will be with increased wariness and heavy hearts that we return to our chosen profession. Michaela will be remembered as an innocent victim, another candle to be lit on December 17th each year, on the day that we remember and acknowledge all sex workers who are victims of violence.

For 24-hour crisis support please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the National Sexual Assault Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT.

Tags: googlenews , news-3 , news-stories , opinion
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