Red Light Dark Room

Photos by Gemma-Rose Turnbull

In early 2010 I was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts Connections Residency to do a residency with non-profit organisation St Kilda Gatehouse to teach, photograph and interview street sex workers. Red Light Dark Room; Sex, Lives and Stereotypes is a unique project which attempts to open the shutters on the day-to-day lives of street sex workers, and will be a photographic exhibition and book (expected at the beginning of 2011).

Street sex work, which involves the trading of sexual services for money or drugs at the street level, is a particularly hazardous and stressful occupation. Those engaged in street sex work tend to be the most marginalised, oppressed, and stigmatised. These women face many daily challenges, including physical and sexual assaults, ill treatment by the public, housing instability, incarcerations and continued financial difficulties. These women often suffer from physical and mental health issues related to their work and lack of appropriate medical or psychological care. Many women who work the street are also responsible for bearing and raising children. These mothers tend to feel anxious for their own and their children’s safety, and are often separated from their children when their children are removed from their care.

For the women who work on the streets there are also many other facets of their lives such as family, friendships, recreational interests, skills and dreams. The publication will allow women involved in street sex work an opportunity to communicate their stories. These stories may cover the hardship, but also the episodes in their lives which bring them joy and fulfillment.

St Kilda Gatehouse is distinctive in its ability to form strong relationships and build on the strengths of a particular marginalised community, who are often difficult to engage through mainstream means. Street sex work remains a contentious issue, creating a spectrum of opinions and beliefs in regards to the presence and legality of street sex workers. The publication does not aim to present a case for or against the legality of street sex work, but rather to show the human side and to tell the stories of a group of women involved in street sex work.

Please see the project website for more information about how you can support this unique project.


Gemma-Rose Turnbull

Interview of Gemma-Rose Turnbull - Alliance Magazine - March 2011

Tales from the street - The Age - 2 April 2011


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