At the St. James Infirmary, we frequently get asked by researchers and students to do research with our participants. In the past, we have seen this arrangement abused by people who come from outside the sex worker community to gain access into a marginalized group for their own gain. We also know, that research on sex workers is very hip thing to do, but rarely do we see researchers include the community as part of the research team. This means having sex workers either lead or assist in the development of the research questions, the outreach and recruitment methods and the analyzing of the results. Nothing about us without us.
The video above is an example of what happens when a vulnerable community opens itself up to someone outside of that community who claims to be one thing and then turns a 180 with the finished project. This is what makes it very difficult for sex workers to trust people outside of the community. We are very angry to hear that the sex workers in India were treated this way by that film maker. Colonialism, racism and power-over abuses are also quite blatant in the “Prostitutes of God” video.
We have worked with some of the people from the sex worker community in India for the last year on a project with UNAIDS. That work is about ensuring that there is meaningful inclusion from the sex worker community in policy that affects our lives. Here is a statement from our friends in India about their response to the film maker:
This brief (3.5) minute clip by the Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP, Prostitutes’ Collective Against Injustice), encapsulates a succinct response to ‘Prostitutes of God’, a sensationalized and factually flawed documentary produced by Sarah Harris for VBS TV. Countering the distorted perspective in the film, women from VAMP present their incisive views about sex work; religion and faith; livelihoods; issues of consent; ethics and cross-cultural sensitivities while making documentary films.
The women in Sangli from VAMP recorded video responses to the film. In the age of the internet, women in countries far away who used to be the objects of white people’s gaze with no right of reply now have access to the representations that are made of them, and the technological means to answer back. A naive westerner may seize the headlines, but there’s now scope for there to be a debate and to bring those who in the past would have remained voiceless victims into that debate to represent themselves.It is a great opportunity to put the record straight.
This clip has been produced by Sangli Talkies, the newly-launched video unit of SANGRAM / VAMP.
VAMP and SANGRAM