Content: the NME collaborates with the Goldsmiths Sex Work Solidarity Society (SWSS)
February 15, 2016 | NME Internal Press
We, the NME, are a collective of artists, musicians and composers who aim to explore, and to take part in, the current artistic scene. Over one year of activities, we have always aimed to produce events capable of representing the intrinsic pluralism of the contemporary, proud of a wide range of collaborations with other groups and initiatives. As our very name suggests, we embrace as new music all musical instances that are about, rise from, and come to life within the cultural framework of today’s world. We by no means reject the customarily accepted notion of music, as in many circumstances we found our strength in the skills of high-quality composers and performers crafting their work with a high degree of musical awareness. Besides, we try to engage in projects whose relevance is not reducible to the interest of the sole domain of music, but accounts to our participation in the contemporary reality at large. By construing both music and art as contextual practices, we wish to do justice to their role within the ampler framework of cultural dynamics, without abstracting them from their embeddedness in the social ground of political and human narratives.
At the beginning of this year, the NME undertook a cooperation with the Goldsmiths Sex Workers Solidarity Society on the occasion of their week-long festival ‘Explicit Content’ (running from January 24th to 29th). It featured various cultural events and culminated in an art show hosted at Harts Lane Studios on the last day (January 29th). Founded in September 2015, The SWSS is the first UK University collective advocating for sex workers’ labour and human rights. The group aims to provide specific spaces for people into the sex industry and allies who wish to support each other and create their own narrative to counter prejudice and social stigma. The SWSS was born just a few months after the release of Amnesty International’s draft-policy (July 2015), indicating decriminalisation as the best way to ensure the safeguard of sex workers’ human rights all over the world. The Goldsmiths collective came to be under perfect timing, as the possibility for sex workers to be heard and represent themselves is perhaps more compelling than ever.
The NME Committee were happy to accept the cooperation, which provided the ideal conditions to make art not only about, but also in line with, a most important social movement. We acknowledge that a great interest in the arts lies where no one has completely pitched the ground yet: hence we wish to sound out new possible territories for artistic expression and actively engage with them. As explorers, we perceive ourselves rather as miners than as aviators: we don’t want to look down at the world and draw inspiration from it, but to act from the inside recognising ourselves as participants in a shared, though diversified, social environment.
Thus, to free the project from all risks of super-imposition, we opted for a “bottom-up” approach. Student sex worker and SWSS president Laura Renvoize, with no former experience of music composition, created a 15-minute-long piece titled ‘In Review’. The NME musicians made themselves available for the author, translating her indications into sounds: the work’s structure emerged from an intensive schedule of cooperative rehearsal, where Renvoize shaped and organised her artistic intentions under the supervision of NME’s composer Rodrigo Camacho. Renvoize based her piece on shreds of texts from her clients’ reviews and carefully selected the sonic materials working alongside the performers, namely: Sara Rodrigues (voice), Gabriele Cavallo (clarinet), Roxanna Albayati (cello), Rodrigo B. Camacho (percussions), Mahsa Salali (paper and found objects) and Stirling Copland (synth and melodica).
The NME’s cooperation with the SWSS was a challenge and a testament that reaffirmed the ensemble’s original intentions. Since its constitution, the group has meant to be committed to the representation of fringe realities and artistic minorities – more in terms of power than of numbers. The NME tries to counter the dynamics of hierarchy and exclusion that too often impoverish and damage artistic establishments. Our attention is not limited to the artworld, but aims to relate to other social minorities and unrepresented groups; which makes self-determined sex workers’ ideal partners for us. To intend this relation ecosystemically – working with rather than working about – may be highly beneficial for both parts intervening in the cooperation even beyond the avoidance of artistic stagnancy. When our musical skills become a prism for others to express their voices, marginalised groups and individuals are enabled to articulate their discourse in other ways than those that customarily belong to their sphere. This, we believe, turns to be equally positive for us all.
Therefore, the NME are proud to have worked alongside the SWSS and hope for further cooperation in the future. Below follows a statement by the SWSS about sex workers rights movements, with important sources and data attached. Please read on.
By Gabriele Cavallo
NME Editorial Director
Sex workers across the globe suffer violence, abuse and police brutality, which for some groups of sex workers occurs on a daily basis. The marginalisation of our existence contributes to creating a class of people who are vulnerable to the state and to those who may wish to exploit us. At present our ability to organise, which is based around the premise of staying safe, is stifled by out dated, untrue and incorrectly collected evidence by moralistic and ignorant governments. The stigma which is created by dictating to people when and how they may have consensual sex contributes to our othering in society. Stigma which is then reinforced by governments and radical feminist discourse which allows people to continue to force us to live and work in dangerous circumstances.
Problems may be exacerbated by common misunderstanding about the terms of the debate, due to a lack of acquaintance with the discourse of sex work. It’s not rare to see people conflating different legislations, confusing decriminalisation with models of legalisation. To clarify, decriminalisation defines a regime in which no parts of consensual sex work are charged with criminal offense, including such third parties as clients and brothels. This is what we and other sex workers claim for, since it would help us organise and work together, represent ourselves, enhance safety and ensure access to health services. Conversely, legalisation labels a situation in which the State, or other governmental institutions, dictate and dispose the conditions for legal sex work. This could easily turn to benefit license-owners rather than workers and constitute a thread for those whose legal status, such as citizenship or visa, are precarious.
The notion that sex workers don’t know what’s good for them or that their actions are a kind of social ill allows this stigma to flourish. A distinction must be made here; those who are trafficked are not sex workers but rather victims of rape, abduction and theft, all of which we have laws to protect them with. Laws around sex work itself are nothing to do with trafficking, all though some may claim they are with figures which are often completely fabricated*. In turn, these ideas that we need paternalistic figures to save us, as we must be childlike in nature, damages us in a real way. Tropes around our existence being used and rehashed reaffirms these ideas to people who wish to exploit us and limit our autonomy.
“Of the many books on prostitution I read back then, most dismissed the possibility that women who sell sex can be rational, ordinary, pragmatic and autonomous. The excuses followed a pattern: The women didn’t understand what they were doing because they were uneducated. They suffered from false consciousness, the failure to recognize their own oppression. They were addicted to drugs that fogged their brains. They had been seduced by pimps. They were manipulated by families. They were psychologically damaged, so their judgements were faulty. If they were migrants they belonged to unenlightened cultures that gave them no choices. They were coerced and/or forced by bad people to travel, so they weren’t real migrants, and their experiences didn’t count. Because they were brainwashed by their exploiters, nothing they said could be relied on. This series of disqualifications led to large lacunae in social-scientific literature and mainstream media, showing the power of a stigma that has its very own name – whore stigma. Given these women’s spoiled identities, others feel called to speak for them.” (Augustin 2013)
We must be allowed to create our own narratives. Those of us who do it to support ourselves during university and those of us who do it because we have no other viable socio-economic employment deserve respect and human rights. We deserve the opportunity to work free from harassment by the police, unregulated by the government and on our terms. This isn’t purely an issue of stigma but also an issue of proposed ‘regulation’ and ‘legalisation’, which are embedded in stigma. Legalisation of sex work is not an acceptable route to our deserved human rights and dignity as when the government dictates when and where we may or may not work we are not in control of our work and other dangers may be present. We must work towards decriminalisation, acceptance and support.
“If sex work is legalized, it means that the state makes very specific laws and policies that formally regulate sex work. This can lead to a two tier system where many sex workers operate outside these regulations and are still criminalised – often the most marginalised street based sex workers. Decriminalization places greater control into the hands of sex workers to operate independently, self-organise in informal cooperatives and control their own working environments in a way that legalization often does not.
During our consultation with sex workers, most of those we spoke to supported decriminalization but were frequently nervous about the implications of legalization. This was not only because of their mistrust of law enforcement authorities but also because of fears that if the wrong model of legalization is adopted, it may disempower them or even lead to criminalization and abuse.” (Amnesty International 2015)
A way in which we can help overcome stigma, fear and marginalisation is via accepting sex workers own narratives and allowing us to participate in society without being classed as undesirable or as victims.
By Laura Renvoize
For more information see:
Amnesty International. ‘Sex Workers’ Rights are Human Rights.’ (2015) Online source:
Agustin, Laura. ‘Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores.’ (2013) Online source:
Further Recommended Reading
Weitzer, Ronald. ‘The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking: Ideology and Institutionalization of a Moral Cruisade.’ (2015)
The Guardian. ‘Inquiry fails to find single trafficker who forced anybody into prostitution.’ (2009)