Project Whore: Interview with Social Worker ‘Natalie Thorburn’

  

1. What are your thoughts on prostitution?

Wow, that’s a really broad question. The sex industry is really multi-faceted and complex. I think overall I take a neutral stance on sex work – I try to balance being anti-exploitation with being pro-sex workers’ rights. 
2. Tell me about your present role as a social worker. Who are you working with/for?

My background is predominately in sexual violence. At the moment I’m in private practice as an ACC-registered counsellor and social worker, working with survivors of sexual abuse and sexual violence. I’m also a lecturer in the social work programme at MIT, and do some private research work as well. 
3. Do you think sex trafficking exists in New Zealand?

Yes, I do. 
4. What is your stance on the word ‘Whore’?

It’s an initially quite confronting word. I tend to tense up when people use it colloquially because it can have derogatory overtones, but I also see it as affirmative action – kind of like the word ‘cunt’. I can see how reclaiming it, as a population, is a way of fighting stigma. 
5. Do you work with NZPC (NZ Prostitutes Collective) in anyway?

No, although they have been helpful in the past when I was doing research into underage sex work. 
6. In your opinion – do you think “sex work is work”?

Yes, absolutely, and should be respected as such. However, there are also situations where sex workers are exploited to the point where they’re essentially working as slaves, rather than free workers. 
7. You have recently been broadcast on radio & television talking about underage sex work. Has this had an impact on society do you think?

Underage sex work, or the broadcast? Probably not. 
8. Even though prostitution was decriminalised in NZ in 2003 – Do you think there is still a lot of stigma surrounding sex work in this country?

Of course. Like any type of stigmatisation, it takes a lot longer to subside than what it does to change the law. I think a lot of people see it as a by-product of immorality or personal failing – the type of attitudes that were around in the 1800s still stay strong in some people’s minds. I think there’s also a lot of ignorance about the reality of sex work, which leads to (largely negative) assumptions about the industry. 
9. Is sex work a choice?

Well, that’s the million dollar question! I’m not sure a single answer could sufficiently answer that question! For many sex workers, yes, it is. For others, its the result of an oppressive social structure that places people in marginal positions where there are few other viable alternatives. For still others, abuse or exploitation means they never got to a position where they could make that ‘choice’.
10. With all the (humanitarian) social work you do in education, rape crisis & counselling – how do you look after yourself?

All the usual ways – I have supervision, I debrief with friends, I schedule time away from the intensities of work, and I have been known to seek therapy when things become overwhelming. Having said that, I also feel that this kind of work gives energy and life as much as it takes it. Working with any kind of injustice or trauma can be challenging – but things like good sleep, good food, good sex, good friends, and good down time can safeguard against a lot of it. 

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