Interview with Ally-Marie and Zanande - Survivors of Prostitution

Today we welcome Ally-Marie Diamond who was born and raised in New Zealand, where she was groomed into the prostitution system as a child. She now speaks up as an advocate for the Nordic model of partial decriminalisation. She founded the Wahine Toa Rising , which is a survivor led group that supports those who have been, or still are being, exploited by the sex trade. Also joining us we have Zanande who is right here from South Africa. She is a survivor and a radical feminist who spearheads a survivor led network of about 300 women in the Gauteng province.

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Interviewee:  Ally – Marie Diamond and Zanande

Interviewer: Amanda

Amanda: An official “Hello” and welcome to the Free To Fly Podcast. My name is Amanda – I will be your host for today. And for those who do not know, Free To Fly is an anti human trafficking organisation. We are an NGO; and if you would like to get involved you can check out our Free To Fly website at   And you can contact our organization through our social media pages which is a both on Facebook and on Instagram. We have two guests with us who are survivors of the prostitution system themselves. First of all, we have Ally – Marie Diamond who was born and raised in New Zealand, where she was groomed into the prostitution system as a child. She now speaks up as an advocate for the Nordic model of partial decriminalisation. She founded the Wahine Toa Rising, which is a survivor led group that supports those who have been, or still are being, exploited by the sex trade. Also joining us we have Zanande who is right here from South Africa. She is a survivor and a radical feminist who spearheads a survivor led network of about 300 women in the Gauteng province. Before we get into the proposed bill, I’d like to hear from each of you about the prostitution system in general. Ally let’s start with you. Based on your experience, how would you describe a typical prostituted person? 

Ally – Marie: I don’t really like that word typical because I think nobody ‘ typical ’. I think everyone, every woman, and young person is unique. But again, a lot of similarities is most are fighting to survive and feel that this is all they deserve. And that’s the only way. The women I was surrounded by were vulnerable coloured women. My sister was 14 when she ran away from home and found herself in the world of sex slavery, torture and abuse. Others have very similar stories to tell. Some are moms escaping domestic violence, trying to feed their children, give their kids a warm roof over their heads and keep them in school. Some women who were alone were just fighting to survive every day. Most had already experienced abuse – sexual , physical and emotional. They had been in the sex trade and It was no different for them from home. Except they got paid. Yeah, I guess. 

Amanda: And what age are the most prostituted persons when they are first involved in the sex trade? 

Ally – Marie: Most are introduced to the sex trade when they are children. And I guess this is why I get quite passionate around this because, you know when they talk about effects that term sex work and when they talk about, you know, my body, my choice, this is what I’ve come back to I say, Well, what about those women who were introduced into the sex trade when they were 9, 10, 11, 12, 14? Who have only know this way of life, and then they get to 18 and now you’re telling me that they are sex workers that they have free choice? Well, no, that’s not that’s not the case. This is the only life they have known. 

Amanda: While you were in the sex trade did you meet underage children?

Ally – Marie: Lots. So my sister is not actually biologically my sister. I call her my sister, because one time I was walking along the street and she was in the gutter. She was 14 years of age. She was bleeding. She was having a miscarriage, and she was in the sex trade. 

Amanda: Wow, that’s so terrible. At age 14, what do you Zanande think of the term sex work? 

Zanande: I think the term sex work is invented to normalise the violence and the sexual exploitation that occurs behind closed doors between a sex buyer and survivor. It normalises sex slavery, – being bought and sold and exploited can never be a job. It is pay trade. I didn’t know of the fencing sex work up until I met with Sweat. Then they started showing me that we need to have solidarity. We need to call ourselves sex workers. And then they started training me to work for them as a peer educator, then they trained me to never say anything about ‘exits’ programs, to never entertain anyone who wants to exit. I should just condone and condone and condone, – talk about condoms. Talk about PEP, talk about RIVs, because that is what the donor wants to hear. 

Amanda: So for those of you who are listening who don’t know, SWEAT is a very large sex worker led organization who is advocating for the full decriminalization of the prostitution system. 

Zanande: Sex work led organizations – the people on top are not even sex workers to begin with. Let us clarify that. The sex workers within those organizations, – let me use the so called ‘sex worker’ word. The sex workers that are within those organizations are people that are ensuring that they will make sure that they don’t go back to the streets. Hence they are working for those organizations and these people that can do anything to ensure that they put money in their pockets. 

Amanda: So, what you are saying is that ironically, people working for SWEAT are people who have done so to escape the prostitution system, which they themselves are now promoting as a good and empowering system. 

Zanande: Indeed, that is exactly when I’m saying. I also want to put out that when you are working for this kind of organisation, you are you equipped to condone sex work, rather than seeing what the people on the ground are saying. If we can go to the people on the ground right now into a VoxBox, no one is saying they want sex, they want sex work, they want sex work. People are looking for exit strategies. People are asking for a solution. No one wants to be deemed a sex worker. It is not proper to anyone to be called a sex worker. 

Amanda: Ally you previously wrote an article stating that being purchased by men 20 or more times a day is not work. So please tell us what do you think of the term sex work? And if prostitution was to be considered a job like all others, what kind of training would need to take place? 

Ally – Marie: There is nothing even remotely normal about being bought and sold in the sex trade. Work is something we have learned to do as we grow. It is a means to learn new skills, experience new opportunities, meet new people and be mentored by amazing leaders who are successful in their own lives. Plus, we get to go home to our families or our loved ones and share with them about our day. So imagine the upscaling that needs to be done in the sex trade: How to give a better blow job, how not to bite the buyer’s cock when he is shoving you head over his penis. How not to vomit when he is trying to slam his cock down your throat. How to avoid being beaten, how to avoid the condom slipping off, how to get regular STD checks, how to check yourself for crabs, genital warts and other diseases. How to identify STDs in the buyer, how to lift your legs so they don’t feel like they’re going to snap off. How to make convincing orgasm noises so he thinks you’re enjoying it and imagine the new opportunities that you would get to experience. And then there is the mentoring and the on the job training. It’s so effective and efficient. It is led by the brothel owners or managers. They even make that huge sacrifice, – “excuse my sarcasm”, – to train you personally. 

Amanda: Zanande do you think prostitution is a job with economic independence and should be considered a job like any other. 

Zanande: It is a hand to mouth rotational income. It doesn’t do anything else. It’s not adequate for paying one’s education, or for a child. You cannot acquire another skill or business or employment because it is time consuming. Because once you are in it now you incur unnecessary expenses, where you have now to look the part: you have to do your hair, your nails and you have to wear clothes that are ‘proper’. – proper in terms of you being able to get in the sex trade. So it’s not like there’s a lot of money that’s in the sex trade itself. So I don’t understand. – Unless we are talking about the people that are getting paid to say that.

Amanda: So, the people that are getting paid would be the pimps, the brothel owners. And the people that basically own the establishments, would have the most benefit from these young girls being out there on the streets or being in brothels. Because one of the prominent things that I found out when I did research is that the main complaint was that most of the money that these girls are making does not go towards them. It goes towards the pimps or whoever the brothel owners are. So I just want to find out how true that is? 

Zanande: It is quite true and also we have got a problem within the sex trade. The problem that we are having is that the pimp, the brothel owner, the sex buyer and peer educator at this point, – which is now a person that is hired by an organization to sort of endorse sex work – is also in cahoots with the pimp, brothel owner and the sex buyer, to say, this is what a sex worker needs; this is what a sex worker wants to sell her body, her business and all of it. which is a bit of an issue now because how can you be a union that is advocating for the person on the ground, but you still agree with the pimp, brothel owner and the sex buyer? 

Ally – Marie: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, in New Zealand, we used to have – and I know that they still do – what they call like a you know, – you’d go in there and they would pay for the entire thing. So your door fee, your all inclusive fees, to call them. So the manager or the receptionist or whoever was behind the desk would take, a lump sum of money. But then out of that money, they would find ways to fine – so they would fine us girls . If we didn’t make the bed properly, we’d get fined. If we weren’t wearing our garter belts and our stockings we would get fined. If there was a ladder in our stocking, we’d get fined. If we left a condom in the room we would get fined. So then you had all these fines that you had to pay. So by the end of the day, most of your money had gone to the owner of the brothel. 

Amanda: So Ally. What do you want the listeners to understand when people say that selling one’s body is their right and it’s a human right? 

Ally – Marie: So, – when did slavery become a human right? The definition of slavery is a condition in which one human being is owned by another. A slave was considered by law as a man’s property or chattel and was deprived of most of the rights ordinarily held by a free person. Prostitution is a form of slavery. We are bought and sold. We’re owned by our pimps, brothel owners and even partners. We are their property to do with what they will. Prostitution deprives us of all our human rights. Women speak about their body, their choice, but what about the women who do not have that free choice and who no longer own their bodies? How can we sacrifice the multitudes for the few? The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes freedom from fear. Therefore, regardless of law, it is essential that countries provide funded services to give women and young people who are being exploited in the sex trade a means to safely exit and live free from fear. Women in the sex trade are deprived of their basic human rights, including the right that we are all born free and equal. That there is no discrimination. The right to life, the right to no slavery, the right to no torture. The right to move freely. The right to seek a safe place to live, the right to have freedom of thought and expression, the right to an education, the right to have food and shelter, the right to live in a fair and free world and the right that no one can take away someone’s human rights. So when I hear people speak about the right to do what they want with their body, let us remember those who already don’t have that right and are also deprived of other basic rights. That’s doesn’t change because you change the law. This only changes when we hold the buyers, the profiteers and the brothel owners accountable for the actions and full decriminalization doesn’t do that. 

Amanda: Wow, that is very powerful. Here in South Africa, we’ve had a government official tell the public that we need to be careful before we tell women what they can or cannot do with their bodies. What is your response to that? 

Ally – Marie: We need to be careful before we tell men that they can purchase a woman’s body, even though that woman may not have free choice to begin with. We need to be careful before we tell those who sell women that it’s okay because it’s now a legitimate business. We need to be careful before we tell buyers that they can legitimately purchase a woman’s body for sex because a few say ‘their body. their choice’, but the majority of women and young people never had choice to begin with. 

Amanda: Yes, great point. Okay, so let’s discuss what full decriminalization means and the difference between it and other models. First thing to note is that a lot of language is being used to confuse people, so let’s clear that up. Partial decriminalisation is where the selling of sex becomes legal, but the buying of sex is illegal. This model exists to eventually end the demand, but also protects the prostituted person by allowing them to access social services in the programs and assistance from police without being criminalized themselves. What is important to note is that partial decriminalisation is also called the Nordic model, the equality model and the sunkara model. And when we hear different terms we understand it is referring to the same thing. Now there are a lot of sex worker led organizations that claim the Nordic model leads to higher rates of violence and discrimination. Ally what is your response to that? 

Ally – Marie: Now, who do you think really suffers if the Nordic model is passed? Who are the ones who will really hurt the most? The women and young people or those who gain to lose the most amount of money? Because women are leaving? People are waking up to the abused, men are being re educated and not purchasing bodies for sexual pleasure anymore? Who really is going to suffer? Do you think from that? The women who are finally realizing their worth and chasing their dreams? Or the pimps, the buyers, the profiteers, the owners , who are now not making as much money as they would have if everything was seen as a normal, legitimate business. 

Amanda: Zanande do you think that partial decriminalisation model is better? 

Zanande: Yes, yes, indeed. We do think that a partial decriminalization is better, because when we talk about partial decriminalization, we are talking about the criminalizing the pimp, the product owner, the sex buyer, but decriminalizing the survivor or the prostituted person in this case. So it’s something that we need because we need to decrease the demand. 

Amanda: Okay. Ally . . .? 

Ally – Marie: I definitely think partial is better than full decrim and the reason is, is because, you know, it gives those support services for women and children, which is so desperately needed. But it also changes the attitudes of those who are buying and it changes the attitudes of our communities. Which in turn, you know, we’ll change our future generations. 

Amanda: 10 years after it became legalized in the Netherlands, the mayor of Amsterdam was called to say that it was a national error and that the country has been reprehensibly naive. So do you think your country and others have been educated enough about the options of full decriminalization and partial decriminalisation before it went to Parliament? 

Zanande: When it comes to South Africa, I honestly think we being the survivors are sort of being gagged. They only listen to one side. And I honestly think that the reason for that is the monies that come in in regards to survivor vs. sex work. I think there’s quite a lot of monies that get invested when like funders are more interested in making money, HIV ads and all of that. they are not a whole lot interested in emancipation of women. So that is why we are having that problem and when it comes to government officials, they are also not interested. It’s like we don’t exist as survivors. 

Amanda: So Ally, what about you?

Ally – Marie: I’ve met with a lot of members of parliament both in Australia and New Zealand and I am mortified by their lack of knowledge, their lack of compassion and their lack of empathy. I’m saddened by their closed ears, they’re quiet mouths. They’re closed eyes, they’re closed minds. It is like they’re not even willing to hear our side. Our communities are not educated enough. Our communities have no idea how much full decriminalisation will impact them if its passed. In New Zealand its our vulnerable coloured communities are the ones who suffer and hurt the most and who are the most silenced. Children as young as nine have been sold on greats and depending on who you ask, some will say it can’t be true. Others will say they have seen it. It’s happening everywhere. Just some only see what they want to see. And that’s because I think we’ve become so conditioned to walk around with blinkers on and we really need to start taking those blinkers off and become more awakened and disruptive. 

Amanda: A recent article in the South African Mail and Guardian stated that a five year study of the New Zealand reported that cooperation between sex workers, police and other agencies provided useful information about criminal activity. Ali, what is your response to that? Is it true? 

Ally – Marie: The violence and discrimination already exists in the sex trade and always has. It is the most vulnerable and those of colour who suffer the most. In New Zealand full decrim has not lessened family violence or domestic violence, or rape or murders. In fact, these are all worse. Since 2003. New Zealand , street prostitution has risen by 400% and to fully criminalize New Zealand girls as young as nine have been sold on the streets of Auckland. 12 year olds are being bought and licensed massage parlors. Police are saying they are powerless to act, powerless to do raids and powerless to ask for ID. Since these commercial sex establishments are legal businesses -and because women are independent contractors, no paperwork for each woman or child is required And so sex tourism flourishes as does sex trafficking to replenish the brothels. because when you before do criminalization you have demands and to get demand, to meet demand you need to find women or young people to work in the sex trade. So it’s a vague and general statement and is actually a cover up of what is really happening. 

Amanda: Do you think it’s fair for South Africa to be comparing ourselves with other non-African countries who have fully decriminalized prostitution, mostly European countries? 

Zanande: I honestly think whoever wants to decriminalize is looking from a point of privilege. Because from a poor disadvantaged background, one cannot say we should legalize prostitution. Due to our past inequalities, and due to our colonial past, we are far from being ready as a country to actually decriminalize. And in a country where gender based violence is such an inherent issue, we are not ready. 

Amanda: So regarding the previous question that I asked Ally, she said that the police were struggling to do raids and struggling to combat the criminality. Do you Zanande think that we in South Africa have the police resources, for lack of a better word, to make sure or to ensure that if ever we do impose a decriminalization of prostitution, do you think we have the resources to ensure that people are not being taken advantage of? 

Zanande: We do not, we definitely do not have the resources. Police will not be able to regulate or control and we definitely do not have the resources. 

Amanda: So, you are saying that we as South Africa, we do not yet have the resources to make sure that should prostitution be legalized, we will be able to regulate it and that we will be able to make sure that crime is actually at a decrease and not increasing? 

Zanande: Exactly. 

Amanda: You as a survivor, can you tell the South African Parliament one thing; if you could tell them one thing in parliament, what would you say? 

Zanande: I would actually appeal to our government to go back to the drawing board. Because if they are now saying they are decriminalizing: what are they saying about a predominantly black girl child? Are they saying we are good for nothing, but being sexual toys that satisfy men’s sexual fantasies? For me, it will cause bigger problems. I would ask them to listen to the people on the ground and emancipate them with exit solutions rather than condone prostitution. And I would also ask them, if Mama Lillian Ngoyi and Mama Winnie Mandela, is this what they fought for so hard. What do we mean when we talk about gender equality? If now they are going to just toss us into the men’s hands and exploit us, whenever they want to. 

Amanda: So Ally, what would you say to Parliament in New Zealand, about this law?

Ally – Marie: I have a lot of things I could say. Full decriminalization sends a message that violence is not okay, unless you pay. Full decriminalization sends the message that slavery is a job like any other. Full decriminalization only benefits those who profit from the buying and selling of women and children. Full decriminalization will increase violence in your community. Full decriminalization discriminates against those who are most vulnerable and who live in vulnerable communities. Full descrimination however, does not discriminate when it comes to children. Full decriminalized does not protect those who wish to be sex workers. In fact, it puts them in more harm’s way. Vulnerable women and children deserve to live a life free from fear, free from torture, free from violence and free from slavery. Not just a few. But all. Passing full decriminalization sends a message to our vulnerable women and children who are trapped in the sex trade, that their lives don’t matter and can be sacrificed for the few who feel empowered by being bought and sold for sex. Can you honestly tell me that you can go home to your children or the children in your community – that you can get down on one knee, look them straight in the eye and say to them, that today was a wonderful day. Today we voted that it is a man’s right to buy and sell your body for sex. 

Amanda: That is a very, very powerful word. So is there anything else that we have not said? For you both . You Ally and Zanande do you guys want to add anything else just in case we don’t leave anything unsaid? 

Zanande: Yes, I would like to urge South Africa, our South African Government to really look at training people in giving them skills rather than giving people a R350 that is called a grant – a Relief Fund . The government should stop giving people money for nothing. They should train people and give them skills so that people are employable. 

Amanda: Yes, great point. And thank you, thank you very much to both of you. And it means a lot because you guys are survivors. So therefore it means a lot. It means that we are talking to people who have first hand experience of how dangerous this environment is and how dangerous it can be if such a law for full decriminalization of sex is passed. So thank you very much to both of you. You are not just speaking for yourselves. You are speaking for survivors, everywhere. I thank you very much for educating us. So yes, thank you