By Jacqueline Gwynne
Anyone who visits Melbourne, Australia, for the first time will notice the normalisation of the sex trade. This has happened because prostitution has been legal in the state of Victoria since 1994. One of the first things that struck me when I moved to Melbourne in 2002 was the ‘in your face’ advertising of brothels and strip clubs. At this time there were billboard ads along Hoddle Street, one of the busiest streets, for Spearmint Rhino, The Men’s Gallery and bill posters for Schnitz n Tits strip clubs.
If you’ve spent any time in this city you will notice flyers for WOMEN WANTED and GIRLS WANTED, posted up on main roads in the inner city promising women $$$ for nude artistic photos.
The ads promise same day cash of up to $800 for diverse women of all ages and body types. There are different flyers that appear every week but they all lead back to a pornography business called Feck Erotica. Slick glossy business cards of artistic nudes can also be found in cafes, art venues and boutiques. The flyers always have a female contact name and assert that the work is empowering and fun among an all-female crew.
I have been following this business and the WOMEN WANTED flyers and spoke to models and former employees.
Feck is not interested in creating art, but rather pornography. Feck promotes an image of body positivity, inviting women of all sizes and looks. But this is misleading. The Feck website makes it obvious that the preference is almost exclusively for skinny, young white women who look more like girls.
Luring women under false pretences into the sex trade for someone else’s profit usually meets the international definition of sex trafficking.
I spoke to Bec*, a former employee who reports that Feck’s business practices are predatory. She says: “The business is run by a middle aged man with a school girl fetish. He has made millions from women’s images and frequently sleeps with the young models, many of whom are backpackers.”
Feck has three main projects to screen women and filter them through to more explicit pornography and prostitution. The first two are Beautiful Agony and I Shot Myself. Beautiful Agony is where women and men film their face during orgasm. For I Shot Myself, women are provided with a camera to photograph themselves nude.
If the contributor shows enthusiasm and Feck is happy with her performance, she is offered further work on the more explicit, video-based website, I Feel Myself. Women are filmed masturbating, in girl on girl and occasionally heterosexual sex, on location or at Feck’s Melbourne premises. On the I Feel Myself shoots models often work directly with the male CEO who is sometimes the only person in the room with them.
The selling point of Feck is to create some artistic credibility with a focus on diversity to lure women in through Beautiful Agony, I Shot Myself and I Feel Myself at the hip headquarters in Melbourne.
Feck inflates its artistic credibility in part through links with Life Drawing Melbourne, a business with an innocent name to yield the most Google hits. Attendees of the life drawing classes are often unaware of its connection with Feck. Flyers for Life Drawing Melbourne appear alongside the Women Wanted flyers, frequently in art spaces and laundromats.
I spoke to Julia* about her experience with the I Shot Myself project. She was a traveller and artist who couldn’t find sustainable work, and so decided to do a shoot for Feck. She put a lot of time into planning her shoot and took it seriously as an artist. Julia hired wigs and props and spent all day on the shoot. When she presented the photos to Feck, they told her they were too artistic and to re-shoot them.
Another young woman, Sonia*, said that Feck gave her a camera and kept her driver’s license until she returned the camera. Keeping ID and passports is a common practice of traffickers. There are countless stories from former Feck models who say they were not paid because their photos weren’t good enough.
The flyers prey on poor, vulnerable women. They are plastered up around Centrelink (social security services), universities, backpacker hostels, laundromats and gambling venues. Bec confirms that the business is a gateway to other forms of prostitution as can be seen on the Feck Twitter page with links to pornography and prostitution services all over Australia. There are reports of ‘Sugar Daddy Dating,’ which is not dating, but prostitution.
The WOMEN WANTED flyers show how brazenly sex trade profiteers are operating in Melbourne, it is right under our noses. If you see these flyers or business cards, tear them down and put them in the bin. Contact your local MP and police to take action.
* Names have been changed to protect identities.