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Red Shield Appeal Image Vilifies Sex Workers


04 MAY 2016



 A few weeks ago the Prime Minister’s wife, launched the Salvation Army’s flagship fundraising drive; the annual Red Shield Appeal. This well planned marketing campaign is of critical importance to Australia’s largest religion-based charity, and it is expected to net the Salvation Army up to $74 million dollars.

 Amidst the cameras and media fanfare, it largely escaped public notice that the marketing collateral delivered to every Australian home vilified sex workers.

 My mother was a prostitute. She’d lock me in the bathroom. So I started (self-harming*). I was 5…

*The Salvation Army copy referred directly to a particular form of self-harm. We have been advised by Mindframe that references to specific forms of self-harm in public media are damaging to those who may be pre-disposed to this type of behaviour.


The headline message of the campaign is that the child abusing mother is a sex worker, with the direct implication that sex working mothers are child abusers.

This gratuitous slur on all sex workers is based on no evidence and is seen by sex workers as a deliberate attempt by the Salvation Army to capitalise on the stigma and discrimination that sex workers face on a day to day basis. By conflating the unjustly stigmatised occupation of sex work with both the abhorrent practise of child abuse and the unfortunate practise of self-harm among children, the Salvation Army has sought to leverage income from this appeal at a very real expense to sex workers (and to persons prone to self-harm).

Stigma and discrimination are drivers of negative health outcomes and create barriers for marginalised communities (such as sex workers) to access health, legal and other services. Stigma and discrimination can lead to loss of occupation, housing, and other determinants of health as set out in the Ottawa Charter.  It can also lead to bullying, direct and physical violence and the erosion of human rights.

The Salvation Army are so insensitive to this issue and to the human rights of sex workers that their first response was to respond that they had merely made  a “marketing error” in the use of the offensive and disrespectful term “prostitute”.

This was despite sex workers having already made it very clear on social media, and by directly contacting the Salvation Army, that the use of the offensive and disrespectful term “prostitute” was only a minor part of the issue. It was however several days before the Salvation Army acknowledged the core issue of vilification and partially addressed it by adding a further disclaimer to their “marketing error” apology.

The “Apology for a marketing error “ also stated: “We will be investigating this matter further to ensure that disrespectful content is not used in our future marketing material.” This surprised many sex workers as a similar promise was made to them after the Salvation Army was forced to make a similar apology in 2009 for using advertising material that also capitalised on the stigma surrounding sex work.

In stigmatising sex workers the Salvos campaign crosses a very important line. Organisations that stigmatise the communities that they purport to help do so at their own risk. Not only will NSW sex workers be unlikely to utilise Salvos services in times of need, sex workers and the people who support their human rights, will also be less likely to donate or collect for this charity.

Sex workers have indicated very clearly with this collective action that they will not stand by and be vilified anymore.

For further comment please contact  Cameron Cox, SWOP Chief Executive Officer

Phone: (02) 9206 2160 | Mobile: 0407 709 947 | Email:

Additional Materials:

Public Comments by Individual Sex Workers from social media

A person's occupation, wealth, religious affiliation or status doesn't determine the quality of parent they are.
That's not a description of a prostitute; it's a description of an abusive parent. Many escorts are amazing parents.
Stereotyping #sexwork as inherently abusive only increases stigma and violence against us. It doesn't "save children".

Read 2009 piece Salvos apologise to sex workers over ads here:

This is also not the first apology from the Salvation Army on the subject of women and domestic violence:

The Salvation Army also has a history of making anti LGBTIQ comments. Here they apologise for “put gays to death quote”:

Link to the current Salvation Army “Apology for marketing error”