As you belt out ‘Living on a Prayer’ on a Saturday night have you ever thought how karaoke could be used for human rights?
Well, meet the work of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW), who effectively use karaoke to address violence and discrimination against sex workers (WITNESS has worked closely and trained with APNSW in the past three years, since their lead video creator, Dale, participated in our Video Advocacy Institute). Particularly in Asia, karaoke is an incredibly popular entertainment, as well as one that is very accessible to many sex workers.
I talked with APNSW about their work, starting with this video: ‘One Whore’ which repurposes the U2 song ‘One.’ It was initially created for the International Aids Conference in 2006, where it was performed live, and was then widely distributed as a video.
APNSW’s latest video is entitled ‘Bad Rehab’ and re-purposes the Lady Gaga song ‘Bad Romance’ to compelling effect (and with the help of Barbie dolls) as a sing-along that challenges the use of raid and rescue as an anti-trafficking measure in Cambodia. With both ‘One Whore’ and ‘Bad Rehab’ the videos’ primary target audiences are sex workers themselves, many of whom will sing karaoke. They will learn about issues via this storytelling medium, and be able to share it with others.
‘Bad Rehab’ grew out of APNSW’s experience interviewing sex workers in Phnom Penh. They explained in their interviews how they had been arrested, some had been beaten or gang raped, and then they had been sent to rehabilitation centers that were more like jails (see APNSW’s 2008 film ‘Caught Between the Tiger and the Crocodile’ to see this presented in more conventional video format). These experiences have been corroborated in recent Human Rights Watch reporting.
Sex workers also told how their experiences of the anti-trafficking rehabilitation programs were very varied. One young woman had been arrested by the police and placed over five times with different NGOs who said they were saving women from the street, and would give them training courses. In some places she had just been locked in a rehabilitation center, and some places she had to do sewing with pay so low it was not any different from being in a sweatshop.
The video is targeted at Somaly Mam, a leading figure of the anti-trafficking movement in Cambodia and her organization AFESIP. As APNSW explains: “Somaly is the new face of global anti-trafficking. She say it’s about human rights – but we know that her center illegally detains sex workers, which is also against human rights. We are sick of people and organisations who use anti-trafficking messages but are really anti-sex work and want to make all sex work illegal…, Somaly Mam walks the red carpet when people that she kept in rehabilitation centre are being detained illegally in many cases.”
With the video APNSW hopes to focus attention on Somaly Mam, to publicize the facts about what she is doing, and highlight where the money of her Hollywood celebrity supporters goes to.
You can watch a short interview with APNSW as well as learn more about the use of humor in activism in this excerpt from the Tactical Technology Collective’s ’10 Tactics for Info-Activism’