Beta-phase, launch and progress - 7/10 SATISFACTORY
It took us at least two months to compile the beta-members feedback and implement changes. After the beta-phase period, it was uncovered that the phase was too comprehensive and complicated to be analysed by the community. Nevertheless, we took on ALL feedback and addressed every issue, concern and question. This phase cost us time, money and creativity to resolve – and we have a 5000 document of all the findings and changes.
Red Files launched on International Sex Workers Day (2nd June). Due to the discreet nature of Red Files, and the confidentiality of the information we hold, we were limited when informing the general sex worker community of our existence. We had assumed that our personal sex working networks (Estelle Lucas and Charlotte Quinn) would be the first of our members, and while this was true to an extent, we were surprised by the lack of engagement and support by our own networks initially.
As things progressed we found that our networks, which felt sufficient, capable and at peace with their lifestyles, struggled with participating in this new community. We deduced that this was due a lack of need for community or support, as these were workers established in their lives and satisfied with their work style.
The sex workers who participated most actively with Red Files were often international sex workers, new sex workers, isolated sex workers, sex workers who had just encountered an ugly mug and male sex workers. We deduced this was mostly due to a lack of community and support. We were surprised by how quickly diversity was established within Red Files.
All in all, we’ve had 119 members for our first cycle, which is a bit short from our aim of 200 by the end of the year. This is a fair number considering the under-the-radar networking we’re forced into. The community responded positively to our existence and I would conclude we had a successful launch.
MODs evaluation - 7/10 KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK
I started training for the MOD position in November of 2016. After completing the training and a 2-month probationary period, I moved into the full paid role as the sole MOD for Red Files.
Initially my duties were primarily screening and processing membership applications, and approving and pre-moderating reports. During the last few months I have stepped up my duties to include building more content for the site in the form of News Articles, and numerous Resources for the Resource section. I have also been more actively involved in outreach to new workers. Estelle and I also attended the National Scarlet Alliance Forum in Sydney in November.
I felt my performance in the role got off to a slow start. Being completely new to Red Files and a moderator role I was starting completely from scratch and at times did not feel completely confident in my abilities. It took a little time to work out a balance between my sex work, my full time (and demanding) postgraduate studies, and my duties as a MOD.
My speed in processing memberships was initially very slow. I soon learned that momentum is everything and that keeping on top of an applications progress is essential. Because the membership process has multiple steps for application, I found that prompt replies and actions resulted in more responses from applicants. For example, sending out my initial contact within 24 hours of receiving an application was essential as I suspected applicants had more motivation to reply and complete their membership while it was still fresh in their minds.
Outreach to new workers has proved valuable in building up our membership base. I initially assumed that the majority of our members would come from the immediate circles around Estelle and I. Unfortunately, most of the workers we knew or had relationships with, already seemed comfortable with their existing support networks. There didn’t seem to be a lot of motivation or impetus for them to join Red Files unless we pushed it somewhat. Majority of our applicants came from new workers who didn’t seem to be linked in with any current support or safety structures, but were motivated to find more resources to assist them in their screening and their work.
Transferring of reports has also proved to be a challenge. The existing Ugly Mugs group on Facebook had originally given their consent for reports to be transferred into Red Files. In July, and again in November it was reiterated from the moderators that they put a blanket ban on any reports being transferred. If individual members would like to transfer their own reports, or screenshot or copy and paste to the RF MOD they could, but even as a member of the Facebook group and even with the individual’s members consent, I could not transfer those reports myself. This was incredibly disappointing as the Facebook group contains an invaluable trove of older reports which would be incredibly helpful for other workers who are either not able/willing to use social media or cannot gain access. I am hoping that in the future the moderators may be willing to revisit this issue and reconsider their stance.
This also meant having to do a small recruitment drive in asking individual Red Files members to transfer their old reports across. Naturally, most sex workers seem to be busy people so I felt like this was a big ask. I have noticed that many RF members who are also members of other reporting groups are still not adding their reports to Red Files when they add them to their other networks. This indicates to me that more motivation for community engagement is needed on behalf of the Red Files staff. I am hoping that with a little gentle nudging a few more requests that these members will make it more of a habit to share information with Red Files as well as their other networks. Unfortunately, with a large workload already, this has been one task that has not been at the top of my priority list but I hope to put more attention on to it now.
My major focus going forward is further outreach to new workers and those not already connected with other networks. I will also continue helping build the Resource Section, in particular the legal resources. We need a summary of the sex work laws for each state, and I also hope to build a state by state guide for what to do in the event of a crisis or being assaulted at work. I also hope that once the paperwork is organised I will take up the role of second Director. This will help progress Red Files further along the path to a non-for-profit status, something that has been a big part of our vision for the future.
Director’s evaluation - 3/10 ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
As the founder of Red Files, I worked at my own pace and wasn’t overseen by anyone. In June, I had to switch tactics to accommodate my new role as Director. I felt my performance had to be steady and consistent and I noticed that my engagement with Red Files directly related to its growth. For example, if I didn’t focus on Red Files for a week, there would hardly be any new members, any engagement between members or any reports for that week. As everything was still new, the give/take Red Files culture hadn’t been adopted by the community and it’s maintained itself in a vulnerable position since its launch. I felt Red Files depended on me to create and maintain momentum daily.
My duties this cycle relied on management, communication and networking. I was surprised by my need to strategise each approach to a sex worker or sex worker organisation. If I failed to stategise, I would not get the result I was after. I was also surprised to learn misconceptions about my role or the function of Red Files and was continuously frustrated by my need to repeat information that’s available within the Help Desk. To be fair, we do withhold a lot of information from the public parts of the website, but this is duly due to legal reasons, security and safety.
I was initially not forthcoming about sharing information of organisational structure in spaces that weren’t verified as sex worker only spaces (by the Red Files standard) and felt anyone questioning Red Files could easily sign up and resolve any suspicions for themselves. I eventually learned that accountability, transparency and accuracy were values equal to legal, security and safety and I had to mitigate a way of staying true to all values. At times it felt as though I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t when I performed outreach for Red Files.
It was also challenging to make sense of political circles, stances and beliefs and I found this effected my morale and enthusiasm as a leader. The areas I found most challenging, due to my personality type, was networking and outreach.
As much as I value professionalism and generally leave my personal life at home, I was unable to compartmentalise a life-threatening disorder this cycle. This greatly affected my performance as a Director. While I’ve always lived with this disorder, and managed it well, the severity of the disorder went to levels beyond what I was capable of understanding and managing. I was left debilitated for most of 2017. I felt I was barely scraping through all areas of my life and Red Files was not excluded. I strongly felt there was more I could do and offer Red Files - but I was entirely hindered by my health. Had there been another Director available to do the duties, I most certainly would have taken up the opportunity to step down.
There is always a silver lining. This health crisis was an opportunity to develop an area I struggle to exercise: delegation. As one of the core values of Red Files is sustainability, I had to practise what I preached and reach out to fellow sex workers to take upon duties and step forward as active members of the community.
Luckily, I seem to have figured out a routine that works for my health and I’m hoping for 2018, I will be functional and able to provide my vigour, care and knowledge to the community readily.
I also need to note I miscalculated the timing of the first cycle. 2nd June to 31st December is actually seven months and not six (the length of a cycle). This will be addressed in the Committee Meeting.
Technology review - 8/10 SATISFACTORY
We’ve had some really interesting developments with the technology. One thing we had originally been concerned about was the PIN and accessibility but after six months, it seems like most members are okay with the PIN (or at least asking for a new one). Our PIN delivery is now available by SMS or email.
There have been a few design changes to assist with ease of use and include watermarking images and adding a separate News Room.
One of our greatest developments has been the inclusion of the Resource Section. This was built in response to the type of knowledge our members wanted to have at their fingertips and we designed and archived a system that would liken an online library. We really hope to eventually have all the resources of all the other sex worker organisations around the country, as well as personal experiences, peer-education and skill share of members themselves.
Other than that, we’ve had a few bugs here and there, but as long as they’re being reported then we’re able to address them. We’ve also moved to a new email send system for more reliable delivery. We did add an extra layer of security onto the website which slowed it down but only one member reported on this. Our IT expert has been incredibly helpful and patient with our requests and needs this cycle.
I should also note there is capacity for live chat on the platform but neither Charlotte or I have participated in this. This is mainly due to a lack of demand and manpower at this point.
Innovation and adaptability - 10/10 PERFECT
Often when a new challenge occurs, we need to employ creativity and consider several options and effects before committing to a decision. If we don’t, we risk damaging our integrity and being exclusionary of our community. Fortunately, we’ve been responsive to all feedback. We have put a pause on our policy about managers and business owners of sex workers until we undergo further consultation and we also need to flesh out our policy on sex workers who also manage sex workers. We have created the Resource Section. We’ve looked at the different types of articles to add to our News Room. We’ve learned how to draft a Newsletter. We have created a questionnaire to assess a new member’s understanding of the Community Guidelines. During applications we’ve found a pattern with the information offered, and I feel confident the application process can be further improved to fit this pattern.
I am confident we’ve adapted effectively to every challenge presented to us.
Safety and security 10/10 – SO FAR SO GOOD
Red Files was originally designed to be able to withstand challenging and problematic behaviours and/or relationships through the use of technology. Our three-tier membership system meant that if someone had a history of harming our community, they would no longer have the capacity to commit that harm. But to find out if this would actually happen – we needed to put the technology to the test.
We’ve had absolutely no problems processing security and safety concerns that have been brought up, as we have followed our stringent procedures and guidelines. There have been no leaks or sharing of information as far as we know, and those who have been caught breaking the Red Files Community Guidelines are often sex workers who are not Red Files members themselves.
Community building and structural growth - 7/10 SATISFATORY
Community building was a huge focus for this cycle. We had originally thought that the challenge would be to get sex workers plugged into Red Files but soon realised there was much more to community building than simply signing up. Building an online community like Red Files depends on the sex worker need for information: in terms of socialising, it doesn’t offer much. A lot of sex workers who feel safe and secure in their work style don’t readily contribute to Red Files for this very reason. This is why I believe that the more we diversify the information we have available online, the more likely we will have members contributing to the website. I strongly believe that because there isn’t a breadth of information to *take* many members don’t feel a need to *give* yet. I feel this will be addressed organically with time.
There have been some astounding members who have gone above and beyond sharing Red Files with other sex workers and contributing in ways that they can. We really hope this culture of giving is adopted by the general community. It’s also lovely to notice that Red Files is being mentioned candidly in conversation between sex workers.
We had hoped that by the end of the year all leadership roles would be taken up but unfortunately, it’s still only Charlotte and I. We do have a handful of members willing to step forward as Senior Members and fortunately, we’ve had Senior Members step up for the Committee positions for this cycle.
For the MOD role, we’ve had one official application, but I’m unwilling to seriously consider a sex worker for the MOD role until there is fair competition. There is not many sex worker position in a paid capacity. Further we’ve had 21 clicks for the MOD position within our website.
As we are still in need of two other Directors and our vision to become non-for-profit still sits out of reach.
Volunteer effort - 10/10 PERFECT KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK
Our very first cycle has been blessed with consistent volunteer effort. This includes reviewing, beta-phase, providing feedback, transferring reports, word of mouth referrals, writing articles, translating, assisting with the Newsletter/graphics and so on. Without volunteer effort Red Files wouldn’t function, so we are immensely proud and impressed with everyone’s effort.
We also officially have a handful of sex workers signed up as Senior Members which is perfect! That means we have the number to support our procedures in the event of a grievance and to get the Committee together.
Engagement and interaction - 4/10 ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
A lot of our members refer to Red Files on a need-to basis and their engagement is mainly based on this. If a sex worker is confident in their screening procedures and has no interest in expanding or learning professionally, they usually don’t have a reason to check Red Files. With that in mind, there is definitely room for improvement in the areas of engagement and interaction.
I have made an effort of commenting on reports and news articles to boost engagement with the technology and this has been fairly successful.
Part of the reason our engagements isn’t as good as it can be is because of manpower – there’s only so much interaction Charlotte and I can provide on a daily basis outside our everyday lives. I certainly believe once members have the confidence and feel they have the autonomy, they’ll be more interactive with the technology and with each other. I also believe that once we have a greater breadth of information (and greater technology), the engagement of our members will increase.
We haven’t found any luck with the Community Tips, neither the administration or the members have contributed or paid focus to this section of the technology.
One initiative that has been fairly successful is our Newsletter. Every time we send out our Newsletter once every two months, we have member engagement increase, whether that be by transferring reports, adding in new members or just getting into touch about thoughts and requests. Our December issue had an open rate of 49.2%, our October edition had 41.1%, August had 72.7% opens and June had 65.5%.
Networking and outreach - 4/10 ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
While we depend on Red Files members to use word of mouth referrals to build community, we cannot wholly depend on this. To build community Charlotte and I have been strategizing different methods. One of our methods has been to keep an eye out on social media for whenever a fellow sex worker makes a public report on a mug. We use that opportunity to create dialogue and invite them into Red Files – or even just share their report within our system.
We have also begun cold-contacting new sex workers as they begin to advertise through Scarlet Blue. We understand that new sex workers are sometimes the most vulnerable and isolated. Charlotte has connected with Escorts and Babes and has begun approaching the workers in this network about joining and sharing their reports with the Red Files system.
One thing that has been successful is hosting workshops and events – this method also intimately relates to engagement and interaction. In person networking is sometimes the most effective method and I have the opportunity to sign up people then and there. This was apparent when I was working the Manasay booth at Sexpo or when Charlotte and I attended the Scarlet Alliance National Forum.
Unfortunately, because we cannot blatantly say who we are and what we do publicly, we have great challenges with networking and rely on already established networks rather than one-on-one approaches. One-on-one approaches, unless done in person, can be quite laborious and fickle in results.
Other attempts including trying to establish contact with Serena from Private Girls, but she has failed to respond to me. I also tried to create a professional relationship with Karly from Scarlet Blue but her legal team were not confident with the nature of the information we deal with. I did try introduce Red Files on the Scarlet List but felt this network of sex workers were disinterested in our project.
Organisational support - 3/10 ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
It has been difficult gaining support from the other sex worker organisations around the country, but this is no mystery as we’re still relatively new and small. While both Charlotte and I have actively tried to get into contact with the people in authority in these state and national organisations, we’re often not prioritised as they don’t see the benefits of Red Files. Most sex worker organisations around the country are underfunded and overworked so it’s no wonder why they don’t have time to spare for us. However, we strongly believe that once we garner the numbers, other organisations will have no choice but to get involved. We need their support as much as they need ours, and we believe over time this will organically become apparent.
Some of the main barrier for us has been distance – it can be difficult for an organisation to conceptualise something like Red Files when we’re not in front of them explaining. Conceptualising is another barrier – until someone is a member of Red Files, it can be difficult to imagine what we do and how we do it. We tried to bridge these barrier by attending the Scarlet National Forum and by creating the Information Booklets. We are yet to mail out these individual booklets to each organisation but hope that once we do they will have a better understanding of how Red Files can support them in their work.
Another barrier is organisational structure. As there is rarely one person calling all the shots within an organisation, it’s incredibly difficult to get answers, feedback and movement as they need to consult with everyone. This is especially true when it comes to creating a relationship with us.
We have managed to hand out booklets to members of Scarlet Alliance, Respect QLD, SWOP NSW, Rhed, Vixen, Scarlet Alliance TAS, SIN, Magenta and SWEAR. We will also do a mailout to ensure each organisation has a copy. Further, we will persistently follow up with each organisation.
As Charlotte and I are both Melbourne based, we have had some luck connecting with the sex worker services here. I had the opportunity to catch up with Vixen representatives to discuss the layout of Red Files and they provided valuable feedback. Due to the lack of resources and funding of Vixen however, I believe it’s not a top priority for them to keep momentum with our connection. Rhed has also been responsive to our work, and has offered to support us by informing sex workers about us and sharing resources (like STI information) within the platform. We have managed to give Rhed their 6 months free sponsorship (of which there was only one click by the membership) and will discuss the option to continue their sponsorship in a paid manner next time I see them. No other sex worker organisation has taken me up on the offer of 6 months free sponsorship.
It’s also interesting to note that when connecting with sex worker organisations there’s eagle eyes watching our ‘ties’, ‘allegiances’ and ‘affiliations’. We don’t have any ties or allegiances, we just follow our own Community Guidelines and Director’s Strategy Brief and try to be friendly and connect with everyone. Regardless, this behaviour can be perceived as untrustworthy/disloyal behaviour by some. This is no exaggeration or paranoia on my part and I’d be naïve to dismiss the political climate pre-Red Files.
To give you an idea of what I mean, Vixen is heavily concerned about Red Files involvement with Rhed. Why? Because one of the reasons Vixen was founded is to call into balance and check Rhed’s work. I personally find it impossible to reconcile any pre-existing political tension, and while I want no part in any of it, my attempts at connection on behalf of Red Files speak volumes of my political motives. In most people’s eyes, it’s simply not good enough to garner a relationship with some organisations, even if that organisation offers services to sex workers (and this includes Red Files). Without the support of these organisations though, how is Red Files to grow and become the hub it dreams to be? I constantly find myself right in the middle of political tension and suspect some organisation might be deadlocked from supporting us from fear of the scrutiny of these ‘eagle eyes’.
To expand this consideration, there are services that are, without a doubt, a great danger and disservice to sex workers (such as Project Respect). These organisations ultimately wish to abolish sex work or bring a religious element to the profession. But these are also services that have daily contact with sex workers who need to know about Red Files. How am I to make peace with creating a relationship with these organisations while keeping true to the integrity of Red Files and answering to the fair criticism by influential sex worker activists about methodology? These are the question I often have to ask myself as a Director trying to follow her Strategy Brief. This is certainly an area I need to develop more and I hope one day I’ll have the support I need to navigate these politics.
It is also worth mentioning that when working with other organisations, I find myself constantly correcting misinformation about my role in Red Files, and the integrity and purpose of Red Files. I am scrutinitised when presenting the work, regarded suspiciously when trying to make a connection, and dismissed as inexperienced or insignificant when sharing my vision. This is why I strongly believe our strength will come in numbers which is one of the main reasons why I focused so hard on building community and connection this cycle.
Knowledge, expertise and standard – 6/10 ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
It had been brought to our attention that the information we host needs to meet a certain standard. This is due to the fact that if members are taking the information on Red Files at face value, and the information is incorrect, then this can have negative implications for the member.
We follow this standard stringently with ugly mugs reports as we make sure that all members are aware of legal implications if something arises, but this isn’t as obvious when it comes to resources.
We had hoped to create a ‘hive-mind’ like mentality with Red Files, where sex workers can rely on each other for information, and while that’s still possible, the technology might not be at its best form to support this. We have resources, community tips and the News Room but we don’t have an open forum just yet – I feel like the hive mind and constant interaction would be more possible if we had a forum or chatroom function. For now, we really depend on members taking time away to write an article and then submitting it to us.
When we had an article brought to us that came from a perspective of judgement and personal opinion rather than personal experience we realised that we needed to support our members more when it came to writing articles. This is just to ensure that they stay on topic and that the peer-education they offer is received well by the community.
One member volunteered a sort of Guideline to help ensure the validity of pieces contributed – which will soon be posted. We find that articles that come from trusted sources – like a legal service – have the most validity to them, while personal experience is more subjective.
We have been able to keep to our goal of one resource a week but generally things aren’t published smoothly and consistently – we usually upload a whole bunch of articles at once in one load.
We’ve also made a note to preface each article with where it’s from, why it’s published and how the reader should perceive the information there, to ensure transparency and accuracy. We are constantly keeping our ears peeled for when information gets updated so that we can update our articles as well. Charlotte has started making an effort of compiling all the news clippings relevant to sex work as they roll in through the general media.
We have also been toying with the idea of introducing a workshop once every two months, as suggested by our members, and we’re looking forward to exploring this option. For these peer-education workshops we would start with topics we feel confident about before moving onto subjects that require further expertise.
For this cycle we have also managed to archive 387 approved reports, however many of these are backlogged reports. There are many members who still haven’t transferred former reports onto Red Files and Charlotte is strategizing how to address this.
Sustainability - 2/10 NEED TO BE ADDRESSED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
While sustainability is a key value of Red Files, it hasn’t been an initial focus. It’s a pipe dream to imagine we could run simply on the sustenance of our good intention. We have made some effort to remind the membership about financial support – this cycle we needed $9773.16 and this cycle we manage to scrounge up $1794 (please refer to Financial Report). That’s about 18% of what we need and great! But if things follow our current trend we will become unstable. To give an idea of what we need to remain function for the next cycle, we would need each member who hasn’t donated already, to donate $60 each to cover the cycle.
Unfortunately, $1300 of our donations have been from my clients. I have suggested a donation as a token of appreciation after helping them with other things. Also, a further $240 has been a mandatory donated from a sex worker who is also a P.A for other workers (as per our policies). This means that the donations we have collected this cycle are: $254. It’s important to also note that with our current bank account there are account fees and international transaction fee that could be looked into and improved.
I also want to note our other option for financial sustainability, which is sponsorship. This is not an area I have focused on at all. If I did focus in this area it is possible that the financial strain could be lifted from the membership. But again – this relies on manpower. It would be impossible for me to take this task on as a priority and still complete all my other duties. It is possible that this could be offered as a volunteer position for a Red Files member.
In terms of administration, we are also unsustainable. We are currently under-resourced and overworked. Basically, the amount of work Charlotte and I have to do is typically five people’s fulltime or part-time job. We have the structure of two MODs and three Directors because this is the most sustainable model for us – alongside Senior Members, members and the Committee for support. Instability can result in us being over-exhausted, burning out and also creating an unrealistic expectation and tone of how to function. Stress is also a by-product of unsustainability, and this can result in horrible effects on health, mental wellbeing and quality of life (my health crisis being a prime example). I predict we could keep at this level of unsustainability for another 6 months before we hit critical levels and suffer individually in the areas of mental, emotional, energetic and financial wellbeing.
As a result of this instability, we have decided to train up Roman for the volunteer admin assist. It’s important that not only Charlotte and I have the skills to complete the MOD duties, as it’s risky, we’re running out of gas, and we need members ready to step up for when it’s time for us to step back.
However, it’s great to see a high and consistent morale from the community and Charlotte and I. We are not dismayed or apathetic of the future ahead and this can-do attitude really supports our work for the future.
Not all of our members have quite adopted the concept of sustainability. I am of the belief it is more sustainable to offer information about sex work through Red Files than on a one-on-one basis (even if it’s online), simply because you’re not repeating yourself and that information is reaching more people (some who are quite isolated and not part of online social circles). It’s easier on one’s energy to simply refer to Red Files if the information is there and I don’t believe this culture has been picked up quite yet. While it isn’t obvious at first, I feel members could get more benefits by sharing information on the Red Files platform. An example of this would be sharing blog posts on Red Files (or at least linking the admin to resources that could go to the Resource Section), posting any sex worker projects or callouts, any Gofundme or fundraisers for sex workers or anything else you come across online. This information is then archived, future-proofed and forever available for sex workers at any time in the one place.
I had predicted great challenges and hardships when launching Red Files and these predictions have been met. We also experienced extra challenges I hadn’t accounted for, but I am continuously impressed with our ability to overcome what comes our way. I cannot downplay how much pride I feel by the professional standard upon which we continue to operate even in the face of great resistance. I am overwhelmed with joy to see us succeed and give it our all, in areas that we can, and I feel like the community response to Red Files has been overall positive.
All-in-all I feel like the launch and first six months of Red Files has been successful and I’m proud and willing to continue supporting this initiative for a further cycle in everyway that I can.
I hope this feeling of solidarity and pride is shared with the rest of the Red Files membership and that you can be an active part of this journey for times to come.