The Salvation Army earlier this year distributed donation envelopes to over 50,000 Australian homes with a picture of a crying child and the caption “My mother was a prostitute. She’d lock me in the bathroom. So I started cutting myself. I was 5."
After backlash the group apologized and said it "has made every attempt to remove the offensive material" — but one Sydney woman, Lara Belle, told BuzzFeed News a friend had received a Salvation Army pamphlet with similar language in late May, weeks after the initial apology.
Sex workers held a protest outside the Salvation Army's office on Thursday afternoon, criticising the charity for not taking their concerns seriously.
Sex worker and mother of two Mia told the protest she was deeply offended by the implication that sex workers abuse their children.
"My work has had no impact on my role as a parent," she said.
"Salvation Army, if you would not mention teachers, lawyers, or any other professions in your materials, please do not use sex workers. Our work is equal."
When the backlash to the first flyer began, the Salvation Army negotiated with the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) NSW, the Scarlet Alliance, and the Australian Sex Workers Association. The charity issued a public apology and retraction on April 27, 2016.
Sex workers and allies said the language used in the flyer stigmatised sex work and implied the profession led to child abuse. Complaints were also made about the use of "prostitute", which has historically negative connotations.
"The Salvation Army acknowledges that our recent marketing material used the term ‘prostitute’, rather than the correct term of ‘sex worker’ which was disrespectful," the Salvation Army wrote at the time.
"We unreservedly apologise for any offence caused by this material and did not seek to further stigmatise sex workers, an already stigmatised community. Nor did we intend to imply that abuse occurs as a result of a person’s occupation."
"The Salvation Army has apologised and has made every attempt to remove the offensive material."
Lara Belle, who is a sex worker, took part in the negotiations.
"I feel hurt, upset, and angry," she told BuzzFeed News. "To have sat in a meeting for an hour and discussed the impact of this sort of material, this stigmatising language – we were assured it was understood and taken on board by the Salvation Army."
"If someone makes a mistake, we're happy to work with them to help them see where they went wrong. But we've had these conversations, they understand them, and then they go and do that. It's a slap in the face."
Another sex worker, Summer Knight, told BuzzFeed News the booklet had been delivered to her apartment at some point in the week starting May 16.
A Salvation Army spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they "immediately" took steps to stop distribution of the material in April, but were unable to retract flyers already in the distribution process.
BuzzFeed News has also viewed a web cache screenshot showing that a digital version of the pamphlet was uploaded to PDF viewer website issuu.com on May 10, 2016.
The spokesperson said this was "not intentional".
"The digital version of the pamphlet was edited to remove the term 'prostitute on May 11, with subsequent changes removing all references to child self harm," the spokesperson said.
CEO of Scarlet Alliance Jules Kim told BuzzFeed News the new material was "more disgusting than the original" as it contained "a booklet with a longer version of the same story" and illustrations.
"[The Salvation Army] failed to understand the nature of sex worker complaints and in doing so they issued, without the promised consultation, replacement material more disgusting than the original," Kim added.
The Salvation Army has previously come under fire from sex workers and allies.
In 2009, the charity ran a newspaper advertisement telling the story of a man "saved from prostitution". An apology was issued at the time.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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