I write in response to Cameron Cox’s response (http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/heading-heading-linzo-jimboooo/) to my original article ‘Learning the Lessons from legalising prostitution in Victoria’. (http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/article/learning-lessons-from-legalising-prostitution-in-victoria/).
Cameron has raised numerous questions about my views on the issue and the research about prostitution and legalisation that I have referenced. I thank Cameron for taking the time to address my article and hope the following response will provide more detailed information in support of my argument.
Cameron asserts that licensing brothels is not a money-spinner for governments; Cameron argues that “licensed brothels cost governments heavily and have a complex, pervasive and high social cost.”
I reiterate my belief that governments stand to make a lot of money through rhetoric around legalisation leading to safety for sex workers. Unfortunately evidence seems to show that legalisation still has many inherent safety risks and has often become an issue of governments wanting to derive profits from the sexual degradation and exploitation of some of society’s most vulnerable people. It should be noted that I am not the only one who is saying that the government is keen to get a slice of the sex industry pie. This claim is even made by the Eros foundation who stated that the sex industry has a combined turnover of over $1 billion and that government agencies were looking at ways to levy a slice of this revenue. (http://www.eros.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3&Itemid=3)
An article from the Age newspaper called ‘Curbing Crime in the Sex Industry’ and published in 8/2/1999 discussed the increase in the number of legal brothels from 40 a decade ago to 94 today, along with 84 escort agencies. The article also stated that over 60,000 Victorian men spent $7 million on prostitution, with the legalised industry turning over more than $360 million a year. (http://projectrespect.org.au/system/files/Legalisation+in+Victoria.pdf)
The Australian adult entertainment industry website also backs these figures stating Victoria has around 100 legal brothels. (http://www.aaei.com.au/licensedbrothels.htm) It is worth noting that the Victorian Police estimate there is around 400 illegal brothels currently in operation in Victoria. (http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/its-time-to-get-serious-about-sex-trafficking-in-australia-20111012-1lkzi.html#ixzz1k4wywZF7)
On the issue of brothel increases, Cameron Cox has stated that “Neither decriminalisation nor legalisation leads to an explosion in the sex industry.” This statement can clearly be refuted by statistics from the Australian Institute of Criminology which show that prior to 1984’s decriminalization there were around 150 brothels in Victoria. With police estimates that there are currently 400 illegal brothels in operation, alongside 100 legal brothels, this figure becomes a staggering 500 brothels. Statistically broken down, this figure would mean that Victoria has seen the increase of 25 new brothels in every 24 month period since 1984. (http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/F/B/5/%7bFB5E3FDC-1AB5-4F04-A1B8-9D4B5C30B42C%7dti22.pdfhttp://www.aic.gov.au/documents/F/B/5/%7bFB5E3FDC-1AB5-4F04-A1B8-9D4B5C30B42C%7dti22.pdf)
Mr Cox states ‘Sex workers are no more likely to be the victims of child hood sexual abuse than those who do not offer commercial sexual services.’ This statement is not supported by any research that I am aware of. I previously quoted information from the Sacred Heart Mission survey and Mr Cox claimed the findings to be “long discredited furfies”. Cameron Cox’s claim included a reference number but provided no link, Mr Cox; I would be very interested to see any information which discredits the Sacred Heart Mission study as they are a highly respected organisation.
To quote other evidence backing my assertion that sex workers are more likely to come from backgrounds of child sexual abuse; In 2009 the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology surveyed women from three sections of the sex industry; 103 private sex workers, 102 legal brothel workers and 42 illegal sex workers, 33 of whom were street workers. (http://eprints.qut.edu.au/17394/8/c17394.pdf)
The results showed that 83% of Illegal sex workers had been exposed to sexual abuse during childhood, 45% of licensed brothel workers and 48 % of private sex workers also reported childhood abuse. The study also showed that 52% of illegal sex workers had been raped or bashed by a client, while 15% of private sex workers had this experience and 3% of brothel-based sex workers. 50% of illegal sex workers experienced client requests for unprotected sex the vast majority of the time; the results were lower among the other groups with 18% of private sex workers and 8% of brothel-based sex workers.
In terms of drug dependency, it is worth noting that 75% of street workers in the study reported a history of injecting drug use, 16% amongst licensed brothel workers and 17% amongst private workers. The study also found that street workers were four times more likely to have mental health problems than brothel based workers, but the study did find that overall prostitutes from all sectors had poorer mental health than Australian women of comparable age who were not involved in the sex industry. This study was funded by the prostitution licensing authority of Queensland, a body whose research Mr Cox also references.
Cameron Cox also makes the flawed assumption that the work of Project Respect is biased while that of the Scarlet Alliance is unbiased. Subjectivity is the foundation of all opinion – the notion of ‘objectivity’ is a myth. One can look at both sides of an argument and come up with a reasoned position even though others will form another opinion. Questions need to be asked about historical perspectives on prostitution in relation to power, gender and culture.
Cox’s claim that the Scarlet Alliance does not allow owners or managers to be part of their organisation and only advocates for the rights of sex workers is dubious, especially given Fiona Patten’s involvement in the organisation. Fiona Patten is the face of the sex party of Australia and according to Patten she was on the board of Scarlet Alliance. (http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2010/08/classification-and-internet-censorship-as-an-election-issue/) The book ‘Remote Control: New Media, New Ethics’ claims that Patten was the founder of Scarlet Alliance. (http://books.google.com.au/books?id=1x-NFSO3iXYC&pg=PR10&lpg=PR10&dq=fiona+patten,+scarlet+alliance&source=bl&ots=hqV-79oFlc&sig=NrIlBrkncoPkj_v9GkZf2I7wSuA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=J_QvT6ThLYyhiQfohPjjDg&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=fiona%20patten%2C%20scarlet%20alliance&f=false)
The reason I see major problems with this is that Fiona Patten was also the head of the Eros foundation, Eros being the peak body representing the owners and shareholders of adult entertainment businesses. Surely having Fiona Patten representing both sex workers and those who exploit them for profit, is akin to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce also becoming the head of the Transport Workers Union.
On the issue of Ms Patten’s impartiality and representation of sex workers, her comments on sexual slavery are very revealing. Fiona Patten has advocated that the federal government should provide working visas to women working illegally in Australia. Patten claims that sex slavery is produced by the fact there is a middle man (illegal sex traffickers) and allocating visas would remove the middle man and take away the framework of sex slavery. (http://bothkindsofpolitics.org/?p=7337)
One needs to question whether or not Patten considers that there are not enough sex workers in Australia to fulfill the demand and does this justify the Federal government providing visas for women to come to Australia as sex workers. I haven’t yet heard from the Scarlet Alliance about what they think of this vague attempt at legitimising a globalisation of the sex industry in a futile attempt to stop the illegal highly profitable and abusive exploitation of women from other countries.
The reality for many women trafficked into Australia is that they are lured here under false promises and are forced to work in brothels against their will and often without pay. Many are forced into illegal brothel work, but we can not delude ourselves into believing that legal brothels play by the rules. This was highlighted in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 3/2/12 when it was revealed that a legal brothel in the NSW suburb of Guildford was under investigation by the Australian Federal Police ‘AFP’ after three women (believed to be under-age) had their student visas confiscated by the brothel owner who forced them into prostitution. (http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/brothel-owner-charged-over-human-trafficking-20120202-1qvoo.html#ixzz1k01NQSCy)
Glyn Lewis, the AFP’s national co-coordinator of human trafficking operations, referred to the brothel as abhorrent and stated “It’s our general experience that these women live under very harsh conditions, their freedom’s restricted, they may be forced in various ways coercively, threatened with deportation by the owners and lied to. They often have poor language skills so they’re really in a very frightened state when we get to meet them.” Dr Jennifer Burn, the director of Anti-Slavery Australia stated that since 2003, 324 investigations into human trafficking in Australia have identified 207 victims but claimed this was the tip of the iceberg and of 148 women in a support program for those trafficked into the sex industry, 119 were from New South Wales. (http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/brothel-owner-charged-over-human-trafficking-20120202-1qvoo.html#ixzz1k01NQSCy)
Finally on the issue of impartiality and the Scarlet Alliance, I would like to highlight a quote from Professor Sheila Jeffreys from the Coalition Against Trafficking In Women Australia ‘CATWA’ on ABC radio in 2011, she states: “Some agencies, like Scarlet Alliance, say that there’s very little trafficking, because they have an extremely narrow definition, which is that the women have to be obviously forced and obvious violence has to be done against them and they downplay the significance of what’s going on. There is considerable force and violence, but there’s also women being trafficked into debt bondage, who know where they’re going and for instance, Scarlet Alliance says that if the women know they’re going to end up in prostitution, it’s not trafficking.
Simply not true. If you look at websites that advertise Melbourne brothels, you will see the buyers talking about the Asian women they use. They say they don’t have good English, that they look very reluctant and they talk about the Korean pimp shouting at some women in the brothel. We know those women didn’t get here of their own accord. They may have known they were going into prostitution, but somebody trafficked them here and then put them in debt bondage, in other words having paid a small amount for their air fare, then tells them that they owe $40,000 or $50,000 and they have to pay that by being sexually used. That is according to the United Nations, a modern form of slavery, so they’re held in slavery in these brothels.
It’s nothing to do with choice, it’s nothing to do with whether they know they’ll be in prostitution at this end, but it’s in the interests of sex work organisations and governments of pimp states who want to keep offering prostitution to men to downplay the existence of trafficking. In fact, trafficking is hidden in plain sight, lots of web sites, lots of places where buyers talk to each. It’s very obvious that trafficking is going on.”(http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/asiapac/stories/201110/s3341867.htm)
Cameron asserts that I have made a moral judgement that it is worse for women in poverty to earn money by sex work than it is for woman not in poverty to be sex workers. The basis of my argument is that ‘choice’ is determined individually from a set of ‘options’. I do not believe that ‘choice’ is present in the current debate and the problem with legalisation models in Australia is that they have become state sanctioned prostitution and negated government responsibility to provide adequate support for socio-economically disadvantaged women (I say women specifically as the Tasmanian government discussion paper does not detail male sex workers). The fact is that Governments should be providing optional employment training to women considering entering into sex work if they are to justify the ‘pro choice’ mantra.
I certainly do not support Mr Cox’s claims that the New South Wales model provides the best working model in Australia; there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. It should also be noted that the Australian Institute of Criminology’s paper ‘Prostitution laws in Australia.’, states references a study in New South Wales which found that 97% of women involved in sex work were only involved in the sex industry for financial reasons. (http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/F/B/5/%7bFB5E3FDC-1AB5-4F04-A1B8-9D4B5C30B42C%7dti22.pdfhttp://www.aic.gov.au/documents/F/B/5/%7bFB5E3FDC-1AB5-4F04-A1B8-9D4B5C30B42C%7dti22.pdf)
Mr Cox has stated the following “See I told you it would be only a matter of time before sex workers and sex slaves were conflated in the same sentence. I will agree that sex workers need more human rights protections and better access to OH&S and labour rights and this best framework to do this in is a fully decriminalised environment where sex workers have access to all the rights and protections to which all other workers have access.”
Like it or not, in most cases there is a twilight zone between the working environment in which sex workers and sex slaves work. Neither work totally isolated from each other and their buyers are often none the wiser about the real differences.
In Tasmania for instance, the Workplace Standards Authority is understaffed, under resourced, and enforcement often difficult. Just how well the Workplace Standards Authority will be able to meet the requirements for regulating the sex industry and enforcing compliance in the current anti OH&S environment poses some serious questions for this magic bullet proposal for protecting sex workers. The Government has provided no assurances of increased resourcing and staffing of the Workplace Standards Authority especially without shifting regulatory capacity from other sectors.
Added to this is the fact that both Victoria and New South Wales examples have shown that local authorities, councils and the agencies monitoring licensing are failing in their duties and many brothels are operating unchecked. The Victorian example has also incriminated numerous local authorities in corrupt practices through taking bribes and turning a blind eye to illegal activities.
Cameron tries to discredit Project Respect claiming their research is rejected by organisations including “The Kirby Institute and Scarlet Alliance as being based on small and biased samples”. On this claim I would like to point out that while checking the Kirby Institute website I found no searchable references to prostitution or sex workers. Equally the Kirby Institute sits as a health research department within the University of New South Wales which deals with the transmission of diseases. Surely Cox’s argument seems a irrelevant; it should be obvious that a health research organisation would be unlikely to use research from any community services based organisation. Contrary to Cox’s claim, I would point out that Project Respect’s research is frequently reproduced by The Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault ‘ACSSA’, being part of the Federal Government’s Australian Institute of Family Studies. (http://www.aifs.gov.au/acssa/research/trafficsexwork.php)
Mr Cox’s goes on to claim “sex workers contact their clients on the street or in a public place but mostly the actual work takes place elsewhere”. This statement is not correct in the context of Victoria’s red light district of St Kilda which is Australia’s largest red light district with an estimated 400 workers.
Over the years many local residents, council and police have reported sex work openly conducted on streets, in alleyways and even in the front doors and yards of private residences. (http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2002/s634642.htm)
A study in 2011 by RMIT University in conjunction with Port Phillip Council documented the experiences of many residents who claim to be living under constant fear. Residents faced confrontations, being solicited for sex as well as defecation, urination and sex acts taking place on their residence. Syringes and used condoms were regularly found after failure to dispose of them; street violence and damage to property were also regular occurrences. (http://www.portphillip.vic.gov.au/attachments/FINAL_Living_Next_To_Street_Sex_Work_Feb_11.pdf)
Cameron Cox also makes the claim that “Prohibition doesn’t minimise street work either, it just makes it more dangerous”. When looking at the Swedish model it becomes clear that this claim is simply false. Sweden has halved the number of street sex workers, the education system continues to instill their society’s values that purchase of sexual services is a violation of another person’s human rights and as such it carries with it criminal prosecution. The legislation enjoys wide popularity among the citizens and the government funds services to help women out of prostitution. Added to all these positive benefits is the fact that Sweden has drastically reduced human trafficking and many traffickers will no longer take the risk of trafficking women into the country for sexual slavery.
The view that the Swedish model is propaganda belies the fact that it is one of the most progressive, leftist and radical approaches seen anywhere in the world, it also the only model which goes to the heart of tackling the chronic and expanding problem of violence and sexual abuse of sex worker and the globalised sex trade.
If the Swedish model were a failure it would not have been adopted by other progressive nations such as Norway and Iceland. Cuban president Raul Castro also expressed his nation’s desire to follow the Swedish example. Castro stated ‘Sweden has done a really admirable job and even organisations like CENESEX the Cuban National Center for Sex Education ‘CENESEX’ and the Federation of Cuban Women would like to emulate the Swedish experience.’ (http://www.thelocal.se/37294/20111111/)
It is worth noting that if the Swedish model is adopted in Cuba, there will undoubtedly be a flow on effect within many South American nations. Member nations of the leftist political and economic organisation ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas), look to Cuba as a beacon of hope for the poor and marginalised. Nations who would likely to follow suit on such legislation include Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Finally I would like to address the NSW decriminalistion approach which Cameron claims to be the best regulatory framework in Australia and his encouragement of Tasmania to follow in its footsteps. I once again reiterate the fact that this is a free market approach to the sex industry, and it is one which the evidence points to as a failed system which is susceptible to corruption.
A joint investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC’s Four Corners in 2011 examined details regarding federal police investigations which found evidence of two legal Sydney brothels and three legal Melbourne brothels linked to international human trafficking. The Sex slavery syndicate convinces Asian women to come to Australia to study; when they arrive here they are kept against their will, stripped of passports and forced to work as sex slaves. One member of the brothel syndicate was charged with killing a Melbourne man who was helping a Korean sex slave to escape.
The investigation also found that state and local authorities responsible for approving legal brothels have taken no action, despite court documents in August 2011 detailing federal police allegations against brothels and their managers. Senior police sources said the links between organised crime, sex trafficking syndicates and legal brothels highlighted the need for stronger state regulation and criticised NSW and Victoria for their woeful oversight of the industry. (http://m.smh.com.au/national/legal-brothels-linked-to-international-sex-trafficking-rings-20111009-1lfxs.html)
To conclude I would point out that the models we have seen so far in Australia fail to protect sex workers and have allowed a culture of corruption to flourish. Cameron Cox has simply made a response in defence of his industry but nowhere has he provided solid evidence to back his claims that sex workers are not victims of abuse. In fact I would point out that Cameron simply brushes off my own arguments regarding women being forced into the industry by stating “Lots of people also are unhappy in their jobs but may remain in them due to financial reasons”. Such an argument ignores the fact that the current system is not enabling women to break the cycle of poverty or prostitution and clearly this is something that needs to change; the legalisation approach will entrench people in prostitution and will not provide options for exiting the industry.
Cameron Cox also fails to address my point regarding the commodification of human beings and the inherent capitalistic nature of this. The supposedly liberal belief that it is a human right to be able to purchase another person’s sex organs for use (or abuse), is completely flawed thinking. The problem within this scenario becomes one of power, the fact remains that the buyer holds the power because the buyer holds the money while the seller needs money to enable their existence, this is a fundamental inequality and one which can only be dealt with through the criminalisation of the purchase of sex.
The issue of prostitution and the problems it raises have been addressed by many of the great feminists of our time; Germaine Greer once famously stated “Pornography is simply the advertising of prostitution” and this holds to the fact that there are many problems in our hyper sexualised culture which have promoted the expansion of sexual slavery. Prostitution is still a capitalistic and patriarchal structure and always will be, no matter how much Mr Cox tries to argue against the fact; women are always enslaved to sex work because of male demand for it. This is a key point which the Swedish model recognises and this is the reason for its success.
In our society Women are conditioned towards commodification through our media, through our hypersexualised culture and through pornography. Unfortunately the same can also be said for male sex workers whose main clientele are men. The sad aspect is that male power tries to dominate both men and women, this is the reason we see homosexual males feminised in the media and feminised in pornography. All these aspects are so closely inter connected to the treatment of sex workers and the bigger picture of the globalised sex industry, it is pervasive, it is destructive and it does seek to use another human being for the benefits of profit and power.
Let’s hope that the Tasmanian Labor and Liberal parties stay true to their commitment to thoroughly investigate the Swedish model and hope that we become part of a new axis of nations working against the global sex industry for the protection of sex workers and not their masters. We need a system which offers support, exit opportunities and real choices for some of our forgotten and most marginalised people.