Legalization of Prostitution in Austrailia

I mentioned in passing in an earlier post that I’m not in favor of legalizaing (or decriminalizing) prostitution. (Instead, I favor “the Swedish solution,” which is to decriminalize being a prostitute while retaining – and enforcing – laws against being a John or a pimp).

I don’t really have time to blog today, so I thought I’d post some quotes from “Legalization: The Australian Experience,” by Mary Lucille Sullivan and Sheila Jeffreys, from the academic journal Violence Against Women Vol 8 no 9 September 2002. It’s articles like this one that have cooled my interest in the legalization approach.

For feminists, one of the most persuasive arguments underpinning legalization was that once prostitution ceased to be a criminal offence, prostituted women would be able to choose their own working conditions and their clients and, if working for an employer, would have industry health and safety standards in place. The experience of Victoria dispels the claim that legalization empowers women. Large operators now dominate the industry. This takeover by sex industrialists was aggravated by the failure of Victoria’s specialist prostitution licensing board, the Prostitution Control Board, to effectively monitor licensing. Although it was supposedly illegal, multi ownership existed, with incidences of one proprietor owning as many as six brothels. Licensing procedures will prove even more inadequate in the future, as1999 saw the Prostitution Control Board replaced by a general Business Licensing Authority with no specialist knowledge (Prostitution Control Act, 1994/2000).

A further and more fundamental barrier to prostituted women taking control of brothels is that legal parlors tend to be expensive, capital-intensive buildings, allowing for the monopolization of the industry by more wealthy owners. When the 1994 Prostitution Act was passed, brothels were changing hands for more than $A1million (Victoria, 1994b). Some concession was made in the Prostitution Control (Amendment) Act 1997 to allow for a cottage type industry in which one or two women could work in private parlors. These remain illegal in residential areas, and only a handful have been allowed.

The only option for prostituted women to work on a small-scale basis legally is in industrial back blocks or docklands. This leaves already vulnerable women open to violence, fear, and isolation. Prostituted women also face exorbitant costs because they are required to disclose their business to landlords, who in turn charge grossly inflated rents. Women’s ability to control their own working environment is, therefore, still extremely restricted, and many women still are active on the streets illegally. A recent government report found that the number of street-prostituted women continues to increase markedly (Attorney-General’s Street Prostitution Advisory Group, 2000).

Legalization was also intended to eliminate organized crime from the sex industry. In fact, the reverse has happened. Convicted criminals, fronted by more reputable people, remain in the business. Freh Lelah, who ran Sasha’s International, one of Melbourne’s inner-suburban legal brothels, has been before the Melbourne Magistrate’s court in February 2000 for introducing girls ages 10 to 15 into his business. Lelah had already served a 2-year term for the same offence (Forbes, 1999b).

Trafficking of girls and women into prostitution in Victoria also appears to have exploded.Within a year of the passing of the Prostitution Control Act, it was revealed that Victorian sex industrialists were involved in the lucrative international sex trade run by crime syndicates, which is worth $A30 million in Australia (Robinson, 1995). The trafficked girls and women are most often placed in off-street venues such as brothels and massage parlors. More recently, an Australian Institute of Criminology study estimated that Australian brothels earned $1 million a week from this illegal trade (Sutton, Crittle, & Forbes, 1999). Some examples of the trade came to light in 1999. One Melbourne businessman brought 40 Thai women in as contract workers, depriving them of their passports and earnings until their contracts were worked off (Forbes, 1999a). In another case, 25 Asian workers were found in similar circumstances in one of Melbourne’s legal brothels (Forbes, 2001).

Information about the size and shape of trafficking in Australia is presently anecdotal because no detailed study has been undertaken. Chris Payne, who headed the federal police operation responsible for investigating sex trafficking in Sydney from 1992 to 1995, stated that up to 500 trafficked women are working illegally in Sydney at any given time on false papers (Human Trafficking, 2000). His view is that they are being kept in “servile conditions.” They are extremely vulnerable and in no situation to control the conditions in which they find themselves.

This entry posted in Prostitution, Porn and Sex Work. Bookmark the permalink. 

32 Responses to Legalization of Prostitution in Austrailia

  1. Pingback: L'Ombre de l'Olivier

  2. 1
    Samantha says:

    This came to me today from today Donna Hughes’ Dignity listserve on global sexual exploitation news. I worry about the lack of testing the group infecting most people with AIDS, prostitute-using men, and this population’s expanded desire for younger children’s bodies to masterbate themselves with. Last week I learned of an anti-AIDS program in Thailand where one 6-year-old ‘prosti-tot’ (sex industry joke) was taught how to say “Please use a condom” in German, English and French.

    (note: 16 is the legal age of entry into prostitution in Germany)

    The Nation (Thailand)
    November 14, 2004, Sunday

    PM orders crackdown on child prostitution

    CHAIYAPHUM – Hans Otto Schiemann, the 56-year-old former sailor from Schweinfurt in Bavaria who stands accused of trying to infect nearly 100 teenage girls with HIV through unprotected sex, is due to make another court appearance tomorrow.

    Meanwhile, Chamlong Krutkunthod, chairman of the Interior Ministry’s advisory board, said yesterday that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had ordered a crackdown on child prostitution in this northeastern province as a result of the Schiemann case.

    After a six-minute hearing on October 18, the presiding judge ruled Schiemann needed a court-appointed lawyer and adjourned the German’s case until tomorrow.

    Schiemann is charged with overstaying a month-long tourist visa by three years and faces deportation or two years in prison if found guilty.

    Police cannot file charges of deliberate transmission of Aids against him because Thailand has not yet passed a law enabling the filing of such a charge.

    Schiemann allegedly offered students aged from 15 to 17 up to Bt4,000 a time for sexual favours as part of his campaign of vengeance against Thai women, whom he blames for his HIV infection. Up to 500 young women may have fallen victim to his personal vendetta.

    Chamlong said schools in the province are under investigation to ascertain if students are in the habit of selling sexual favours and that officials are drawing up measures to clamp down on prevalent child prostitution.

    “The police will be strict in enforcing laws on entertainment venues to ban access to underage patrons. Immigration regulations will also be more strictly enforced to prevent similar incidents,” he said.

  3. 2
    ginmar says:

    Until RealFeminist retracts her attitude I see no point in responding to her.

    I found this comment interesting, because it shows the circumstances under which legalized prostitution will exist, not those under which its defenders HOPE it will exist:

    “None of these data represent a failure of the concept of legalisation, but rather a failure to follow through with appropriate legislation and enforcement.” I saw someone argue that it people would just enforce rape laws and so forth,…..Yeah, okay. After all, we’ve had so much success already.

    Men employ prostitutes so they can avoid all the responsibilities of treating women like human beings. With prostitutes, they can have a body without resorting to necrophilia. Over and over again, you hear from johns, “Well, you have to pay for sex anyway.” What this means is, they don’t take women out for their company, and they don’t regard them as anything but t hings to provide them with sex.

    In my neighborhood, the attitude that sex was just a commodity and women were just its revolting purveyers could be perfectly seen in the way every female in the neighborhood was harassed by the johns. These guys didn’t think they were child molesters when they harassed twelve and thirteen year old girls, because once they were of age to have reproductive functions—or look like they did—they stopped being children and became ‘women’. If you were an adult woman, you were SOL, too. I got harassed walking from the grocery store, in my winter coat, etc., etc. You had no protection because your gender was what marked you as a whore to these guys.

    Legalizing that says it’s okay to have that viewpoint. It doesn’t help the women who are on the streets now: they’re not drug free, disease free, or whatever enough to get qualified. I keep wondering what the legalization people are going to do with these women. Are they just going to disappear? Or are they going to be doubly vulnerable now, because it’s another set of laws they’re violating?

    Mkaing the purchase of sex illegal so that the johns bear the brunt of the legal repercussions seems fair to me. Without their demand, there would not be a market for this. Also, keeping it illegal keeps a weapon to use against them.

  4. 3
    Ampersand says:

    RealFeminist, personal attacks are against this blog’s rules. In particular, more-feminist-than-thou attacks are NOT what I want to read here, ever. So please, cut it out.

    Speaking for myself, I agree that the USA’s status quo is screwed up. But the alternative to Germany’s system isn’t just the USA’s system; another alternative is the Swedish system.

  5. 4
    Samantha says:

    RealFeminist, do you know of any studies on German prostitution that show the benefits of legalization you’re saying have taken place? I have seen much evidence to the contrary of what you’re saying and was curious what you’re basing your statements about legalized prostitution benefitting women on.

    I’m particularly interested in, “People can be tested for disease.” because I’m not aware of any legalization attempts where “people” are tested for disease, only where prostitutes in brothels are tested. This does not protect prsotituting women, and the increase in illegal prostitution that accompanies legalized prostitution means an increase in children & women and johns not tested before inherently risky contact with human fluids.

    Also, if you could provide some proof that, “Laws can prevent criminal gangs from being involved in the enterprise”, because nothing I have read has shown this to be true. Despite the best intentions of Dutch law enforcement, the profits are too great for organized crime to give up and men’s increased demand for younger, “exotic” bodies has led to increased trafficking and 80-90% of prostitutes in the Netherlands being from Eastern Europe, Africa, and other not-Dutch nationalities.

  6. 5
    RealFeminist says:

    I’ve had the good fortune to have been able to travel and live all around the world. I’ve lived in places where prostition is illegal and where it is legal.

    Different countries have widely different laws. In Singapore, pornography is illegal but prositution is legal. Crime in Singapore in relation to other countries is nearly non-existent. Of course, you can’t take one country and compare it with another country. The culture and people are too different.

    But in nearly all countries where prostituion is legal, the system works very “well”. In countries where it is not legal, prostitution is dangerous and endangers lots of people besides those involved in it.

    The reasons are simple. First, when prostitution is illegal, criminal gangs that are involved in other illegal activities are involved and make tremendous money off the enterprise, fueling other illegal activity.

    Additionally, because there is no specific area designated for prostitution, people not involved with prostitution are forced to live next to people who are involved with it.

    Germany is a great example of how things work “well” in terms of legalized prostitution. There are areas of the city that are the “adult” areas. They are heavily policed. Anyone going into that area at night knows what is going on.

    Because it is all centralized in one place, the police have a regular beat there. People can be tested for disease. Laws can prevent criminal gangs from being involved in the enterprise.

    This keeps people who aren’t involved in prostitution safe. And people who are involved have as much oversight, police and legal protection as possible.

    The alternative is crack whores running down people’s streets, as Ginmar has complained about in her blog.

    As a side note, Ginmar wants prostitution to be “illegal” in her hometown but she seems to be forgetful because it already is. She complains about crack whores on her street at home but has no answers, only complaints about sexism and men. Everything to her relates back to how the world is unfair and how women are exploited by men.

    She gives real feminists (such as myself) a bad rap. We have fought for years for rights and she wants to turn back the clock, saying government should legislate what we can do with our own bodies. Ginmar, please live a little longer before you spout off that you are a feminist. Reading books doesn’t make you one.

    If you think about the issue and travel to other countries, see how things works in other cultures, you will rapidly come to the conclusion that things are simply broken in the US as it relates to drug laws and prostitution.

    It only requires that and a lick of common sense to see that legalization is the only thing that makes sense and that makes the world better for everyone involved.

  7. 6
    ginmar says:

    Mythago, standing up for the rights of poor, maligned Washingtonienne is kind of missing the point. Ninety percent of hookers just don’t have options. What you ignore is that the huge power difference between hooker and john means that in fact it IS a kind of slavery, and it’s pure pretense to talk about it like it’s a job.

    The average prostitute enters into at about the age of thirteen, having fled an abusive home. For male prostitutes, ‘coming out’ often precedes being kicked out of the home, at a slightly greater age.

    Blah blah blah sex worker blah. If we got rid of child abuse tomorrow, we’d have no prostitutes. And the fact is, even if they’re in the extreme minority who didn’t have their self beaten or raped out of them, they’re still pandering to mens’ desire to degrade women. If they’re just clueless idealists who think they’re performing sexual liberation I have just one word for them: men have all the sexual liberation they need. How about we give women some sexual liberation from mens’ needs for a change?

  8. 7
    stadtplan says:

    2 much spam in here :-(

  9. 8
    angeln says:

    Very interesting point of view fdgfdg.

  10. 10
    mythago says:

    and you ignore them all in favor of picking apart one term?

    I think it’s a rather revealing term. It lumps all sex for codified exchange under one term–”prostituted”–meaning that the women themselves are not and cannot have any control over their actions; somebody else is always, always selling them.

    Which I think we can all agree is the case for children sold into sexual slavery in Thailand, or teenage girls brought from Latvia or China and locked in brothels. Where I don’t agree is the assumption that selling sex is inherently a kind of slavery and cannot in any way be redeemed. It lumps Washingtonienne in with sex slaves and trivializes *that* horror; it ignores adult male prostitution; and it completely avoids discussion of the fact that sex is legal and respectable to sell, as long as you don’t specify a price tag; exchanging pussy for a wedding ring or long-term financial support or a new diamond on your anniversary is A-OK.

    You have, I assume, seen the arguments from pro-lifers pointing to the exploitation and control of women through abortion as an argument that abortion is inherently oppressive of women?

    As for the abortion analogy, you (deliberately?) miss the point. Amp favors a system that pretends to recognize the dignity of prostitutes, but in reality–and under the guise of merely controlling their johns–really keeps prostitution illegal. Amp, do you really believe that preventing prostitutes from earning a living will mollify pimps or help the prostitutes any?

  11. 11
    Samantha says:

    Omar, prostitution has been an accepted, promoted practice for far longer than it was made illegal (very recently in the grand scheme of history), and never has the stigma against being prostituted not existed so far as I know. There is talk of ‘sacred whoring’ but it was always men who wrote the texts such theories are drawn from. From Mary Magdalene onwards and the whole world over, being a whore is dishonorable and shameful regardless of whether legal or illegal. In more than a few languages ‘whore’ is the worst insult to lob at a woman, and some of these cultures never had codified ‘sin’ laws to begin with.

    mythago, I raise so many questions on issues of crucial importance to understanding the inherent abusiveness and sexism of prostitution and you ignore them all in favor of picking apart one term? What would you prefer (sex worker, whore, prostitute, ho, harridan, bawd, hooker, streetwalker, gutterfly…) and how does your choice not give evidence of your own personal agenda?

    Your abortion analogy is flawed because abortion is a health decision one chooses for oneself at monetary expense while prostitution is an economic decision and something done to women for the profit and benefit of others to the women’s detriment. The Council for Prostitution Alternatives found an average of 90% of prostituted women are under the control of pimps, and no study I’ve seen doesn’t place the average age of entry into prostitution at the early teen years.

    I agree that being so poor you’ll do anything to get what you need is not a crime but sexually preying on poverty-stricken people without the ability to refuse is a terrible offense.

  12. 12
    mythago says:

    prostituted women

    Gosh, no agenda here.

    Do you also agree with pro-lifers who think it should be legal for women to obtain abortions, but illegal to provide abortions?

  13. You speak as if “decriminalization” goes out of its way to “protect” prostitution. I mainly want us to stop pointing guns at people. In my book, the person arguing for state violence usually has the burden of proof. (See Iraq.) I do favor putting pressure on law enforcement to protect women from violence, since centuries of irrational “sin”-based laws have helped instill disrespect for sex workers.

  14. 14
    Samantha says:

    sennoma’s theory of organizational failure doesn’t account for the phenomena I outlined in the other thread about how johns enjoy the degradation of whores so much it’s a selling point.

    Why should there have to be “panic buttons” in brothels? Why did a Dutch brothel owner complain about regulations that he provide pillows, “You don’t want a pillow in the [brothel's] room. It’s a muder weapon.” (Daley 2001, p 1). Why does a 13 year old prostituted child with no experience command a price 100 times that of a 23 year old with ten years of experience and in what other ‘profession’ does your value decrease the more experienced you are?

    Why should men be allowed this form of “entertainment” when it is clearly so very detrimental to the people involved as well as to all male perceptions of all women’s worth? Using prostitutes is a male leisure activity, it is a very destructive one, and I don’t understand arguments that place men’s all holy right to shove their penises in and out of women’s bodily holes over the rights of the UN’s estimated 3-4 millions children, women and men held in sexual slavery and raped repeatedly for profit in a year.

    Is protecting this form of men’s entertainment worth the extreme risks to women’s physical and mental health that have never been delinked from the prostitution experience?

    BTW, the above quote from the Dutch brothel owner and a wealth of other information can be found in Dr. Melissa Farley’s October 2004 article in Violence Against Women, “Bad for the Body, Bad for the Heart”: Prostitution Harms Women Even if Legalized or Decriminalized

    http://vaw.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/10/10/1087

  15. 15
    Hugo says:

    Charles and I are in agreement. Stop, presses, stop! Thanks, Amp, for the “facts”…

  16. 16
    sennoma says:

    Large operators now dominate the industry [...]
    Some concession was made in the Prostitution Control (Amendment) Act 1997 to allow for a cottage type industry in which one or two women could work in private parlors. These remain illegal in residential areas, and only a handful have been allowed. [...]
    they are required to disclose their business to landlords, who in turn charge grossly inflated rents [...] Convicted criminals, fronted by more reputable people, remain in the business [...] Trafficking of girls and women into prostitution in Victoria also appears to have exploded.

    None of these data represent a failure of the concept of legalisation, but rather a failure to follow through with appropriate legislation and enforcement. It looks as though the industry was left more or less without regulatory oversight — show me an industry where similar abuses to those detailed above would *not* be rampant after a short period of such freedom, particularly after a long history of operating outside the law. It’s already illegal to deprive someone of liberty, or gouge on rent; it’s just that if you’re a prostitute, the Fine and Upstanding don’t want anything to do with you so you get no help. I suspect a squeamish group of lawmakers, not wanting their constituents to see them discussing or being somehow associated with anything icky like prostitution, have been neglecting their responsibilities in re: newly legal sex work.

  17. 17
    PurrpleGrrl says:

    Thanks Sennoma…you saved me the time of thinking that all out in an articulate way by doing it for me!

  18. Australia also seems to have passed laws that benefit rich brothel owners at the expense of the sex workers.

  19. 19
    Charles says:

    And that is what legalization looks like.

    And that is why legalization is so problematic.

    To those who favor legalization, what are the examples of successful legalization. If there aren’t any examples of successful legalization, what would those who favor legalization suggest as the necessary steps to create a positive system of legalization?

    I have given my suggestion for a route to legalization on an earlier thread, but it goes through the “Swedish system” of decriminalization, and it stops there until strong prostitute unions/ professional associations have formed, and until Johns are willing to be registered and licensed (which is probably to say: it stops there).

  20. 20
    chaizzilla says:

    Countries where prostitution is legal still have the traditional setup going on away from the “red light district”; it’s in the vested interest of the district to keep them far away. Not everyone who lives in an enlightened society has access to its benefits.

  21. 21
    mythago says:

    Isn’t Sheila Jeffreys the one who said that pornography cannot possibly be nonsexist (i.e there is no ‘erotica’) because “the gaze is male”?

    Samantha, I’m ‘picking apart’ one term because words have meaning, and the words we use shape the argument. “Prostituted women” immediately states that women who exchange sex for money have no agency at all, that there is always an Other who is shopping them out. This is obviously the case for women (or, in the majority of cases, female children) who are in some level sex slaves. It’s not the case in all kinds of prostitution, but choosing the term ‘prostituted women’ says that it is.

    ginmar, as long as you’re being angry at insulting and belittling terms, you might want to pull that log out of your own eye. Snottily referring to ‘poor Washingtonniene’ (I was defending her? Who knew?) and insisting that only “clueless idealists” disagree with you, throwing a catty “Blah blah sex worker” at any woman who might, y’know, have first-hand experience.

    It’s part for the course in my experience with far too many activists–stop playing the role of victim parroting the party line and they shout you down–and I’m kind of disappointed to see Amp twiddle his thumbs and look at the ceiling while you pull this crap.

    If you’d bothered to read my response, or act as though you did, I’m not ‘defending’ Washingtonienne. I’m pointing out that there’s not one simple model of sex for pay = slavery, and that when you pretend it is, you’re actually hurting the cause of women and children who are trafficked and sold into slavery.

    In other words, it’s not child sexual abuse that causes prostitution. (Way to blame the victim!) It’s a culture where the only question is not whether a woman will sell sex, but what the price is, and whether she goes wholesale or retail. As long as kept women and marrying ‘a good catch’ are approved of and women’s ability to earn a living is hobbled, you’re going to have prostitution.

  22. 22
    Ampersand says:

    It’s part for the course in my experience with far too many activists”“stop playing the role of victim parroting the party line and they shout you down”“and I’m kind of disappointed to see Amp twiddle his thumbs and look at the ceiling while you pull this crap.

    With respect, Mythago, I have a life apart from this blog. I don’t know how many posts a day your blog gets, but “Alas” sometimes gets over 100, many of them quite long, and my time is limited. Sometimes I see something objectionable and say so; sometimes I see something objectionable and don’t have time and/or energy to moderate; and sometimes I skim and don’t see it at all.

    Especially with feminist posters, who I don’t want to discourage from posting, I tend to moderate only the most overt and direct attacks. Ginmar’s post (#15 on this thread) strikes me as a harsh and definitely not very respectful in tone. I didn’t take “clueless idealist” as a slam at you personally, but if it was then it was certainly inappropriate and not what I’d prefer people to post on this forum.

    So, Ginmar: I LOVE that you post here, and I really hope you’ll keep on posting here. But please try to dial it back a couple of notches – especially when the person you’re responding to is a feminist, not an anti-feminist. It’s hard to imagine something less respectful than summing up someone else’s argument as “blah blah blah”; at least here on “Alas,” I’d ask you (and everyone else!) to try and treat other feminists as allies, even in disagreement.

    On the other hand, Mythago, I don’t think that disagreeing with you on the issues – even if it’s done overly harshly – is at all the same thing as “shouting you down.” This is an issue that everyone feels strongly about, on every side, and people will sometimes get harsh in their rhetoric; it doesn’t mean they’re trying to shut you up. (At least, I assume that’s not what it means.)

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re making really good arguments. It’s obvious you’re right about the phrase “prostituted women” – if you read the full article about Sweden’s law, I believe the author explicitly says that’s why she chose that term, to point out that the agency lies with men (in her opinion). I haven’t been responding much on this and the other thread, but I’m thnking a lot about the questions you’ve asked me.

  23. 23
    mythago says:

    and sometimes I skim and don’t see it at all

    Fair enough, though I’d like to think we could avoid a “how big is YOUR comments roster” dick-swinging contest. ;)

    I don’t think that disagreeing with you on the issues – even if it’s done overly harshly – is at all the same thing as “shouting you down.”?

    I agree. I’m not saying “if many people disagree they’re shouting me down” (which is rather hard to do on a blog); I’m referring to the experience of being told, in essence, that sharing any kind of first-hand experience is OK if you agree with those who claim to speak for you, but if you step out of line, by gum you’ll be sorry. (It’s the same thing the anti-abortion movement does, when they showcase women who regret their abortions and scream at women who don’t. )

    When I was a law student, I had more than one online conversation with students of Catherine Mackinnon (then a visiting professor at U of Michigan) who had all kinds of things to say about strip bars and the exploitation of strippers, yet suddenly found other things to talk about when my own experience didn’t match what they’d been told was true. If I didn’t shut up they’d get insulting and suggest that I was, for example, complicit in my own oppression or simply didn’t understand what every other stripper was experiencing. And they had darn little to say about the oppression and indignity of pink-collar work in general.

    That’s what the comments about ‘feeling liberated’ and ‘blah blah blah sex work’ are really about–nobody, as far as I’ve seen, has called prostitution liberating or suggested that we ought not to call the actual enslavement of women what it is. (“Sex work,” btw, doesn’t attempt to claim that all women are free agents. It’s an attempt to encompass things like pornography, acting in X-rated movies, stripping, working at peep shows, and other forms of sex-related activity for money that don’t necessarily involving taking money from a person to have sex with him.)

    On ‘testing for disease’–it would be an interesting change in the law to require a john who has been arrested to be tested for STDs, too.

  24. 24
    Ampersand says:

    Fair enough, though I’d like to think we could avoid a “how big is YOUR comments roster”? dick-swinging contest. ;)

    Thank you for continuing to be a poster child for mutual civility and respect. :)

  25. 25
    ginmar says:

    I’d forgotten I’d posted in this, but yes, Amp, you’re right and I’m sorry. That said, however, Mythago’s citing of Mackinnon is just another slap in the face. Mackinnon? Short hand for repressive. I didn’t get told this stuff was true at some college: I observed it n the street.

    The phrase ‘ Sex work’, too, is used in a lot of these discussions to downplay the exploitive nature of thing by lumping it all together. I can’t speak to what Mythago’s experience is, but reference to ‘pink collar work’ and skeptical resentment of of ‘participating in my own oppression’ indicates a vastly difference experience from women who live and work on the streets. I’m assuming that living and working on the streets is not what we’re talking about. But it is what I’m talking about, and Mackinnon etc., etc., have nothing to do with it. By the way, Mythago, before you tell somene about their own biases, you’d do well to eliminate a few of your own. Mackinnon? Law school? Pink collar? ‘Participating in your own oppression’? Sounds like Christina Hoff Summers.

    In my neighborhood, the attitude that sex was just a commodity and women were just its revolting purveyers could be perfectly seen in the way every female in the neighborhood was harassed by the johns. These guys didn’t think they were child molesters when they harassed twelve and thirteen year old girls, because once they were of age to have reproductive functions…or look like they did…they stopped being children and became ‘women’. If you were an adult woman, you were SOL, too. I got harassed walking from the grocery store, in my winter coat, etc., etc. You had no protection because your gender was what marked you as a whore to these guys.

    Legalizing buying sex says it’s okay to have that viewpoint. It doesn’t help the women who are on the streets now: they’re not drug free, disease free, or whatever enough to get qualified. I keep wondering what the legalization people are going to do with these women. Are they just going to disappear? Or are they going to be doubly vulnerable now, because it’s another set of laws they’re violating?

    Mkaing the purchase of sex illegal so that the johns bear the brunt of the legal repercussions seems fair to me. Without their demand, there would not be a market for this. Also, keeping it illegal keeps a weapon to use against them.

    You know, one thing I’ve noticed in discussions of prostitution is this: when the talk turns to those who don’t believe they’re participating in their own oppression, what gets completely unsaid is that they might very well be participating in the oppression of less-well-off and advantaged women. Prostitutes, like it or not, function as a threat to other women, and to the notion that some things—not least of which are women—should not be commercialized. As long as there are women willing to sell sexual services for a price, they’re in effect underselling other women. I don’t know whether that falls under ethics or morals. But it does have an effect on other women. It enables men to have a place where they can avoid treating women as human, and they already have far too many places where they can do that.

    Interestingly enough, my instinct is that if buying sex were made illegal, it would place more power in the hands of women, although how much I’m not sure. We’d still have the same cops, the same courts, the same society. The cops aren’t exactly bastions of liberalism and feminism. Could they be entrusted to abide by these laws?

  26. 26
    mythago says:

    That said, however, Mythago’s citing of Mackinnon is just another slap in the face.

    See, this is an example of what I referred to earlier. Mythago’s citing of her experiences with Mackinnon’s students is a “slap in the face”–you disagree with the party line, gender traitor, so shut up. Ditto the ‘participating in my own oppression.’ If I agree, then I’m doing wrong; if I disagree, I’m in denial.

    Mackinnon? Law school? Pink collar? ‘Participating in your own oppression’? Sounds like Christina Hoff Summers.

    Sorry, but I’m just not parsing your shorthand here.

    I’m speaking from both my experience and the experience of the women I worked with, who you’d be hard-pressed to call ‘privileged’. Which was that typical pink-collar jobs (bank teller, secretary, waitress), the only jobs these women had available to them, didn’t pay very well at all, and the working conditions were often worse. I have never heard any of these women refer to their work as “liberating” or rhapsodize about how wonderful it is–it was simply the best of a bunch of not-so-great options. At least one of them had a ‘straight job’ during the day, and worked at the bar part-time to make ends meet.

    Please note that, despite your attempts to paint me as having done so, I’m hardly comparing this experience to that of children literally bought and sold into sexual slavery. I’m just noting that it’s ridiculous to attack one facet of the whole ugly problem and think that the rest of it will magically go away. Exploitation of women will not stop if you end child sexual abuse. Straight-out prostitution will not stop when it’s still acceptable (and often necessary) for women to make more socially acceptable, less defined exchanges of sex for money.

    my instinct is that if buying sex were made illegal

    It IS illegal, remember? Outside of a few counties in Nevada, prostitution and soliciting are illegal. It always has been, and funny, but it hasn’t seemed to do prostitutes much good. Arresting johns does nothing to change the circumstances of women who are, willingly or not, selling sex.

    As long as there are women willing to sell sexual services for a price, they’re in effect underselling other women.

    I really don’t get this, unless sex is a commercial transaction for all women.

  27. 27
    ginmar says:

    You don’t get it, Mythago, because you really don’t want to get it. You keep flinging accusations around about how people don’t listen to you but whatever experiences you had with those Mackinnon people, you’re now labelling anybody who disagrees with you as being more of the same.

    I’m just going to ignore you from now on.

  28. 28
    mythago says:

    Darn. I just got my irony detector recalibrated.

  29. 29
    ginmar says:

    Yeah, I can’t imagine why people have a problem with you at all.

  30. 30
    Anonymous says:

    But are any of -you- prostitutes?
    Having a choice for a business, no matter how degrading you might think it is, is the woman’s choice.

  31. 31
    Riina says:

    This article leaves me wondering about several things…

    First of all, while the claim is made that legalisation has lead to an “explosion” in the trafficking of women as sex-slaves, it also points out that no data is available. We don’t know if there has been an increase, only that there have been several high profile busts recently, some in legal brothels.

    As with all crime statistics, an increase in reported crime/convictions need not represent an increase in the actual crime itself – it could be that more crimes are being reported (a good thing), or that laws have changed to broaden the definition of a crime etc. In this particular case, I wonder if the legality of the brothels made it easier for the illegal activities going on within them to be exposed? Could it be that they are under more scrutiny when they are legal, and thus crimes of this sort are more likely to be discovered?

    There are always many interpretations for vague data, and it’s easy to leap to conclusions. Worse yet, it’s easy to come to totally erroneous conclusions when using only anecdotal evidence with no idea of how truly representational it is.

    As for the continuing involvement of organised crime, it hardly surprises me that those who were in the business before the law change are still in the business. It takes time for these things to change – a lot of time. I would call it a victory that prostitution is no longer *solely* the province of criminals, and now has the potential to involve respectable businesses who hopefully treat their workers well. Again, it would be nice to see some hard statistics rather than individual examples.

    The article also mentions a whole range of aweful things such as underage prostitution, violence and trafficking in women and girls which are all still illegal. Just because prostitution itself is legal, doesn’t mean that these related activities are not still utterly against the law. There is no evidence to link an increase in these crimes to legalisation of prostitution for consenting adults. It is entirely possible that such crimes are in fact now easier to discover – we know where registered brothels are, and they can be inspected.

    That exploitation of sex workers still exists is hardly a surprise, though it’s a sad sign that our society isn’t trying hard enough to support them with legislation/policing/unionisation. However, these situations will still exist if prostitution is illegal, or even if being a customer of a prostitute is illegal. If there’s one thing that history tells us, it’s that prostitution will exist no matter what the law says or who it prosecutes, and I can’t see how an underground industry will offer more protection from exploitation.

    I think that the claim that pro-legalisation people thought legal prostitution would instantly solve all of these problems is a straw man argument. I think it’s pretty clear that a simple law change won’t be a panacea, but that it will help pave the way for further positive changes. By opening the industry up it becomes *possible* to start cleaning it up, but that will take concerted effort from a wide range of people.

    Finally, what right do we have to forbid a woman (or man) from choosing to accept money for sex if she (or he) so desires? Not all prostitutes are in the industry because they are abused, drug adicted slaves, and many sex workers object vehemently to that characterisation. It’s the abuse of prostitutes that’s the problem, not prostitution in and of itself. I can see that abuse is rife in the industry, and maybe if we could wave a magic wand and make all prostitution cease to exist, many women would be better off, at the (possibly justified) expense of personal freedom to choose. But frankly that’s impossible. Making it illegal (either on the selling or buying end, though the latter is less harmful to women) doesn’t make it go away, it simply hides it away where nothing can be done to help anyone.