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.
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.