I was honoured to be invited to deliver the biennial Bishop Manning lecture hosted by the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations at the Kirribilli Club recently. Bob Hawke and Noel Pearson preceeded me and I was the first woman to be asked. I spoke to our new book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the sex trade to support my thesis that sex was not work. The Commission has published this summary:
Tankard Reist challenges Bishop Manning audience
This biennial Bishop Manning Lecture was delivered on Tuesday night by author, commentator and advocate for women and girls, Melinda Tankard Reist.
We host the Bishop Manning Lecture as a way of acknowledging and celebrating workplaces that champion justice, human dignity, productivity and fairness. It is also an opportunity to honour the work of a Church leader who has in his life, borne witness to the pursuit of fairness in workplaces wherever they might be.
Bishop Manning is known for his commitment to these and many other important social justice issues including Aboriginal people, migrants, refugees, women and families. He has been described as having a passion for the “battlers” and a genuine interest in people no matter who they are. And of course, behind all these achievements, he is a humble man of God and a good shepherd.
Our lecture series focuses on principles of the common good, community, human dignity, justice and their practical application in society. But we are not afraid to have uncomfortable conversations.
Melinda Tankard Reist is best known for her work addressing sexualisation, objectification, harms of pornography, sexual exploitation, trafficking and violence against women.
Ms Tankard Reist delivered a powerful lecture that sought to demolish the claim that prostitution is ‘just work’, a ‘job like any other’.
Step by step, the 2016 Bishop Manning lecturer went through confronting characteristics that define the industry in great detail. Ms Tankard Reist challenged our audience with stories of violence against women, health impacts and criminal trafficking.
We were asked to consider the heavily gendered nature of the sex industry. Without men, argued Ms Tankard Reist, without male demand and entitlement, there would be no prostitution industry.
Ms Tankard Reist argued that the global experiences of women show that even where the sex industry enjoys the legalisation and protection of the government, the violence, degradation, abuse, and trauma are common experiences.
Ms Tankard Reist also rang alarm bells about sexual trafficking here in Australia citing Australian Federal Police commander Glen McEwen who told the NSW state inquiry into the regulation of brothels that the AFP’s investigations into sexual servitude were just the tip of the iceberg, that the problem is ‘wide and vast’.
The nub of Ms Tankard Reist’s primary message is that mainstreaming prostitution gives permission to men to believe that buying women is legitimate. Any form of prostitution undermines all women’s safety and dignity by entrenching the commodification of women and by sending a message to men and boys that they have a right to be sexually serviced anytime. There is a deep connection here between the sexualisation of women and girls and the attitude of men.
How should we respond? Tankard Reist is an abolitionist and envisions ‘a world without prostitution’. To achieve that she believes an important part of the solution is the Nordic Model, a framework for addressing demand for prostitution.
As Ms Tankard Reist stated on Tuesday night:
“The Nordic Model completely decriminalises women whose bodies are bought. It provides exit services for women to escape prostitution and make a new life. And it criminalises those men who buy women, and the pimps who sell them.
In 1999 Sweden changed the law to decriminalise women and criminalise the buyers, to tackle demand as the basis of the prostitution system. The Nordic model offers high quality services for those in prostitution: housing, legal advice, addiction services, long-term emotional and psychological support, education and training, childcare, and addresses all factors that drive people into prostitution (for example, minimum wage levels).
Norway, Northern Ireland, Canada, South Korea, Iceland and mostly recently France, have introduced a version of the Nordic Model“.
Ms Tankard-Reist also champions the importance of exit services for women who feel trapped in the industry and education to teach children about boundaries, self-respect and self-worth.
“Identify the girls who are at risk and mentor them, inspire them, value them. Teach them about good relationships, and how to spot someone who is trying to exploit them. Show them how to get help. Catholic agencies are specially placed to be able to discern risk factors in teenage girls. And of course we need to do more to educate boys about healthy sexuality and respect for women.”
Our lecturer wanted to make it clear that women mostly enter the industry because of vulnerabilities and lack of choice. She concluded by speaking to Catholic Social Teaching
“… the exploitation of prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person (woman) who is prostituted by reducing that person to a thing to be used for the ends of another.
Abolitionists are also calling on governments to structure society and the economy on this basis, so that we can build a world without prostitution.
We want justice for women who have been trapped in prostitution, for women hurt by prostitution.
Justice for women who are living in poverty, giving them the dignity of a proper job that they can enjoy and develop their professional skills.
Laws and social policies affirming the dignity of every woman.”