Brothel legalisation: a Top End race to the bottom
…Tollner’s proposal to brothels is particularly cynical, given the population demographics of the Territory. As LNG development proceeds in Darwin, the city will host increasingly large numbers of white, cashed-up men who are a well-worn target consumer group of the sex industry.
Only a small proportion of these men (roughly 15 per cent) are likely to seek out a woman for prostitution, but a greater proportion are vulnerable to “opportunistic” patronage facilitated through semi-prostitution venues like strip clubs, advertising and touting, and all-male group activities like visiting a brothel after a night out drinking.
The sex industry stands to commercially benefit from Tollner’s proposal to legalise brothels through capturing this segment of the market that isn’t inclined to ring one of the NT’s legal outcall agencies.
The sex industry is keen for Tollner’s amendment to be made to the NT’s Prostitution Regulation Act because it would acquire a legitimate shop-front in the Territory. According to research, legalised brothels hamper efforts to detect illegal venues, normalise and encourage public acceptance of the pimping of women for prostitution, and foster an environment that is welcoming of sex tourists for economic gain.
Legal brothels act as “hidden-in-plain-sight” housing for trafficked women, and the Queensland Government has been forced to issue guidelines for “sleeping accommodation for sex workers” to stop the practice.
The Territory is a prime destination for women trafficked from South-East Asia, and also for homeless women, particularly from Aboriginal communities. Sex industry entrepreneurs in the Territory currently run into legal trouble setting up groups of women in apartments to be housed and pimped, but legal brothels would solve this problem….Read full story
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, and member of Amnesty Australia.
An article was published in The Guardian today about the campaign calling for Snoop Dogg’s visa to be revoked. Titled ‘White singers deserve the same scrutiny for sexism as Snoop Dogg‘, it implied that Collective Shout’s motivation for the campaign was race, not misogyny, sexism or violence against women. The Guardian declined to publish Dr Caroline Norma’s response. So we did.
Dr Caroline Norma
So often, when women speak against sexism, misogyny and women hating in general, they are accused of having a hidden and secret agenda. They’re ‘anti-sex’, they ‘hate’ men,’ they have other secret agendas. We’ve just witnessed a classic example of this in the framing of Collective Shout’s campaign led by 24-year-old activist Talitha Stone, calling on Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to recall the visa issued to well-know U.S rap artist Snoop Dogg, who is about to land on our shores.
Francis Lockie, writing in The Guardian today, fits within this camp. Collective Shout activists couldn’t possibly believe that women and girls are intrinsically worth enough that they would selflessly spend time, money and energy in their service. Other false claims have been made about this grassroots movement in the past – why not add ‘racist’ to the mix?
In Frances Lockie’s view the female activists of Collective Shout have another agenda – and it’s racist. They find the energy to launch campaigns against sexist male singers not out of a desire to stop hate speech against women, but because deep down they are racists, whether they realise it or not. Their racist impulses allow them to work together. In the absence of agendas like racism, why else would they bother?
Criticising feminists as ‘racists’ is easy, because no-one believes women’s activists are genuine in what they believe or do anyway. Everyone is ready and willing to hear an alternative explanation for why women are getting together to do things on their own behalf. Lockie need cite just a sample size of three campaigns–one against Kanye West, one against Tyler the Creator and one against Snoop Dogg– to successfully persuade every one of the ‘real’ agenda driving the tireless work of Collective Shout supporters. Inevitably there is another agenda, so a little evidence goes a long way. (As an aside, there’s no mention of the success of the Tyler campaign in forcing Twitter to establish a ‘report abuse’ button as a result of rape and death threats against Talitha Stone, no mention that the campaign against Kanye West was global and supported by a coalition of international women’s groups, not just Collective Shout).
Lockie spent hours painstakingly gathering up evidence of white men singing sexist things and brutalising women to show how Collective Shout members had given them a ‘free pass’. She wanted to make the point that racism acts as a decoy in diverting attention away from the sexism of white men, and how Collective Shout members had fallen into this trap. So, whether they realise it or not, the women in Collective Shout are actually working on behalf of the world’s most powerful men–this is the real agenda of the group. Through forming a group that sticks up for white men they probably think they can get themselves a better deal in life, and rise above the downtrodden masses of women.
When feminists and their organisations are imagined to have ‘another agenda’, sexism does not just cause us to doubt their loyalty to other women. It also leads us to think women are incapable of acting in anyone’s interests other than men’s, and especially white ruling class men. Even when women tell themselves they’re trying to get a better deal for women, they’re actually trying to protect men, or push down other women so men can rule more easily with more perks.
Lockie probably thinks she’s done Collective Shout members a favour in pointing out their folly. Without Lockie’s good instruction, these women could have carried on their whole lives running campaigns, lobbying and working together on behalf of women–totally oblivious of the fact they were inadvertently protecting white men and covering up their abuses. Collective Shout has said nothing about Axl Rose! Or John Lennon! Our younger members have no idea who Rose is. And the fact John Lennon is dead seems to have escaped her. She ignores our campaigns against Robin Thicke and Brian McFadden for their rape apologist lyrics.
Luckily, Lockie stands apart from women working hard in feminist organisations, so she can objectively assess their agenda and intentions, and deliver pronouncements to the benefit of all. Her aloof impartiality would have been compromised if she’d joined Collective Shout, and donated the research she did on the sexism of white male singers. Lockie might have found herself leading a campaign on behalf of members to stop one of them coming to spread hate speech in Australia. Perhaps she will join us in our efforts against rapper Eminem who brings his special brand of women hatred to Australia next month?
If Collective Shout isn’t prepared to launch official campaigns against every artist who profits from misogyny does that mean we shouldn’t campaign against any?
This debate on violence against women, as glamourised by the music industry, isn’t about colour. Collective Shout (in the face of limited resources and its volunteer nature) addresses this where it can. Two high profile rap artists have toured recently. That they were black was irrelevant. Eminem will receive the same welcome from us when he lands next month. To turn this into a debate about race and not misogyny is to wilfully miss the point and, in a rape culture in which all women and girls have to live, this is something we cannot allow to happen.
Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University
“The attempt to dress this up as black v white issue is beneath contempt”
Here are a selection of comments on The Guardian site which condemn attempts to turn our campaign into an issue of race.
OneManIsAnIsland: The objection to Snoop Dogg, presumably, is that ALL of his songs seem to be extensions of his own persona, and ALL seems to include a casual misogyny which is not contextualised. And finally, before you make it a race thing, remember that Robin Thicke is very, very white.
Jahlion: The attempt to dress this up as black v white issue is beneath contempt.
SidusVitae: Many rap songs that feature violence and misogyny are not figurative – that’s the problem, isn’t it? People have politely tried to point out above, under the guise of ‘context’. Snoop Dogg/Lion actually does have a history of problematic dealings with women.
WinstonThatcher: Have you ever listened to the lyrics on ‘Doggystyle’, Frances? I suggest you do so. They’re astoundingly disgusting (on a whole other level of disgusting), and Collective Shout, if anything, should be admired for not letting the big bad wolf that is accusations of racism cloud their judgement.
SamBeckett2: Are Cave, Dylan, Pink Floyd et al ex-pimps who’ve made porn videos? The vast majority of lyrics you quote are clearly telling stories representing misogyny rather than promoting it.
Timcw: So if a black singer refers to a woman as a ‘ho’ or a ‘bitch’ then anyone who complains at the content of the song is being racist if they don’t research every past instance of a white singer using misogynist lyrics and complain about that at the same time? This article is nonsense even in its own terms. Look at the criticism Robin Thicke rightly attracted recently. More seriously, it reflects a type of thinking that implies any criticism of men who aren’t white over the way they treat women is racist.
StVitusGerulaitis: What an utterly absurd article. This is not a race issue, and trying to make it so is disingenuous and rather desperate.
Sexism is more common, widespread and aceptable in modern hip hop….If anything, people give hip hop more of a free pass.”
NewsfromNowhere: I think that this is the problem. Hip hop is used to play by its own rules and black hip hop artists can always play the race card to get a free pass. White hip hop-ers) have to retract and apologize or lose their gigs. I am seriously concerned about this perspective that white feminists (if Collective Shout are white) can’t protest against misogyny from black men or they are racists.
Robthablob: The Prodigy “Smack my bitch up” and Eminem (many early tracks are both misogynistic and homophobic).
However, I remember both of these being heavily criticized at the time, which kind of goes against the author’s contention.
Luxrothchop: A colleague tells me he’s also a pornographer. Is that also true of any of the performers in the author’s list, and don’t you think that makes something of a difference? Seems to me one can’t do right for doing wrong on this question. When I and other posters criticised Robin Thicke on another thread earlier this week those who leapt to Thicke’s defence retorted that “you wouldn’t say that about a black artist for fear of being called a racist”.
ID2099454: Violence against women is an important issue, and this article makes it sound ridiculous. So thanks a bunch for undermining the hard work of lots of people trying to make a difference
DoctorPeppa: I can’t help but wonder if the author actually bothered to get in touch with Collective Shout with her concerns before publicly insinuating that their feminism is a smokescreen for racism. Why does it have to be their job to police the music industry for hate speech against women – if you have noticed other artists contributing to public misogyny, why not pick up your bat and have a swing for yourself? Other women doing feminist work are not an enemy who deserve to be shot down like this.
Prostituted women are the ones at the coalface of the misogyny and pornography-fuelled attitudes
Commentators this week have been falling over themselves to decry the ‘hypocritical’ public quiet over the murder of St Kilda prostituted woman ‘Tracy’, compared to the attention Jill Meagher’s death attracted last year. Wendy Squires wrote that, even though ‘Jill and Tracy are one and the same – women in the wrong place at the wrong time’, it’s outrageous that last week’s ‘dead woman isn’t headline news’. Squires believes it ‘ironic’ that Jill Meagher’s husband attracted media attention last week, while Tracy’s murder raised barely a headline. In fact, Squires ‘could have been Tracy’, just as she ‘could have been Jill Meagher’, so she wonders why the murder of women in prostitution is treated so differently from the murder of middle class, educated women with supportive friends and family.
While it is true murdered prostituted women don’t receive the same attention, do any of us really believe that either Jill or Wendy could have been Tracy? The crime committed against Jill was unforgivable, but do we really think she has anything in common with Tracy? Going on what we know about the population demographics of women in prostitution, Tracy was most likely abused as a child, homeless from an early age, preyed upon in her teenage years by pimps posing as boyfriends, and subject to a range of alcohol and drug addictions over the years of her sexual exploitation. She would also likely have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, possibly exposing her to the risk of mental illness. While Jill and Wendy might have faced hardships in their lives, we can speculate these hardships were never aggravated by the experience of being traded for prostitution. Unlike Wendy or Jill, being a prostituted woman means you are always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Prostitution is precisely the variable that sets Tracy apart from Wendy and Jill. Women in prostitution are at risk of murder and serious injury at a rate many times higher than even people working in bottle shops. The experience of being pimped and prostituted makes it almost inevitable they must shut down their minds with drugs or alcohol, or risk acquiring a mental illness. They are the ones at the coalface of the misogyny and pornography-fuelled attitudes circulating in our society. The physical expression of male rage is channelled their way in the form of brutal sex acts, verbal abuse, and practices of humiliation and degradation. They must withstand all of this with a smile, or risk non-payment or a beating from the customer or their pimp.
We do women like Tracy no favours when we pretend she is ‘just like us’, and express outrage that her murder doesn’t get the same attention as ours would. While we allow a vulnerable population of women and girls (and some young men) to languish in the sex industry while we happily take up opportunities of education and economic privilege, we cannot decry ‘hypocrisy’ and engage in after-the-fact hand-wringing over media bias. We need to recognise the fundamentally different health and wellbeing outcomes that prostitution imposes on its victims, and work to develop ‘exit programs’ to assist people out of the sex industry. We need to recognise the human rights harms that men who patronise the sex industry are causing, and develop policies and education campaigns to reduce their demand for prostitution.
Let’s be angry and upset at the absence of public outcry—but not just now a woman in prostitution has been murdered. We might feel the same outrage every time we drive past a brothel, or see advertisements for ‘escort’ services in our local paper. We might become upset at the state government bureaucrats who continue to collect money from pimps who legally trade people for prostitution in Victoria. Or our anger might be directed toward a federal government that fails to declare prostitution a gendered human rights violation like its counterparts in Sweden, South Korea, Norway and Iceland. Our tears might flow every time we hear a sex industry-apologist in the media calling prostitution a ‘job’ for women with no other choices.
In reality, Tracy could not have been Wendy or Jill, but she could have been any other woman in prostitution. All people in prostitution—whether in brothels, ‘escort’ agencies or on the street—risk the same unacceptable fate as Tracy. Those of us who downplay or deny the risks of prostitution seal this fate for generations of abused people who will be preyed upon by the pimps and traffickers of the sex industry. We must take policy and educative action now to dismantle legalised prostitution in Victoria and create a safe society for even our most vulnerable of fellow citizens.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, and researches prostitution and trafficking policy in Australia, South Korea and Japan.
See also: ‘Why virginity is a best seller: how the sex industry profits from an Asian girl’s ‘first time’, http://www.pac.nsw.edu.au/contact-details/ MTR blog, November 14, 2011
‘Corporate paedophilia’ is a worrying global trend on the rise.
For those who might have missed it, Witchery has just launched a new clothing range for eight- to 14-year-old girls called “8fourteen”. In a brilliant stroke of imagination, the launch occurred on Valentine’s Day – because, of course, girls from the age of eight need to understand that male romantic approval, and attracting it through your physical appearance (euphemistically termed “personal style”), is what really matters in life.
The advertising campaign presents two girls from Sydney, aged 11 and 12, as “little sisters” to Australia’s Next Top Model Montana Cox, aged 18. Leaving aside some leopard print, the clothing range itself appears to be mainly age-appropriate (although, curiously, this isn’t well indicated in the campaign). The list of “facts” presented about each girl appears unobjectionable enough (about which, more later). The accompanying films of the girls, however, artistically shot in black and white with acoustic music, made us gasp. Read more>
One hundred friends and supporters gathered at Spoon Deli Cafe in East Brisbane Friday night to celebrate the Brisbane launch of Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global porn industry (Spinifex Press). Five contributors spoke: myself, Dr Betty McLennan, Caroline Norma, Dr Robi Sonderegger and Melinda Liszewski. Scott Stephens, Editor of ABC Religion and Ethics, launched the book, (and, for those who tried to have him prevented from doing so, representing himself and not the views of the ABC) with a powerful and passionate address about the debasement of sexuality on a global scale. I hope to post a version of his speech here shortly. As an added bonus and making for a potent double act, author and journalist Christine Jackman also held the crowd captive with some compelling words in praise of Big Porn Inc. I hope to post some video snippets soon. The speeches were truly amazing. And the ever delightful Erica Bartle of Girl With a Satchel blogger fame, held it all together as MC.
My gratitude to all who made it such a great night: fellow contributors, Scott, Christine and Erica, Steph, Melinda and Marty for assistance with set up and book table, and everyone who attended. Special thanks and acknowledgement to sponsors Generation Next and Clonakilla Winery and Spoon Deli Café for great service.
Last chance to RSVP for fourth and final launch – Sydney this Thursday
Today is the last day to rsvp for Big Porn Inc’s final launch in Sydney on Thursday, 12.45 for 1pm-2pm, Jubilee Room, Parliament House. Speakers include: Dr Abigail Bray, Dr Renate Klein, Dr Helen Pringle, Maggie Hamilton, Nina Funnell, Melinda Liszewsi, Julie Gale and me. Rsvp to @email@example.com.
Addressing the myths of the prostituted Asian woman
On July 3 the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article titled ‘Low prices fuel exotic sex trade’ . Accompanied by an alluring photo and informing us that prostitutes from Asian backgrounds offer more exotic services than their Caucasian counterparts and for less money, it read almost like an advertisement for buying sex from Asian women. ‘Cut price Asian women, will do anything you want – get yours now!’ I thought it warranted a response so asked Caroline Norma, a lecturer in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning at RMIT University, and a member of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia, to respond.
University of NSW researcher Christine Harcourt is a long-time campaigner for the legalisation of prostitution. She recently appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald to announce the fact that Asian women are ‘very much in demand’ for prostitution in Australia because they are ‘very attractive’ and are ‘very good at their work’.
Harcourt’s comments were reported in explanation of the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission’s finding that 20 per cent of that state’s legal brothels were staffed exclusively by Asian-born women.
Harcourt expressed a view that appears to be commonly held in Australia: that the overrepresentation of Asian women in the sex industry here is simply a product of the innate nature of Asian women: they love to serve men submissively and sexually, and are cunning in their ability to out-gun Aussie women in the sex industry and bring down prices and standards.
In Harcourt’s view of the world, no-one should be alarmed at the fact that Asian women are filling up Australian brothels at a rapid rate. The inherent suitability of Asian women for prostitution is a belief that underlies this view, and short-circuits any discussion of the possibility that Asian women here might be victims of trafficking, sexual slavery, or even just extreme levels of hardship and adversity.
The Minister for the Status of Women, the Hon Kate Ellis MP, recently gave $50,000 to the Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance to run a campaign to highlight the adversity that migrant women face in Australia. This is a wonderful project that will make a difference to the lives of newly arriving women. I wonder, though, with academics like Harcourt producing research in the area, whether the government is really able to perceive of the true extent of the adversity that migrant women face in Australia, given its continuing denial of the reality of trafficking of women from overseas into the sex industry here.
When public servants fund good initiatives like this, don’t they feel any sense of incongruity about the number of Asian women they allow to languish in Australia’s sex industry? Don’t they feel any pangs of conscience about how openly pimps sell Asian women on the back pages of local newspapers in Victoria, NSW, the ACT and Queensland?
Bureaucrats need only check out brothel websites to see the extent of the trade in Asian women. In Brisbane, there’s a legal brothel called Miso Honey that advertises
all Asian flavours including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and more. If you’re looking for a submissive Japanese girls [sic], or a totally dominant Taiwanese terror, look no further.
Miso Honey is not the only brothel running a profitable trade in Asian women. According to a 2010 CSIRO-published report, over 54 per cent of women in prostitution in Western Sydney were born overseas. A study done in Western Australia in the same year found 29 per cent of women in prostitution were from non-English speaking countries. In Sydney’s brothels, 53 per cent of women are from Asia.
A Victorian report from 2009 records the stories of adversity that lie behind the grim statistics. One wonders what the Office for the Status of Women would think about the adversity facing a Laotian woman, ‘Minh Ha’, who works in a legal brothel in Melbourne. According to researchers, she
works in the sex industry two days a week at a licensed brothel…She works four or five nights a week in the hospitality industry. She works days at the brothel, picks up her children and oversees homework, then works at the restaurant in the evening. Minh Ha… migrated to Australia after she married…She is 41 years old. Her marriage recently broke down because her husband was violent; she currently has an AVO against him…She is now responsible for supporting her five children. She approached a customer she knew at her hospitality job to ask for a loan…[he] said Minh Ha would need to commit to working in ‘massage’; but Minh Ha suspected that sex work was being proposed. She transitioned reasonably quickly to full service in a licensed brothel. While she says “some workers enjoy this job,” Minh Ha does not.
While Minh Ha might not technically have been trafficked into Melbourne’s sex industry, in terms of ‘adversity’ there is not much to distinguish her case from the descriptions of actual sex trafficking that are contained in the report. Another woman told researchers, for example, that there
are a lot of Korean-owned shops here…[and] a lot of Korean workers end up in them. The treatment there is not very good compared with the other shops…Girls are ignorant, they don’t know and they are concerned about the debts they have to pay off through the agent. These are legal brothels. They are very strict and a lot of people work there [to pay off debts]. You have to provide more of a service.
Governments in Asia are aware of the problem that Australia poses in the region in terms of sex trafficking. The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade hosts pre-departure training for its nationals participating in working holiday programs to Australia on their vulnerability to sex trafficking (US State Department, 2011, p. 218). In 2005, the Seoul Metropolitan Police arrested seven people on charges of arranging for 38 women to be trafficked abroad. One of the victims, a 28-year-old woman who had been trafficked to Australia, told police that brothel owners had exploited her throughout her stay, and she had been trafficked to pay a KRW70 million debt owing to her pimp in Seoul. She told police she was used by five customers a day in Australia (Sohn Hae-yong, ‘Prostitutes leave Korea to work,’ 23 February 2005, JOONAI).
The Australian government continues to close its eyes to the fact its domestic sex industry causes serious harm and adversity to women newly arriving in this country. It continues to allow pimps to legally sell women for prostitution in most Australian states under advertisements that use words like ‘oriental’, ‘Asian’, and ‘Far Eastern’. The only thing the Victorian government has done in response to research showing evidence of trafficking in Melbourne is to require brothels to display anti-sex slavery signs in their waiting rooms.
Compare this to action taken by the UK government in 2009 when a Home Affairs Committee report revealed that 80 per cent of women in off-street prostitution in the country were foreign nationals, and that there were approximately 5000 victims of trafficking in the UK at any one time. In response to this finding, the government passed a law that criminalised the buying of trafficked women for prostitution. This law requires defendants to prove they had no knowledge of a person having been trafficked.
We might wonder why the Australian government seems unable to see signs of adversity where Asian women are advertised for sexual sale. The answer to this question might be found in an observation made by Melba Marginson in 1996. Marginson is the national coordinator of the Centre for Philippine Concerns in Australia. She noted that Australian men viewed Asian women as ‘manipulative, sexually adventurous, whore, prostitute, gold-digger, materialistic and use foreign men as a ‘passport’ out of their destitute lives’ (Not the Same, 1996, p. 18).
By failing to see the adversity that the sex industry inflicts on women who newly arrive in Australia, the government institutionalises this inhuman view, and fails in its duty of care to women who come here from overseas in the most vulnerable of circumstances.
Canberra needs to follow the Swedish model and provide exit programs for prostituted women.
Caroline Norma, a valued contributor to the MTR blog, wrote this piece in response to an article in The Canberra Times March 6 (‘Sex trade eyes the suburbs’) about sex industry pressure for less regulation and more brothels to expand Canberra’s sex trade. The Canberra Times didn’t seem to think it worth publishing. Fortunately ABC Drum Unleashed did - I reprint here with permission. Caroline is a lecturer in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning at RMIT University in Melbourne and a member of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia. She will also have a chapter in the forthcoming Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry (Spinifex Press), which I’m co-editing with Dr Abigail Bray.
Review into prostitution must benefit women not business
The ACT government is currently reviewing its 1992 Prostitution Act, and has called for public submissions. Not surprisingly, the sex industry has been quick to submit its wishlist on prostitution, and Phillip Thomson’s article in The Canberra Times nicely summarises the demands the industry is currently making of the ACT government. These include:
Normalise prostitution as a legitimate business activity by removing zoning restrictions on brothels that are currently relegated to industrialised areas
Open up more opportunities for organised escort prostitution networks by lifting the one-person ‘sole-operator’ restriction for prostitution businesses operating outside of industrial areas
Remove official registration requirements for one-person ‘sole-operator’ prostitution businesses
Through lobby organisations like the EROS Foundation and ACT SWOP in Canberra, the sex industry pursues its demands under the rhetoric of ‘safety for sex workers’. This rhetoric runs along the following lines:
Women risk danger if they must commute to brothels in industrial areas, because these areas are ‘dark’ and unpopulated at night
Women risk danger if they must operate prostitution businesses as one-person ‘sole-operators’ from home, because they can’t employ drivers to act as security guards
Women risk exposure and social discrimination if they must register with government as ‘sex workers’
While the sex industry pursues its business aims under the rhetorical guise of ‘safety for sex workers’, its profits are derived from the sexual degradation and exploitation of society’s most vulnerable people. Research shows overwhelmingly that people in prostitution suffer rates of post-traumatic stress disorder equal to that of war veterans. So, it’s unlikely the industry gives a damn about the personal security, integrity and individual growth of the women it sells as live sex dolls. Notably, the industry is not lobbying the ACT government to set up ‘exit’ programs to assist women to leave prostitution if they wish. The industry’s real agenda is obscured by its ‘safety for sex workers’ rhetoric, but understanding this agenda is important if any changes are going to be considered for the ACT’s Prostitution Act.
The business logic behind the sex industry’s first aim—to remove planning restrictions on brothels—is fairly obvious; the more prostitution is integrated into mainstream Australian society, the greater profits the industry will earn through customers who are no longer inhibited by the social condemnation of their peers. But the reasoning behind aims 2 and 3 might be less clear to the general observer.
To understand these two aims, one has to be aware that a big growth market for the Australian sex industry is escort prostitution. Escort or ‘outcall’ prostitution currently contributes over half of the industry’s earnings. This model of prostitution is profitable because it runs with few overheads, falls under the radar of most government regulation, and operates flexibly over large geographical areas and in response to movements in male populations (e.g., toward mining areas).
If the ban on one-person ‘sole-operators’ operating in conjunction with another party is lifted, Canberra’s sex industry will be able to tap into a large population of poor and vulnerable women (often living with small children) who are currently bought for prostitution through rented suburban flats. The head of the Adult Entertainment Industry in Victoria was quoted recently as saying that as many as 7000 ‘sole operators’ in that state are currently being organised into networks by criminal groups who, he speculates, might be drug dealers. They could be involved in abuse of the migration program, including the trafficking of women. They might be engaging in inducing under-age persons into the sex industry.
Canberra’s sex industry is lobbying to have restrictions on sole-operators lifted so that ‘legal’ prostitution businessmen, too, can start to profit from these women. Large-scale escort prostitution businesses aim to recruit these women into their networks by offering them ‘drivers’ (for the sake of their safety!) and free mobile phones. This will allow escort business operators to expand the number of women they have on their books, cater to a geographically expanded male population, and recoup overheads and licensing costs incurred in running legal and ‘legitimate’ brothel businesses. Lobbying for the lifting of restrictions on ‘sole operators’ is therefore an important task of the industry, and one tied to its future profitability.
The industry that seeks to profit from prostitution is a business that has devastating consequences for women used within it, as well as Australian society at large. It is an industry that preys on young women who have been made socially vulnerable through childhood sexual abuse, poverty, mental illness, drugs, and homelessness. It is an industry also renowned for prostituting underage girls. Janine Cameron was found dead in a Canberra brothel (‘Death of innocence’, 1 November 2008). She was 17. Women are trafficked from overseas to meet the demands of the domestic sex industry. The lives of so many women and girls are destroyed by this industry. Violence and abuse is just part of the job. And Fiona Patten, representing a voracious industry, only wants to expand it into Canberra’s suburban backyards.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australian (CATWA) argues the sex industry needs to be properly understood as imposing on Australian society an unacceptably high level of harm. Like the approach taken toward the tobacco industry, we believe state and territory governments should begin to introduce legislative measures that have as their ultimate goal the industry’s demise. CATWA supports the “Swedish Model” of sex industry legislation which sees all forms of prostitution as violence against women. The purchaser of sex is penalised, and women are offered éxit’ programs to help get them out of the industry and find non-harmful ways of supporting themselves and their children.
We find it disturbing that the ACT’s sex industry is using the current Prostitution Act review to call for more brothels in the territory when there is not one exit program in place for prostituted women in Canberra. As the ACT government accepts submissions on its Prostitution Act, it should be aware that a profitable and highly sophisticated sex industry with its own lobby organisations is making demands that are wholly aimed at expanding the industry’s profits. If the government listens to these demands it abrogates its responsibility to its most vulnerable female constituents, and permits the sex industry even greater reign to damage the wellbeing and social status of women in Australia’s capital.
Written by Dr Meagan Tyler, Professor Sheila Jeffreys, Natasha Rave, Caroline Norma, Kaye Quek, Andrea Main and Kathy Chambers, the abstract reads:
This report shows the burgeoning strip club industry in Victoria, Australia, harms women and communities. Strip clubs harm the physical and mental health of women who strip, as well as the opportunities of all women who want equal sexual relationships with men. Strip clubs create no-go areas for women, and are responsible for increasing violence in the community. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia (CATWA) argues that strip clubs need to be understood as part of the industry of prostitution and regulated in the same way as brothels. This means that they would be licensed, subject to planning restrictions, unable to obtain liquor licenses, and owners would need criminal record checks. To ensure that strip club are not seen merely as entertainment venues, like other night clubs, they should be regulated as commercial sex venues
Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning at RMIT University. She’s also a friend of mine and a contributor to a new book I’m co-editing, Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global porn industry, to be published by Spinifex Press in September. I asked her about the new report.
What were the main findings of the report Caroline?
CATWA found that the sex industry in Australia is increasingly investing in strip clubs as a way to make profits by circumventing the restrictions on the serving of alcohol that are placed on brothels. In other words, sex industry businessmen offer women for ‘sexual services’ through strip venues or ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ that are licensed as nightclubs or hotels. This allows them to attract men to their venues under the guise of ‘entertainment’, or for corporate functions, which include sexual services while evading brothel licensing fees, planning restrictions, and alcohol bans. As a result, stripping has grown as a sector of the Australian sex industry from 12% in 2008 to 17% in 2009.
Most people don’t see a connection between the strip club industry and prostitution. Why do you think that is? Has the industry been particularly clever at having strip clubs be seen as merely entertainment rather than being linked with or providing the full range of prostitution ‘services’?
CATWA surveyed the websites of 12 strip clubs in inner city and suburban Melbourne, and found that the clubs were surprisingly upfront about the sexual services they provide. For example, one club offers shows where men can pay to see women penetrate themselves with bananas and other items:
Your stripper uses not 1 but 2 or more toys!!! Combine the 2 vibes a string of pearls (hidden safely away) or maybe a banana or some other weird & wonderful item that can be safely inserted or removed…
Most of the clubs had ‘private rooms’ where men or groups of men are able to pay for naked strippers to dance on their laps to the point of orgasm. For example, one club has the following advertisement on its website:
See a dancer that tickles your fancy? For as little as $20, why not have her all to yourself in a private dance room – or share her with 3 of your friends!
This service is advertised despite the fact that the Victorian Prostitution Control Act defines lap dance activity as a sexual service, which means the venue would have to be licensed as a brothel. The Act includes masturbation as a sexual service and it defines this to include, ‘whether or not the genital part of his or her body is clothed or the masturbation results in orgasm’.
An example of the brothel-like status of strip clubs in Victoria comes from a 2008 application to Glen Eira City Council (in suburban south-east Melbourne) for a two-storey stripping venue that proposed to accommodate ‘170 patrons to watch nude dancers on a main stage and on six raised pole-dancing platforms on the ground floor’. The application included plans for a bar and spa downstairs and five private rooms upstairs, three of which were to have en-suite bathrooms.
How does the strip club industry contribute to violence against women? What are the specific harms it causes?
The former Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Tony Robinson said in 2008 that strip clubs provide ‘perhaps not the full suite of sexually explicit services, but a fair component of them’, so CATWA sees strip clubs as equal to brothels in promoting the violence of prostitution. Prostitution has been empirically shown to inflict a serious level of psychological and physical harm on women who are used for sex, and these harms also apply to women in strip clubs, particularly because strips clubs serve alcohol to groups of men who then buy strippers for private lap dances. In 2006, for example, the Weekend Australian reported the rape of a woman whilst she performed a private lap dance for a man at a King Street strip club (The Australian, 2006). The man ‘lunged’ at the woman, ‘digitally raping her and refusing to let go even as she struggled and screamed’ (The Australian, 2006). In 2003, the managers of a now defunct King Street strip club were charged with rape and assault, and were accused of using fear and intimidation as a management tool against 24 strippers. These dangers of the strip industry have been acknowledged by the Victorian State Government’s Prostitution Control Act Advisory Committee, which in 1997 found that ‘incidents of physical and sexual violence, sexual harassment and stalking were common’ in strip clubs.
How does stripping act as a gateway into prostitution?
Strip club owners and operators are behind a push to blur the boundaries between stripping and prostitution. There is evidence that strip club operators ‘pressure strippers to engage in practices they would rather avoid, such as lap dancing or prostitution’ (Jeffreys, 2008). The strip industry is engaged in glamourising the degradation of women. The clubs market themselves as mere entertainment, rather than prostitution providers. They promote themselves to potential women workers as glamorous venues, rather than as quasi brothels, and so induct new generations of young women into Australia’s sex industry. The websites of the strip clubs cultivate an image of a homely, caring environment in which women will be well looked after. Recruitment information on strip club websites emphasises the fact that women do not need to have any experience in strip. One website states, for example, that ‘no experience is required, we are more than happy to train you – all you have to do is be yourself’. Women need not have anything more than a ‘love of partying, love of entertaining and a love of earning money’ to qualify for a job as a stripper. One club directly appeals to ‘ordinary women’ by holding a regular Amateur Night (Hustler). The emphasis on not needing to have experience in stripping and the provision of on-the-job training enables strip clubs to act as a gateway to the sex industry. One Club (Kittens) advertises that it recruits women through the strip tease classes that it runs – ‘Learn the art of ‘tease’. All welcome. No nudity. Employment opportunities. Erotic exercise. Lots of fun’.
Do many women work in both stripping and prostitution?
The stripping sector in Australia is dominated by ‘out-call’ or ‘mobile’ stripping services, which include strippers being sent to events like bucks and birthday parties. Strip clubs in Queensland also allow the practice of ‘non-contact ‘Dating’ Services’ as well as outcall striptease services from the clubs. Customers may take a dancer on a ‘date’ outside the club. There are guidelines that say sexual contact should not take place in the conduct of these services, but in reality women are extremely vulnerable to solicitation for prostitution in both of these situations. The fact that men may buy women for lapdances in private rooms within strip clubs also makes women vulnerable to solicitation for prostitution, either inside or outside of the clubs.
How does the Victoria strip club industry compare to the industry in other countries?
The UK government in 2009 introduced stricter planning and licensing restrictions for stripping venues, so they went from being licensed as ‘pubs’ or ‘cafes’ to licensing as ‘sex establishments’. Iceland banned strip clubs in 2010. The Scottish government has taken active steps to suppress the proliferation of strip clubs in that jurisdiction this year as well. Victoria has had large-scale ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ even longer than the UK, but has taken no action to suppress their proliferation and industrialisation. Some venues in Melbourne now hold 1000 patrons, and they have been recently established in suburbs like Northcote.
Is there a regulatory model you would like to see adopted in Victoria (and other parts of the country?)
For the time being, CATWA calls on the new Liberal-National Victorian government to licensed strip clubs as brothels, because sexual services are being provided in the clubs. This would mean the clubs could no longer serve alcohol. In other words, we request that the government simply apply its prostitution regulations evenly across all sectors of the sex industry. In the longer term, CATWA campaigns for the eradication of the sex industry in Australia, which would mean that men could no longer buy women for prostitution at any venue, including strip clubs. We call for the ‘Swedish model’ of anti-prostitution legislation to be introduced by the Australian federal government so that prostitution buyers, pimps, and traffickers are criminalised as sex offenders, and women in the sex industry are given housing, job, education, and training assistance to leave prostitution.
The Nightclub Owners Forum has billed your push to strengthen laws against them as a “moral and religious” crusade. How do you respond to that?
Strip clubs were banned in Iceland in 2010 primarily as a result of feminist campaigning that raised awareness of their links to prostitution and other forms of violence against women. CATWA is similarly concerned about strip clubs from a feminist anti-violence perspective. However, the campaign against strip clubs that CATWA is leading aims to mobilise all concerned women—from all sectors of the Victorian community—to demand that the government take action against strip clubs, and the sex industry in general. Women who oppose men’s sexual rights in any form are frequently dismissed as ‘moralistic’, but there is an increasingly large population of women in Australian society that is concerned about the extent to which men’s participation in prostitution, pornography, and stripping is harming women’s equality and destroying the chance for girls to lead dignified and safe lives in Australia in the future.
What has been the wider response to the report?
News of the report was carried in a number of major Australian newspapers. CATWA members were interviewed on radio, and a number of women’s organisations have contacted us for copies of the report. CATWA hopes that the report will spark a sustained conversation about strip clubs in Australia, like that which has taken place in the UK. Groups like ‘Object’ and the Fawcett Society have worked hard in the UK to pressure the government over strip clubs, and CATWA hopes our report will lead groups in Australia to take up similar campaigns. CATWA’s position on strip clubs already enjoys the support of the Victoria Police who currently oppose the renewal of strip club alcohol licenses in VCAT, and a number of local councils who try to stop strip clubs opening up in Melbourne’s suburbs.
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