International lawyers, Ruth Nordstrom and Rebecca Ahlstrand, are globally recognized legal experts on the Nordic model of prostitution regulation, first established in Sweden. They have been in Australia meeting with MPs in four states advocating for the Nordic Model to be adopted here. Ruth is President and Senior Legal Counsel of Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers with experience in the Administrative Court of Uppsala Sweden and the Swedish Ministry of Justice. Rebecca is Legal Counsel for Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyer specializing in international human rights, humanitarian law, asylum law and medical law. I interviewed them while they were here.
Welcome to Australia and thanks for being here. For those not familiar with the Nordic Model, could you give a brief description of how it works? How did the Swedish criminal code come to include prostitution in its provisions?
The Swedish Sex Purchase Act came into force in 1999 and the law criminalizes the buyer, but not the seller of sex. The Swedish law on prostitution states the following: ‘A person who obtains a casual sexual relation in return for payment, shall be sentenced for purchase of sexual service to a fine or imprisonment for at most one year.’ When this law was passed it introduced a new way of thinking as it shifted focus from the seller to the buyer. There were several objectives to this, firstly to make a clear statement that women are not commodities to be sold or bought, but that women are equal to men. Secondly it was a way to reduce the demand for prostitution. Simply put, if there is no demand, prostitution will automatically be reduced. Just the fact that a buyer can get caught and have a letter from the police sent home to his family has been found to have a deterring effect on sex buyers.
Can you describe the effort it took to see the law passed? What had to happen for it to succeed and how long did it take?
The law was part of a larger Government Bill concerning violence against women. The Bill included many different proposals in different sectors and prostitution was amongst these. Already in the 70s the issue of criminalizing prostitution was raised and a big inquiry was made into the issue of prostitution. A proposal was presented in the beginning of the 80s, but the proposal only included suggestions on social measures and some legal amendments to reduce prostitution.
Already at that time, however, the inquiry found that men buying women for sexual pleasure was not compatible with the principles of individual freedom and gender equality. In a society where a man can buy a woman, respect for women is also lost. A new inquiry was made in 1993 and in a Government report from 1995 it was proposed that both selling and buying sexual services should be criminalized. However, this proposal was heavily criticized because of the criminalization of the prostitute and was never implemented. A new proposal, where only the person who purchases sexual services was criminalized, based on the inquiry from 1993, was the one that ultimately was implemented.
A few surveys were made before the implementation of the Sex Purchase Act, and they showed that more than 70 percent of the population in Sweden was against the new law. However, this changed radically in a short time as the new law had an interesting impact on attitudes – all surveys after the implementation, the latest one held in 2014, have shown that more than 70 percent of the population is now for the ban on buying sex. Among women the support is as high as 85 percent and a large majority of young people also favor the ban. It took many years, around 25 years to find a solution in Sweden, but now many countries are following Sweden’s example, the latest country being France.
France adopted the Nordic approach after a few years of debating the issue. Many countries in the world are waking up to the fact that the sex industry and trafficking in human beings are growing global problems connected with serious organized crime and have to be counteracted in different ways. A law that criminalizes buyers and helps reduce demand is one of the important steps to stop violence against women.
Did Swedish politicians expect at that time that this legislative model would be taken up by the number of countries who have since adopted it? Can you describe your feelings after the law was recently adopted in France?
When the Sex Purchase Act was implemented in Sweden in 1999, it was a signal and an important statement to other countries in the world, but few could by then foresee how far the legislative model would reach. Year 2014, the Council of Europe Report on Prostitution, Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in Europe, recommended all other European Member states to seriously consider adopting the Swedish/Nordic model, which of course was a very important step forward.
When France had finally adopted the new law to criminalize sex purchase, we spoke with the Swedish “Angel in the Red Light District” who started to shout for joy. We often hear that it is only right wing/conservatives that would support any limits on the sex industry. That is a myth and not based on facts. In France, two Socialist MP’s, Maud Olivier and Bruno Le Roux were the two leading figures in this process and the Socialist were also supported by the Greens. In Sweden, the legislative model was introduced by the Social democrats, but today it has broad support within all the major political parties.
What are you doing at present to see the model taken up in other countries?
We are currently part of several EU projects concerning education and promotion of the Nordic model on prostitution and trafficking to other countries in Europe. Through the EU projects, representatives from several other EU countries participate and we will also arrange judicial training and release projects focused on reducing the demand for sexual services.
We often hear from those with vested interests that the Swedish model ‘doesn’t’ work’ and drives prostitution underground. How effective has the model been in reducing crime, trafficking, and protecting women?
When the law was introduced street prostitution was very soon reduced by half. The following years there was a steady increase in street prostitution in Sweden’s neighboring countries, Norway and Denmark, but not in Sweden. Prostitution can never be completely underground, but if the buyers can find prostitutes, so can the police and social workers.
In the comparing research that has been made in the Nordic countries, there is nothing to suggest that there is a larger underground prostitution industry in Sweden compared to other countries, quite the contrary. The estimated number of women trafficked for sexual purposes in Sweden and Finland a while back showed that Sweden had an estimate of 2-400 women who had been trafficked, while Finland, where prostitution is legal, the number was significantly higher with 15-17 000 women. Finland has a much smaller population than Sweden, which makes this number even more serious.
We strongly believe that prostituted women are in a stronger position when it’s illegal to buy sexual services, because this makes the man a criminal. Women who have worked in Germany before and after legalization, and who also worked in Sweden have stated that their experience is that men grew more violent to them as prostitutes after the legalization, because they felt entitled to having sex.
They found men to be less violent in Sweden. When the buyer is criminalized, it will give the prostitute a stronger position because the buyer knows he is committing a crime and the prostitute will have the police and the social authorities on her side. Through the European police cooperation, Interpol, undercover work and interviews with victims of human trafficking, there have been indications that criminal groups consider Sweden as a less attractive country for trafficking because it is riskier and less profitable.
The French law includes provision of “exit routes” through programs and support for those women who wish to leave the system, with the development of reparation and other remedies for victims of prostitution and trafficking. How essential are these programs in your view? Are you surprised that Australia has no publicly funded exit programs?
We think it’s great that France has incorporated this in the law. It’s not enough to just criminalize sex buyers, it is crucial to create opportunities for the women in prostitution to get away from the industry. Many of the girls are broken, abused, alcohol or drug addicted and suffer from a very low self-esteem. In Sweden the County Administrative Board in Stockholm was commissioned by the Government to develop an aid program for the rehabilitation of victims of trafficking and prostitution.
The mission was to strengthen and develop support with respect to the exposed situation, trauma, vulnerability and potential threats. The goal was to identify measures that were needed to ensure the person’s future through education and work, and to reduce the risk of ending up in prostitution again or of re-trafficking. Every country needs to have an action plan against trafficking which also includes funding of exit programs. Considering the great human rights abuses within human trafficking and the sex industry, it is very surprising that Australia has no publicly funded exit programs. During our visits and hearing in the Australian parliaments, we strongly recommended this.
The French law also mandates programs in educating young people and in raising public awareness that prostitution is linked to the commodification of the body as “a form of violence against women.” Is this a measure you hope would be included in passage of legislation in other countries in future?
Education on these issues is crucial and has a reducing effect on demand. The French law is very interesting in this regard. We definitely think other countries should take a close look and follow the French example. Young people are vulnerable, and there are many examples of young girls being groomed and lured into prostitution and abuse through the Internet. Education is a way to teach young people of the risks of prostitution and the abuse and violence that are associated with it. Every young person has the right to know that they are valuable and priceless and that women and their bodies are not commodities that could be bought and sold.
You have been visiting Australia and speaking with MPs here. How have they responded? Do you think Australia has a long way to go before there is political will to see the Nordic model adopted here or are you more hopeful?
Some politicians have been very positive, but we have also met some opposition. The knowledge about the Nordic Model is generally low and there are myths and rumors circulating that are not correct and therefore it is very important to bring the actual facts. There is a crystal clear link between prostitution and trafficking for sexual purposes. Millions of people are suffering; most of them are women and children. It is a global issue and we need a global strategy to combat trafficking and the exploitation of victims.
The Nordic model has proved to be an important tool to prevent and counteract the establishment of human trafficking and organized crime. Attitudes can change fast and we believe we are witnessing a trend toward the Nordic approach in Europe and other countries and we think Australia needs keep up with the rest of the world.
Please watch it and think about the plight of the persecuted, unwanted, stateless Rohingya peoples, trafficked, sold, taken hostage for ransom (there already destitute families give what little they have and when the money runs out their loved ones are murdered), raped – often to death. This undercover investigation shows how Thai authorities are complicit in their trafficking from Burma and their suffering in Thai jungle camps. I’m trying to find out if our Government is doing anything to pressure the Thai Government to investigate their killings. And of course we should be offering sanctuary here, there is no question they are fleeing persecution.
On Wednesday at Readings bookstore in Carlton, Melbourne, I’ll be emceeing the launch and Q&A for Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism (Connor Court publishing) a collected of 20 authors edited by writer and law tutor Miranda Kiraly and writer and RMIT research fellow Meagan Tyler. Last week I published an extract from the book’s introduction. Today, as promised, is another extract, titled ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!’: moving beyond ‘a woman’s choice’ by Canadian feminist and blogger Meghan Murphy whose work I’ve been privileged to publish here at MTR quite a few times.
‘A woman’s choice’ is, without a doubt, a central tenet of feminist discourse. Creating options and choices – real choices – for women, not simply the illusion of choice within the very narrow confines of capitalist patriarchy, is a fundamental and appropriate goal for the feminist movement. But what we’ve seen evolve from that notion over the past 20 years is something of a different beast.
The ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!’ ethos of ’90s riot grrrl feminism, which some attribute as the beginnings of the third wave, is appealing, especially to younger women. It can feel very empowering to imagine you are throwing off society’s chains, embracing and rejecting, all at once, restrictive, misogynist labels such as ‘slut’ and ‘whore’, as Bikini Kill lead singer, Kathleen Hanna famously did, taking off her top at her shows, to reveal the word ‘slut’ written across her stomach. Before Hanna, Madonna became a feminist icon of sorts during the ’80s in a similar way, embracing ‘sexy’ clothing and imagery. She was seen as representative of a woman taking control of her sexuality and using her femininity to gain power. But while this kind of reclaiming of traditionally sexist or male-defined imagery and language might feel temporarily liberating, the question of whether, for example, we can ‘reclaim’ the word ‘slut’ or make sexualisation or objectification our own, simply by choosing to, is less straightforward.
In 2011, a Canadian police officer suggested to students at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto that ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised’. These comments instigated the first ‘SlutWalk’ march, which took place in Toronto on 3 April 2011. The marches spread around the world to places such as Las Vegas, Melbourne, Bhopal, and Sao Paulo. ‘SlutWalk’ was heralded as the third wave incarnation of Take Back the Night. A blogger for Ms. Magazine wrote about the march that took place in Los Angeles in 2012: ‘It’s that third wave-y feel – that individualistic empowerment – that has made “SlutWalk” popular among young women,’ adding that the marches were ‘less emotionally intense than anti-rape rallies such as Take Back the Night, “SlutWalk” is more for spectacle.’ This is a pretty accurate assessment, but ‘popularity’ and a lighter message do not necessarily translate into ‘better’, when it comes to radical movements.
Rather than focusing on attacking male violence against women and rape culture, the marches seemed performative, and prioritised media attention. From the outset there was a focus on personal, individual notions of empowerment and the ‘right’ to wear sexy clothing – that ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!’ mantra dominated. Performing to the male gaze was positioned as a positive thing, so long as women were choosing objectification.
It didn’t take long before the marches began promoting the sex industry as an empowering personal choice for women, many of them actively advocating for the legalisation of prostitution. In New York City, the march featured lingerie-wearing pole dancers, and ‘SlutWalk’ Las Vegas created a slogan that described ‘sex work’ as something women enjoyed: ‘Slut isn’t a look, it’s an attitude. And whether you enjoy sex for pleasure or work, it’s never an invitation to violence.’ What was erased by ‘SlutWalk’s focus on ‘choice’ and personal empowerment was the context within which women make ‘choices’, particularly with regard to their ‘choice’ to work in the sex industry or to ‘self-objectify’, whether in a strip club, on Instagram, or on the street.
In 2011, ‘SlutWalk’ organisers in Washington DC planned a fundraiser at a strip club. From a feminist perspective, the idea of holding a fundraiser for a supposedly feminist event in a place that exists to further entrench the image of women as sexy objects that exist for male pleasure seemed odd, to say the least. When challenged, the organisers responded: ‘This is a non-judgmental movement that embraces all choices a woman wishes to make.’ But what does that mean, exactly? Are we so ‘supportive’ of ‘women’s choices’ that we are incapable of understanding and being critical of the context of sexism and classism that might lead women to ‘choose’ to work in a strip club? And that, rather than criticising ‘women’s choices’ when we challenge the sex industry, we are actually challenging male power and men’s choices to objectify and exploit women for their own pleasure/ gain and an economy that fails to offer women opportunities to make a decent living that does not involve stripping, prostitution, or pornography.
In the face of severe lack of choice, ‘SlutWalk’ opted, not to push back, but to simply reframe the conversation. ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ was the message; as though if we can convince women (and society at large) that the sex industry can empower them, or if a few individual women claim they enjoy their work as strippers or escorts, then everything will be fine.
In the face of ongoing and virulent misogyny, sexual harassment, rape culture, porn culture, and violence against women, liberal feminism and the third wave seem to have taken the easy route, focusing on ‘choice’ and personal identity rather than confronting the root of the problem…
Of late, it has become standard to talk about ‘choice’ in terms of individual choice rather than collective choice (and collective freedom), as though ‘my choice’ could not possibly affect anyone in the world except me. And, as though ‘her choice’ can somehow negate any justifiable criticism or questioning of said choice or the context within which said choice was made. Used in this context, it is a way a shutting down the conversation. And where would feminism be (and where will it go) without conversation and critique? We can be critical of choices without actually shaming women. We need to think critically about our choices if we are to understand and challenge the larger systems of power that impact our choices.
In the face of ongoing and virulent misogyny, sexual harassment, rape culture, porn culture, and violence against women, liberal feminism and the third wave seem to have taken the easy route, focusing on ‘choice’ and personal identity rather than confronting the root of the problem…
Many critics do see this ‘anything goes’/‘I do what I want’ mantra as being one the more significant weaknesses of the third wave, and of ‘postfeminist’ discourse; and while this attitude is not universally applicable to the entire wave, it certainly seems to have built considerable momentum. Does anything and everything count as ‘feminist’ just because we choose it?
While making choices for ourselves can most certainly be empowering, and while I would never advocate against a woman’s right to choose to wear stilettos, take her husband’s name in marriage, or even to sell sex, that she can or does make this choice does not equate to ‘feminism’. To make a choice for oneself – no matter how good or strong or fulfilled it might make us feel – does not necessarily advance the rights or status of women globally and it does not push back against the system of patriarchy. While feeling good is great, it does not constitute political change. In other words, feminism is a movement, not a self-help book.
… individual choices, divorced from that context, do not equate to feminist acts. Beyond that, the fetishisation of individual choice actually erases that context and the fact that patriarchy is a system of power. If we pretend that a woman’s choice to, say, get breast augmentation surgery is a feminist choice because it is a woman who is making that choice, we ignore the context behind that choice – objectification, body-hatred, capitalism, porn culture – all things that contribute to the oppression of women as a whole.
Conveniently for capitalism and patriarchy, if any choice a woman makes is viewed as liberating or ‘feminist’, she can even ‘choose’ to support both systems and no one has the right to challenge her. In ‘choice feminism’, if a woman ‘chooses’ to produce pornography which, in turn, contributes to the oppression and objectification, not only of the women acting in pornography, but of women as a class and contributes to the billion-dollar pornography industry, her choice remains untouchable because she is a woman making a choice that empowers her. Maybe she even identifies as a feminist! Even better. Now pornography is feminist – just like that.
Famous burlesque performer, Dita Von Teese, is quoted as saying, in defence of critics who call her act disempowering for women: ‘How can it be disempowering when I’m up there for seven minutes and I’ve just made $20 000? I feel pretty powerful.’ This statement embodies the problem with today’s ‘choice feminism’, making ‘power’ about the individual at the expense of others. Beyond that, if money is the primary basis upon which we decide what empowers women and what does not, we are in danger of colluding with a system that is responsible for the exploitation and oppression of millions of people worldwide. If women are compensated in exchange for their objectified bodies or in exchange for sex acts, that doesn’t actually challenge the sexist ideas behind that objectification and exploitation. We’re left in the same position we started, despite the fact that Von Teese can buy a few more pairs of Louboutins.
‘Choice’, and the feminist context within which it was born, has been co-opted by dominant systems and the ideology of liberal feminism, and they have made it their own. We are now being told what choice and freedom looks like by those who have no particular interest in feminism or in ending gendered oppression. Those systems are the ones who tell us that being radical, or revolutionary or feminist even, is bad. That we will be picked on and attacked if we ask for too much or the wrong kind of freedom and empowerment. They offer us their version of choice, and tell us that empowerment is easily available to us – it’s just got to be pleasant. And sexy. And, hey guess what! We don’t even need the feminist movement anymore! We can ‘choose’ to objectify ourselves now because we are free. Slap an ‘empowering’ label on it and voilà! It’s freedom and everyone else needs to shut up because ‘it’s a choice’.
Well, no. It isn’t as simple as that. Feminism is about resisting patriarchy, not about being able to just join in. We don’t ‘win’ because we can act in oppressive ways just as men do. When we argue either that sexism will happen with or without us, so we may as well participate and make the best of it, or that if women can profit financially, this will somehow erase sexism. Presenting a radical challenge to patriarchy is not just going along with it, it is not being told by Girls Gone Wild producers what freedom looks like or that because one woman is getting rich from strip shows we are all, consequently, emancipated.
Choice without politics or theory behind it doesn’t hold power. ‘Choice’ at the expense of others – particularly the marginalised – is not radical nor does it promote equality. ‘Choosing’ to objectify ourselves, for example, is not what our second wave sisters meant when they fought for the ‘right to choose’. And empowerment, through choice, was never intended to be about individual women, but rather about empowerment on a large scale, and freedom from oppression for all marginalised people…
‘Many women are reasserting that feminism is a necessary social movement for the equality and liberation of all women, not just platitudes about choices for some’
Editor, writer and law tutor Miranda Kiraly and writer and RMIT research fellow Meagan Tyler, have a new and timely book out. It’s called Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism (Connor Court publishing) which brings together 20 authors discussing the limits to the ‘pop feminist’ approach to freedom for women and its failure to change the status quo. The contributors, state the book’s back cover blurb, “confront the dangers of reducing feminism to a debate about personal choice, and offer the possibility of change through collective action”.
I was delighted to be asked by Miranda and Meagan (who wrote the excellent chapter ‘Pornography as Sexual Authority: How Sex Therapy Promotes the Pornification of Sexuality’ for Big Porn Inc– edited by me and Dr. Abigail Bray and published by Spinifex Press ) to emcee the May 20 launch and Q and A event at Readings Carlton (Vic). In the lead up, here’s an extract from the book’s introduction. I’ll also publish an extract from Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy’s chapter ‘I do what I want, fuck yeah!: moving beyond “a woman’s choice”’, in the next few days.
Miranda Kiraly and Meagan Tyler
Something is happening. For all the talk of a ‘postfeminist’ era over the last decade, there are now ever-increasing signs of a feminist resurgence. The visibility of feminist activism has led everyone from female singers and celebrities, to male political leaders, to start talking about the f-word, and even to start claiming the label ‘feminist’ for themselves. Something is definitely happening but what, exactly, is it?
With the rising tide of interest in all things feminist, there has been a rush to promote a popular brand of ‘feminism-lite’ or ‘fun feminism’ that does not offend or overtly threaten existing power structures. The mainstreaming of the feminist brand has left ‘feminism’ as little more than a sticker that anyone and everyone can now apply, largely because it has lost all sense of intellectual rigour or political challenge. This version of populist feminism embodies notions of empowerment, choice, and the individual above all else. It has been shaped, primarily, by liberal feminism, and the contributors in this volume also refer to it as third wave feminism, popular feminism, or choice feminism.
Individualism lies at the heart of liberal feminism, championing the benefits of ‘choice’ and the possibility that freedom is within reach, or occasionally, that it already exists should women choose to claim it. It also pushes – sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly – the fallacy that substantive equality has already been achieved and that the pursuit of opportunity lies solely in women’s hands. Liberal feminism has helped recast women’s liberation as an individual and private struggle, rather than one which acknowledges the systemic shortcomings of existing systems of power and privilege that continue to hold women back, as a class. Women’s liberation has been reduced to a series of personal statements about whether women like or dislike particular aspects of themselves or their lives.
This problem is not new. In 1990, contributors to The Sexual Liberalsand the Attack on Feminism bemoaned essentially the same thing: that ‘feminism’ had moved from a critique of – and collective resistance to – patriarchal oppression, towards an individualised, liberal model of ‘choice’. Indeed, Catharine MacKinnon, in a piece titled ‘Liberalism and the Death of Feminism’, for that collection, posited that liberalism is the very antithesis of a movement for women’s liberation. As she put it:
Where feminism was collective, liberalism is individualist … Where feminism is socially based and critical, liberalism is naturalistic, attributing the product of women’s oppression to women’s natural sexuality, making it ‘ours’. Where feminism criticises the ways in which women have been socially determined in an attempt to change that determination, liberalism is voluntaristic, meaning it acts like we have choices that we do not have. Where feminism is based on material reality, liberalism is based on some ideal realm in the head. And where feminism is relentlessly political, about power and powerlessness, the best that can be mustered by this nouveau movement is a watered down form of moralism: this is good, this is bad, no analysis of power of powerlessness at all.
These comparisons seem just as relevant and compelling as when they were first published, some 25 years ago. Many of our contributors pick up these issues again and consider them in the current context; a context in which the kinds of liberal feminism that MacKinnon was critical of have taken centre stage and seem to have become, in the coverage of much of the mainstream media, the be all and end all of feminist thought.
As Natalie Jovanovski notes in her chapter, it should not be surprising that liberal feminism has risen to prominence. It is generally seen to be less threatening to the status quo and reassures mainstream audiences that feminists are not a scary ‘other’. But far from occupying some middle ground of inoffensiveness, the emphasis on ‘choice’ in much liberal feminist writing is actually rather extreme. It strips women’s lives of context and makes it sound as though our ‘choices’ are made in a political and cultural vacuum. Each of our contributors, therefore, seeks to talk about the importance of power, context and culture, rather than individual choice and agency alone. Understanding and acknowledging the environment of women’s inequality goes to the heart of what is meant by the ‘freedom fallacy’ of this collection’s title. That is, there can be no freedom, no liberation, when the available choices are only constructed on the basis of gross inequity. More ‘choice’, or even a greater ability to choose, does not necessarily mean greater freedom.
Amid this dominance of liberal feminist orthodoxy, resistance is forming among a wide range of women. There is even talk of an emerging ‘fourth wave’ of feminism breaking in the United Kingdom and the United States; a movement that seeks to engage collective action and to address structural inequality, subjugation, and exploitation of women and girls, often at a grassroots level. Media outlets are struggling to conceptualise this emerging wave of feminism, and continue to attempt to simplistically slot it into a left–right, or generational, divide. Like many feminist movements before it, this new wave does not comfortably fit the mould of traditional politics, because it recognises that women’s interests have been neglected across the political spectrum. As a result, there is a wide variety of criticism that we have been able to draw on for this collection. What unites our contributors in this book is not a single perspective – there is a range of different feminist positions included – but rather, a unified belief that liberation cannot be found at a purely individual level, nor can it be forged from adapting to, or simply accepting, existing conditions of oppression.
Hopefully, if you have picked up this book, you already recognise the systemic conditions of women’s inequality… women still face unbearably high levels of sexual violence and millions of women around the world do not even have the limited protection that marital rape law affords. Activists are still fighting all around the world for the rights of girls and women not to be mutilated and exploited. Pornography and the trafficking of women and girls are booming global businesses trading primarily in sexual exploitation. Our contributors write about these injustices as existing on a continuum … each shap[ing] women’s social, cultural, political and material subordination.
…[A]ctivities which were once held up as the archetypes of women’s subordinate status are now held up as liberating personal ‘choices’. Sexual harassment becomes reframed as harmless banter that women can enjoy too. … Labiaplasty becomes a useful cosmetic enhancement. Pornography becomes sexual liberation. Sexual objectification becomes a barometer of self-worth.
…This collection aims to challenge the limits of key liberal feminist concepts and to critique the idea that it is possible to find freedom simply by exercising ‘choice’ in a world in which women, as a class, are still not considered to be of fully equal human worth to men.
While Time magazine may be questioning whether or not feminism is still needed in 2015, prominent figures from previous waves of the women’s liberation movement are certain it is desperately needed now, perhaps even more than in previous decades. As Germaine Greer recently declared: ‘Liberation hasn’t happened …Things have got a lot worse for women since I wrote The Female Eunuch.’ It is in recognition of the deep-seated problems that we still face, that several of our contributors emphasise the need for collective action to again be at the heart of feminist activism. This is crucially important and has been sidelined in popular discussions about whether or not certain women are ‘bad feminists’, or make acceptably feminist ‘choices’. This simply operates to blame individual women for their circumstances instead of casting light on the issues of structural and material inequality that affect women as a class.
…We wanted to include new voices to sit alongside contributions from those with longstanding experience and more established platforms. The inclusion of a number of women, relatively new to the movement, represents, in part, the fact that there is indeed something happening, and that there is a need for us to challenge the prevailing liberal feminist standard. It also illustrates the point made by Finn Mackay, in her chapter on the supposed generational division between second wave and third wave feminists, that chronology and age have little to contribute to enhancing our understandings of feminist theory and action. Instead, it is a question of ideology that distinguishes the different branches of feminist thought and action.
…This book is best understood as a radical challenge to the dominance of liberal feminist discourse in the public sphere. For some of our contributors this is imperative because, as they understand it, the liberal feminist model does not represent small steps in the right direction, but rather actively inhibits real change. For others, liberal feminism can still be seen to have made some contribution to the women’s liberation movement. As Andrea Dworkin once quipped: ‘I do think liberal feminists bear responsibility for a lot of what’s gone wrong,’ but she also added, ‘I have a really strong belief that any movement needs both radicals and liberals. You always need women who can walk into the room in the right way, talk in the right tone of voice, who have access to power. But you also need a bottom line.’ We hope that this book demonstrates the limits of the liberal feminist approach and the importance of reinforcing that bottom line.
Miranda Kiraly is an editor, writer and law tutor from Melbourne, Australia. She has authored publications on law and politics, including ‘Bittersweet Charity’ in Really Dangerous Ideas (Connor Court, 2013) and ‘Where Does the Private Domain Start and the Public End’ in Turning Left and Right: Values in Modern Politics (Connor Court, 2013). Miranda previously worked in federal politics as a speechwriter and researcher. From 2009–2013, she was a leading discussant for the Liberal Book Club.
Meagan Tyler is a vice-chancellor’s research fellow at RMIT University, Australia. Her research focuses on the social construction of gender and sexuality. Her work has been published in Rural Studies, Women’s Studies International Forum and Women and Therapy as well as several edited collections, including Everyday Pornography (Routledge, 2010) and Prostitution, Harm and Gender Inequality (Ashgate, 2012). Meagan is also the author of Selling Sex Short: The Pornographic and Sexological Construction of Women’s Sexuality in the West (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2011).
I wrote earlier how the sex industry went into overdrive over some fair questioning on ABC Lateline last week. The industry’s meltdown over the program demonstrated how hostile it is to any light being shed on the realities of the business of sexploitation which profits from the bodies of women. This blog post exposes the facts about the Scarlet Alliance, which receives Federal and State Government grants to address trafficking – which is funny if it wasn’t so sad – Scarlet Alliance doesn’t even believe in trafficking. It doesn’t even think brothels who sell trafficked women should be penalised, and wants no organised exit programs for women who want to get out of the industry. So why are out taxes propping them up? The money should be diverted into services that actually help real women rather than benefitting the brothel owners, pimps profiteers and vested interests of the prostitution trade.
The Scarlet Alliance/Sex Worker Collective’s Misogyny. Why They Should Not Be funded.
March 16, 2015
I have appropriated the pimp lobby’s red umbrella to fight for the Nordic Model.
Perhaps everyone who actually cares about women in prostitution can use this as a profile pic- although, I realise my creation is not very pretty. I have no sympathy for the Scarlet Alliance and the whole red umbrella collective crying how oppressed and stigmatised they are. They never helped me, and as evidenced below, they never will help anyone trying to leave the industry. Too much money to be made trading in human beings. They are among the scum of the earth and treat prostituted women like shit. But don’t take my word for it- here are just the facts.
“Evidence of SCARLET ALLIANCE’S opposition to Federal Government Policies to stem Human Trafficking
1. Opposition to exit programs
Scarlet Alliance publicly opposes exit programs to support trafficked women wanting to leave the sex industry.[i]
2. Denies the reality of human trafficking for sexual exploitation
Scarlet Alliance refuses to acknowledge that sex slavery exists and claims that leaving prostitution is an individual decision for which there should be no government intervention.[ii]Scarlet Alliance’s policy is to have “sex work” considered equivalent to any other professional occupation.
3. Opposition to making debt bondage an offence
Scarlet Alliance is opposed to debt bondage being an offence under State Government crime legislation[iii]
4. Opposition to any controls on prostitution
Scarlet Alliance opposes all laws, regulations, rules or policies for the sex industry.Yet it asserts that the safety of “sex workers” should be prioritised over all industry or community concerns.[iv]
5. Opposed to penalties for knowingly using trafficked women:
The Scarlet Alliance is opposed to criminalisation of intentionally, knowingly or recklessly obtaining sexual services from trafficked women.[v]
6. Opposes penalties for brothel owners knowingly using trafficked women:
Scarlet Alliance has publicly declared its opposition to any form of sanction or penalty for brothel owners who knowingly engage and exploit trafficked persons.[vi]
7. Opposes police checks on brothels
Scarlet Alliance has declared its opposition to giving Police a more flexible right of entry to legal or illegal brothels.[vii]
8. Opposition to any kind of police involvement in policing of prostitution.
It believes that police should be removed from any administrative or regulatory role in the sex industry. This belief makes mockery of the fact that Scarlet Alliance also claims that people “working” in the sex industry should be afforded police protection.[viii]
9. Opposition to police giving trafficking a higher priority
Scarlet Alliance is opposed to police being trained to be more aware of the signs of human trafficking and giving it a higher priority.They are also opposed to increasing public awareness about sex trafficking and sexual slavery.[ix]
10. Claims human trafficking is a myth
Scarlet Alliance claims that trafficking is a myth produced by media hype, anti-trafficking and anti-slavery organisations[x]. It believes that anti trafficking raids have forced “sex workers” “underground”.This position makes a mockery of the fact that Scarlet Alliance contributed to the development of the Guidelines for NGOs Working with Trafficked People.[xi]
11. Opposition to provision of refuges for trafficked women
It beggars belief, but Scarlet Alliance is opposed to the establishment of appropriately funded refuges for trafficked women, and they oppose assistance and support being provided to victims of trafficking.[xii]
They oppose these services to victims lest attention be drawn to the evil of human trafficking which, in turn, would make it difficult to argue that “sex work” is the equivalent of any other professional occupation
12. Opposition to public awareness programs for clients of prostitution:
Scarlet Alliance is opposed to any advertising that alerts purchasers (johns)and prospective purchasers (johns)of sexual service to the existence of the crime of sexual trafficking.[xiii]
It wants the public to remain in denial about the existence and magnitude of sex trafficking on the grounds that this would give a bad name to “sex work” in general.
13. Opposition to anything that hinders the promotion of sex work
Anything that hinders the promotion of “sex work”.[xiv]
Wants to promote sex work and 457 visas for sex work.
Scarlet Alliance wants to promote “sex work” as a legitimate occupation; it claims that “sex workers” should become entitled to 457 Visas and that brothel owners should be eligible sponsors of “migrant sex workers” (i.e trafficked women) to give more respectability to the pursuit of professional “sex work”.[xv]
Scarlet Alliance claims that “sex work” should be considered legitimate in all its forms, including brothel, private escort and street based work. No licensing model should apply.[xvi]”
So this is for anyone still wondering why they oppose the Nordic Model, which decriminalises the prostituted and instead calls the men who buy and sell us the criminals. For anyone still wondering if they have a point and if this is all about sex being taboo and “stigma” and blah, blah, blah. For anyone wondering if you yourself should oppose a model which provides exiting strategies and funding for women trying to leave prostitution .You can have a think about their ethics, their chants of “sex worker rights!”, their actual misogyny parading as some personal, stigmatised oppression from “moralists” and “rescuers”. You can have a think about how these ‘advocates’ who claim to be “run by sex workers, for sex workers”, even if they are in management positions and don’t have to sell sex at all ! treat women such as myself and so many others who actually give a shit about women. Would you call a woman entered into prostitution as a child a “Migrant Sex Worker”? And what would you give to know back then, when you were being “liberal” and “Choosy-Choice”, what you know right now?
They are calling for more funding . The Scarlet Alliance just received an extra of $960,000,(on top of the funding they have already received, which adds up to millions), for their place on a board to fight sex-trafficking.
Yes, you read that right. A group which denies sex-trafficking exists is on an advisory panel with the Abbott Government’s National Anti-Trafficking Plan.
The sex industry’s reaction to even mild questioning of its position demonstrates how any discussion about prostitution is shut down in Australia.
When an industry is used to having its way day after day and rarely being called to account, it’s a rare moment when a serious national current affairs program such as ABC’s Lateline (welcome back!) decides to explore the realities of life for women in the industry, give voice to survivors and provide coverage of the Nordic Model which criminalises not the prostituted women but the buyers of these women, now taken up by a number of countries.(Last year, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe both passed non-binding motions on prostitution that recommended the adoption of the Nordic Model throughout Europe and France has also taken steps to adopt the same).
This is one clip of four from the Lateline program March 13. (The other interviews can be found on Lateline’s website). This extract, titled ‘Reaching out to Sex Workers’ shows Kate Connett, an outreach worker with Project Respect, on her brothel visitation rounds. As a survivor of the industry herself, Kate’s bravery is commendable. Thank you for speaking out Kate.
Lateline’s coverage was fair. Pro sex industry figures and Nordic model critics were represented. But even this mild coverage was attacked by the Scarlett Alliance and their friends especially on social media (search twitter @Lateline @Scarlett Alliance #Lateline). We need to ask why the sex work movement is so hostile to any suggestion that prostitution harms women? Looks like a case of vested interests, with the industry doing all it can to silence dissent.
The sex industry’s reaction to even mild questioning of the its position demonstrates how any discussion about prostitution is shut down in Australia.
However a new movement – led by a number of women who were once involved in the sex industry – is calling on Australia to adopt the NORDIC model. It is growing in strength daily and so many of us are hoping that a policy model which recognises prostitution as violence against women and punishes the perpetrators and not the victims, is implemented here as soon as possible.
…Hedges went on to say, “This is just an example of the utter hypocrisy of the liberal establishment which, on this issue, has abandoned poor women – primarily poor women of colour – to a form of sexual slavery and abuse.”
He calls Collis’ response “an example of how spineless and morally bankrupted the liberal establishment is, particularly on this issue as well as on many others. Every time it’s uncomfortable to stand up for something they run for the exit door. Yet they position themselves as moral or good people.”
Have you seen the recent bus “gang rape-inspired” photo shoot in India? Or Vogue Italia’s video showing a woman killed by an intruder in her house? Or the Bulgarian makeup ad showing bruised women with the tagline “Victim of Beauty”?
There appears to be a theme of fashion advertising increasingly using images of women being killed or tortured or violated in some way, usually by men.
What’s this all about?
The human rights organisation has forgotten the importance of procedural human rights
Prostitution is not just an intellectual concept to many participants in the debate; it comes with real memories, trauma, smells, sights and feelings. It is a ‘debate’ felt in the body, and survivors of all kinds of sexual violence can come away from the discussion shell shocked
The ‘controversy’ and ‘battle’ over prostitution and pornography that prevails in public debate and academia might be fun for some. For those who haven’t been prostituted, whether or not one stands in solidarity with survivors or ‘sex workers’, the debate might be an engaging intellectual challenge that gives life meaning and purpose.
The terms of argument and rebuttal on the issue are certainly rigorous and potentially invigorating for some involved as bystanders. Some of these bystanders might even be stimulated at the sight of prostitution survivors vs. ‘sex workers’ battling it out in public, like a mud-wrestling match.
Discussion on ideas and policy approaches to prostitution and pornography touches on issues of life and death for millions of people around the world. Sexual violence, mental illness, drug addiction, disease and suicide are primary factors of consideration, no matter what policy approach is favoured.
Even those of us not prostituted may understand we are participating in a discussion that has serious human consequences. We might be in awe of survivors who speak out in their own names and mobilise and educate the public on their own behalf. We might want to support and facilitate their work at every opportunity.
And so we should. In fact, the lives of millions of women and girls around the world depend on us doing so. But I think our commitment to public debate on prostitution and pornography needs to be backed by an equal commitment to safeguarding the human rights of the population at issue in the conduct of this debate, whether they call themselves survivors or ‘sex workers’.
We might begin to protect these procedural human rights through encouraging forms of public engagement that do not pit prostitution survivors against ‘sex workers’. The unedifying sight of bystanders taking sides and cheering on survivors and ‘sex workers’ as they battle it out in public is surely something to be avoided on human rights grounds.
Prostitution is not just an intellectual concept to many participants in the debate; it comes with real memories, trauma, smells, sights and feelings. It is a ‘debate’ felt in the body, and survivors of all kinds of sexual violence can come away from the discussion shell shocked.
Regardless of whether these participants take a survivor or ‘sex worker’ view, the harms are the same, and can be serious. They are particularly serious when deniers of the harms of prostitution publicly attack survivors as ‘weak’ or ‘ill-suited’, and blame them for their trauma.
Amnesty International recently set up its own mud-wrestling match on prostitution when it sought feedback from members worldwide on a series of ‘policy background’ documents that canvassed the possibility of organisational support for decriminalising the sex industry and its customers.
Rhetorically, the consultation process was framed as a discussion about support for decriminalising people in prostitution, but there is almost no-one in the organisation who disagrees with this suggestion, and this was the existing policy of the organisation anyway, so this framing was just a red herring.
Rather, the consultation process sought to gauge membership resistance to the idea of supporting the ‘human rights’ of prostitution buyers. The mud-wrestling match that ensued was predictable, and should have been anticipated by Amnesty International. It caused prostitution survivors a great deal of time, money, energy and heartache in trying to convince the world that buying prostitution is not a human right.
Amnesty International paid no mind to this cost that would be worn by survivors when it lobbed its volley on prostitution into the international arena. The organisation did no advance groundwork to strengthen or support prostitution survivor organisations so they might be less burdened by the consultation process, nor did the organisation put in any structural safeguards or checks to make sure the consultation process wouldn’t unreasonably impose harm on survivors. There was no training or education of AI members in human rights approaches to engaging with survivors or ‘sex workers’, nor was the organisation even apparently aware of the existence of international prostitution survivor organisations before embarking on the consultation.
Amnesty members worldwide have no doubt benefited from the consultation process and all the knowledge and awareness of the ‘debate’ on prostitution it has brought them. But these benefits to members have come at the cost of prostitution survivors and ‘sex workers’. Amnesty International is a human rights organisation, but it forgot about the importance of procedural human rights.
A human rights approach to engagement with oppressed, tortured, violated and vulnerable populations does not further disadvantage these populations in the process, nor does it use these populations as tools of education and awareness about human rights issues. Amnesty did not uphold this important principle in its recent ‘consultation’ on prostitution, and for this the organisation needs act. The current consultation needs to be dismantled, and a new process respecting procedural human rights put in place.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, and member of Amnesty Australia.
There is no excuse to deny or ignore the undeniable exploitation of countless human beings
People have been asking me my thoughts on the recent and sad reports that Somaly Mam’s story of being trafficked into prostitution as a child are not true.
I know many good people who have selflessly supported Mam’s work in Cambodia for many years. I commend them and know their fund raising efforts have done much good. My view is that while the founder of any movement or organisation can be flawed, the movement itself, when it is good and necessary, should not rise or fall because of the faults of its founder. This article by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women’s Taina Bien-Aime in the Huffington Post captures my broader thoughts on the matter.
The Somaly Mam Story: What We Still Know About Sex Trafficking
…What the Somaly Mam story highlights is a state of affairs that many of us in the social change movement bemoan, namely that simple stories of exploitation rarely grab the public’s imagination, the donors, or the press. Unless the overdone images of runny noses, torn clothing, or worse, naked children in a cage waiting to be sold, are splashed on glossy pages, the actual suffering of human beings too often fails to trigger widespread empathy or outrage.
In addition to this heightened need for sensationalism, our society craves numbers. Suffering in small quantities is rarely enough. Given the undercover and “hidden in plain sight” crimes of human trafficking, no entity has been definitively able to pin down the actual number of victims. From the United Nations to national statistics, the numbers range widely from 2.5 million to 20.9 million. Irrespective of the range, all agree that the majority of those estimated individuals are women and children with a majority of that group ending up in the sex trade. In a recent report, the International Labor Organization estimated that profits from human trafficking generated $150 billion, two-thirds of which, or $90 billion, stem from commercial sexual exploitation.
Cambodia is designated as a source, transit and destination country for labor and sex trafficking. The U.S. State Department also found that the sale of virgin women and girls continues to be a problem and that Cambodian men form the “largest source of demand for child prostitution.” Regardless of its founder’s personal failings, the Somaly Mam Foundation has plenty of urgent work ahead.
In collaboration with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, Dr. Melissa Farley, of Prostitution Research and Education, interviewed 133 Cambodian men who purchased commercial sex. The study shows that almost all of these male buyers interviewed in Phnom Penh stated that they witnessed extreme violence inflicted on the prostituted women, more often than not controlled by pimps. The men surveyed also saw children available for paid sexual abuse in brothels, bars and massage parlors. One of the “johns” astutely said that “prostitution is the man’s heaven but it is also those girls’ hell.”
The Somaly Mam episode cannot be used as an excuse to deny or ignore the undeniable exploitation of countless human beings in the sex trade. Nor should it be a vehicle to call, as some mainstream human rights organizations are doing, for the full decriminalization of the sex industry, the equivalent of legalization of prostitution. A vision to end human rights abuses must be applicable to every person whose rights are trampled, including women sold and exploited in the sex trade. The right not to be prostituted cannot be trumped by the purported right of men to purchase women’s bodies. The history of the women’s movement to end violence shows time and again the difficulty for a violated woman, whether in domestic abuse, sexual assault, rape or discrimination, to be heard, to be believed, to receive justice…
These undeniable facts certainly do not condone fabrication, but the revelations about Somaly Mam cannot erase the horrors of the sex trade and the growing movement of genuine, courageous survivors exposing these truths. The misguided excuses to ignore this reality by promoting legitimization of exploitation, including identifying sex trafficked children as “sex workers”, must continue to be met with vigilance and concerted action.
Indigenous women and girls will be more vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking if Amnesty’s draft policy is endorsed
Petitioning International Secretariat of Amnesty International and Salil Shetty
Recognise that Amnesty International’s draft Policy on Prostitution endorses condone and promote the violation of human rights if passed at the Australian National AGM.
Abolish Prostitution Now
A PLEA FROM AN AUSTRALIAN INDIGENOUS WOMAN ON BEHALF OF ALL WOMEN
Dear Sisters, survivors and allies,
I am speaking as an exited prostituted woman and the grand-daughter of a Latje-Latje Indigenous woman in Australia. As many of you are aware Amnesty International have drafted a policy in favour of full decriminalisation of prostitution. They are actively opposing the Nordic Model which protects the prostituted from prosecution and decreases demand in favour of a policy which has been informed by the sex trade and one notable pimp.
Indigenous peoples are the most exploited peoples on Earth.
AI’s policy on prostitution seeks to ensure that the buying and selling of (mostly) women be seen as inevitable and just any other job. ‘Sex Worker ‘unions claiming to be helping prostituted women are actively promoting AI’s policy ensuring they too profit from our enslavement.
Many of you have written/co-signed letters from survivor groups and written as individuals
These have been an invaluable resource.
At this time here in Australia, a small and dedicated team have taken on our local Amnesty International branches. We have had some success, with two AI branches endorsing the Nordic Model and one calling for a halt on the policy until survivor’s voices have been heard.
However, we are soon going to take this to a National AGM and ask that you lend your support.
The pro-prostitution lobby is fierce, well-funded and we need your help.
I want to deliver a letter signed by Indigenous women worldwide.
Prostitution is not inevitable. Women are not commodities.
I ask that add your name, whether survivor or ally, after mine to our letter written below. This National AGM is taking place July 5-6 so we have very little time to collect signatures.
With sincere respect I ask that you support us in this significant time of change for women.
In solidarity and Sisterhood,
Simone Andrea (Watson) of Abolish Prostitution Now Amnesty Action
“To the International Secretariat of Amnesty International and Salil Shetty
We the undersigned demand recognition for the violation of human rights Amnesty International’s current draft Policy on Prostitution will endorse condone and promote if passed at the Australian National AGM.
As Indigenous survivors and allies of our Indigenous sisters worldwide we fully and without reservation demand that AI acknowledge on our behalf
* That Prostitution is not inevitable – but the result of demand
*That prostitution IS violence against women
*That trafficking and prostitution are NOT two different industries but each feed the other
* That AI’s current draft policy focuses on “harm minimization” and profit for pimps rather than prevention of our abuse and this is NOT acceptable.
* That full decriminalisation and legalisation of prostitution increases trafficking and further violence against Indigenous women and children.
*That in passing this current draft policy Amnesty International will go down in history as one of the worst offenders in human rights history along with colonialists, slave owners and human rights criminals.
*That Amnesty International concedes and thereby endorses the Nordic Model as the best way forward to end ongoing human rights violations against women as a caste globally.
Indigenous women of Australia and globally reject AI’s policy in its current form and demand that our voices be heard.
International Secretariat of Amnesty International and Salil Shetty, President
Simone Watson, Petition promoter
Recognise that Amnesty International’s current draft Policy on Prostitution will endorse condone and promote the violation of human rights if passed at the Australian National AGM.
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