Last year Western Australian Tavern The Sixty30 made an application to vary existing trading conditions to allow topless waitresses. Along with other members of the community and the Commissioner of Police, we lodged an objection on the basis that:
The use of women’s bodies in sexual entertainment and services is a form of prostitution
Sexual trade in women’s bodies both causes and contributes to gender inequality by reducing women to mere objects for men’s use and enjoyment, with adverse impacts on women who are directly involved as well as women as a whole
A significant body of research links sexual objectification of women with violence against women
Sexploitation venues pose a threat to women, with women reporting increased incidents of sexual harassment, abuse and violence in areas in close proximity to strip clubs
After months of deliberating, we are pleased to report that the taverns’ application was denied, after Liquor Licensing found there was insufficient evidence it would be in the public interest. Read the report here.
It is also important to distinguish between the public interest and private interests… the application is primarily concerned with the private financial interests of the Applicant and the operators of Perths Best Girls. Accordingly, I reiterate that the onus remains on the Applicant to demonstrate that the grant of the application is in the public interest, and this onus cannot be discharged by simply pointing to a desire to provide additional services at the licensed premises.
The Applicant has failed to produce sufficient, probative evidence to satisfy me that the grant of the application is in the public interest.
The tavern had attempted to argue there was demand for topless waitresses (with statements of support, the Commissioner noted, predominantly from male respondents). The Commission responded:
The evidence fell well short of establishing that the variation of the licence was in the public interest. Whilst “Dan the Man”, “Show me pussy”, “Robbo”, “Marshy”, “Bob”, “Jacko”, “Swanny”, “Fido”, and others may want to see strippers at the hotel based on their signing of the questionnaire, there is nothing before the Commission that is capable of establishing that the variation of the licence is in the public interest.
As always, we are grateful for your support and participation throughout the course of this campaign. Without it, we would not have achieved this victory.
This extract, quoting the mother of Grace Bellavue (Pippa O’Sullivan) is taken from ‘Sex Worker. Writer. Activist. Social Media Star. Who was the real Grace Bellavue?’ by Caroline Overington (writing in The Weekend Australian, September 10-11, and in the online version ‘Who was the real Grace Bellavue? Sex worker, writer, activist, social media star – the many faces of a smart, sassy, tragically flawed young woman’)
I want to know why this GP is still practicing. He must be deregistered immediately for what he did to Grace Bellavue after she sought help for mental illness. If he is not identified and dismissed, women in the industry will be even less likely to seek help, along with other women struggling with mental health issues, as well as women in general.
If anyone knows who he is please contact me. He is a threat to women and a disgrace to his profession.
The Courier-Mail is to be commended for its series on the hypersexualisation of our young people — especially the impacts on children by allowing them to be exposed to porn even before their first kiss.
What has been documented here in the Generation Sext campaign is what I’m hearing everywhere I go.
Educators, child welfare groups, childcare workers, mental health bodies, medicos and parents are reeling.
All are struggling to deal with the proliferation of hypersexualised imagery and its impacts on the most vulnerable — children who think what they see in porn is what real sex looks like.
They tell me about children using sexual language, children touching other children inappropriately, children playing “sex games” in the schoolyard, children requesting sexual favours, children showing other children porn on their devices, children distressed by explicit images they came across while searching an innocent term, children exposed to porn “pop ups” on sites featuring their favourite cartoon characters or while playing online games.
The website PornHub is in the top five favourite sites of boys aged 11-16 according to ChildWise UK. The biggest selling genres of porn are those eroticising violence.
Boys are viewing violent depictions of sex, torture, rape and incest. They are having their sexual arousal conditioned by depictions of extreme cruelty, seeing women being assaulted for sexual pleasure — all while their sexuality is under construction.
In Australia there has been a significant increase in reports of child on child sexual assault — identified as “copycat sexual predators”.
AMA vice-president Stephen Parnis says the internet is exposing children to sexually explicit content teaching them that sex is about “use and abuse”.
“There are increasing levels of aggression and the physical harm resulting from sexual acts is becoming more apparent,” he says.
The Australian Psychological Association has seen the problem first hand.
“Over the past decade, we have seen a growing trend of younger children engaging in problem sexual and sexually abusive behaviours generally aimed at younger children — in other words, children sexually assaulting children,” their Senate inquiry submission said.
“Pornography is providing too many 10-year-olds with the mechanical knowledge to anally, orally and/or vaginally penetrate younger siblings, cousins and acquaintances.”
Girls especially are bearing the brunt of porn-inspired boys who have imbibed a sense of entitlement to the bodies of women and girls.
We continue to hear the cry “Boys aren’t treating girls with respect!”. But there’s no mystery as to the reason.
Girls tell me about boys demanding sexual favours, demanding sex acts they don’t like, pressured to provide naked images (including girls as young as 11 and 12), being ranked compared to the bodies of porn stars.
One young woman told the South East Centre Against Sexual Assault: “When you have sex with a guy they want it to be like a porno. They want anal and oral right away. Oral is, like, the new kissing.”
There is a growing body of global literature testifying to how boys who take their sexual cues from porn develop sexist attitudes and aggressive behaviours — which has a trickle-down effect on women and girls.
For too many boys, the debasement they see on screen becomes real life debasement of girls.
In 2012, the UK Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection found that exposure to porn has a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image.
A 2012 review of research on the Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents found that adolescent consumption of internet pornography was linked to attitudinal changes, including acceptance of male dominance and female submission, with women viewed as “sexual playthings eager to fulfil male sexual desires”.
The authors found that “adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed”.
In Australia, one in four young men think it is OK to pressure women to have sex.
Pornography normalises and eroticises violence against women as sexy. We have more than enough warnings by frontline service agencies about a public health emergency involving near-saturation rates of pornography consumption among men and boys.
This assault on the healthy sexual development of children has to stop if we want our children to engage in healthy sexual exploration and respect-based relationships, to know what real intimacy feels like.
The problem is so big and so vast it requires a whole of community approach. Parents, schools, educators, the medical profession, welfare groups, governments and regulatory bodies have to take action.
Fortunately there are signs that young people want something better. This is a message I received from a young woman who heard me speak.
“Hi Melinda. I was really touched by what you had to say and you opened my eyes to what sort of world we live in and at 16 I’m disgusted and amazed at what girls my age have to go through.
“You said something about being asked for nudes and that and personally I didn’t know what you meant by that as I haven’t been asked to do that … until today.
“To tell you the truth I wouldn’t have known what to do about it if you didn’t speak about it and I’m very grateful to you. The boy asked me for a photo or video and I said no — that’s when he called me “lame”. But I immediately told him I am more than just my body and you shouldn’t treat me like a piece of meat and instantly blocked him.
“Thank you for telling me that and I hope I have done the right thing and myself and other girls are taking action and we want to make a difference.
“I want to help girls feel like they are worth something. So thanks again you are an inspiration to us all and I hope to join your cause — Tiffany, 16.”
Three sex industry survivors will share their stories at the Brisbane and Perth launches of Prostitution Narratives on October 6 and October 14. Alice and Ally-Marie will speak at the Brisbane launch this Thursday and Alice and Simone Watson at the Perth launch the following Friday at which contributor Caitlin Roper, who contributed a chapter on the Johns will also speak along with Dr Abigail Bray who will officially launch the book. Please register your interest on the FB events pages and share with friends.
Hear from two sex trade survivors and book contributors Simone Watson and Alice (‘Charlotte’) along with local Collective Shout activist Caitlin Roper who will speak about her chapter on the Johns and punters who buy women for sex.
US book reviewer Marilyn Brady, who writes at ‘Me, You, and Books’ has written a review which perfectly describes the impact we had hoped our book would have on those willing to give its contents a fair hearing – a re-consideration of the dominant, accepted (and often un-examined) viewpoint on the prostitution industry.
Prostitution Narratives: Stories in Survival in the Sex Trade, edited by Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist. Melbourne, Australia: Spinifex, 2016. 238 pages.
A powerful collection of stories written by women from various countries who survived their time in prostitution and are willing to talk about its violence, drug usage, and overall dehumanizing impact.
Australians Caroline Norma and Melinda Reist, a scholar and an activist, both have expertise about sexual violence. They know what prostitution looks like for those involved and have collected twenty stories and three articles to present their viewpoint and expose the seamy underside of the prostitution industry in developed nations.. Their purpose is to share stories that sharply contradict the rosy accounts of prostitution as ordinary work: stories spread by those who profit from it. In deliberate imitation of the American slave narratives, Norma and Reist believe that if the public faces the reality of prostitution, the practice can be ended. Reading their book, I see their point. I gained a troubling new awareness of the damage it does not only to the women who rent the use of their bodies, but also to the larger society in which prostitution is allowed to be practiced. I credit Prostitution Narratives for pushing me to think about prostitution differently.
Previously I had not realized the extent to which prostitution, like rape, is about violence. Women are used as objects, not simply for sexuality, but to absorb the physical abuse that angry men think they are entitled to use against them. Even if men do not hit or bite or choke, the female body is not meant to withstand penetration by a dozen or more men per night. I also had not considered the psychological cost of repeated sex with men who do not value women. As the stories repeatedly asserted, the way for woman to endure being a prostitute is to distance herself from what is happening to her body. Legal or illegal drugs may help her, but they take a toll on her, compounding the damage from sex itself. In addition, once caught up in prostitution it is very difficult to get out psychologically or practically.
Debates about prostitution and possible ways to end it allow all of us to distance ourselves into thinking about the practice as essentially harmless. Reading the stories of women who have lived through it changes that immediately. Even if we have no reliable statistics about the numbers of women who have been harmed, identifying with the victims gives us a seldom considered perspective and raises questions about why it is allowed even as an illegal, but tolerated practice.
After reading Prostitution Narratives, I began to consider the various ways in which prostitution is integral to how we as a society think. Those of us in “free” societies can be attracted to the libertarian view that men are free and entitled to do what they have the money to do. Men, perhaps, but not women. Prostitution exhibits the problem with that view. Nowhere else is entitlement of men over women taken to the extreme of his ability to buy time alone with a woman to abuse and harm her. Even boxing, proposed as a parallel example, is regulated to establish some measure of equality between the combatants.
Prostitution has long existed, of course, as a means for powerful men to exercise their dominance over those most powerless. Today the practice has been democratized, offering all men that privilege. Some prostitutes, like those working for the “DC Madam”, have created individual solutions to lessen the abuse through the wealth and visibility of the men who come to them. But as we know from other groups seeking paths out of oppression, success for a few does not guarantee survival of the whole group.
Proponents of prostitution try to normalize its practices, emphasizing the happy prostitutes and describing it as “sex work.” They claim that to attack it is to deny women their “autonomy.” But, like much else in our capitalist world, being a prostitute is hardly a free choice. Proponents offer the hope that if prostitution were decriminalized the abuses, which they admit exist, could be regulated or negotiated away. As the book points out, in parts of Australia which have experimented with decriminalization, brothels are still brothels.
In their book Norma and Reist support the Nordic Model for dealing with prostitution. In it men who use prostitutes would be arrested and punished but the actual prostitutes would not. At least this would represent a move away from the idea that the women are to blame for “offering” themselves, and that they deserve what they get. But I am unsure that any legal measures would suffice, unless we as societies stop assuming that male domination is their birthright and women, some women at least, are disposable.
I didn’t mean to express the rage that Prostitution Narratives inspired in me rather than focusing on the book itself. This rage and my new thought about prostitution are perhaps the best evidence of the power of this book. I strong recommend it to all readers, whatever you think you understand about prostitution.
‘Trauma is a shadow in my life’: Prostitution survivor Rae Story interviews other survivors
The idea that the body can just go on revolt and refuse to engage in prostitution is something that I could empathize with; towards the end of my experiences I began to feel physically sick whenever I was with a punter. I willed myself to overcome it so that I didn’t have to leave prostitution, and fall into poverty and uncertainty. Alisa eventually was left by her abuser after she became physically and emotionally drained; ergo he had exhausted his ‘use’ for her. Laura began to hate facing the punters and felt her long term depression exacerbated by extreme anxiety. She fears having to return to prostitution should she lose the social security that currently supports her. Rebecca lived intermittently in homeless shelters for a time before settling down, but she has subsequently never worked. She says, “Trauma is a shadow in my life.”…
I think history will be unkind to those who happily snubbed out the narratives of those women who do not and cannot succumb to the proselytizing of the empowerment ideologues. Who are often specifically and willfully targeted, abused, subjected to mind games and silenced. Because those women’s lives have been blighted by prostitution and its concomitant abuses and now, after reflection and consideration, wish for the sex industry to be unable to expand. Indeed, to even be cut off at the oxygen.
Prostitution Narratives comes to Perth, WA, October 14, 6 pm at the social enterprise Halo café. I’ll say a few words, but even better you will hear from book contributors Simone Watson and Alice (‘Charlotte’ in the book). Our local Collective Shout activist extraordinaire Caitlin Roper will also speak to her chapter on the men who purchase women for sex. Please come and support us! Share the invitation.
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.
An interview with Porn Factor director Maree Crabbe
Maree, there’s lots of things you could make films about. What led you to choose to make films about pornography?
Through my work coordinating sexual violence prevention, sexual diversity and STI prevention programs with young people, I learnt that pornography was becoming a significant source of sexuality education. That inspired me to develop the Reality & Risk project, with my colleague, David Corlett. The project seeks to support young people and the broader community to critique the messages conveyed through pornography, and aspire to relationships and sexuality that are safe, respectful mutually pleasurable and fully consenting. We knew we were going to have to be creative to engage people on such a sensitive and controversial topic. Film is a very powerful medium, and we thought it would be a useful vehicle to support a public conversation about porn and its impact on young people.
Your documentary ‘Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography’ first screened on SBS three years ago. Now you’ve created ‘The Porn Factor’. Why did you think another film was needed?
Love and Sex aimed to open up a conversation in a polarised debate, where we knew many viewers wouldn’t want to hear a critique of porn’s influence. We particularly wanted to engage an audience who didn’t already agree with us. So we used a character-based approach – following the stories of young people and people from the international pornography industry – with the hope that people would be so engaged by the characters that they wouldn’t turn off the TV or switch channels when the story became more critical – and confronting.
Following the release of Love and Sex, we also identified a need for a film that provides a more overt analysis of porn’s impact on young people, for use in adult education – with parents, teachers, youth workers and others involved in young people’s education and care.
We had already conducted interviews with range of experts, including with some of the world’s leading scholars. We drew on these, and our interviews with young people and people from the pornography industry, to produce The Porn Factor.
The Porn Factor wasn’t produced for broadcast, but we’re delighted that SBS has picked it up.
How was the first film received? What are your hopes for the new one?
The first film’s broadcast had great ratings, and some fantastic media coverage. It has now also been broadcast in six other countries. We think it played a significant role in building community awareness and opening up a more complicated conversation. We hope the next film will take that conversation to another level and contribute to the growing momentum to tackle this issue at a range of levels – in homes, schools, communities, and at a political level.
You have also developed an educational resource ‘In the Picture’: Supporting young people in an era of explicit sexual imagery.’ Why did you develop this and what does it include?
Schools are a key site for violence prevention work. They’re also major contributors to young people’s sexuality education. But if they’re not talking about porn, then they’re not equipping students for healthy – by which I mean safe, respectful, mutual and consenting – relationships and sexuality in the 21st Century. More and more schools are identifying the need to address porn’s influence, but they often feel ill-equipped to do so. They’re looking for support.
In The Picture supports schools to develop a whole-school-approach to the issues that is tailored to their unique community and context. Based on the World Health Organisation’s ‘Health Promoting Schools’ framework, it includes a smorgasbord of resources, including resources for policy development, equipping staff, parent and community partnerships, student education and evaluation.
Some of our materials addressing pornography’s influence have also been incorporated into Victorian Government respectful relationships and sexuality education resources, so there is growing awareness at a political level of the need to support young people to navigate this new reality.
What has been the response from schools?
The response from schools has been very positive. More and more schools now feel confident to address porn’s influence as part of their broader relationships and sexuality education. They appreciate that In The Picture supports a tailored approach, so they can develop an approach that is going to work for them.
There are two factors that I think are critical for success – leadership support and equipping staff. Often it is an individual teacher or wellbeing staff member who will identify the need to address porn’s influence, and they can play a really important role. But support from school principals and other senior leaders enables the issues to be addressed at a broader level within the school, and allows staff to feel confident in their leaders’ support. Good professional learning for staff – particularly staff who will be teaching about the issues and counseling and other wellbeing staff – is absolutely critical. These are very sensitive topics, and it’s not reasonable to expect teachers to have the relevant knowledge – never mind the comfort and confidence – to discuss it in class without appropriate professional development. But with good PD and school leaders’ support, teachers describe feeling much better equipped – and often, enthusiastic – about teaching on this topic.
In the eight years you’ve been working to address the impact of pornography on young people, what shifts have you noticed?
The most significant thing I’ve noticed is a growing openness to having the conversation, a greater awareness of porn’s pervasive nature and impact and the need to address it with young people. There are more stories about young people’s sexually abusive behaviours and more conversations about young men with compulsive use of porn. There is now more international research on the subject, for example the UK Children’s Commissioners Report. But there is still a need for more research.
What would you say to parents whose children have been exposed to porn online?
Don’t overreact, keep calm, don’t make assumptions – they may have seen it accidentally. Children are sexually curious, don’t make them feel ashamed. Use exposure as a teaching opportunity, talk about how unrealistic what they have seen is, share your values, what you think is important in relation to sexuality, encourage them to aspire to relationships and sexuality that feel great. (See parent tip sheet in the resource section here.)
What do you say to those who argue concern about porn and children/young people is exaggerated and a ‘moral panic’?
I think moral panic is a term used to dismiss valid concerns. The rates of exposure, the nature of the material they are seeing and its impact on young people are issues we can’t afford to ignore. We don’t want to catastrophise but there are serious challenges we need to address with the level of care and seriousness they deserve. It is naïve to suggest that young people can navigate this space just fine and are media savvy – evidence shows that they aren’t able to navigate it. We need to acknowledge the powerful way porn can shape us, even if we do understand it is unrealistic. Young people need to be taught how to navigate this new territory – this is a challenge adults need to step up to – calmly, clearly, and with an evidence-based approach. Listen to the stories of young women being pressured to engage in porn-inspired acts and young men’s aspirations to engage with what they have seen in porn – the experiences of young people need to be taken seriously.
In your opinion what is the best way we can address this issue as a community?
There is no single solution. The issue needs a multi-faceted, multi-layered approach. We need to have the conversations with young people and develop the capacity of parents, teachers, youth workers and others to have those conversations – people who live and work with young people. We need to help political and community leaders to understand the issue, having leadership that is courageous to take on the not insignificant challenge that this is. It means we need to find strategies at technological level and potentially at a legislative level. Mainly we need to support people to critique pornography for themselves and reinforce that relationships should be respectful and that porn is unrealistic and often harmful.
Watch the trailer for the Porn Factor:
Collective Shout will host the first Victorian screening of ‘The Porn Factor’ June 22 at the Cinema Nova, Carlton, Melbourne. A Q&A with Maree will follow.
Genevieve, 33, was sexually abused by men when she was between the ages of 2 and 16 in New South Wales. Bred by her father specifically to be abused, she has suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), dissociation, flashbacks, and an eating disorder. Many times she wanted to end her life. Last year she almost succeeded.
Charlotte, 27, has also suffered for years as a result of childhood abuse for more than ten years, beginning when she was 2, at the hands of her father, uncle, family friend and strangers in Queensland. She has endured PTSD, dissociative disorder, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. More than once she has made attempts on her life.
Ally Marie, 44, was sexually abused throughout her childhood by men in her adoptive parent’s church. She has spent years in and out of mental hospitals in New Zealand and Western Australia; she abused drugs and alcohol to numb her pain and also struggled with suicidal thoughts.
What these three women have in common – in addition to histories of sexual abuse – is a deep grief and profound horror that another victim of abuse, a 20-year-old Belgian woman, was killed by lethal injection after medical professionals determined this was a suitable treatment to end her suffering. (Her death took place last year, but the Dutch Euthanasia Commission has only recently released its report.)
The young woman had been sexually abused between the ages of 5 and 15. She suffered PTSD, severe anorexia, chronic depression, hallucinations, suicidal mood swings, self-harming tendencies and obsessive compulsive behaviours. Her psychiatrist declared that there was no prospect of recovery. Doctors believed the woman to be “fully competent with no major depression or mood disorders affecting her thinking” that she wanted death – which makes no sense, given her many diagnoses.
“I’m horrified,” says the mother-of-one Genevieve from Queensland, who I met recently.
“It’s abominable. She was only 20! No 20-year-old with sound mind says ‘I choose euthanasia over living’. Yes, it’s a failure of the medical profession. It’s also a failure of humanity. The decision to kill her says to the rest of us: there is no hope, your life doesn’t matter! You are beyond repair, we have nothing to offer you. It tells us we are leeches who should be eradicated.”
A nursing graduate hoping to work in acute mental health care for young adults, Genevieve has first-hand experience of how difficult it is for survivors to get the specialist trauma care they need. She pays $200 a fortnight to access the specialist medical help she needs through the private health system, which she can’t get through public services. She says survivors are made to feel like burdens:
“Instead of finding alternatives and offering real hope, this decision says ‘let’s just eradicate this person, it will cost less’. Doctors don’t have to deal with what caused this person to become like this in the first place. If society says ‘This is OK’, it becomes acceptable. There is no longer a deterrent to ending your life. Our suffering makes us feel isolated and lonely. It’s taboo to talk about what happened to you. We are made to feel we are too hard. But we need to hear there is hope, keep going, things will get better. We need people who will come alongside and say ‘We can do life together’. We need a community, a network, so we don’t feel like an island.”
Genevieve, Charlotte and Ally Marie feel strongly that the 20-year-old lacked these necessary supports. And like many others on the long journey of recover from abuse, they know that if euthanasia – the medicalised killing of another person – had been legally available, they themselves may not have been with us today to stand as survivors. If their community and the medical profession had offered death as a compassionate resolution to their suffering, they may well have stepped from suicidal ideation into death.
I know Charlotte as a contributor to Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade – so many child abuse survivors end up in the prostitution industry. She was distressed when reading about the end of life of another abuse victim. While the intensity of suffering echoed her own wounds, she says she has been encouraged to live, not die, helped through regular therapy, the support of loving friends, her teaching studies and her dog. As she writes about overcoming a desire to end it all:
“the knowledge that I came so close to dying fills me with sorrow. I am very lucky and grateful to still be here today. There are so many beautiful and wonderful things in life that I would have missed out on, and it is those moments which make recovery that little bit easier … No one should ever be made to feel as though suicide is an option.”
Ally Marie also recalls a childhood destroyed by sexual, physical and emotional abuse. She has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals much of her life. “Had someone given me a needle back then to end it all I would have gratefully accepted,” says Ally Marie, who now has nine children as well as running her own business helping women reach their goals.
“Thank God they didn’t. Thank God I am alive to share my story. Because now I am grateful as I look at my beautiful family I created, as I look around at the lives I can change with my story … What happened to this girl is murderous. Who are you to anticipate what her future holds? I was this young girl but I found my way and pulled through.”
The Belgian woman is not an isolated case. Among psychiatric patients receiving euthanasia in the Netherlands, most are women. A study published this year showed that PTSD and anxiety were prominent in such cases between 2011 and 2014. Four women were cognitively impaired, some had eating disorders, others prolonged grief. More than half were lonely and isolated. In one case, the report says, “The patient indicated that she had had a life without love and therefore had no right to exist.”
Sydney academic Katrina George has analysed criminological data from around the world to show that euthanasia of women is overwhelmingly at the hands of men. Patterns of assisted death in women reflect that of violence against women. The data simply doesn’t support the tidy theory of autonomy, choice and control put forward by euthanasia advocates.
Two of the most heartbreaking cases reveal how the cause of euthanasia becomes more important than the lives of women. A young Indian woman, Aruna Shanbaug, was brutally sexually assaulted 40 years ago and died last year. She became the inspiration for euthanasia laws, rather than for a campaign to fight violence against women, “a cause much more bitter than passive euthanasia.”
Nathan Verhelst was born as Nancy, a Belgian girl unwanted by her mother (“If only you had been a boy”) and sexually abused by her brothers from the age of twelve. Later in life, as a transsexual, Nathan underwent hormone therapy, a mastectomy, and failed surgery to construct a penis. He was euthanised at his own request in 2013. “I did not want to be a monster … I had happy times, but the balance is on the wrong side,” he said in an interview hours before his death. “I was the girl that nobody wanted.” His close friend Marisol later said, “If his family didn’t hurt him so much, he wouldn’t have wanted [euthanasia]. I don’t like the idea that you give your life because other people broke your life.”
If death is sought/offered to escape the pain of sexual abuse, incest, rejection, loneliness, what kind of choice is that?
Reforms to allow euthanasia in Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria are likely to be debated this year, and Senator Leyonhjelm and the Greens want to give the Territories the power to legalise euthanasia. While suicide itself has long been legal throughout Australia – attempted suicide attracts no penalty or consequence – they want medical killing legalised.
Troubled teenagers will not be eligible (though Philip Nitschke continues to promote his suicide bag for them) but patients with “intolerable” psychological conditions might be. Already, Australian teens and young adults are increasingly taking their own lives with the drug recommended by Nitschke’s euthanasia groups.
In the Netherlands and Belgium, the laws were originally very strict and limiting. But over time they have relaxed to include those people without a terminally ill condition: teens; children; babies; abused, lonely, isolated women.
It is no stretch to imagine that a young woman with PTSD, a survivor of sexual abuse, might qualify for euthanasia in Australia in the future especially in an environment of over-stretched and under-funded mental health systems.
Aside from system failures, we need to look more closely at our own attitudes. There is a subtle discrimination in favour of able-bodied people – ableism – so well described by Shakira Hussein. The able-bodied cannot imagine living with a permanent physical or psychological disability.
The response from the online blogs and forums of people recovering from abuse and PTSD challenge these attitudes. Most have condemning the killing of this young woman. Like Genevieve, Charlotte and Ally Marie, they have shared how glad they are not to have been tempted with a death-inducing injection:
“I’m still alive and I can think and feel and love and do all the things I thought I’d never be able to.” (Jenn Selby)
“As someone who suffered severe depression throughout almost two decades (on and off), but who is now free from it through learned insights and changes to core beliefs, and has the tools to prevent myself ever getting to that place of no hope again, I find it very alarming that people are condoning assisted suicide for sufferers of mental illness. I believe it is an illness that is curable, therefore helping someone end their life before they may have found the tools, insight, help they need to help themselves out of the hole, is tragic. While it may have taken me 17 years to get to where I am today, and while I used to believe I would continue to suffer through, and have to manage my depression, for the rest of my life, I am now in a very different place. There were a number of times that I got so low, for so long, that I wanted to end things, but taking the next step to actually do that yourself is a big step. If society’s perception was that it’s normal to end the suffering, and they could assist me in doing so, easily and painlessly, then I probably would have taken that option and wouldn’t be here today. Which would mean I would have missed out on another 50 – 60 years (hopefully) of life, free from that level of debilitating depression. That would be a tragedy.” (Alison – posted privately on Facebook; quoted with permission)
“In my wildest dreams I never imagined that I could recover from a significant PTSD diagnosis. It took years and a chance meeting with a psychiatrist who was able to offer me the therapy I needed but had been unable to access before that time. In my 20s, any option was a good option to break free of the exhausting battle. I remember feeling deflated that I woke up in ICU, a failure even in trying to end my life. In my 40s, I thank God for not having been offered help to end my life and always encouragement that others depended on me to live and live well. Now, I have beautiful children, an incredibly patient and loving husband and LIFE. Once, I never thought I could say that. I have life and am more than my damaged mind. I am terribly sad that this young woman, whose living hell I am not trying to minimise, did not have the opportunity to know that there was more.” (Gabrielle – on the Women’s Bioethics Alliance Facebook page)
“At my worst, I remember feeling an almost ‘logical’ desire to commit suicide … Now I see that thinking as one of the tricks that PTSD plays on you, that you start to think suffering is the only path and death doesn’t seem so bad … For three decades this option would have been a gift to me, not a punishment. I’m immensely grateful that this was not an option because I’m starting to enjoy living.” (“RuthieJujube”)
“PTSD is not a ‘mental illness’ we are born with. You take a perfectly healthy person/child and expose them to unspeakable horror and they develop PTSD. We were each born healthy and we owe it to ourselves to find the way back to our core self – before we were hurt. Call me whatever but I still have hope for each and every one of us. We deserve it. Suicide lets them win … What heals PTSD sufferers is connection, safety, and community.
“The world needs PTSD survivors. Yes, I contend that it needs us. Think about a world where people could be traumatized and then get help to end their lives as a solution to the deep wounds and costs of that trauma. That’s not good for society as a whole … Many movements to end traumatic things on this planet were started, if not led, by people who had survived trauma and were forever changed by it … But by making it legal for doctors to help we would be sanctioning it as a society and saying ‘this is ok’ and we can’t afford the deep cost of sending that message. It’s not just about adults who have been traumatized, but kids too. They need to grow up in a world where we will fight to protect them, not send the unintentional message that their life is not worth living if they are shaken to the core by trauma. We need to send the message that their life matters, period.” (“Justmehere“)
The suffering of women and children is perpetrated in a culture which too often overlooks the violence against them. The State, rather than dealing with the offences, properly punishing abuses, providing every care for survivors, instead may offer them an individual way out of a problem it has helped tacitly to facilitate. It becomes a personal rather than a collective problem. How is it that so many men can continue to abuse so many little girls in a global avalanche of sexual abuse? How is this not everyone’s problem?
Is death the best we can offer? Genevieve, Charlotte and Ally Marie and the many others like them need to hear: Stay here with us. We will help you, not with a needle, but with everything you need to become well.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
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