If Tracy Connelly were alive today and living in France, it’s possible she might have found a way out of prostitution. She would have at least known that the society she lived in cared enough to want to help her out. But Tracy lived in Australia and was murdered on July 21, by a man suspected of buying her for prostitution on a street in Melbourne.
Australia, like France, has ratified Article 6 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, which requires member states to take ”all appropriate legislative and other measures” to deal with the ”exploitation of the prostitution of women”.
But there is little assistance available here to help women like Tracy free themselves from that life. A small number of struggling support services get by on negligible government funding, even though there are an estimated 26,000 people involved in prostitution here.
Prostituted women are the ones at the coalface of the misogyny and pornography-fuelled attitudes
Commentators this week have been falling over themselves to decry the ‘hypocritical’ public quiet over the murder of St Kilda prostituted woman ‘Tracy’, compared to the attention Jill Meagher’s death attracted last year. Wendy Squires wrote that, even though ‘Jill and Tracy are one and the same – women in the wrong place at the wrong time’, it’s outrageous that last week’s ‘dead woman isn’t headline news’. Squires believes it ‘ironic’ that Jill Meagher’s husband attracted media attention last week, while Tracy’s murder raised barely a headline. In fact, Squires ‘could have been Tracy’, just as she ‘could have been Jill Meagher’, so she wonders why the murder of women in prostitution is treated so differently from the murder of middle class, educated women with supportive friends and family.
While it is true murdered prostituted women don’t receive the same attention, do any of us really believe that either Jill or Wendy could have been Tracy? The crime committed against Jill was unforgivable, but do we really think she has anything in common with Tracy? Going on what we know about the population demographics of women in prostitution, Tracy was most likely abused as a child, homeless from an early age, preyed upon in her teenage years by pimps posing as boyfriends, and subject to a range of alcohol and drug addictions over the years of her sexual exploitation. She would also likely have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, possibly exposing her to the risk of mental illness. While Jill and Wendy might have faced hardships in their lives, we can speculate these hardships were never aggravated by the experience of being traded for prostitution. Unlike Wendy or Jill, being a prostituted woman means you are always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Prostitution is precisely the variable that sets Tracy apart from Wendy and Jill. Women in prostitution are at risk of murder and serious injury at a rate many times higher than even people working in bottle shops. The experience of being pimped and prostituted makes it almost inevitable they must shut down their minds with drugs or alcohol, or risk acquiring a mental illness. They are the ones at the coalface of the misogyny and pornography-fuelled attitudes circulating in our society. The physical expression of male rage is channelled their way in the form of brutal sex acts, verbal abuse, and practices of humiliation and degradation. They must withstand all of this with a smile, or risk non-payment or a beating from the customer or their pimp.
We do women like Tracy no favours when we pretend she is ‘just like us’, and express outrage that her murder doesn’t get the same attention as ours would. While we allow a vulnerable population of women and girls (and some young men) to languish in the sex industry while we happily take up opportunities of education and economic privilege, we cannot decry ‘hypocrisy’ and engage in after-the-fact hand-wringing over media bias. We need to recognise the fundamentally different health and wellbeing outcomes that prostitution imposes on its victims, and work to develop ‘exit programs’ to assist people out of the sex industry. We need to recognise the human rights harms that men who patronise the sex industry are causing, and develop policies and education campaigns to reduce their demand for prostitution.
Let’s be angry and upset at the absence of public outcry—but not just now a woman in prostitution has been murdered. We might feel the same outrage every time we drive past a brothel, or see advertisements for ‘escort’ services in our local paper. We might become upset at the state government bureaucrats who continue to collect money from pimps who legally trade people for prostitution in Victoria. Or our anger might be directed toward a federal government that fails to declare prostitution a gendered human rights violation like its counterparts in Sweden, South Korea, Norway and Iceland. Our tears might flow every time we hear a sex industry-apologist in the media calling prostitution a ‘job’ for women with no other choices.
In reality, Tracy could not have been Wendy or Jill, but she could have been any other woman in prostitution. All people in prostitution—whether in brothels, ‘escort’ agencies or on the street—risk the same unacceptable fate as Tracy. Those of us who downplay or deny the risks of prostitution seal this fate for generations of abused people who will be preyed upon by the pimps and traffickers of the sex industry. We must take policy and educative action now to dismantle legalised prostitution in Victoria and create a safe society for even our most vulnerable of fellow citizens.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, and researches prostitution and trafficking policy in Australia, South Korea and Japan.
See also: ‘Why virginity is a best seller: how the sex industry profits from an Asian girl’s ‘first time’, http://www.pac.nsw.edu.au/contact-details/ MTR blog, November 14, 2011
The porn industry must be throwing a fit right now. The adult book Fifty Shades of Grey has sold over twenty million copies in record time, and sales are still going strong. How did E.L. James, a first-time author who was a television executive, manage to pull off a feat that has eluded the porn industry—getting women to see sexual cruelty as hot sex? In my interviews with them, porn producers regularly bemoan the fact that they just can’t seem to make porn that appeals to the majority of women.
I can’t say I am surprised that the normally business-savvy porn industry has been bested by a novice, given the somewhat ridiculous advice Adult Video News (the porn industry’s premier trade) journal offered to pornographers interested in attracting more women to their websites. Arguing that only 15% of Internet porn consumers are women, AVN suggests that to attract women, “adult Webmasters need to create sites where the primary elements are interaction and education.” And what would these sites look like? “Such sites would allow women to obtain advice, perhaps during teleconferences with experts, have elements of cybersex, and should play into women’s relationship fantasies”.
I can’t imagine women flocking to websites where they can get handy hints from experts mid-arousal. But The AVN article did get something right: women are flocking to a book that plays into, and exploits, “women’s relationship fantasies.” The fantasy they recommended, “a story of how a woman got a rich and powerful boyfriend” because she is good in bed, is very close to the formula James followed. But this story line alone isn’t going to sell to women, as the porn industry knows only too well.
While much of the sex in Fifty Shades is as cruel and sadistic as in mainstream porn, it is expertly packaged for women who want a “fairy tale” ending. In male-targeted porn, the woman is interesting only for as long as the sex lasts. Once done with her, the man is onto the next, and the next, and the next.… She is disposable, interchangeable, and easily replaced. No happy ending here for women.
In Fifty Shades, however, the naïve, immature, bland Anastasia is, for some unfathomable reason, the most compelling woman our rich, sadistic, narcissistic hero has ever met, and he not only kisses her during sex (something you rarely see in Internet hardcore porn) but he doesn’t move on to the next conquest once he has had his wicked way with her. In fact, he actually marries her and confesses undying love. As one of the female fans I interviewed said, this is like Pretty Woman all over again.
Indeed, Fifty Shades is about as realistic as Pretty Woman. How many prostitutes do you know who end up living in marital bliss with a former john? I would guess about the same number of women who live happily ever after with a man who dictates, in a written contract, what to eat and wear, and when to exercise, wax, and sleep. In my work, I meet many women who started out like our heroine, only to end up, a few years later, not in luxury homes, but running for their lives to a battered women’s shelter with a couple of equally terrified kids in tow. No happy ending here, either.
In his book on batterers, Lundy Bancroft provides a list of potentially dangerous signs to watch out for from boyfriends. Needless to say, Mr. Grey is the poster boy of the list, not only with his jealous, controlling, stalking, sexually sadistic behavior, but his hypersensitivity to what he perceives as any slight against him, his whirlwind romancing of a younger, less powerful woman, and his Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings. Any one of these is potentially dangerous, but a man who exhibits them all is lethal.
And yet women of all ages are swooning over this guy and misreading his obsessive, cruel behavior as evidence of love and romance. Part of the reason for this is that his wealth acts as a kind of up-market cleansing cream for his abuse, and his pathological attachment to Anastasia is reframed as devotion, since he showers luxury items on her. This is a very retrograde and dangerous world for our daughters to buy into, and speaks to the appalling lack of any public consciousness as to the reality of violence against women.
Fifty Shades also reveals just how pornographic our culture has become over the last decade or so. While the old Harlequin romance novels had narcissistic heroes who toyed, sexually and psychologically, with their much younger prey, however remote and emotionally challenged he was, the hero did not have a torture chamber tucked away in his basement. Fifty Shades of Grey is Harlequin on steroids, a kind of romance novel for the porn age in which overt sexual sadism masquerades as adoration and love. New as this is, the ending remains depressingly the same for real women who end up falling for the Mr. Greys of the world.
GAIL DINES is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. Her latest book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality (Beacon Press). She a founding member of Stop Porn Culture.
Gail Dines is a contributor to Big Porn Inc:Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry (Ed MTR and Dr Abigail Bray, Spinifex Press, 2011).
Last week, midway through a leisurely Saturday afternoon, I got an email from MSNBC asking me to be on the Melissa Harris Perry Show a week later (July 7th). I was delighted to accept, as MHP is not your usual American journalist. A professor of political science at Tulane University, she is an outspoken African American feminist and a progressive voice in a media landscape dominated by right-wing talking heads. MSNBC is a rare media oasis in the U.S. where one gets to hear some actual critical analysis, so I—mistakenly, it turned out—thought this was going to be one of the few positive experiences I’ve had working with corporate-controlled media. In all honesty, after many years of being on talk shows in the U.S., I have come to expect very little in terms of integrity from the media. Their job is to boost ratings by making stories entertaining and light, and God help anyone who gets in their way.
I spent a long time on the phone with MHP’s producer talking about my research on the harms of porn and the ways women in the industry—especially women of color—are financially exploited and physically and emotionally dehumanized and debased. Given MHP’s feminist politics and her scholarly work on the representation of African American women in U.S. history, I was excited to do a show with an interviewer whom I expected would be engaging and thoughtful, in contrast to the usual adolescent sniggering I get from the male journalist who suddenly finds himself in the awkward position of interviewing a feminist who doesn’t think porn is fun. Read full article here.
Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global porn industry (Spinifex Press, edited by Dr Abigail Bray and me) is now appearing on bookstore shelves in the UK and North America. Host and producer of The F Word radio show and the executive editor of feminisms.org, Meghan Murphy interviewed me recently. It was good to talk to Meghan because I’d re-run her work a few times on my blog but we hadn’t spoken before. (If you want to get a taste of her writing, check out this thoughtful and detailed analysis of Slutwalk ).
You can listen to Meghan’s interview with me here.
ACT committee misses opportunity to address harms: ‘normalises prostitution, cuts back on regulation, waters down health safeguards’
The chair of a committee appointed to review the ACT’s Prostitution Act took the significant step last week of attaching a 9-page appendix to the committee’s final report outlining her ‘dissent’ to its findings.
In this appendix, the Shadow Attorney General Vicki Dunne criticises her colleagues for ‘trying to depict prostitution as normal and inevitable’, and so missing an ‘opportunity to take a fresh look at the harms of prostitution and innovative ways to ameliorate those harms’.
Dunne notes her Committee colleagues held ‘media events’ with respondents to the inquiry who were supportive of the government’s current approach to prostitution, and she is critical of the fact they ‘chose not to seriously consider alternative approaches’ for the ACT.
Dunne’s exasperation with her colleagues’ inability to perceive of prostitution as anything other than ‘work’ for poor women is vividly apparent in her remark that ‘[i]t may come as a surprise to some that it is not a universally held view that prostitution has always been with us and there is nothing we can do as a society to address the apparently insatiable demands of, mainly, men for sex with, mainly, women’.
The ‘alternative approach’ that Dunne wanted Committee members to consider was the ‘Swedish model’ of legislation, which she describes as ‘an innovative, woman-centred approach‘ that is ‘demand’ focused in its criminalising of the purchasers of sex.
Dunne notes that Committee members ‘did not want to engage in…discussion’ about the Swedish model, despite the fact information about its successful implementation in Sweden, Norway, Iceland and South Korea was made available to them.
The Committee, she says, ‘specifically rejected any information campaigns targeting the purchasers of sex’, and instead took the opposite approach of making recommendations that would further ‘normalise prostitution; cut back on regulation; [and] water down health safeguards’.
It looks like members of the Committee approached their task of examining prostitution policy in the ACT with some lack of seriousness. The only recommendation they made on sex trafficking was to suggest posting multi-lingual warning signs in brothels. They heard from ACT Police that no check was done on any brothel in the ACT for a period of five years, but didn’t think to question the government’s ability to oversee the legal sex industry it created in 1992.
Dunne notes that Committee members ‘played down’ the ‘significant human rights problems’ that arise in relation to prostitution. They refused, for example, to recognise any criminality in the ACT sex industry, and were ‘unwilling to support…[an] extension of police powers’, even with the death of a 17-year-old girl in a legal Fyshwick brothel in 2008, and a sex trafficking case involving Thai women before the ACT courts.
Adherence to ideas about ‘harm minimisation’ in relation to prostitution appear to have led Committee members to believe any form of sex industry regulation to be injurious to women’s ‘right’ to become prostitutes. This line of thinking seriously underestimates the threat posed by the sex industry to the status of women and children, especially when government endorses a business sector that makes profits through organising society’s most vulnerable people to sexually serve men with money.
Dunne’s decision to stand up to the ACT government and its continuing legalisation of pimps has earned her international praise. Well-known anti-prostitution campaigner and researcher Melissa Farley has spoken publicly in support of Dunne, and the executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Asia-Pacific, Jean Enriquez, has also endorsed her stand.
On the world stage, Dunne finds herself in good company in opposing legalised prostitution and advocating the Swedish model. A model of the Swedish legislation recently passed a first reading in the Israeli Knesset, and a similar bill is currently before the French parliament. Boston has also recently implemented a version of the law.
These developments come after successes in Sweden, South Korea, Norway and Iceland in reduced trafficking, and raising public awareness of the harms of prostitution.
Dunne’s dissenting comments represent a rare moment in having endorsement of the Swedish model in a parliamentary report.
Australian governments are generally hostile to any suggestion that prostitution might constitute a human rights problem. Advocates of the Swedish model are currently locked in battle with the Western Australian, South Australian, and Tasmanian governments over proposals to legalise the sex industries of those states. Most other Australian state governments have already given their endorsement to pimps.
This propensity of Australian governments to resign themselves to the ‘inevitability’ of prostitution contrasts starkly with the stance taken by governments in Europe. In December last year all political parties in the French National Assembly signed a resolution reaffirming ‘the abolitionist position of France, the objective of which is ultimately a society without prostitution’.
Different from Australia, France does not recognise prostitution as ‘sex work’, nor does it advocate legalising brothels and pimping. French legislators resolved that legal acceptance of prostitution is incompatible with French policies that promote gender equality.
The example set by Vicki Dunne last week affords the Australian government a similar opportunity to cast aside its former politics of resignation on prostitution, and begin to move towards a human rights-based approach to the world’s oldest oppression.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning at RMIT University.
Now and then I stumble on a brave man passionate about the issues taken up here on the MTR blog.
Recently I’ve made the acquaintance of Matthew Holloway. Only 26, Matthew’s written some compelling pieces in recent months on pornography, prostitution and rape-permission giving in men’s magazines. I thought you should get to know him too and in doing so be encouraged that more men seem to be willing to risk criticism and step up to the plate on these issues.
Matthew Holloway is a freelance writer and social justice advocate from Tasmania, where he stood for state and federal parliament and co-founded Tasmanians for Transparency. Matthew now lives in Melbourne where he works as a Counsellor in Aboriginal Health. I asked Matthew what motivated him to engage on these issues. He responded:
To be honest I have had a broad upbringing which included exposure to many of the feminist writings from the old school, specifically Andrea Dworkin.
On a personal level ‘not myself’ but males I have known, I have seen how destructive things like pornography can be and the conflict this can cause for many men. The way it can change their perceptions, the way that their thinking can become so warped, but also the way that their sexual urges have become so perverted that they have also become victims of a society which has normalized the material which has created these attitudes including the sexualisation and commodification of not only women but children.
For a brief period on moving to Victoria I worked for a councillor on Yarra City Council, Stephen Jolly, who worked hard uncovering trafficking in the area.
Aside from this I worked for a few years as a social worker on Grey Street in St Kilda. My client group included sex workers both male and female. I heard the stories of abuse, the way that every one of them felt they had no other options, the way they felt worthless and without skills. The other truly sad aspect was hearing how many had suffered abuse. In so many ways these people had become conditioned to using sex for survival. To hear how many had also suffered physical, verbal and sexual abuse through their work was also tragic and heart breaking.
So although I know that there are many people out there who say that people like you and I have no idea about why people go into sex work. I honestly think they are defenders if the industry and have no idea of the continued psychological damage that the sex industry and those who support it, continue to inflict on people who are truly vulnerable and at risk. Also people who through life circumstances cannot see other options let alone a pathway out of the use and abuse.
Here’s a lengthy, detailed and evidence-based piece Matthew wrote for the Tasmanian Times on the true nature of the prostitution industry.
Working against the global sex industry
…Unfortunately evidence seems to show that legalisation still has many inherent safety risks and has often become an issue of governments wanting to derive profits from the sexual degradation and exploitation of some of society’s most vulnerable people. It should be noted that I am not the only one who is saying that the government is keen to get a slice of the sex industry pie. This claim is even made by the Eros foundation who stated that the sex industry has a combined turnover of over $1 billion and that government agencies were looking at ways to levy a slice of this revenue….
The issue of prostitution and the problems it raises have been addressed by many of the great feminists of our time; Germaine Greer once famously stated “Pornography is simply the advertising of prostitution” and this holds to the fact that there are many problems in our hyper sexualised culture which have promoted the expansion of sexual slavery. Prostitution is still a capitalistic and patriarchal structure and always will be, no matter how much Mr Cox tries to argue against the fact; women are always enslaved to sex work because of male demand for it. This is a key point which the Swedish model recognises and this is the reason for its success…Read full article here
And here’s strong piece on porn and exploitation – including of men – Matthew had published in Eureka Street:
Germaine Greer and Gay Exploitation
It is commonly thought that men represent the main producers and the main consumers of pornography. But earlier this year feminist firebrand Germaine Greer alluded to an important and often forgotten fact: men are also its victims.
‘Pornography’, Greer said on a September episode of ABC1′s Q&A, ‘also exploits boys, men and children, but most of all, it exploits the consumer of pornography.
‘The consumer’, she said, ‘doesn’t realise that because of the stage in your life at which you become aware of pornography, that his sexual responses are being altered by pornography, so that he is expecting a certain kind of mechanical sequence of events, which he’s learnt to manipulate in his own self-gratification. This then gets parked on a relationship, which prevents real intimacy from ever ensuing.
‘That’s pretty grim but it’s much grimmer, the fact that people are moving towards each other in a series of pre-programmed responses.’
Like women, men have fallen prey to the unrealistic expectations of a hyper-sexualised culture….
All elements lead to what Greer described as pornography’s ability to promote the acting out of pre-programmed responses devoid of intimacy. Ultimately we need a movement away from porn, and to re-assert a sexuality that is not based on images of actors from a specifically geared, targeted and manipulative industry.
For years the pro-porn lobby has tried to win the argument and take the ground from the left and right by portraying them as either censorship fascists or religious conservatives. The truth is that you cannot have exploitation in the name of liberalism. Read full article here
And this one in Online Opinion last year on a British study on men’s magazines and rape apologism.
Re-assessing men’s magazines
A new study to be published in the British journal of Psychology is set to have massive ramifications and has already kick started a re-assessment of soft core pornography.
The study by Psychologists from Middlesex University and the University of Surrey, showed participants quotes from men’s magazines such as FHM, Loaded, and Zoo.
The participants were also shown quotes from convicted sex offenders which were taken from ‘The Rapist Files: Interviews with Convicted Rapists written by Sussman & Bordwell
Participants were not informed which source the quotes came from, they were asked to assess for themselves based on the content.
Most participants were unable to distinguish the source of the quotes; the study also revealed that most male participants identified more strongly with the language expressed by the convicted rapists.
Dr Miranda Horvath from Middlesex University said: “We were surprised that participants identified more with the rapists’ quotes, and we are concerned that the legitimisation strategies that rapists deploy when they talk about women are more familiar to these young men than we had anticipated.”
The study has already had an impact in the UK where retailers have agreed to move all men’s magazines to top shelves and censor front covers.Read full article here.
That’s just a sample. There’s lots more of Matthew’s work online. Have a look. And men, why not join Matthew and add your voices to his?
Since the publication of Rachael Hills’s article “Who’s Afraid of Melinda Tankard Reist” (and see her reflections two weeks later) at least ten on-line and print media articles have joined in a public dissection and commentary along the lines of, “she’s a conservative religious fundamentalist” and “she’s pro-life and can’t be a feminist.”
The subliminal context of the attempts to bring Melinda Tankard Reist to her knees and destroy her work is of course the elephant in the room: if her considerable impact on educating the public about the harms of the sex industry could be reduced, the pornography and prostitution promoters and profiteers would rejoice.
As her publishers at Spinifex Press, Australia’s only feminist publishing house (and secular), we take issue with these portrayals of Melinda Tankard Reist. It is easy to try to dismiss someone by smacking on a “fundamentalist” (whether Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jewish) label and thereby dismiss the arguments that a person makes. What is less easy, but more ethical and intellectually rigorous, is to examine Tankard Reist’s views – which are shared by many feminists and other advocates for social justice and human rights – and to see what the factual arguments for those views are. Read more>
As I read Jennifer Wilson’s article, I couldn’t help thinking that the pro-porn crowd must be producing a list of talking points that they endlessly circulate among themselves. They trot out the same old arguments without a shred of empirical evidence to back them up, and then they suggest that it is the anti-porn feminists who are lacking in rigor and theory.
Let me be more specific. I had the misfortune earlier this month to attend a conference in London called “Pornified: Complicating debates about the ‘sexualisation of culture’,” but it did anything but complicate. On the contrary, the complex, global, maturing porn industry was simplified right down to the point of disappearance: they made the argument that there is in fact no “it” – meaning the porn industry – because there are so many producers of porn and just so many types of much porn on the internet, that it is impossible to locate any actual industry.
It’s like being at a conference on food and the researchers argue that because we have fast food, gourmet food, independently owned restaurants, chain restaurants and even people cooking their own food at home, well there is just so much food that there is no such thing as a food industry.
I want to suggest to those people who make bold statements about what porn people are watching, that they do some basic research on the “it” – the industry, that is. When I was in Australia, the echo chamber from the pro-porners was that because there is just so much amateur porn and free porn, it is a mistake to focus on the hardcore gonzo porn that the industry produces. Read more
Ten years ago, Puangthong Simaplee died at the age of 27. She had been picked up in a police raid on a Surry Hills brothel on 23 September 2001, and was sent to Villawood Detention Centre. Three days later, she died in a pool of her own vomit. When she died, Puangthong weighed 31kg, about the weight of a 10-year-old girl. According to a coronial inquiry held in 2003, she had hepatitis C, an eye infection, possible pneumonia, and was addicted to heroin.
Immigration officials said that Puangthong told them that she had been sold into prostitution. On one account, she said that her parents had sold her into sexual slavery in Thailand when she was 12, and that she had been trafficked into Australia on a false Malaysian passport when she was 15. When Puangthong’s parents were interviewed by an Australian reporter, however, they said that their daughter had left their village in Thailand to find work, and that she had sent them money and smiling pictures of herself from Australia.
When these conflicting accounts came to light, people lined up to slime Puangthong, and to traduce other women who claim to be trafficked to Australia as sex slaves.
The journalist Piers Akerman for example asserted dismissively, ‘The story was a real tearjerker’. He dismissed the fuss around Puangthong’s death as just ‘sensationalistic journalism’. Akerman blamed ‘some zealots’ for inflating the number of ‘sex slaves’ [his scare quotes], and ‘quoted’ [my scare quotes] an unnamed spokesman for the Immigration Department as saying that ‘almost all so-called sex-slaves picked up from brothels reject the notion that they were enslaved, do not want to assist authorities and wish only to leave the country as soon as possible and ply their trade in other First World countries. If they have a complaint about working in Australia, it is that they have not made as much money as they expected’ (‘When Truth Spoils a Good Slavery Story’, The Daily Telegraph, 3 June 2003, p. 16).
In 2008, the president of the Scarlet Alliance, Elena Jeffreys, added her voice to Akerman’s pitiless tirade, asserting that Ms Simaplee was not trafficked, but was simply a ‘sex worker’. According to Jeffreys, the popular picture of women like Ms Simaplee as Asian sex slaves has ‘capture[d] the Australian imagination’, all part of a stereotype ‘of pre-pubescent Asian girls chained to beds in back rooms with barred windows’ (‘Truth and visas will set Asian sex workers free’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 2008). Jeffreys concurred that Ms Simaplee’s case was just ‘sensationalism’ and moral hysteria, which has created a ‘government-funded rescue industry’.
Strangely however, the Immigration Minister at that time and his Department were not well-known as compassionate rescue entrepreneurs. It should be a cause of shame for Australians that the former Minister is known rather for the trail of death and deportations left by his term in office than for his rescue efforts.
Puangthong did tell different stories about herself to different people before she died. Prostituted women do not get paid for being themselves, for being authentic. A prostituted woman is paid to ask, ‘What do you want me to be?’, and to act out the answer. But Puangthong was brutally honest with herself, and her body bore the marks of her honesty. After her death, her boyfriend told police, ‘She had two or three scars that were from one side of the wrist to the other. Some scars were a couple of months old and some scars were a couple of years old.’ When the boyfriend asked Puangthong why she harmed herself, she replied, ‘When I do something wrong I mark it with a scar so I remember what I did wrong’ (Elisabeth Wynhausen, ‘Parents deny selling daughter’, The Australian, 7 June 2003).
Like other prostituted women, Puangthong Simaplee had a lot of wrong done to her. Research done by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW and published in 2006, found that many of the street sex workers interviewed had higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder than combat veterans. A majority had been sexually abused as children, and most had been assaulted sexually or physically as adults. These findings are consistent with studies done in other countries of the victimisation of prostituted women, and form part of the basis of the Swedish model approach to prostitution and trafficking, which criminalises the purchase of sex, but does not criminalise those who are bought and sold.
Puangthong Simaplee’s story is one of vulnerability abused, and of autonomy lost. It is a story of exploitation. It is in so many ways a typical story of a life that was trafficked and prostituted, of a person whose intrinsic worth and dignity received no respect, even after she died.
If we could only listen to Puangthong’s story, in all its tellings, perhaps we would not tell so easily the old lies about the selling of women in our world as a form of pleasure and freedom. For now, let’s ring the passing bells and mourn the memory of a gentle and vulnerable woman.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
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Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
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Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.