The most powerful and emotionally charged moments of the World’s Oldest Oppression conference at RMIT University in Melbourne and the closing launch of Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survivor in the Sex Trade earlier this month, were hearing the stories of survivors in their own words. Some women spoke publicly for the first time. It was very beautiful seeing them support each other, finding strength and solidarity in their shared experience, harnessing their collective personal experiences into the emerging and fast growing global survivor movement calling for abolition of the sex trade.
New Zealand born Ally Marie, who now lives in Brisbane, was among those who decided it was time to go public with her experience. Conceived as a result of the gang rape of her teenage mother, with a history of child sexual abuse (starting at 4), by 21 she was easy pickings for the sex trade. Since then, she has clawed her way back to life out of drug addiction, mental illness, and suicide attempts. Her nine children have helped inspire her recovery. (More of her story on her website).
It was a big step for Ally Marie to speak to the packed auditorium. She explains:
Leading up to the conference I was extremely nervous and fearful. There were many times that I wanted to pull out, not to share this part of me that I had locked away and basically thrown away the key. I had endured a lot through my life but this was a part of me that I had never shared in so much depth with anyone. The voices of fear, despair, sadness, worthlessness, kept playing over and over on my mind like a broken record. But I pushed through, remembering my friends who were no longer able to speak on behalf of themselves. This wasn’t about me, it was about them, and all the women who are still in this life too afraid for their lives, for their own sanity and safety.
Sharing with these beautiful incredible women was so empowering, inspiring and most importantly healing. I finally felt that by sharing, all the pain was now worth something, so much bigger than me, that this would save lives. The support and love I have received has been overwhelming and in this moment I feel so loved and supported.
Now my vision to support survivors is so much stronger than it ever was before I shared my journey. I am excited for what the future holds, not only for myself and my children but for the millions of women’s lives that will be changed.
Fortunately, a friend captured Ally Marie’s speech on film and she has since uploaded it. You will see why she moved us all to tears. Ally Marie will share her story again at the forthcoming launch of Prostitution Narratives on the Gold Coast this Friday. She will be joined by two other survivors, including ‘Charlotte’, a contributor to our book. More info here.
Extensive coverage of Prostitution Narratives in Daily Mail
Autumn Burris from California, who is now the director of Survivors For Solutions, shares her story in a chapter entitled: ‘No life for a human being’, in which she explains how being a prostitute exposes women to violent attacks.
‘When a sex buyer rents your body he often demands more of you than agreed. If you reject him, more often than not, violence ensues,’ she recalled.
‘It is common for sex buyers to act out violently against prostituted women. Upon entering prostitution it is immediately clear that there is no such thing as respect for human rights or physical boundaries as soon as a client buys power over you.
‘They live out their fantasies through renting your body. Fantasies they wouldn’t think of asking their loved ones for, are requested of you.
A written testimony of suffering, pain – and resilience
Our new book, Prostitution Narratives: Stories of survival in the sex trade (Spinifex Press), was launched in Melbourne Sunday night. It was, I think, the most profoundly moving and affecting event I’ve even been part of. A number of contributors shared what being part of this book had meant to them. They felt heard and validated. They drew strength from each others stories. They resolved to join together together to fight for support and services to help other women exit the industry.
MTR with book contributors
UK feminist and journalist Julie Bindel launched the book, describing it as a “stick of dynamite”. The book was, she said “deeply disturbing and profoundly upsetting” and yet, also “a book about hope and resistance.” Irish abolitionist and survivor Rachel Moran also spoke (in her beautiful Irish lilt) about how the book echoed her experience and that of so many others and how it would help to bring about change. For those who couldn’t be there, here’s my speech delivered on the night:
Without these 20 women – almost half we are delighted to have here with us today – there would have been no book.
These 238 pages are created from your stories of survival. These pages are chiseled from the pain of your lives. Your trauma. Your suffering. Your strength. Your resilience. As we wrote in the opening lines:
Prostitution Narratives presents powerful stories by women who have survived the prostitution industry. The testimonies collated in this book bear witness to the effects of prostitution on women and girls, and bring to life its dismal statistics.
We must never underestimate what it must have taken out of you to re-live your experience. But we are so thankful you were willing to do it. To put every word down, to piece together sentences, building paragraphs and then whole chapters.
You were willing to endure nightmares, and flashbacks, and returning (in your minds) to the scenes of the crimes against you, to make this book happen – to render the harm done to you and so many others, visible.
And so we are grateful to you all, above all, for bearing witness in this written record.
Your presence in the book and in person, stands as a protest.
As does your presence at the gathering we have just had. The sex industry tried to stop you. They tried to de-platform you. They tried to intimidate and harass you. They couldn’t stand it – how dare we expose the true nature of their industry? There were nine protestors who went to the wrong venue but even then they were still trying to recruit with their ‘why be poor?’ posters.
A multi-billion dollar sexual exploitation industry built upon the backs of the bodies of real women and girls tried to stop you. They failed. The prostitution profiteers, the right-to-prostitution groups lost today.
Secondly, Caroline. What an honour to work with you. I cannot adequately express my admiration, though I tried, in the endorsements. You provided the academic weight and research heft to this book. You are possibly the most humble woman I have met. Last night when some of us were partying with Julie and Rachel at the Union Bar you were at home making vegan sandwiches for our conference. You always sound so surprised when I tell you how damn good you are!
Renate, Susan and Pauline and the rest of the team at Spinifex. My 4th book with you now. Thank you for all your support and for believing in my work – other authors with other publishers would be envious of the level of support and backing you’ve given me over two decades. And now this latest book. It was a difficult labour and delivery – but here is the new baby, thriving and well.
Caitlin, Meagan and Jacqueline who make up the appendix. Caitlin exposes the pimps and the johns without whom there would be no demand and no industry. Meagan gives us a tool for activism around the Nordic Model. Jacqueline, it can’t have been easy to come out with your role in the industry. But you have chosen to turn what was bad into good.
And all our endorsers – I was blown away by your words! And to have Julie Bindel launch our book is like a dream come true.
My friends here. Especially my Collective Shout crew – Coralie, Caitlin, Melinda are here and a number of CS volunteers and supporters.
Clearly there has been a shift. Growing in strength, and bravery, encouraged and supported by new survivor groups emerging around the world, refusing to be relegated to the margins, linked together by common suffering and common determination to change things for other women, today we launch Prostitution Narratives, with our 20 survivors.
Two of our key hopes in curating these accounts was that women would find solidarity and strength in their shared experience. Yesterday I was sitting at St Kilda beach reading Julie’s Guardian piece on the 11 year anniversary of Andrea Dworkin’s death and these words stood out: ‘Andrea healed her wounds by listening to the stories of other survivors, despite the pain that would cause.
Our other hope that women still in the industry would find a spark of encouragement to get out of it. (And here I have to say the status of funding for exit programs and other outreaches which help women leave the industry in this country is a blight and a shame – note the struggle of Project Respect, for example). The first contributor Linda told me her friends, still in the industry, were sitting around the brothel where she had worked with them, reading the copy she’d sent them. I love this image.
I want to end with a quote from a young survivor who I know personally and who has become special to me.
Near the end of the book, ‘Charlotte’ reaches out offering hope to other survivors.
To anyone reading this who is still involved in the sex industry – you are so much more than your body and your ability to provide sexual gratification. You are worthy, important and loved. You deserve so much more…You will survive this.
Tanja’s letter in Prostitution Narratives reprinted on News.com
Former prostitute takes aim at her clients in scathing letter
Dear sex customer,
If you think that I ever felt attracted to you, you are terribly mistaken. I have never had any desire to go to work, not once. The only thing on my mind was to make money, and fast.
Do not confuse that with easy money; it was never easy. Fast, yes. Because I quickly learned the many tricks to get you to come as quickly as possible, so I could get you off of me, or from under me, or from behind me.
And no, you never turned me on during the act. I was a great actress. For years I have had the opportunity to practice for free. Actually, it falls under the concept of multi-tasking. Because while you lay there, my thoughts were always elsewhere. Somewhere where I was not confronted with you sucking out my self respect, without spending as much as 10 seconds on the reality of the situation, or to look me in the eye.
If you thought you were doing me a favour by paying me for 30 minutes or an hour, you were wrong. I would rather have had you in and out as fast as possible. When you thought yourself to be my holy saviour, asking what a pretty girl like me was doing in a place like that, you lost your halo when you proceeded to ask me to lie down on my back, and then put all your efforts into feeling my body as much as possible with your hands. Actually, I would have preferred if you had gotten down on your back and had let me do my job.
When you thought you could boost your masculinity by getting me to climax, you need to know that I faked it. I could have won a gold medal in faking it. I faked it so much, that the receptionist would nearly fall off of her chair laughing. What did you expect? You were perhaps number three, or number five, or eight that day.
Did you really think I was able to get turned on mentally or physically by having sex with men I did not choose myself? Not ever. My genitals were burning. From lubricant and condoms. And I was tired. So tired, that often I had to be careful not to close my eyes for fear of falling asleep while my moaning continued on autopilot.
If you thought you paid for loyalty or small talk, you need to think again. I had zero interest in your excuses. I did not care that your wife had pelvic pain, and that you just could not go without sex. Or when you offered any other pathetic excuse for coming to buy sex with me.
When you thought I understood you and had sympathy for you, it was all a lie. I had nothing but contempt for you, and at the same time you destroyed something inside of me. You sowed the seeds of doubt in me. Doubt as to whether all men were just as cynical and unfaithful as you were.
When you praised my appearance, my body, or my sexual abilities, you could just as well have vomited on me. You did not see the person behind the mask. You only saw that which confirmed your illusion of a raunchy woman with an unstoppable sex drive.
In fact, you never said what you thought I wanted to hear. Instead, you said what you yourself needed to hear. You said that, which was needed to preserve your illusion, and which prevented you from thinking about how I had ended up where I was at 20 years of age. Basically, you did not care at all. Because you had one goal only, and that was to show off your power by paying me to use my body as it pleased you.
When a drop of blood appeared on the condom, it was not because my period had just come. It was because my body was a machine, one that could not be interrupted by a monthly cycle, so I inserted a sponge into my vagina, when I menstruated. To be able to continue on the sheets.
And no, I did not go home after you had finished. I continued working, telling the next customer exactly the same story that you had heard. You were all so consumed with your own lust that a little menstrual blood did not stop you.
When you came with objects, lingerie, costumes or toys, and wanted erotic role-play, my inner machine took over. I was disgusted with you and your sometimes quite sick fantasies. The same goes for the times when you smiled and said that I looked like a 17-year-old girl. It did not help that you yourself were 50, 60, 70, or older.
When you regularly violated my boundaries by either kissing me, or inserting your fingers into me, or taking off your condom, you did it knowing perfectly well that it was against the rules. You were testing my ability to say no. And you enjoyed it.
When I did not object clearly enough, or when I too often would simply ignore it. And then you used it in a perverted way to show how much power you had and that you could cross my boundaries.
When I finally told you off, and made it clear that I would not have you as a customer again if you could not respect the rules, you insulted me and my role as prostitute. You were condescending, threatening and rude.
When you buy sex, it says a lot about you, your humanity, and your sexuality. To me, it is a sign of your weakness, even though you confuse it with a sick sort of power and status.
You think you have a right. I mean, the prostitutes are out there anyway, right? But they are only prostitutes because men like you stand in the way of healthy and respectful relationship between men and women.
Prostitutes only exist because men like you feel you have the right to satisfy your sexual urges using the orifices of other people’s bodies.
Prostitutes exist because you and your peers feel that your sexuality requires access to sex whenever it suits you.
Prostitutes exist because you are a misogynist, and because you are more concerned with your own sexual needs than the relationships in which your sexuality could actually flourish.
When you buy sex, it reveals that you have not found the core within your own sexuality. I feel sorry for you, I really do. That you are so mediocre that you think that sex is all about ejaculating into a stranger’s vagina.
And if one is not handy, it is never further away than down the street, where you can pay an unknown woman to be able to empty yourself into a rubber while inside of her.
What a petty and frustrated man you must be. A man unable to create profound and intimate relationships, in which the connection runs deeper than just your ejaculation.
A man, who expresses his feelings through his climaxes, who does not have the ability to verbalise them, but prefers to channel them through his genitals to rid himself of them. What a weak masculinity. A truly masculine man would never degrade himself by paying for sex.
As far as your humanity goes, I believe in the good in people, also in you. I know that deep down, you have a conscience. That you have quietly wondered whether what you did was ethically and morally justifiable. I also know that you defend your actions and likely think that you treated me well, were kind, never mean or did not violate my boundaries.
But you know what? That is called evading your responsibility. You are not confronting reality. You delude yourself in thinking that the people you buy are not bought. Not forced into prostitution.
Maybe you even think that you did me a favour and gave me a break by talking about the weather, or giving me a little massage before you penetrated me. It did me no favours. All it did was confirm to me that I was not worth more. That I was a machine, whose primary function was to let others exploit my sexuality.
I have many experiences from prostitution. They enable me to write this letter to you. But it is a letter, which I would much rather not have written. These are experiences I wish I could have avoided.
You of course, you thought of yourself as one of the nice customers. But there are no nice customers. Just those who confirm the women’s negative view of themselves.
This news.com.au feature by Emma Reynolds today is the first mainstream media piece on our new book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of survival in the sex trade (Spinifex Press) to be launched Sunday in Melbourne. We are so pleased to see the stories of five of our contributors – Rhiannon, Simone, Jade, Annabelle and Rachel – highlighted in this piece, given how rarely we see accounts like this in Australian media. Here are some extracts:
‘I clutched the cash while he used me’: former prostitutes on why they want the industry banned
AT RHIANNON’S lowest point, she agreed to sex for money with a man who found her drunk, high on prescription drugs and crying on the street outside the strip club where she worked.
Back at his home, she cut her wrists in his bathroom and stuck toilet paper on them.
“The man felt it was worth paying a hundred dollars to have sex with a woman who had a tearstained face and bleeding wrists,” she said.
“I insisted on clutching the cash while he used me.”
She told him she was going to kill herself and he should call an ambulance. He shrugged, so she went outside and did it herself, staring at Brisbane’s Story Bridge and thinking that if it didn’t arrive in 10 minutes, she would jump off.
It was the start of her journey out of the sex industry.
Her story is just one of the graphic first-person testimonies in Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, a shocking book that will be launched at an anti-sex trade conference at RMIT University in Melbourne this weekend.
…a growing group of survivors and abolitionists say they are disturbed at pro-sex trade lobbyists painting the industry as a profession, chosen by autonomous women because it makes them feel empowered.
She said many of the prostitutes she has met have been single mothers or students looking for money. More than half of sex workers have been sexually abused as children or teenagers. Others have been raped, neglected or harassed. “Many women are trying to escape abuse or domestic violence,” said Simone. “They have nowhere else to go.”
Simone has been left with PTSD, anxiety and agoraphobia, so her advocacy work and travel has been challenging, but she’s desperate to create change.
Sexually abused as a child growing up in Melbourne, Annabelle* writes in Prostitution Narratives that her experiences “set her up for the sex industry.”
She believes the idea women enter the industry by choice is wrong, because they are often so young, and don’t have all the facts.
“I believe all prostituted women are held captive, not just physically as in the case of trafficked women, but by the lies of the sex industry.”
For Jade, working as a prostitute “was like experiencing a car crash every single weekend”. Eventually, she was diagnosed with drug-induced schizophrenia and PTSD, and she has counselling to this day. “It is hard to maintain relationships after you have been treated night after night with contempt. It is hard to value yourself when you’ve been sold for as little as a packet of cigarettes.”
“I couldn’t negotiate my own life in any sense without making that trade off: prostitution for poverty.
This week France became the latest in a growing list of countries to decriminalise sex workers while banning the purchase of sex.
The French legislation is based on what has become known as the Nordic Model, a form of decriminalisation that treats prostitution as a cause and effect of gender inequality and a site of violence against women.
The Nordic Model shrinks the market for prostitution by targeting demand: making the activities of sex buyers illegal while removing any punitive measures against prostituted persons. It has been effective in Sweden, and has since been adopted in Norway, Iceland, Canada and Northern Ireland. Read more here
‘World’s oldest oppression’ the first ever gathering of sex industry survivors and abolitionists in Australia, will be held at RMIT University in Melbourne next weekend.
The two day conference, April 9-10, will hear from survivors of the sex trade and abolitionist activists including Rachel Moran, author of Paid For, My Journey Through Prostitution and UK feminist and journalist Julie Bindel.
The conference will conclude with the launch on the Sunday afternoon of Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, a collection of 20 personal accounts by women in Australia and internationally. Edited by Dr. Caroline Norma and myself, and published by Spinifex Press, we are so honoured that Rachel Moran and Julie Bindel will launch the book.
Here’s two of our contributors, Simone Watson and Caitlin Roper, having just received their copies of Prostitution Narratives. Simone wrote a powerful chapter about the reality of life in ‘massage parlours’ and Caitlin documented the attitudes of the punters and johns who purchase women for sex.
Governments and regulatory bodies continue to ignore the culture drivers fueling sexist attitudes and behaviours
This week we’ve had big name global clothing companies General Pants, Calvin Klein and Queensland fast food eatery, Burger Urge, in our sights. GP and CK are repeat offenders. It’s the first time this slimy burger chain has come to our attention. The only urge we now have is to expose the lot of you for your sexism and women hatred.
This time they have released a video and poster campaign called “Fit in” to advertise their new denim range.
What is most obvious from the in-store posters and the accompanying video is the way the women in particular are sexualised (one is even topless) while the men appear mostly fully clothed.
What makes matters more unbelievable is that General Pants recently partnered with White Ribbon selling ribbons and wristbands in-store and online to raise funds for the anti-violence campaign. This is ironic considering objectification of women, sexist jokes and language are all contributing factors to violence against women… Read full article and take action here
General Pants seems to think it can white wash its sexism by flogging a few white ribbons
I’ve seen some pathetic responses from corporates in my time. This would have to be in the top five.
This doesn’t even make sense. It won’t happen in future by you stand by it? Have you thought of taking up a course in ‘Logic for Dummies’?
If you want to be inclusive why not stop objectifying half of humanity?
Trying to capitalize on its relationship with White Ribbon, General Sexism, sorry, General Pants, issued another statement Friday. Nice try, but you’re still not excused. And this is hardly a ‘singular’ example. You have an entire culture of sexism shown through repeated sexual exploitation of women which we’ve been documenting since our formation.
White Ribbon needs to take a strong stand and dump General Pants as a partner. As my colleague and Collective Shout’s director of operations Coralie Alison pointed out, the anti-violence organisation expressed concern about General Pants late last year.
General Pants can’t white wash its sexism by flogging a few white ribbons.
Calvin Klein’s Sexist Billboard – Men Make Money, Women Seduce
It’s 2016. Yet companies all over the world continue to push the toxic message that women are only valued for their sex appeal. We’ve spoken out about Calvin Klein before for their ‘gang rape’ billboards which thankfully at the time were ordered to be removed after complaints to the Advertising Standards Board.
Now they have come out with this:
The text accompanying the image of the woman says “I seduce in #mycalvins” and the text accompanying the man says “I make money in #mycalvins” suggesting that while men can be successful in business women are only there for their sex appeal. There is an obvious contrast between the way the two images are styled and posed.
One successful businesswoman, Heidi Zak, who is a CEO of ThirdLove, the company she founded, saw the Billboard and decided she was going to do something about it….Read full article and take action here.
Burger Urge Delivers Sexism
Brisbane-based restaurant chain Burger Urge says “We Deliver!” It sure does – delivering sexism with this new ad campaign. A woman, spread legged and reclining as though giving birth, delivers a big juicy hamburger into the hands of a waiting man. Mocking the profound act of birthing a child, the woman is treated as a piece of meat delivering meat.
This is one of the most sexist burger ads we’ve ever seen. And unfortunately there have been a few…
Collective Shout founder Melinda Tankard Reist says that this is just one more example of the “sexist, backward, misogynist advertising” that we are being confronted with every day.
“You wonder if these companies realise it’s the 21st century,” she says.
“We’ve all had enough of this, we’re not buying it, we think women should be treated as women not as objects.”
Tankard Reist notes that the Burger Urge ad is just one of a barrage of sexist ads that have become the wallpaper of our society.
“The cumulative effect of this sort of sexism creates and contributes to sexist and misogynist attitudes which in turn create sexist behaviour that ultimately hurts women and girls,” she says. Read full article here.
Let Burger Urge know what you think of them on their FB page. And urge your friends to do the same.
Or call their QLD outlets: (07) 3254 1655, (07) 3844 8777, (07) 3839 2187 and ask to speak to management.
Thousands of people have joined a group calling for the boycott of Wicked Campers after a Byron Bay man was threatened with prosecution because he sprayed over an obscene slogan on the back of one of the company’s vehicles.
The company’s vans with their lurid spraypainted slogans, some even promoting, if not inciting rape, are popular with young tourists travelling around the northern rivers.
Byron shire grandfather Paul McCarthy told media he had a ‘brain snap’ when he saw the slogan ‘A b..w job a day beats an apple’ on the back of a Wicked Camper vehicle recently and spray-painted over the offending word (blow).
There’s a new petition calling on the QLD Attorney-General to take action. Please support it.
There’s nothing quite like receiving the first copy of the new book you’ve just had published, in the mail. You take it out of its packaging. You run your hands over the cover. You flick through (hoping no mistakes will leap out!). You turn it around in your hands. You read the back page, struck anew by the wonderful acknowledgements other writers, activists and academics you hold in highest esteem, wrote for you. You think of the friends who urged you on to the finish line. And how fortunate you’ve been to have a publisher who believes in your work and backs you all the way.
The feelings evoked are right up there with the birth of your children. OK, not quite. Four children. And now, five books, safely delivered.
Prostitution Narratives Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade is my fourth book with Spinifex Press (Defiant Birth, Getting Real, Big Porn Inc, now this one). And my first co-authored with Dr. Caroline Norma. When I first had the idea for a collection of first-person accounts of formerly prostituted women, I knew it couldn’t happen without Caroline, who is a leading authority on prostitution and trafficking globally.
Harm rendered visible
With a prologue by Irish abolitionist Rachel Moran, who tells her story in her autobiography Paid For. My Journey through Prostitution (2013), then introduction by myself and Caroline, the essence of the book is the 20 survivor stories who render visible the harm done to women in the global sex industry. Their intensely personal accounts are followed by three commentary pieces – one by an ex-pimp, another on the johns and punters, by Collective Shout’s Caitlin Roper, and finally, a case for the Nordic Model by Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow at RMIT, Meagan Tyler. The cover artwork Legal Slave, is by survivor and contributor Genevieve Gilbert. With official publication date April 9, our book will be launched in Melbourne April 10 by UK journalist, author and broadcaster Julie Bindel. A number of contributors, including Rachel Moran, will also speak at the launch. It will come at the end of a 2-day conference at RMIT University on ending global sex trade abuse.
Here’s an extract from the introduction:
Prostitution survivors speak out
Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist
Prostitution Narratives presents powerful stories by women who have survived the prostitution industry. The testimonies collated in this book bear witness to the effects of prostitution on women and girls, and bring to life its dismal statistics.
Such stories are rarely published. Instead, it is the profiteers who are most dominant and influential in speaking and writing about prostitution. This billion-dollar industry seeks to persuade the world that prostitution is a service like any other that allows women to earn vast sums of money, and to travel and enjoy life’s luxuries. In large sections of the media, academia, public policy and the law, the sex industry has had its way. With money no obstacle, its polished representatives repeat the mantra: sex work is work, prostitution is a job like any other, and the sex industry should be treated as just another business enterprise.
Right-to-prostitution groups present women in sex businesses as ‘escorts, hostesses, strippers, dancers, sex workers’. Prostitution is euphemistically described as ‘compensated dating’ and ‘assisted intercourse’ with women who are ‘erotic entrepreneurs’. But the sex industry’s public relations campaign makes little mention of the damage, violation, suffering, and torment of prostitution on the body and the mind, nor of the deaths, suicides and murders that are common. It is in its economic interest to do so. As long-time abolitionist Melissa Farley observes, much of the business must be concealed and denied in order for it to continue:
There is an economic motive to hiding the violence in prostitution and trafficking … prostitution is sexual violence that results in massive economic profit for some of its perpetrators … Many governments protect commercial sex business because of monstrous profits …
This information [on the harms of prostitution, pornography and trafficking] has to be culturally, psychologically, and legally denied because to know it would interfere with the business of sexual exploitation.
In critiquing the business of sexual exploitation, the accounts in this book sit outside the sphere of mainstream publishing in exposing the prostitution trade for what it is: violence against women.
Prostitution Narratives begins with, as mentioned, Rachel Moran’s Prologue where she identifies the ideology of ‘sex work’ as a dehumanizing force that conceals the reality of prostitution. The survivor testimonies which follow then unpack the reality of commercial sexual exploitation. From the streets to strip clubs, to brothels and escort agencies, from web-camming to the filming of prostitution for the pornography industry, from underage girls groomed for prostitution through child sexual abuse, to young women caught up in a criminal world of gangs and drugs, to students, artists, and single mothers desperate to survive, the chapters of this book have a unifying thread: their contributors survived, got out, and want the world to know what being prostituted was really like…
In order to better understand and respond to the global human rights violation that is prostitution, we must first comprehend what the sex industry looks like and does to the girls and women most affected. For this, first-person accounts by survivors are the only way to begin.
Time for a new code of practice to stop sexualisation of girls in an unregulated industry
In 20 years of involvement in Australia’s dance industry, I have seen first hand the impacts on girls and young women, as a result of the imposition of hyper-sexualised messages – from broader culture of course. But also from within the industry I love. Too many girls are expected to engage with adultified choreography, costuming, music and language. From body weight obsession and appearance dissatisfaction, to ‘yo yo’ dieting, anxiety and other poor mental health outcomes, the consequences of growing up in an environment conditioned by the sexualised pressures young dancers absorb, will only become more prevalent if we don’t act soon.
In April 2015, the first of a series of articles I had written surrounding the sexualisation of children in the industry was published here on MTR. Titled ‘The Sexification of Young Dancers Inside Australia’s Booming Dance Studio Scene’, the article gained traction quickly – reaching thousands of readers nationwide and attracting mainstream media attention. It was said to have generated the largest and most widespread discussion so far on the state of children’s dance education. What was originally a final assignment to complete my Journalism degree, it so very nearly was filed to collect dust and remain unread before I sent it on to MTR, in the hope she might be interested.
The article’s publication has now lead to my involvement in a national call for a total overhaul of the industry as it relates to children.
With over 418,000 children enrolled in dance across the country, the industry is quite possibly the largest unregulated child-related industry in Australia. Detrimental consequences of the industry’s self-regulatory state are reflected in the sentencing of prominent Sydney dance teacher Grant Davies who has pled guilty to 47 charges of child pornography and sexual abuse.
Dance educators have a significant responsibility to actively safeguard the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of all children within their care. It is in recognition of this responsibility, and my passion to see our young people thriving in the safest, most positive and supportive environments possible, that I have written a proposed ‘Code of Practice’ for dance educators and service providers. The code is an ethical framework designed to specifically combat sexualisation and harmful messages in children’s dance education, and empower teachers to adopt practices that holistically safeguard the well-being of our young people.
Such a policy does not exist. A governing authority to implement a policy in the 6,000 studios across Australia does not exist, and the Department of Education do not have a dance-specific policy in place for their in-school programs.
Until this day arrives, I and other concerned people have launched an association to bring this proposed policy to the Australian community. KidsPace Code Incorporated was set up in NSW March 2 and has developed the KidsPace Dance Code of Practice, which is included in a submission to the current NSW State Parliament inquiry into Sexualisation of Children and Young People. With the endorsement of well known and respected psychologist Steve Biddulph AM and a committee of passionate people from a range of sectors including education, welfare and child safety, we are excited to play our part in ensuring young dancers are thriving in positive, safe and supportive environments.
Parents, studio directors, teachers, school principals and anyone involved in the provision of children’s dance education can head to the website and register their interest to view the code.
Jemma Nicoll is a UTS Journalism graduate and freelance writer. She directs Inspire Creative Arts, a dance school in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire and is involved in mentoring and self-esteem development programs for girls.
“[I want] better education regarding sex for both boys and girls [and] information about pornography, and the way it influences harmful sexual practices.”
These are the words of Lucy, aged 15, one of 600 young Australian women and girls who took part in a just-released survey commissioned by Plan Australia and Our Watch. The survey, conducted by Ipsos, gathered responses from the girls and young women aged 15-19 in all states and territories.
In the survey report, entitled Don’t send me that pic, participants reported that online sexual abuse and harassment were endemic. More than 80% said it was unacceptable for boyfriends to request naked images.
Sexual bullying and harassment are part of daily life for many girls. Young people are speaking out more and more about how these practices have links with pornography – and so they should, because they have most to lose.
Pornography is moulding and conditioning the sexual behaviours and attitudes of boys, and girls are being left without the resources to deal with these porn-saturated boys.
My own engagement with young women over the last few years in schools around Australia, confirms that we are conducting a pornographic experiment on young people – an assault on their healthy sexual development.
If there are still any questions about whether porn has an impact on young people’s sexual attitudes and behaviours, perhaps it’s time to listen to young people themselves. Girls and young women describe boys pressuring them to provide acts inspired by the porn they consume routinely. Girls tell of being expected to put up with things they don’t enjoy.
Some see sex only in terms of performance, where what counts most is the boy enjoying it. I asked a 15-year-old about her first sexual experience. She replied: “I think my body looked OK. He seemed to enjoy it”. Many girls seem cut off from their own sense of pleasure or intimacy. That he enjoyed it is the main thing. Girls and young women are under a lot of pressure to give boys and men what they want, to adopt pornified roles and behaviours, with their bodies being merely sex aids. Growing up in a pornified landscape, girls learn that they are service stations for male gratification and pleasure.
Asked “How do you know a guy likes you?,” a Year 8 replied: “He still wants to talk to you after you suck him off.” A male high school student said to a girl: “If you suck my dick I’ll give you a kiss.” Girls are expected to provide sex acts for tokens of affection. A 15-year-old told me she didn’t enjoy sex at all, but that getting it out of the way quickly was the only way her boyfriend would settle down and watch a movie with her.
I’m increasingly seeing Year 7 girls who seek help on what to do about requests for naked images. Being asked “send me a picture of your tits” is an almost daily occurrence for many. “How do I say ‘no’ without hurting his feelings”? girls ask.
As the Plan Australia/Our Watch report found, girls are tired of being pressured for images they don’t want to send, but they seem resigned to how normal the practice has become. Boys use the images as a form of currency, to swap and share and to use to humiliate girls publicly.
Year 7 girls ask me questions about bondage and S&M. Many of them had seen 50 Shades of Grey (which was released on Valentine’s Day). They ask, if he wants to hit me, tie me up and stalk me, does that mean he loves me? Girls are putting up with demeaning and disrespectful behaviours, and thereby internalizing pornography’s messages about their submissive role.
I meet girls who describe being groped in the school yard, girls routinely sexually harassed at school or on the school bus on the way home. They tell me boys act like they are entitled to girls’ bodies. Defenders of porn often say that it provides sex education. And it does: it teaches even very young boys that women and girls are always up for it. “No” in fact means yes, or persuade me.
Girls describe being ranked at school on their bodies, and are sometimes compared to the bodies of porn stars. They know they can’t compete, but that doesn’t stop them thinking they have to. Requests for labiaplasty have tripled in a little over a decade among young women aged 15-24. Girls who don’t undergo porn-inspired “Brazilian” waxing are often considered ugly or ungroomed (by boys as well as by other girls).
Some girls suffer physical injury from porn-inspired sexual acts, including anal sex. The director of a domestic violence centre on the Gold Coast wrote to me a couple of years ago about the increase in porn-related injuries to girls aged 14 and up, from acts including torture:
“In the past few years we have had a huge increase in intimate partner rape of women from 14 to 80+. The biggest common denominator is consumption of porn by the offender. With offenders not able to differentiate between fantasy and reality, believing women are ‘up for it’ 24/7, ascribing to the myth that ‘no means yes and yes means anal’, oblivious to injuries caused and never ever considering consent. We have seen a huge increase in deprivation of liberty, physical injuries, torture, drugging, filming and sharing footage without consent.”
The Australian Psychological Society estimates that adolescent boys are responsible for around 20% of rapes of adult women and between 30% and 50% of all reported sexual assaults of children. Just last week , Emeritus Professor Freda Briggs argued that online pornography is turning children into copycat sexual predators – acting out on other children what they are seeing in porn.
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 as the primary sexual paradigm, 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.”
I have asked girls what messages they might like me to pass on to boys. So far, these messages include: “Stop telling us we are wet,” “Stop commenting on our bodies,” “Stop demanding pictures,” “Rape jokes are never funny” and “Sex before the age of consent is illegal.”
The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible. Sexual conquest and domination are untempered by the bounds of respect, intimacy and authentic human connection. Young people are not learning about intimacy, friendship and love, but about cruelty and humiliation. As a recent study found:
“online mainstream pornography overwhelmingly centered on acts of violence and degradation toward women, the sexual behaviors exemplified in pornography skew away from intimacy and tenderness and typify patriarchal constructions of masculinity and femininity.”
It is intimacy and tenderness that so many girls and young women say they are looking for. A young woman told me that on dating sites she lists under “fetish” wanting to stare longingly into someone’s eyes and to take sex slow. She said if she didn’t put these desires in the “fetish” category, they wouldn’t warrant a second glance.
But how will young women find these sensual, slow-burn experiences in men indoctrinated by pornography? Psychologist Philip Zimbardo says of young men: “They don’t know the language of face to face contact … Constant arousal, change, novelty excitement makes them out of sync with slow developing relationships – relationships which build slowly.”
It is wrong to leave sexual formation in the hands of the global sex industry. We need to do more to help young people stand up against warped notions of sexuality conveyed in pornography.
Fortunately, the ill-effects of the pornographic experiment on relationships and sexuality are being named out loud. A groundbreaking Australia-first symposium on the issue was held at UNSW last month, to a standing room crowd, and a current Senate inquiry is gathering evidence of the distorting harmful impacts of porn on our young people.
Most importantly, it’s young people themselves demanding change. Josie, 18, is quoted in the Plan Australia/Our Watch report:
“We need some sort of crack down on the violent pornography that is currently accessible to boys and men. This violent pornography should be illegal to make or view in Australia as we clearly have a problem with violence and boys are watching a lot of pornography which can be very violent … This is influencing men’s attitude towards women and what they think is acceptable. Violent pornography is infiltrating Australian relationships.”
Last Friday night I headed to Chadstone Shopping Centre to catch up with some of my colleagues from Collective Shout. I was there a little early and decided to browse the stores while I waited for the others to arrive.
I expected to see the odd front window or billboard using the same old tired exploitation of women, but the proliferation of sexualised and objectifying images right throughout the centre was quite overwhelming.
It started with Bras’N’Things. Normalising the Playboy brand once again, we’ve written about this before. While many associate Playboy simply with its branded items or magazine, Playboy Enterprises own various adult TV channels and websites, broadcasting brutal, hardcore pornography. Retailers that stock Playboy branded products are helping Playboy to produce and distribute content that objectifies and degrades women.
In a 30 minute period I found close to 50 images that to varying degrees objectified and sexualised women. Some of the images were on massive billboards in major department stores including one by Tom Ford featuring a fully naked woman to sell perfume.
There were schoolgirls in their uniforms shopping with their mum’s, casually browsing the items nearby. As I took photos, no one noticed, staff stood around in clusters engrossed in their own conversations. These images have become the wallpaper of society.
Women and girls receive the toxic message that their main value and worth comes from their sex appeal. The global research tells us that the proliferation of these images is linked to common mental health problems such as low self esteem, poor body image, eating disorders, depression, self harm and even suicide. We are making our girls sick. And we need to do something about it.
Some may say “But the women chose to be in the ad, it makes them feel empowered”.
We don’t experience life in a vacuum. From the earliest of ages women have been socialised into believing that our value and worth come from our physical appearance, desirability, and ability to attract male attention.
We are growing up in a pornified culture that gives women two options; to be invisible or to be f*ckable (to quote Gail Dines). So it is no surprise that for some women they feel empowered when they express themselves in a sexualised way as a model, however we cannot ignore the broader damage that this type of advertising does to women globally.
Sexist jokes, objectifying women, gender inequality are the root cause of violence against women. In her award winning documentary “Killing her softly” Jean Kilbourne said “turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step in justifying violence against that person.” If we truly want equality for women we need to think about how our individual choices affect women as a class.
Some may say “Well men are portrayed in sexualised ways too”. Most of the images I saw of men as I walked through the shopping centre showed them in business suits, in a position of power and control. Some even had their arm quite forcefully around a scantily clad women’s neck.
The overall message showed a clear power imbalance. What are we teaching our men and boys? And we wonder why young boys display a sense of entitlement in relationships.
So what can we do?
Speak out: Try and have a friendly conversation with the staff in the store when you see these types of images. Don’t ever think that the salesperson has no influence in the company. Shannen spoke out at Coles about having to handle Zoo and it was instrumental in helping them decide to cease stocking the magazine.
Write a letter to the manager or CEO. Let them know the harms of such advertising and that you will not be shopping with them until they change their ways. I wrote a letter to the local pub about their lingerie waitresses. It took 5 minutes to pull it together and they responded in less than 48 hrs saying the promotion was cancelled.
Lodge a complaint to the Advertising Standards Board. We have a handy ‘Lodge a complaint’ page here to guide you in the right direction for different types of billboard, radio and TV advertising.
Learn from it: Use these types of advertising as a teachable moment in the lives of young people that you influence. Ask the question “Why is that lady naked to sell a handbag?” Media literacy skills are crucial for young people to dissect the toxic messages that popular culture is teaching them.
Take a photo and send it in to us at Collective Shout. As a grassroots movement we rely on the collective action of our supporters to pressure these companies to change their ways.
Recruit pledge partners: Encourage business owners to sign our Corporate Social Responsibility Pledge. There are many clever ways to advertise a product without objectifying women or sexualising girls. If their product was any good they wouldn’t need sexism to sell it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a long list of businesses that signed our pledge that we could shop with with confidence?
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