The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (17:06): I rise today to speak against this bill. First, let's be clear what this is: this is the pimps' protection bill. It gives free reign to the pimps, the procurers and the profiteers who make their money from women being used. All the talk about decriminalising the women in prostitution is ignoring the fact that the people exploiting women will be the biggest beneficiaries of this bill.
Secondly, any law that says that women can be bought is damaging to every woman in our community. It undermines the struggle for equality. It normalises violence against women. It tells men that they have a right to sexual access to women, as long as they can pay, and that women are mere products. That affects the status of every woman in society.
Thirdly, the expected improvements for the women providing prostitution have not occurred following decriminalisation in other jurisdictions. Improvements for the brothel owners, the pimps and the men who want to buy sex—that has certainly improved—but not for the majority of women. These are some of the reasons why I cannot support the bill.
We cannot separate the nature of the industry from a bill that intends to decriminalise the pimps and brothel owners who control it. From a narrative that says women in the industry are making free choices, the exploiters have been very successful in sanitising the industry in the public sphere and silencing the voices of the women who do speak out.
It was referred to in the previous contribution that this is about stigma: this is not about stigma, this is about violence against women. I refer throughout this contribution to 'the women in prostitution' and this is because 95 per cent of people who provide the sex are women, but I do acknowledge that there is another 5 per cent of people involved.
There is a plethora of academic literature on prostitution, some of which I will quote today. I have been to briefings and have spoken to lobbyists, such as the Sex Industry Network, and I have spoken to women who have been in prostitution. It is there that I would like to start, with the people who have experienced the reality of prostitution, as providers of sex over an extended time. I have spoken directly with many of the women whose stories I recount here. Some have written down and even published their experiences. It is their voices that often are not heard in this debate.
I do alert the chamber to the fact that it might be quite difficult to listen to their experiences, and it will take some time. I hope that all members will respect the women, who have told about their trauma, enough to listen. Rhiannon grew up in Canberra and says that the brothels and strip bars have their biggest spike in business during parliamentary sitting weeks when politicians and the lobbyists are there. Prostitution is under a legalised scheme in the ACT, and she says that its reputation as a sex capital seems to make it more socially acceptable for men to buy sex.
She explains how she became trapped in the sex trade following the GFC. She had moved to Queensland and could not get a job, and her student payment barely covered the rent. She got behind in her rent payments and was worried about eviction. She says:
When you are a woman, especially a young and attractive one who is struggling to find work, there is one form of so-called employment that is always and ubiquitously available; the sex industry is aggressive in its pursuit. Men constantly suggested stripping and prostitution when I complained of not being able to find a job. Ads promising fast cash jumped out from newspapers. Strip bars had flashing signs out front: 'Dancers wanted for immediate start $$$'.
After almost a year of unemployment and the stress of poverty I accepted a job as a bikini waitress. The job required me to travel to taverns and pubs that had booked me through an agency and, dressed in a G-string bikini and high heels, greet the men who entered the bar. I was required to flirt with them, take their orders and bring them drinks. I rationalised that I would be wearing a bikini if I were at the beach and that being paid more than I would as a bartender just to wear a bikini and serve drinks was almost a good thing. But I couldn't deny the reality that I was being paid to submit to the status of sexual object. I could never escape the deep sickness I felt when the eyes of those men were on my flesh.
Women in the university feminist collective used a language of choice to talk about prostitution and stripping; 'My body, my choice.' What I was doing did not feel like bodily autonomy, it felt like I was selling my bodily autonomy. When a person is paid for sex they are being paid precisely because of the fact the sex is unwanted. Sexual autonomy cannot exist when a person is sexual for any reason outside their own desire, for their own pleasure. The sacrifice of my bodily autonomy was precisely what I was being paid for. I felt ashamed for acquiescing to sexual objectification, but also felt it wasn't me who had created the situation. Choice was the last thing I felt I had. I was unable to do the job without being drunk and, unlike any other job I had ever had, I was allowed to have the men buy me drinks and to drink as much as I wanted.
Because there were only one or two jobs available a week—with these being only two-hour shifts, and because the agencies took half the fee, I made next to nothing. I still struggled to pay the rent. After a few weeks the agency began to tell me there were no bikini jobs that week and all that was available was lingerie waitressing at bucks' parties. It didn't seem like a huge line to cross, and I needed the money. Walking almost naked as a woman into a room full of drunk, rowdy men, many twice my age, made me feel vulnerable and shaky. They heckled and groped me and tried to photograph me. Some referred to me as 'slut' rather than use a false name I had given.
I was always offered extra cash to remove my bra. At first I refused. One man complained his money had been wasted because he had wanted to 'see some tits'. He pulled down his pants and flashed his genitals at me yelling 'Suck it, bitch,' as I left. I'd consume several drinks before arriving and continue drinking through the shift—this was the only thing that made it possible to endure.
After a couple of weeks the agencies told me there were few bookings for women not willing to perform a strip show using vegetables or dildos, and the only other jobs they had were for topless waitressing. The offer of more money for being bra-less, and the thought that I wouldn't be hassled and pestered to take my bra off…was enough to make me agree.
Society grooms women long before they enter the sex industry and the industry continues to groom us. After a few times serving men drinks in nothing but stilettos and a G-string, doing so in nothing but stilettos didn't seem like much of a line to cross. One week, when the only booking available was for a nude waitress at $20 extra an hour, I agreed to it.
A week after that I was sent to a venue where men had ordered a naked poker dealer. I undressed and accepted a glass of whiskey. I woke a day later [in another location] with a man's shirt over me and nothing else. My body hurt inside and my thighs were bruised. I had a black eye and a near blank memory. I didn't think there was any point going to the police—the men would simply say I was drunk and had consented (I had reported a rape to police once before as a teenager and was told I had little chance of a conviction).
The agency kept no details of the men who made bookings with them anyway, and I couldn't have tracked them down if I'd wanted to. My phone and wallet were gone and the money for the topless poker game with it, but the agency had taken their large cut of my fee with the booking so there was no loss for them.
I called an older women I had worked with at a few bucks' nights. She had offered me Oxycodone tablets during a worse-than-usual shift. Up until then I had refused, but that day I asked her to meet me. The pills made me feel better. I bought various drugs from then on. I hitchhiked to Sydney. I had decided I would work as an escort. I felt so violated that I just didn't care any more. All I wanted was money for drugs.
It is illegal to be prostituted as an escort in Queensland. Prostitution can only legally occur in-house at a licensed brothel, but it was legal in New South Wales. I bought into the illusion that being a high-class escort would be more palatable and highly paid, and I imagined there would be some kind of glamour in it.
The agency advertised their call-out rates at $600 to $1,500 per hour, depending on the rank they gave you, but they took half. Plus, I would need to spend thousands on designer suits and shoes, hair and beauty procedures, including teeth bleaching, waxing and eyelash implants. I would probably need breast implants too. This was because they usually only dispatched out-of-work models. I was too short, so I was advised to at first work in less exclusive brothels to save up money for the beauty procedures.
So, I hitchhiked back to Brisbane and went to work in a strip bar instead. I had convinced myself I didn't care what I had to do for money any more. I just didn't care about anything much at all. I could barely sleep due to nightmares. I figured working at a strip bar would distract me from them. I had also become infatuated with a heroin-addicted man, who later became abusive and violent. I needed money to support him.
So, at the bar dancers can gyrate naked against a pole all night and still make no money. The men pay a fee of around $30, at that time, to enter, but the club keeps all of it. The women are paid only if a man chooses them for a private dance. The dancers have to compete with each other to convince the customers to choose them. The only thing more degrading than having to gyrate naked on the lap of a balding, fat, old man for money is to have to beg him to pay you to do so, while he objects that the fee is too high.
There is a common myth that men are not allowed to touch strippers during a private dance. The truth is that the private dance usually entails the man putting his hands all over you and doing almost anything but penetrate you. The club takes at least half of the private dance fee. The man who owns the strip bar also owns several others across Brisbane that he rotated us around.
I worked with women who had grown up in foster care, women who had fled childhood sexual abuse, women who had lived on the streets, women living with drug dependency and young single mothers who had no other way to provide for their kids. All of us had been raped at least once and some of us habitually self-mutilated. Punters never seemed to care about the scars on your wrists.
We are told of women who love working in the sex industry, but in my time I never met such a woman. One night at the strip bar none of the men had paid me for a private dance. I had not made a cent, despite stripping to nothing and gyrating around the pole. As usual, the men refused to give me any tips because they had paid at the door. They didn't care that I got none of the door fee. I became increasingly desperate to sell a private dance, but all the men said the fee was too much, and maintained they would pay it only if I would go out the back with them for full sex. Most were old enough to be my grandfather, which only added to my disgust and feelings of degradation.
By about 4am, when the bar was closing, I handed the red dress we were required to wear to the boss. By this point I was drunker than usual and doped up on Codeine and Xanax. I stumbled on to the street and a flood of built-up tears that could no longer be contained began to spill out. The more I cried, the more the tears flooded out. A man approached me on the almost empty street and asked if I was okay. I had lived long enough to know that the man who approaches the damsel in distress does not actually care about her. I asked him flat out would he pay me to have sex with me. He told me he had $200 and I followed him to his apartment.
In the world I lived in the sum of all I was worth was $200. That fact filled me with more pain than I could contain. In his bathroom I took the rest of the pills left in my bag, found his razor and used it to cut my wrists, then removed my clothes and went and lay down on his bed, with blood sticking to the toilet paper I had stuck on the cuts. He only had $100 he said—it was all he could find. I insisted on clutching the cash while he used me.
This man felt it was worth paying $100 to have sex with a woman who had a tear-stained face and bleeding wrists. When he was finished I got up, put my clothes on and calmly said, 'You need to call an ambulance now, because I'm going to kill myself'. He responded with a blank, stupefied look and kind of shrugged. I walked out of his apartment and dialled 000 myself.
The ambulance did come. I was held at a psychiatric ward overnight; a place I have been admitted to more times than I can count. A psychiatrist told me I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder alongside the Borderline Personality Disorder I had previously been diagnosed with. I was now eligible for a disability pension under mental health criteria. The pension is enough to live on comfortably while studying full time and, unlike other welfare payments, is reliable and long term.
It strikes me as absurd that Australia's welfare system required me to become psychiatrically disabled by sexual abuse in order to be considered eligible to receive the amount of financial support that would have prevented much of the sexual abuse in the first place.
Rhiannon eventually reconnected with her stepfather and moved back to live with him in Canberra. He paid for hours of group therapy sessions for her and she later returned to study in Brisbane. She said:
The safety and comfort of being on the disability pension afforded me a sense of security I had never known. Knowing you will never have to have sex with anyone you don't wish to brings such freedom and nourishment to the body.
I'm not telling my story in search of pity; none of us want your pity. I tell it as a testimony to the bare truth of what prostitution is, the truth that every day is drenched in lies.
I'm telling this truth not for myself but for all the women who are still suffering and those yet to suffer in this climate of denial.
Those who want to deny the exploitation in prostitution will find ways to say that Rhiannon's experience is not relevant, but I think it is obvious that her abuse was not caused by stigma, or legalisation instead of decriminalisation, or any of the other ways they try to discredit women's stories. It was caused by the men who demand sex and the club owners who exploit them. It was caused by the nature of the sex industry.
Another survivor I spoke to said that support for decriminalisation was being fuelled by sex workers' rights groups who, although they represent the minority of people in prostitution, tend to be the most vocal. She said:
The exploited, trafficked, voiceless, marginalised and most vulnerable tend not to speak up as often or as loudly. Their voices are not being heard in this discussion and they need to be.
The status of all women is affected by misogyny and power imbalance. The question for we who are considering this bill is whether decriminalisation of the pimps and brothel owners will establish greater respect for women in our society, including those in prostitution, or less.
A report that looked at prostitution across nine countries contrasted prostitution to non-commercial casual sex, where both people act on the basis of sexual desire and both are free to retract without economic consequence. In prostitution, there is always a power imbalance where the john, the buyer, has the social and economic power to hire her or him to act like a sexualised puppet.
Members may or may not be aware that there are online review sites where men post reviews and rank the women with whom they have bought sex. Their attitudes to women, as revealed on these sites, is instructive, including comments such as, 'She's a sad waste of good girl flesh,' or, 'If you want an attractive receptacle for your semen she will do.'
The Comparing Sex Buyers study by Farley et al. reveals that men who pay to sexually exploit women are aware of the harms they inflict. It found that 'two thirds of both the sex buyers and the non-sex buyers observed that a majority of women are lured, tricked or trafficked into prostitution' and that '41 per cent…of the sex buyers used women who they knew were controlled by pimps at the time they used her.' This awareness, however, did not stop them.
This study found that sex buyers tend to regard the women they buy as less than human and as solely existing for their sexual use and enjoyment. Men who purchase sex are often quite open about their belief that their entitlement to sex should take precedence over the wellbeing of the women they buy. Common themes emerge: one is that the sex buyers regard the women they buy as mere objects for sexual gratification. They appear to despise the women they buy and require of these women absolute compliance and submission to the sex acts demanded of them.
The Comparing Sex Buyers study crucially finds that in systems of prostitution, sex buyers are motivated by the opportunity to control and dominate a woman so that they can perform degrading sex acts against her that female partners would refuse. Farley and colleagues recorded statements from buyers such as, 'If my fiancée won't give me anal, I know someone who will,' and:
You get to treat a ho like a ho…you can find a ho for any type of need—slapping, choking, aggressive sex beyond what your girlfriend would do—you won't do stuff to your girlfriend that will make her lose her self esteem.
One man complained about his experience in Amsterdam. Before anyone thinks to themselves, 'What's that got to do with us?', this is about the attitudes of the men who are buying sex. He said:
[It] was like going through a turnstile into a fairground ride: in and you're out. The idea that the women had been with five men in the last hour or 20 men in a day was a big turn off.
Note that his concern is not that perhaps a woman servicing five men in an hour, or 20 in a day, might be suffering physical trauma or any other impact; the issue is that he found it a turn-off. Buyers believe their purchasing power entitles them to demand any type of sex they want, and this is borne out by the experiences of women who have worked in decriminalised environments. One woman who was in prostitution in Australia and New Zealand, both before and after legalisation and decriminalisation, said that, contrary to promises from the pro-prostitution lobby, punter violence—that is, buyers' violence—increased in New Zealand after the 2003 change in the law. She says:
[In 2003] the police violence stopped overnight under decriminalisation, so on that level it was good—
I mention that that obviously is a good outcome from decriminalisation—
but the johns…within the space of a year the johns got more violent and had greater expectations. They thought they could do whatever they wanted, thought they had bought your body. I had never had someone say 'I paid for your body and I can do what I want' until decriminalisation.
One of the consequences of decriminalisation in New Zealand was that brothels offer all-inclusives. This is where men pay a flat fee to come into a brothel and can then have sex with as many women as they wish and can do whatever they wish. The women have no choice and no control because it is the brothel owner who calls the shots. As I mentioned, 95 per cent of people providing sex and prostitution are women and 99 per cent of buyers are men. This is clearly a gendered issue.
Many in this place have campaigned against the objectification of women: that the value of women and girls should not be based on their physical attractiveness and sexual appeal. It is an important principle, which is completely undermined by the promotion of prostitution. This bill proposes a system where pimps and brothel owners are totally decriminalised and there is nothing to stop the advertising of women as though they are pieces of meat on a slab, available to any person who hands over some cash.
The rhetoric is around choice, that this is a sex worker's chosen occupation and the law should not interfere with that, yet we do restrict people's choices if they are deemed damaging. We ceased supporting grid girls after 2016 because it was deemed inappropriate and to be encouraging the objectification of women. Indeed, on 23 February 2016, the Hon. Ian Hunter replied to a question about the Body Image SA project, saying:
The sexualisation and 'sexploitation' of women is a key issue in sport. The Minister for Recreation and Sport has indicated that the government will not continue to support the grid girls after the 2016 Clipsal race.
So women were no longer able to choose to be involved in the sexualisation and sexploitation of women as grid girls because of its effects on the status of women in general. There is a strong campaign at present, which I support, to get rid of Wicked Campers on our roads because of their vile misogynist messages about women and the way that seeing such messages can shape the attitudes of boys and men towards women.
We rightly rally against the objectification of women. We condemn misogynist slogans. We encourage our girls to see their value as more than just their sexual appeal, but are we then going to decriminalise the people who profit from women's prostitution? One woman wrote:
For the rest of you, I want you to know that the vast majority of people working in prostitution are not consenting adults who, feeling empowered by a plethora of other employment options, decide that selling their bodies for sex is their most desirable career.
Prostitution turns people into products. Inherently, it is built on systems of gender inequality where women are dehumanized and sexually exploited for the pleasure and gratification of men. This is evident in the fact that 98% of those being bought are women and 99% of those buying sex are men.
Ultimately, it is not a system of empowerment but one that exploits those with the least power. Some women call this the pimp protection bill and say:
…the legalized buying and selling of women is in effect the promotion of and profiting from women's poverty, childhood sexual abuse, sexual harassment and sexual exploitation.
I spoke to several women who had campaigned for decriminalisation, but when it actually happened they saw its devastating effects and changed their minds. Wherever prostitution is legal the demand for commercial sex increases, which provides a great incentive to pimps and sex traffickers to push more women into the marketplace to sell. We saw from the earlier story that someone can start by simply wanting to work in a bar because of their poverty and end up in a place that they certainly have not freely chosen.
Of course, it is obvious, really, because the business model is built on increasing demand. Any business model is built on increasing demand. Increased demand means increased profit. Researchers have reported:
One of the consequences of decriminalisation and legalisation is the increase in demand and its further normalisation. Sex buyers that I and others have interviewed found that many men pay for sex the first time in legalised or decriminalised regimes, and feel entitled to do so because there is no social or legal deterrent.
The lobbyists claim there was no increase in the number of brothels after decriminalisation in New Zealand. This ignores the fact that single owner-operated businesses, sometimes called SOOBs, across the country do not need a licence and are therefore not included in the count of brothels. However, brothel owners who cannot get a licence due, for example, to a criminal record, set up numerous apartments for girls who are supposedly working for themselves. The pimps and brothel owners still control it, it is just underground. Another woman said:
Legalisation/decriminalization do not prevent sexual assault from happening, nor does it bring justice to perpetrators. While working in strip clubs, a legal area of the commercial sex industry—
in her state—
I was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions. In two instances, law enforcement was called. Each time they looked at me like I was crazy for complaining about the assault I experienced. The message I received was, 'This is part of your job. Why are you wasting our time with this?'
So there is essentially a cultural approval of violence against women because prostitution is intrinsically violent. Violence is entrenched in everyday so-called work practices and the so-called work environment. Sexual harassment and rape are indistinguishable from the sex that the buyers purchase. Indeed, if sex is just a service, rape becomes merely theft of service, does it not? What would the raped woman get then from prosecuting the perpetrator? Maybe a couple of hundred dollars of compensation for the theft. How many would bother?
The places that have decriminalised have not seen lower levels of violence against women and it has not improved conditions for the women. One woman I spoke to had campaigned heavily for decriminalisation in New Zealand, but now she is absolutely against it. It has just increased the power imbalance between pimps and the women in prostitution and between the buyers and the women.
The women I have spoken to say that sexual harassment is part of the trade, being raped is part of the trade and being treated as totally worthless, except as an orifice for men's sexual gratification, is part of the trade. One woman in a decrim environment told me:
We could have called the police numerous times, but abuse, intimidation and sexual harassment were all just part of the territory. The owner didn't want us calling the police. It would be bad for business.
According to Prostitution Research and Education, 70 to 95 per cent of women in prostitution experience physical assault, 60 to 75 per cent are raped and 95 per cent experience sexual harassment that in other industries would result in legal action. Chelsea had recently escaped a legal brothel in New Zealand and said the following in response to the harm deniers. I will quote Chelsea, and I will just make a slight amendment to one word, which I think will become clear:
I've started doing something that could be seen to be very anti-feminist. I've started inviting people to come prostitute with me. I'm telling all these privileged lefty academic 'pro sex-work' arrogant [flockers] that if they think being prostituted is just 'sex work' and they are for it, that they can come and work with me in the brothels and get a dose of reality. This was not a choice like any other for us, it was a choice made in the absence of anything better.
This begs the question of why are we as a society not offering anything better to the women and girls who are not freely choosing prostitution? Where in this bill is there a single support for women who want to exit this exploitation? The response, of course, will come that sex workers do not want to be rescued; they just want their human rights. One woman I was speaking with said:
So a few people in prostitution saying they are free is enough to justify the enslavement of the rest of us? Where are our human rights? A handful of people saying they enjoy 'sex work' doesn't make all of the other evidence about violence, post-traumatic stress disorder and trafficking in prostitution, magically disappear. If you work on the streets, your pimps are the gangs. If you work in a brothel, your pimps are businessmen.
We are talking about the New Zealand situation in this one. She continues:
What happens is that we're treated like employees when it suits them so he tells us when we can work and what we have to do. We're treated as independent contractors when it comes to tax. So we occupy this nowhere land and that means we have no rights, no protection and there's nothing we can do about it.
During the time she was involved in prostitution, Chelsea visited the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective to find out her rights, but all she was offered was condoms at a discounted price. Chelsea said:
That's what lures you in and when you're there they groom you and make out it's the greatest thing ever…and they lie to you.
I had this new workers' pack, which is full of propaganda. They'll say how to stay a happy hooker and talk about burn-out syndrome. But it's not burn-out syndrome, it's a normal response to ongoing sexual abuse.
The issue of trafficking is often raised. Ms Franks told us in her second reading explanation that trafficking will remain illegal.
The Hon. T.A. Franks: The Hon. Ms Franks.
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I beg your pardon, my apologies. That certainly was not intentional. The Hon. Ms Franks certainly told us in her second reading explanation that trafficking will remain illegal, as though that means trafficking is of no concern in this bill. However, a 2002 article in the journal World Development by the scholars Cho, Dreher and Newmayer concluded that:
Countries with legalised prostitution have a statistically significantly larger reported incidence of human trafficking inflows.
On a radio interview with the Hon. Ms Franks this week we were told:
…some workers actually do come over on sex work visas to Australia and in some states in NSW they can operate under a decriminalised model.
This begs the question of how a sex work visa and trafficking are to be differentiated. Information from both women within prostitution as well as police is that trafficking certainly does happen. International research in 2012 concluded:
The scale effect of legalising prostitution leads to an expansion of the prostitution market and thus an increase in human trafficking…
One of the issues under decrim is the increased difficulty of policing and investigating trafficking. The proponents of the bill claim that, as prostitution will be so much more transparent, sex buyers will be more likely to see it and therefore report it. A similar argument is used about underage girls in prostitution. Women report that the problems of trafficking and underage girls is not reined in under decrim. How could it be? As one woman said:
Punters [sex buyers] are unlikely to report the employment of underage girls, trafficked women, or other illegal activities they see to police; it's the punters who create the demand for those things in the first place!
Were women to report to police, at the minimum their livelihoods, if not worse, would be at risk. Donna has written:
I was 17 when I first started working in a brothel. The owner knew I was underage and was fine with that. He knew the younger I looked, the more desirable I would be to punters and the more money I would make for him. There was no duty of care toward me.
There have been a number of prosecutions for underage girls in New South Wales: a Sydney brothel owner, who prostituted a 14-year-old girl; a 42 year old charged with prostituting a 14-year-old girl via an adult escort website in Sydney; and there are others. We are told that this is just sex work, two mutually consenting adults freely choosing to engage in a commercial transaction and that it has no bearing on anyone else or society as a whole. Some of the examples of women who have been through this situation show that a free choice is a myth.
I will mention why I have not used the term 'sex worker' very much today. I have someone close to me who was in prostitution for 17 years. Thinking that I was using the right terminology one day, I referred to her time in 'sex work'. She was absolutely shattered. 'It's not work, it's abuse,' she said. As a result, I try not to use the term. I am sorry if those who say they have chosen prostitution are offended, but I am more sorry that women suffering from trauma and PTSD have their experiences dismissed. Just as I will not tell a rape victim that she has not been raped and I will not tell a domestic violence survivor that she was not abused, nor will I tell a sexual abuse survivor that it was just her job.
And, of course, 'just a job' is one of the slogans being pushed, that sex worke is work. The lobbyists have been quite successful in promoting this message. Again, that message ignores that there are third parties in prostitution: the pimps and the brothel owners. One woman spoke about her experiences in the large branded brothels:
…the competition (sometimes as many as 50 women a night) was incredibly intense…Johns want the newest, youngest girls.
Whenever a john showed interest in me, I would walk with him, in tottering heels, to the front desk, where he would pay his fee to the receptionist before taking me upstairs. It was a clever system for management—taking control of the money meant that you couldn't simply wander off before the end of your shift. Even the women who only wanted to see a minimal number of men were more or less forced to stay until 6am in order to get paid. We were supposed to be 'independent contractors,' I discovered later, but the way the system was set up, it didn't feel that way.
There was plenty of unpaid labour involved in these transactions as well. It was not imperative that every punter took a woman upstairs, because they would still spend money on drinks at the bar—drinks that were priced at a higher premium than other bars, due to the fact that they came with a side order of underdressed young women. We didn't get any percentage of these earnings, of course.
Another woman wrote:
The boss liked us to work most nights and so the constant [sex] left us bruised and sore. This one particular john had a thick penis, which he liked to [use] as hard and fast as he could. Initially, I tried to breathe deeply and relax my muscles but the pain was excruciating. I began to hold on to his hips to slow him down, push him away from me, but he got impatient and then angry, before flouncing off to complain, as though he was the victim of some great injustice.
A waitress might have to smile incessantly, but she doesn't have to be mauled or bruised. A carpenter or a brick-layer might scuff his fingers or hurt his back, but he doesn't have to pretend he finds it pleasurable. He doesn't have to ignore the pain. But in the culture of the mega brothel world, these distinctions are collapsed and these complaints are erased. The thousands upon thousands of women who will have passed through the doors of brothels like the one I worked in are scattered into the ether, not on picket lines shoulder-to-shoulder with the punters and pimps calling for its further legitimization—for this destructive gratification to be considered just 'a job like any other'.
Another woman says:
To say that every woman enters the sex industry by 'choice' is a lie. To make a choice you need to have the facts about what you are choosing. 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. The industry knows once you're lured in it's hard to get out.
She talks about the amount of trauma that the industry left her with. The information on the harms of prostitution and trafficking has to be culturally, psychologically and legally denied because otherwise it would interfere with the business, the business of exploitation.
A report on prostitution and trafficking in nine countries, focusing on violence and post-traumatic stress disorder found that prostitution was multitraumatic, with 71 per cent being physically assaulted in prostitution, 63 per cent were raped and 89 per cent of the respondents wanted to escape prostitution but did not have any other options for survival. A total of 75 per cent had been homeless at some point in their lives and 68 per cent met the criteria for PTSD. Severity of PTSD symptoms was strongly associated with the number of different types of lifetime sexual and physical violence. There are also strong parallels to domestic violence. Another study describes:
…similar methods of coercion and control used by pimps and non-pimp batterers—
domestic violence perpetrators—
to control women: minimization and denial of physical violence and abuse, economic exploitation, social isolation, verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, physical violence, sexual assault, and captivity.
However, a report from the Kirby Institute said:
Nevertheless brothel workers appear to be much better off in this respect than street-based sex workers where the majority report serious lifetime traumas, and a large number also report adult sexual assault and work-related violence, as well as drug dependence and depression…In one recent study nearly half had symptoms that met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and one third reported current PTSD.
That was the report into the sex industry in New South Wales in 2012.
In Sweden, the inherent violence of the sex trade has been acknowledged by a coalition of Labour and Greens politicians, to make changes that reduce prostitution overall. The lobbyists for the pimps and brothel owners make sweeping statements that it does not work for sex workers—but in the lobbyists' language, pimps and brothel owners are sex workers. They are called managers and business owners. It is worth querying that use of language when the lobbyists are purporting to represent sex workers. If sex is a service, pimps are managers and brothel owners are business owners.
Another woman shared the experiences that she had gone through. She talked about:
…the many violations that were done to me. The pressure to do anal sex, the extra money offered to go condom-free, the drugs offered in lieu of money, group sex with a football team who treated me like a piece of meat, the call-outs to hotels where I had no idea who I would encounter, and the guys who want to dominate—happy to rough you up to get what they want.
Another woman commented on what she considers a whitewash of the issues in prostitution, of the violence that is inherent in it, and says:
The fact that the majority of prostituted women incur disability doesn't seem to matter but the rights of [all other men, including men with a disability] to sexual access is all important.
The Hon. Ms Pnevmatikos mentioned the ABC poll that was run today asking, I understand, 'Should sex work be decriminalised?' If that poll had said, 'Should pimps and brothel owners be decriminalised?' I wonder if the answer might have been different. What we need to remember in this debate is who is going to be the biggest profiteer; who is going to get the most benefit from this bill if it passes?
The answer is those who exploit women. The answer is the pimps and the brothel owners. They have the most to gain. The women who have bravely spoken up with their stories have nothing to gain from this. If we talk about a stigma, those women are experiencing that stigma as much as anyone else who says they have chosen sex work.
Those who speak out about the realities of prostitution have nothing to gain. Those who promote the decriminalisation of pimps and brothel owners, under the guise of protecting sex workers, have huge amounts to gain. Every time we look at this issue, and any aspect of this issue, we should be looking through that lens, because if we are not, we are betraying every woman and every girl who potentially can be led into prostitution because we have made it easy for those who want to procure her. We have made it easy for those who want to buy her and we have made it easy for those who want to exploit her and make money off her back.
I understand there may be some possible amendments to the bill. I will wait to see what those amendments are because it is true that the current law is very far from ideal. However, if we are going to change the law, it needs to make it better for people in our community and it needs to make it better for those who are most vulnerable. It certainly needs to make it better for those who are not freely choosing prostitution, and I do not believe the bill does that. It may be that there are amendments that will assist it but when the basis of a bill is to decriminalise those who seek to exploit the most, then it is hard to see how the bill could be redeemed.
Sometimes people say to me, 'Well, how can all these terrible things about prostitution be so bad? We don't hear about them.' The experience of many women has resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder, other traumas and other disabilities, as we heard from the woman I just mentioned. Then we say to somebody who has PTSD, 'By the way, come out tomorrow; come to the steps of Parliament House and have cameras in your face—not just cameras from the television stations that you have agreed to but from others pushing them in your face and trying to intimidate you.' Then we ask, 'Why aren't very many people speaking out?'
Those who do are often intimidated in various ways. Remember that, as I mentioned, those who speak out have nothing to gain, it is only those who try to silence them who have something to gain. If you look at the media coverage of the issue of prostitution, generally when someone is interviewed to represent the interests of those in prostitution, it is someone in favour. Recently and on numerous occasions I have provided to different media outlets the contact details of some of the women who are willing to speak out about their experiences, including their experiences under a decriminalised regime. Those women have not been contacted—with some notable exceptions, I might say—and their voices are not heard.
The question returns as to why that would be. What are the vested interests that do not want the reality of prostitution—what it is for many women—to be heard? It is those who have the most to gain, it is the profiteers. One woman talked about the effects of her speaking out. This woman was from Ireland. She entered prostitution at 15 and escaped prostitution aged 22. She later became a writer and an opponent of legalisation. She said:
I've seen pro-lobbyists turn up to events…and deliver outpourings of hatred into the faces of women who are simply there to state the pain and harm men did to them in prostitution, and the most pukesome part of it is that these women will tell you they are feminists and say so with a straight face.
As for me, I've been slandered and defamed…routinely…The people actively engaged in this behaviour describe themselves as 'sex workers' rights activists'. Most are women and many have never been in prostitution themselves.
I've had violent threats direct to my front door…I've had my bank details, personal email and home address procured and passed around among pro-lobbyists; my home address was subsequently posted online. Since they got hold of my email address the harassing emails have never stopped. Turning on my laptop feels like going into battle and it's been years since I felt able to casually open my own front door.
It's little wonder that younger, more vulnerable women are hounded out of speaking publicly. It's a deliberate strategy of the pro-lobbyists...
But, of course, we hear the lobbyists say that there is no harm in prostitution because so few women speak publicly about it.
Finally, I want to tell you a story of a woman who was in prostitution for a number of years. She says:
I want to tell you a little of what it is like to be in prostitution and to be a prostitution survivor…I've worked in 'higher-end' legal and illegal brothels. I was in the 'safer end' of the industry. I did street prostitution only once. Sometimes I wonder which is worse: the prostitution I endured—which I insisted was my 'choice', a requisite of the 'job'—or having to listen to people defend it now.
The prostitution itself—the men, one after the other, after the other, after the other, with their sad and lonely stories (but they wanted the sex), with their entitlement (they had a right to the sex), their hostility (they demanded the sex), the violence (they paid more to hurt me for sex or just hurt me in the course of it). All men from different walks of life who believed they had a right to me because, well, I was there.
On top of me, inside me, around me, touching me, grabbing at me…ignoring me if I was exhausted or upset and doing it anyway, some even apologising to me, but doing it anyway. Some complaining about me (oh and I suffered for that!) but coming back to do it again anyway, or finding another woman who hadn't forgotten to take her Valium that day like I had—but who had just enough Valium to dissociate but not look like she had, and most importantly, remembered to smile.
'And they call this sex work?' she says. She continues:
Attempts have been made, overwhelmingly now by the pro-prostitution lobbyists, to make [sex work] a term of dignity for the prostituted. However, whose dignity does it really serve? We are prostituted. The word is ugly…[but] put simply, it is truthful. This is why the pimps and the johns don't want us to use it, and why the general public may not want [us to use] it. We do not owe dignity to the pimps and the johns.
Yes, those memories linger whether I am meeting with politicians, or trying to be heard among the cries of 'sex worker rights' in the media. Or the intellectuals who calmly look at me as an interesting subject—who view it all as a sociological phenomenon of interest. Rather than violation. Rather than agony. Rather than urgency.
And when travelling all the way, with the resultant PTSD, to meet politicians in my own or another state in fear and desperation that another generation of human beings will endure what I went through, and telling them I am a survivor. Then going back to a hotel room to sleep and being woken several times sweating and suffocating. Feeling weights on me. Crying, then feeling stupid. Checking the internet for news from home and finding another person telling me they hope I die and that I am feminist scum and a man hater and too ugly to—
'flock', shall we say. It continues:
That I needed to get raped and that would sort me out. This is my life. Would I do this if I thought prostitution was just another job I once had? If being prostituted was sex work?
She then explained that as result of the cost of travelling to talk to politicians she almost lost her rented home, but she took that chance. Why?
Just for the opportunity that someone, anyone, who has sway, might listen: I mean really listen. Not listen and put it in the 'opinion' basket. Not listen and say that full decriminalisation is somehow bringing us into the 21st century when it is the most oppressive form of sex inequality on the planet. Not listen and then ignore the truth about New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, as well as Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil. Not listen when they give free rein to the pimps, procurers and profiteers, the very ones who made their fortunes off my body and stole my life away.
This is the life I have now. Writing emails and going broke, telling people I was in the sex trade, breaking it to my family. Because, like the other women trying to get people to understand what prostitution really is, I care about my life, and I care about other women. I am hoping that you will listen.