Recently I wrote a piece about my experience giving testimony against the decriminalisation of sex-buyers and pimps. https://sim345.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/slap-the-pimps-on-the-back-prostituted-women-dont-matter-in-australia/ . On August 2nd, CEO of YWCA Liz Forsyth wrote a ridiculously ill-informed opinion piece which had all the hallmarks of the committee members who shut me down when I gave that testimony. Here is my response:
I’m writing in response to an article by Liz Forsyth Aug 2 2017
There are so many falsehoods in Liz Forsyths article it is difficult to know where to begin. Like many others (including journalists) who weigh in on the ‘sex work’ bandwagon Forsyth has taken half-baked notions of women’s freedom and health and swallowed wholesale the dubious claims about both decriminalisation and the Nordic Model. The costs to the majority in the sex-trade are dismissed with misinformation and an out-dated mode of sexual liberation and misplaced worker’s rights sloganeering.
Is Forsyth unaware of the history of the ‘sex worker rights’ movement? It began with good intentions here in Australia much as it did elsewhere, such as in the ILO in Europe. In late seventies Australia, the plight of women in prostitution was evident in neighbourhoods and instead of looking to the men buying these women for sex, the women were considered the vectors of social problems, disease,violence, drug abuse and lowering the market prices of ‘decent people’s’ homes. As a result, socialist groups and women’s rights groups countered with demanding protections- never endorsing prostitution as a good alternative to poverty, never claiming that it is a ‘job like any other’ nor indeed ‘inevitable’- but with the goal to curb violence and stigma around these women while addressing the poverty and social factors which left these women vulnerable to male violence.
To sum it up briefly, as these things were tricky to mandate under existing legislation, the rights of prostituted women were put under the right to work and access to usual occupational health and safety laws that were already in place for other workers, in order to offer some bare minimum safety for these women.
The term ‘sex work’ itself was coined by two women who had never been in prostitution themselves but with the cynical attitude of so many other people globally that prostitution is ‘ the oldest profession’ used the legislative framework of worker’s rights, ( again,first used by socialist feminists in good faith), to normalise it as meaningful work rather than oppression and an inherently abusive system of male domination over females. What began as a measure to protect women, became the noose of ‘harm minimisation’ and sex-trade expansion that we have today.
Forsyth’s take on the Nordic Model has flipped reality on it’s head. She doesn’t seem to have a basic understanding of economics and what supply and demand mean in a free market economy.
As a woman in a brothel in New Zealand told me “You’d think all of us would want the Nordic Model just because it limits competition alone. With fewer women you can raise the prices and set the terms more easily”.
This woman in NZ goes on to say that the market is flooded with more and more ‘girls’ in both brothel and street, therefore it is the sex-buyers and brothel owners who set the rates and enforce dress-codes, late fees, sick -day penalties and dish out black marks against women who call the police against violent sex-buyers or men who rob them. They get away with this because of increased demand. It isn’t rocket science.
You can read more about the failure of decriminalisation in NZ here.
Contrary to Forsyth’s claim that in 2016 the NSW Government thought everything was going swimmingly, a committee recommended setting up a special task force to deal with sex-trafficking alone.
There has also been a push for licensing in NSW ( quite a doomed premise considering it does not hinder demand) but the reality of sex-trafficking cannot be ignored.
The failure of the licensing regime is evident in Germany where out of an estimated 450,000 people in the legal sex trade, the majority of whom are trafficked, only 44 are registered.
It seems the South Australian based chapter of Soroptomist International Forsyth mentions have not read the Soroptomist International White Paper which clearly posits that ending demand, not decriminalising sex-buyers and third party profiteers is the best practice method.
Forsyth uses Amnesty International as a one of the pinnacles to endorse decriminalisation, seemingly unaware of the fact that their policy was drafted by known pimp Douglas Fox in the UK with input from convicted sex traffickers. She also fails to take into account the flawed and pre-decided consultation process Amnesty International used in order to push through their policy. Amnesty Dosier
Forsyth also claims Zonta endorses the decriminalisation of sex-buyers and pimps, but that was not my experience when they welcomed both myself and anti-pornography activist and author professor Robert Jensen to speak at an event here in Australia. They purchased copies of a book I am featured in supporting Nordic Model laws in fact.
Forsyth doesn’t need to take my word for it that decriminalising sex-buyers and pimps is dangerous, misogynist and anathema to women’s human rights, but she may want to listen to a voice of reason from sex-trade survivor of both New Zealand and the UK, Rae Story, when she responded to a man who said legalisation made prostitution safer
She wrote out the exchange here:
Man: “We should legalise prostitution, regulate it and make it safer.”
RAE: “Oh well you see, that does not work because prostitutes are too intermittent and vulnerable a social group, and so the idea that post legalisation they will effectively collectivise in order to ensure the ‘best standards’ – which is not really saying much – is theoretically implausible and has been demonstrated to not have a precedent.
It is an existential problem with the industry because we know that prostitution causes poor mental health, and/or is a result of it, because we know that only very vulnerable women – made vulnerable often by a conglomeration of factors such as poverty, poor health, previous experience of violence and rape, being from the care system or a diasporic or marginalized ethinic group…tend to be the prostitutional resource…and because post legalisation or decrim it will be in the interest of the new business pimps, who will leverage their prior wealth, in order to maintain the vulnerability of the group in order to make the most profits.
We also know that the longer a woman is trapped in prostitution & the younger she begins in prostitution the more likely she is to develop post traumatic stress, but the industry is tilted to preference young women and because they are a transient resource, especially in areas of high levels of migration, such as Europe, women from poorer countries will be catalogued in to service the growing needs of the market, an inevitability as growth is basic trajectory of free market capitalism. Which is a negative in food and clothing production but is even more so in prostitution, because, as I say, the vulnerability of the group is fundamental.
Indeed, keeping women vulnerable is a necessity of the industry and would be more so if a free market model is bought in. Its a Catch 22 , if you will. What makes all this more depressing as an idea is that the concomitant violences in prostitution such as battery and murder do not deplete. “
Man:”We should legalise prostitution, regulate it and make it safer.”
Rae: “Err, do you ever listen and respond to specific arguments?”
Man: “We should legalise prostitution, regulate it and make it safer.”
Rae: “Shit man. And you people run the world…”
When she said “And you people run the world ” Rae could just as easily been saying it to politicians and members of the legislative assemblies who insist this restrictive and out-dated proposal to decriminalise and legitimise the rights of sex-buyers, pimps and other third party profiteers is somehow better for ‘sex workers’.
As a sex-trade survivor I gave testimony to the Select Committee in South Australian parliament and was met with astonishing hostility not to mention illogicality.
People such as Forsyth, Franks, Lensink and Key who took this zealous push to decriminalise the sex-trade have become so dogmatic they put their highly irresponsible ideology above the facts and using confirmation bias to appease their dodgy ethical compass take groups such as SIN at face value. They do not consult with peak bodies for those in the sex-trade, they consult with government funded minorities who are not representative of ‘sex workers’, but are front groups for pimps.
Just because the sex-trade doesn’t impact on Forsyth personally, like Franks, Lensink and Key,she can still swill around in a cloud of delusion and believe she has been accurately informed.
It is an understandable oversight given the amount of propaganda she and so many of us are inundated with,but perhaps not a forgivable one considering her position in the community. Her stance fits with the profile of tolerance for sexual exploitation which should be condemned given the position entrusted to her as the CEO of the YWCA.
Simone Watson (pictured) is a survivor of the legal and illegal sex trade in Australia and director of Nordic Model Australia Coalition (NorMAC). She is a contributor to the book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Caroline Norma. She is a former member of Amnesty International and in 2014 was their Western Australian Human Rights Delegate.