Testimony: Select Committee Decriminalisation of ‘Sex Work’ South Australia 2016

Testimony to the Select Committee on the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2015

Parliament House, Adelaide, South Australia

31st August, 2016

 

From Simone Watson

National Director Nordic Model Australia Coalition (NorMAC)

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My name is Simone Watson , I am the National Director of the Nordic Model Australia Coalition, a Survivor of prostitution.  I would like to thank you for listening to my testimony here today. My story is in the book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade along with those of 20 other Survivors – victims of the brutality of the sex trade.

 

NorMAC was established in 2012 and is a secular organisation that seeks to end harmful cultural practices of sexual exploitation in Australia.

SURVIVORS ALL OVER THE WORLD ARE TELLING US THAT DECRIMINALSIATION DRAMATICALLY INCREASES THE DEMAND FOR, AND HARMS TO PEOPLE IN THE PROSTITUTION MARKET

Survivors voices are constantly being dismissed as we are told that if we are not currently in the sex trade, we have no right to comment on it.

Do we put such a declaration on our war veterans, those who have suffered and have lived the experience of war and say to us, “Never again”? Are there a group of current combat soldiers lining up to tell them they are wrong and ‘war-phobic’ because they say there should never be another war? I haven’t seen any.

Survivors voices must be given the same acknowledgement and respect as Survivor voices have been given in the domestic violence campaign. But, to be heard we must first of all respond to the misleading information and discrediting of us by people claiming to be ‘sex workers’.

Most recently a domestic violence service in Townsville, QLD offered it’s conference room, as it does to many groups, to a group of sex-trade Survivors for the launch of our book Prostitution Narratives.  Pro sex-trade activists (ironically named RESPECT) were welcome to attend the launch but asked to remove pro sex trade posters they had posted out of respect for the survivors. They were also told that no heckling would be tolerated from any group at the book launch.  However, they would have none of it, and told the Domestic Violence service, quote: ” we will not be responsible for the actions of our members”.  As a result the event was moved at short notice to a cafe, where the sex trade lobbyists duly arrived and harassed and heckled the survivors and other speakers. One of these was a former president and long time affiliate of the Scarlet Alliance, who approached the youngest survivor, a woman who had been pimped out at the age of four, to try and recruit her back into the sex-trade in New South Wales.

This young woman felt threatened and sickened by this approach. And to me, the idea that survivor voices are not only stigmatised but disrupted at every turn, and that a sex-industry lobby group would threaten a domestic violence service, speaks volumes about the mentality of the sex-trade and these so-called ‘sex-worker’ organisations.

We must take care not to blame the perniciousness and insidiousness of such a powerful trade on those whose mentality has turned not only to vilifying survivors of torture, trying to recruit torture survivors back into the sex-trade, intimidate domestic violence services and claim that men have a right to paid sexual access to girls and women. But I would suggest, that even had my time in prostitution been innocuous to me, I would be in such a minority as to never inflict it’s inevitability and expansion on the majority who want to get out.

Much emphasis is placed on the apparent ‘right’ of an individual to be bought for sex if they ‘choose’ and very little on the men who buy individuals for sex. Much emphasis is placed on individuals altogether, as if individual choices happen in a vacuum and do not influence anybody else. Well, legislation does impact on everybody, and this is why I am not alone in expecting that legislation be designed to fit the needs of the majority, and the fact is, over 89% of those being bought in the sex-trade, whether on the street or in the brothel, want to get out.

The sloganistic cry “Sex worker Rights are Human Rights’ may sit well with Amnesty International, johns and pimps alike, but makes little sense. I hope also that you can see through ‘sex worker’ claims of being silenced or ignored, for what they are. All human beings have rights under various laws and under the declaration of human rights. I suggest it is possible to protect all human rights, including those who call themselves ‘sex workers’, without dispensing with the basic human rights of the majority in the sex-trade.

I’m familiar with probably every argument for the sex-trade being a ‘service industry’, ‘job like any other’, like working in MacDonald’s, and more recently, like being a coal miner. And it is true that these industries or businesses, as with prostitution, exist because of demand.

What neither MacDonalds or the coal industry, nor any other industry or service job I can think of, has within it’s remit for a job, is the sexual penetration, ejaculation on and into, fetishisation and dehumanisation of it’s employees. Sexual abuse can and does happen in any other job, but it is not the expectation of any other job. No person in a regular job has to apply skin analgesic to themselves, to the vagina for instance, to withstand the pain of ‘working ‘ let alone with another person.

As another sex-trade survivor said, “In MacDonalds, you might be flipping burgers, but you are not the meat.”

The attempts by the sex trade to normalise and sanitise prostitution within the remit of ‘any other job’ are spurious.

While an individual may be able to distort reality in their head, the reality remains what it is, outside of that distortion,

and within the sex-trade, the facts speak for themselves – prostitution has become the global humanitarian disaster and crisis of the 21 century.

I look to Syria and see the immediacy for aid – but I look at the sex-trade knowing how man-made crises such as the one happening in Syria, and natural disasters, such as the devastating earthquake in Nepal, or floods in Bangladesh, are prime opportunities for men who buy women and children for sex, do not care where these women and children have come from, and the pimps who profit from the demand.

Just think about that for a moment – and think again when you vote on this legislation – men will increase their demand to buy girls and women for sex without any care as to their being trafficked or coerced into this trade. 26,000 girls alone are trafficked out of the Sundabans every year into India, 15,000 women and girls from Nepal into India Cambodia and South Africa – into the prostituion market.

This is perhaps the most simple, least complex fact about prostitution to grasp, yet it is the very one the ‘Sex Worker Rights are Human Rights” sloganeering fails to recognise, that Amnesty International, the public, and indeed those with legislative responsibility, often fail to premise in drafting and implementing legislation and policy.

But surely you are talking about trafficking?! I hear ad nauseum.

One of the claims we hear from sex trade advocates, Amnesty International and others, including SIN here in Adelaide, is “We must not conflate sex work with sex-trafficking.” – “No one is suggesting we condone trafficking!”.

What makes this argument so ridiculous is that there is no different PROSTITUION MARKET for those who choose and those who do not. Supply and demand is what the sex-trade is all about.

While it is true that there are a tiny minority who claim to have agency, it is perhaps the single most important thing I can hope to impress on those of you who have taken the time to listen to me today – most have no choice and without demand the prostitution market collapses.

DECRIMINALISATION IN NEW ZEALAND, GERMANY, AND OTHER AUSTRALIAN STATES HAS LED TO DRAMATIC INCREASES IN THE DEMAND FOR, AND HARMS TO PEOPLE IN THE PROSTITUTION MARKET – WHY DID AMNESTY CHOOSE TO IGNORE THIS?

You have heard, and have at hand, submissions from my colleagues which show the recognised facts about prostitution.

Where ever prostitution is fully decriminalised, there is an inevitable expansion of the sex-trade. That is to say, it immediately increases demand. We know what happens in any profit-driven industry when demand increases, more of the ‘product’ is required, which in this case happens not to be fair-trade coffee or a hybrid type of apple, but mainly women and children. Where do these women come from? Are they being plucked from a free-range orchard of a special variety of sexually empowered women in the Barossa? No, I don’t think so.

You know, or have at hand information, that the full decriminalisation of prostitution in New Zealand has led to an explosion in prostitution, including international trafficking and the internal trafficking of particularly Maori and Pacific Islander girls. That a woman who was a member of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, who fought to have this very model implemented in 2003, ostensibly to protect ‘sex workers’ from harassment by the police and control of the pimps, has come out publicly to say it has failed.

She has come out to tell us, as have other women, some of whom are currently in the fully decriminalised sex-trade, that there is now less room for negotiation with johns, that full-service is given at the discretion of his wallet and the brothel- owner (whom Amnesty International now call ‘managers’.) and where women do not get to decide which sexual acts they must perform, nor which johns they see.

You have the data on Germany, and have heard it has become known as the Bordello of Europe- that over 80% in the sex trade are trafficked, that despite it being decriminalised, only 44 of the some 400,000-450,000 people in the sex-trade are registered. You have the evidence that where ever prostitution is fully decriminalised demand increases.

Amnesty International’s policy on “sex work’ has been heralded as having the rights of those being bought in prostitution as it’s premise. In a policy which began with input from a UK based brothel owner, drug and prostitution cartel funder George Soros and others, some of whom have sex-trafficking convictions, the sex-trade lobby and some in the public, cry out in agreement. Pimps, procurers and profiteers are categorised under “the operational aspects of sex-work.” Apparently, having these operators in our lives is a woman’s human right and fuels our ‘agency’. How is that for weasel words? Amnesty documents have revealed that their sex work policy only passed at the International Council Meeting in Dublin last year as a result of that very undemocratic act of branch stacking. Over 50% of Amnesty sections did not support their policy and over 200 civil society organisations opposed it in Europe alone opposed it.

NORDIC MODEL LAWS HAVE DECREASED TRAFFICKING AND DEMAND IN THE PROSTITUION MARKET HAS ALSO REDUCED ALONG WITH THE HARMS

 

I hope you understand, that the Nordic Model does not criminalise any person who chooses to sell sex. Rather it decreases the demand for an exponential trade in those who do not choose.

As the Nordic Model continues to gain momentum in countries, some of which rate most highly on sex-equality in the world, the mutli-billion dollar sex-trade has it’s spin-doctor wheels set at 100 miles an hour; it is apparent that they are concerned about their profits, and organised crime and trafficking lose traction in countries where the demand for prostitution decreases. Is this not telling? They insist that holistic approaches like the Nordic Model drive prostitution under ground. In fact, it’s increasing ubiquity in fully decriminalised models and behind the doors of legal brothels in decriminalised countries and states, is pushing the reality of prostitution so far under ground – that in it’s supposed ‘normality’, we no longer truly see it.

The Nordic Model is a legislative approach which affirms the right of women to be protected from sexual violence within the sex-trade without fear of harassment and discrimination, provides much needed holistic exit programmes, and is monitored for the efficacy of this legal approach.

Further, it is creating a cultural shift in the attitudes of boys and men who previously bought into the myth of the ‘happy (or necessary) hooker’. When I use the word ‘necessary’ , I am referring to the malignant idea that somehow there needs to be a class of people for men to buy for sex or else they will rape other, ‘more important’ people. An ironic concept, considering the act of buying a human being for sex with impunity, feeds the very belief that enables rape culture to flourish in the first place.

There is an alternative, it is called the Nordic Model, and we must never underestimate how threatening this model is to pimps, traffickers and organised crime. Nor dismiss the increasingly positive outcomes of the Nordic Model in the places it has been implemented. This is a validation of it’s effectiveness.

WE HAVE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE REFUGES WHY DON’T WE HAVE EXIT PROGRAMS

You may also know that there is currently no impetus on governments anywhere in Australia to implement holistic exit programs for the majority who want to leave prostitution. The double standards operating between how we treat victims of domestic violence and those who are desperate to escape the sex trade is astonishing. Even the self-proclaimed ‘peak body’ for ‘sex workers’ dismiss those who want to leave.

The only ‘support’ one receives from these so-called ‘sex worker’ organisations (government funded by the way)- is to remain in the sex-ttrade, a trade which has a rate of PTSD the same as combat veterans, victims of torture and rape victims.

If you leave, you keep your mouth shut, if you don’t you are vilified and disrupted at every turn if you speak out about the reality of prostitution- we only need look at the behaviour from sex-industry lobbyists at the book launch of prostitution survivor’s testimonies happening now around the country.

Any new legislation in South Australia designed to prevent the violence and harms especially to women in the sex trade must have a whopping budgetary allocation to fund effective and fully resourced Exit Programs.

MY OWN EXPERIENCES SHOW THAT DECRIMINALISATION WILL ONLY INCREASE THE DEMAND FOR, AND HARMS TO PEOPLE IN THE PROSTITUTION MARKET

I entered the legal and illegal sex trade in Victoria at the age of 23 and left it after about one year. A limited amount of time to some, but a life-altering event for me. I was in the so-called ‘ higher-end’ of the industry. I have also had experience as a receptionist in a brothel that specialised in Asian women in NSW, a state which boasts , to it’s shame, a fully decriminalised model of prostitution.

I’ve had limited experience in street-prostitution, but can state unequivocally that whether on the street, as an escort, or behind the doors of a regulated, nicely turned out, tax-paying brothel, the men who buy women for sex are all varieties of the same man. No matter how special they think they are. It makes absolutely no difference where the location of the prostitution takes place, johns are johns, men who buy women for sex disrespect women.

I needed prescription medication from the first day I entered prostitution, and began to abuse alcohol after my shifts. This was the only way to dissociate from the daily horrors of this so-called “work”. I became plagued by panic attacks, as do many survivors of rape and sexual abuse. I managed to show up most days with a smile on my face, I told everyone who asked me how I could stand doing this, that it was all fine, and just another job, really. As a number of other sex-trade survivors have said to me, “I think if someone had come up to me when I was in prostitution and asked if I wanted to exit, I would have been afraid they meant to take away my livelihood, or that they were judging me.” Perhaps some of them were judging me, but the majority who asked, were not judgemental, only curious or caring. And as the sex industry was starting to be normalised and heralded as “A woman’s right to choose!”, many began towing the line of the left, that anything a woman does is empowering if she says so . Most of us had already drunk the kool-aid.

The stance seemed to me some kind of rebellion against the conservative right wing. An ‘in your face’ to those who wanted to control my body, say with threatening abortion rights. I was very naive, because of course, the men on the left certainly weren’t going to question their right to pay women for sex. And it was even better if they could believe that we like it. (The number of johns who believe they are doing women and even children a good deed by sexually exploiting us is at once so ubiquitous as to be banal and malignantly self-serving.) And the men on the Right whom I thought I was being so politically provocative towards, also bought me for sex, feeling equally entitled to use and sexually abuse me, while arguing against women’s bodily autonomy elsewhere.

When I speak to the dismal failure of legalised and fully decriminalised prostitution to protect me, some may imagine that if a few alterations to these models, without redrafting from the premise up, would perhaps have protected me, and will thus protect others now. However, when a model fails as badly as full decriminalisation of prostitution does, when it’s basis is so flawed , I argue that that model needs to be scrapped, and that a model be put in place which does not expand the trade, in what is mainly, though not exclusively, women and girls.

SUPPORT THIS LAW AND YOU WILL INCREASE THE HARMS AND THE DEMAND FOR THE PROSTITUTION MARKET

The proposed bill to decriminalise prostitution in South Australia is an open invitation to the ongoing human rights abuses of the sex-trade. It would be regressive and unconscionable to accept it. Research from Holland has found that the legalised prostitution market has resulted in mafia style racketeering. Do you really want to enact legislation that will add any extra burden to an already overstretched police force. South Australia was one of the first states to give women the right to vote, it would truly be a historical shame to be on the wrong side of history while the world moves ahead towards the abolition of systemic, sexual servitude and slavery alike.

I am asking you to think very carefully before imposing any new legislation which will entrench even greater normalisation of violence to women in Australian culture and impose this on future generations of women and children in the state of South Australia, or anywhere else.

Thank you for having me here today and for listening to my testimony.

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