X-post # 12 [end-violence] Legalization of prostitution

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Subject: X-post # 12 [end-violence] Legalization of prostitution
From: Jyothi Kanics (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Date: Tue Mar 02 1999 - 15:16:37 EST

To: end-violence@edc-cit.org
From: Sheila Jeffreys <s.jeffreys@politics.unimelb.edu.au>
Subject: [end-violence] Legalization of prostitution


I am Sheila Jeffreys, author of "The Idea of Prostitution" (Spinifex:
Melbourne, 1997) and a member of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women

Here in the state of Victoria we challenge the legalized sex industry. In
the mid 1980s a Labour government passed legislation to license brothel
prostitution whilst keeping street prostitution criminal. At the time it
was said that this was really in the interests of the prostituted women
and the only fair thing to do. It would solve the problems of violence
against street prostituted women, provide decent working conditions and
outlaw the illegal trade.

Maybe the Labour women and feminists who supported this at the time really
believed this. In fact, legalization has led to the development of a
mushrooming and out of control sex industry in the state whilst solving
none of the problems. A report on a 3-month research project into the sex
industry here is appearing presently in The Age newspaper which can be
found on <http://www.theage.com.au>. This states that the industry is now
worth Aus $360 million per year in a state of 4 million people. There are
considerably more illegal than legal brothels and child prostitutes and
trafficked women kept in debt and other forms of slavery are in the
illegal brothels. There is still street prostitution and considerable

The major sex industrialists are campaigning to remove the limit of only 6
rooms at most brothels. They want to create super brothels. Convicted
criminals including one who has two convictions for running child
prostitutes are still running brothels with other names down as legal
owners. The accounts describe women going out on jobs from the brothels
and being beaten and abused. Women in the legal brothels are earning
considerably less than before legalization because of the competition and
because they are under pressure to pay tax so that the state can live off
the earnings of prostitution.

The sex industry is a huge business here. Legalization leads to the
entrenchment of prostitution in the economy so that it becomes more and
more difficult to abolish it. Powerful and often criminal vested interests
are fighting us every inch of the way.

What is prostitution? In the United Nations Plan of Action for the
Elimination of Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women
and Children(1994), prostitution and trafficking are included in the
section entitled 'Violence against women and children' along with other
violent practices such as female genital mutilation and female infanticide
as 'a human rights violation and not only a moral issue'. Prostitution,
like other forms of violence, is said to have 'serious negative
implications for the economic and social development of women and society
and is an expression of the societal gender subordination of women'.

I think this is a good approach. Prostitution is not just a 'service
industry' that creates some difficult problems of regulation, it is a
practice of violence based upon women's subordination. That is why all
attempts at control fail to eliminate the worst aspects and
institutionalise the ordinary everyday violence of unwanted sexual
intercourse and the subordinate status of women.

To those who say that prostitution is the 'oldest profession' it should be
pointed out that harmful traditional practices have a long history. They
do not just happen in poor countries where women are officially prohibited
from equal opportunities, many are cross-cultural. Prostitution is a good
example of how such harmful practices are for the benefit of men and
justified in men's ideologies, how they are said to be 'chosen' by women,
how they can be profited from.

There is no possibility of women's freedom internationally whilst women
are offered up to men, with the connivance of state governments, as
objects with 3 orifices for use, irrespective of their pleasure or
personhood. Whilst prostitution exists, not only are the women in it
directly abused but the status of all women is damaged. Prostitution
constructs notions of what sex is, what women are, and what is appropriate
for women. The male abusers have wives whose marriages and lives are often
severely damaged when they discover their husbands' behaviour.

Those who seek to justify prostitution by saying that this is best for the
women who are suffering in the industry need to understand that this is
not the case. Legalization is the basis for the creation of a massive
international industry created out of a viciously abusive traditional
practice and the subordination of women. As the industry grows more and
more women become the victims of abuse. It is important not to go down
this path. The damage is clear in Melbourne but is very hard now to

Sheila Jeffreys
Reader in Political Science
University of Melbourne
Email: s.jeffreys@politics.unimelb.edu.au

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