X-post # 13 [end-violence] Legalization of prostitution

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Subject: X-post # 13 [end-violence] Legalization of prostitution
From: Jyothi Kanics (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Date: Thu Mar 04 1999 - 16:06:49 EST

Date: Thu, 4 Mar 1999 14:50:35 -0600
From: Lacey Sloan <lsloan@UH.EDU>
Subject: [end-violence] Re: Legalization of prostitution
To: end-violence@edc-cit.org

Hi all,

You know, this is a debate that we will probably never agree on, and the
voice that influences policy will continue to be the voice that can
mobilize resources via education, money and other types of influence. I
still believe that we all have the same goal, and that is ending violence
against women. We clearly see the problems and the solutions differently.
It seems that the loudest voices are those who are most set in their
beliefs and do very little listening to others (I am just as guilty of
this as others). But, I really would like to come up with solutions that
we can all agree on and start working on them, because until we do, we
ignore the need of women. It used to be that even the abolitionists did
not want sex workers arrested, but that no longer seems to be true.

In my work with sexual assault, we have just decided that we will serve
sex workers like all other women; we do not pass judgement on their work
or feel like we have to rescue them. If they want to leave sex work, we
will provide whatever assistance we can (housing, jobs, etc.), and if they
don't we will try to get the criminal justice system to treat them with
the same respect of other victims. We let the women decide, we do not pass
judgement on "pimps" or partners or anyone else, but support the woman. We
do outreach in the same way, with safety information, etc.

After debating these issues for over a decade, I find very little that is
said that is new, but there was a posting on this list that equated sex
work to guns that I found compelling. While in Beijing at the UN
conference on women, I listened intently for information that would sway
me, because it is primarily first world feminists who are arguing about
this, and women from developing countries who have to figure out how to
survive. I heard many women from developing countries talk about feeling
like they had no option to sex work, other than starvation. And, yet, when
asked, these women still did not want to be illegal workers, because that
enabled police to beat them and rape them and take their money, with no
recourse for the woman.

Sheila Jeffrey's of prostitution in Victoria is different from what I
observed in New South Wales (NSW). I visited several brothels in NSW and
Canberra. In NSW, street and brothel prostitution are decriminalized, and
brothels have had to become more competitive to bring in workers, so most
brothel now take no more than 50% of the hourly rate and get none of the
tips. There is a job bank at the local sex worker outreach program, so
women can see what other brothels are offering. There is a bad trick book
so workers can be informed about dangerous tricks. And, at the Pacific
Sociological Conference in San Francisco last year, it was reported that
violence against sex workers was down significantly. It was clear from my
observations of street workers, that they could talk to potential
customers for a much longer period of time that street workers in the
United States, since there was no fear of avoiding police and money for
street work was comparable to brothel work (about $100+ per trick,
compared to $5 and up for street work in the USA).

Nonetheless, it is still illegal to migrate to Australia for sex work,
therefore many women coming in from Asia remain illegal and unprotected.
These women are frequently found in situations of debt bondage and have
little freedom to connect with the legal workers in NSW.

I will continue to contemplate the comparison to the gun issue in the
United States, as it is an intriguing analogy. I clearly benefited from
the sex industry and have no qualms about it as legitimate work. I would
much prefer to do sex work over most other work I have done in my life. I
can think of many other institutions that are flawed, dangerous, and/or
serve men, and I do not see people challenging those.

Which brings me back to my initial observation that there is something
about the sex in sex work that riles people. I clearly do not think of sex
in the same way as Sheila and others in her camp do. To me, it is no
different than any other act I perform. I do not need an emotional
involvement to have sex and doing it for money does not cause me to feel
degraded. All this makes me think that it is not sex work that is the root
of the problem - that there is something underneath it, like heterosexual
sex that is the problem, or just sexism in general.

Lacey Sloan, Ph.D., MSSW
Assistant Professor
Graduate School of Social Work
University of Houston
Houston, Texas USA

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