Prostitution has always been a human rights violation.
Talk of prostitution and you’re likely to hear someone refer to it as the world’s ‘oldest profession’. Abolitionists however, who want to see an end to exploitation and trafficking refer to it as the world’s ‘oldest oppression’. Mind you, prostitution is not something that most people discuss in polite conversation. But talk about it we must, as the NT Government has released a law reform discussion paper on the NT Prostitution Regulation Act and they are asking for feedback from all Territorians on proposed changes that will normalize prostitution, brothels, and therefore, exploitation.
A major part of this discussion must include facing the fact that prostitution goes hand in hand with exploitation. Supporters of prostitution often refer to it as ‘sex work’ but this is a huge misnomer as, rather than being a form of work, it is gender-based exploitation and violence. Most, but not all, of the victims are girls and women, and the overwhelming majority of buyers are men. The majority of purchasers of male prostitutes are also male. The evidence shows that violence marks the lives of prostituted people. Research conducted across 5 countries with those who are currently or were recently in prostitution found 73% experienced physical assault in prostitution, 62% had been raped since entering prostitution, and 67% met criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. Globally, prostitutes are disproportionately persons of colour from lives of poverty, including homelessness. On average, 92% stated that they wanted to leave prostitution.
Is it any wonder that Harvard Professor, Catherine MacKinnon, asked the question, “If prostitution is a free choice, why are the women with the fewest choices most often found?”
An Australian research project revealed that 20% of prostitutes in Sydney brothels interviewed at the time had experienced rape in a work context. If this rate of rape had occurred in any other ‘workplace’ there would be a national outcry – not an attempt to legitimise the said workplace. Violent attacks on women are never acceptable and when the law tells one group of people that it’s ok to buy another group of people, the worth of the purchased will be compromised and this is exploitation. A brothel is not just another workplace, and prostitution is not just another job. The exploitation of ‘sex workers’ through the legalization of brothels is not, and will never be, acceptable. Rather, no legislation should ever normalise exploitation as a cultural norm.
The Australian Christian Lobby stands against the NT proposed reforms to prostitution legislation and instead calls on the government to implement the Nordic model of prostitution legislation. The Nordic Model has been successfully implemented in 8 countries including Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, Ireland, France, and Israel. This law approach protects the welfare of sex workers as a priority. Its approach is to criminalise the purchase of sex, targeting law enforcement measures at the buyers rather than already vulnerable persons caught in prostitution and trafficking. It also provides exit strategies and counselling and where adopted, has been responsible for a drop in demand for prostitution and trafficking.
If the NT government truly want to legislate for the safety of sex workers, they will not promote prostitution as a work option. Instead, they will examine the countries where culture is changing and where women are no longer viewed as an object that can be purchased. If you believe that every human being has value and dignity, it is impossible to think of prostitution as anything but sexual exploitation.