• 11Oct

     

    When The Handmaid’s Tale first became available on SBS On Demand,  I binged-watched it. I am now watching it on live TV, an episode a week and taking notes with the idea of writing a series of blogs, identifying the underlying themes that occur throughout the series.

    I have recently seen Episode 8, “The Jezebels” and it is about a brothel.

    This is no dystopian scene. This happens here and now, in every part of the globe, where women’s bodies are bought and sold – for men’s use and abuse – through pornography and prostitution.  I felt compelled to write about this episode in particular because it is so relevant and current –it is what is happening in our world, today.

    This episode is where Commander Waterford takes June (Offred) to a brothel. He first prepares her. He shaves her legs  – he with the razor sharp weapon, in control; she the hapless recipient unsure of what is to come. He dresses her, preparing her like a doll – to be presented, objectified, to meet his standards of the sex object to his liking, to meet his needs.

    Throughout the scene, where he watches her put on the (illegal) make up he has supplied, June’s face shows fear, uncertainty, powerlessness. For him the process is erotic; of his making; in his control. And the subterfuge, the fear and excitement of doing the illicit, add further to his pleasure.

    It is the epitome of the ‘70’s feminist slogan

    “Rape is about power, not sex”.

    As they travel in the car, at Checkpoint 1 June becomes Mrs Whitford – only wives are allowed to travel past this point. At Checkpoint 2 she becomes invisible – needs to be hidden – for no women are legitimately allowed into this area. They enter the back way into the brothel.

    The contrast between the brothel and world June has just come from is vast. The world she has come from is ‘moral; asexual’; women are covered up, silent, confined to their strict roles of wife, biological producers of children, servants and the Aunties, the guardians of women’s morality and roles.

    Brothels are of course illegal. When June makes this point to the Commander, his response is ‘Officially but we turn a blind eye. We are human after all.” Well, apparently the men are!

    She asks who they are, and he describes the men – leaders of the community; international visitors being entertained.

    She replies: “I meant the women”.

    The women are those who could not be assimilated and he describes lawyers, sociology lecturers – the more educated women not conducive to being trained to be handmaidens or servants. But they too have lost their identity. They have become sex objects – to be used and abused physically and sexually by men.

    At one stage June walks alone down the luxurious hall of the hotel. She is assailed by the sounds of violence and abuse coming from the rooms. She catches a glimpse of a group of men anally raping women. She witnesses a man fetishing over a woman’s arm stump.

    These scenes are evidence not of choices freely made by women to sell their bodies. These women – all women – are not seen as human. There is no humanity in a woman’s body being sexually objectified where her personhood is made irrelevant, destroyed. She is just a body – a body that can be used, misused, abuse for male pleasure. And what kind of pleasure is this that finds excitement and satisfaction in violence and abuse of another human being. This is what happens in today’s prostitution industry, in our towns and our cities across the globe. The dehumanisation and humiliation of women.

    June finds her best friend Moira working there. She had been caught while trying to escape from the Handmaid’s enclave. She is unable to return because she is seen as a “corrupting influence”. Her choices are the colonies or Jezebel. Such are the choices that women have today – no choice. She has lost hope of escape.

    “It’s not so bad here”. “Forget about escaping. This is Gilead. No one gets out.”

    This takes me back to a previous episode where June’s companion Handmaid warns her not to cause trouble, to ruin this for her. Before Gilead was prostitution on the street for her – violence, abuse, poverty, homelessness. This is a better world for her – food, shelter, and a level of safety. This is not about real choice – it is choice in forms of victimisation.

    In the final scene of the episode, Mrs. Waterford gifts June with a music box with a ballet dancer. Alone June comments

    “A girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone opens the box, when someone winds her up.”

    Prostitution is not legitimate work. It is degrading, it is humiliating, it is abusive and dangerous. It is not about choice – there is no such thing as real choice when there are only limited options. This episode of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ depicts the here and now of the prostitution industry in our world. The decriminalisation of prostitution only legitimises the degradation and exploitation of women, the sexual objectification and oppression of all women at the power of men.

    For more information about prostitution and the Nordic model visit my blog post

    “Why the Nordic Model is Safest for Women”

  • 07Mar

    There is not much in the way of quality programmes on TV, so it was with some delight that I looked forward to last weekend when three of my favourite programmes – Broadchurch, Call the Midwife and Vera  were going to be on ABC TV in Australia.

    And each of them dealt with male violence against women.

    In Broadchurch, Trish, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh is a victim of sexual assault. She portrays the trauma of rape very realistically and sympathetically, forgetting her name and many of the details of her experience.

    We see the detail of the forensic investigation, such an intrusion in itself. The detectives, Ellie Miller played by Olivia Colman and Alec Hardy played by David Tennant, respond to Trish with compassion and sensitivity.  The whole ambiance of these scenes acknowledges the trauma and pain of sexual assault.

    “The considerable effort they have put into portraying the trauma of sexual assault sensitively and accurately is hugely welcome. Broadchurch, along with the likes of the BBC’s Apple Tree Yard, is helping to make significant strides in dispelling the myths and stereotypes around sexual violence.”  Rowan Miller

    And when another young detective raises the possibility of the allegation being false, Ellie Miller deals her a severe verbal blow:

    “When you’ve finished your sexual offences training Kate you’ll understand we start from a position of believing the victim…” 

    Certainly a welcoming approach by this television police force, but how realistic is it? How often are women met with disbelief and ridicule when approaching the police in regard to sexual assault? How seriously are their allegations taken? And are they treated with such sensitivity and understanding? And well we know how difficult it is for the justice system to adequately address male violence against women with an abominable low percentage of rape convictions.

    In Call the Midwife, we see violence against women enacted in the prostitution industry. We meet a young woman who has left the industry and is now married and delivers a baby during the programme. But due to her past – having been abandoned, raised in an orphanage and been in the prostitution industry, she feels inadequate and unworthy of a ‘normal’ life.

    “I ain’t fit to raise that child” are her words.

    She leaves her home and returns to a friend who continues to be involved in prostitution. Her friend tells us what it is really like to be trapped in prostitution:

    “I do what I do to feed my kids. Do you think I would do this if I had a choice?”

    “I’d die before she goes on those streets. I take those men, those filthy sods and I save every shilling because my girl’s gonna have a better life”.

    A realistic picture of the degradation and humiliation of having men buy women’s bodies for sex and confirms those who would argue that prostitution should not be decriminalized.

    Vera (played by Brenda Blethyn)  one of my all-time favourite shows investigates the murder of a woman – strangled and left on the moors.  We eventually learn that the murderer is her son-in-law and the woman was helping her daughter escape her abusive husband, to a refuge. When Vera learns of the history of his violence to his wife and approaches the wife, she sensitively talks to her:

    “It’s normal to feel ashamed, to feel it’s all your fault”.

    Again an understanding of the shame and humiliation of victims of male violence.

    And when she is able to finally confront the abuser, she angrily challenges him:

    “You just have to know where she is, what she’s doing because you’re a controlling nut job who beats his wife.”

    Now there are a number of ways one can respond to these programmes. We can be pleased that the issue of male violence against women is getting such publicity. We can be gratified that such sensitivity is being shown to the women who are victimised – that they are being believed, and treated with respect and compassion.

    But we also need to ask the question – isn’t this what should be the norm? And we ask that question because we know it is not.

    t

    Green Left Weekly

    For at least 50 years, women having been raising their concerns about male violence against women- about sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and violence inherent in the prostitution industry. And still our justice systems’ responses are at the least inadequate, at the worst, compound and further traumatise women seeking help.

    I want to go off here on what might seem like a side-track. On March 8th  at 3.20pm child care workers in Australia are going on strike. So it is only for a few hours at the most. They are going on strike because of the deplorable wages that they receive.

    The United Voice union says some are being paid as little as $20 an hour, half the average national average.

    In January of this year the Australian FEDERAL Senator David Leyonhjelm summarised the role of childcare workers as merely “wiping noses and stopping the kids from killing each other”.

    He made these comments in arguing that increased funding for child care workers was not necessary, and neither was there a need for their qualifications.

    I raise this issue in the context of the discussion about male violence against women because they are intrinsically linked.

    And of course they are linked because it is about patriarchal capitalism.

    Maria Mies makes a very good thesis in Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale.

    In this excellent book she argues that patriarchy is at the very core of capitalism. That capitalism would not have been able to progress and “accumulate capital” if it were not for the exploitation and oppression of women.

    She follows on from Silvia Federici’s work – Caliban and the Witch

    “It is generally agreed that the witch hunt aimed at destroying the control that women had exercised over their reproductive function and served to pave the way for the development of a more oppressive patriarchal regime. It is also argued that the witch hunt was rooted in the social transformations that accompanied the rise of capitalism.”

    Mies describes how the dividing if the economy into visible and non-visible sectors are the main structural characteristic of capitalist accumulation. That women’s unpaid work in ‘private’ sphere is essential for capitalist accumulation. Thus patriarchal capitalism benefits from creating the sexual division of labour and also the control of women’s reproduction.

    “The nuclear family, organised and protected by the state, is the social factory where the commodity ‘labour power’ is produced. Hence the housewife and her labour are not outside the process of surplus value production, but constitute the very foundation upon which this process can get started. The housewife and her labour are, in other words, the basis of the process of capital accumulation.” (p.31).

    Capitalism created the ideology and practice– what Mies labels as ‘housewifisation’  -where women’s roles are restricted to that of housewives and mothers – and sometimes as a supplementary income stream  in unqualified, low paid and insecure jobs. Hence our current politicians minimizing women’s child care work and the continued lower wages for women.

    Thus the positioning of women as outside the capital means of production has allowed for the accumulation of capital and thus success in this accumulation.

    Mies extends this thesis to other forms of invisible/non-waged work – slavery, colonialism, subsistence peasants, marginalised people. So that not only is there a sexual division of labour but also an international division of labour.

    “The subordination and exploitation of women, nature and colonies are the pre-condition for the continuation of this model.”

    When we examine the current levels of male violence against women, it is important to remember the witch hunts and acknowledge that today’s male violence is part of an historical continuum of violence against women.

    “Witch hunting was also instrumental to construction of the new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources.” (p.170) Federici

    Our attempts to raise awareness, to educate, to advocate for changes to all of our systems’ responses to male violence against women are important. It is a vital survival mechanism. We have some successes.

    But like Mies I doubt that these strategies will eliminate male violence against women and children. The idea that social role stereotyping and socialisation are at the core of women’s oppression fails to identify the “structural roots” of the problem.

    It is vital that the women’s liberation movement develops a “historical sense of our common past.”(Federici); that we develop a radical, robust theoretical feminist analysis in order to challenge patriarchal capitalism and create a sustainable alternative.

    “What is needed is a new historical and theoretical analysis of the interrelation between women’s exploitation and oppression, and that of other categories of people and of nature.” (Mies p.13).

     

     

     

  • 13Oct

    The South Australian Parliament is currently seeking submissions for the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill

    Here is a summary of some the important points in an article I have written about this.

    For the fuller article:Why the Nordic Model is the only viable alternative

    It is important to recognise that decriminalizing the buying of sex has implications on the broader community. It is important to acknowledge that prostitution is a highly gendered industry. Women are in the vast majority of those who sell their bodies for sexual purposes. Men are in the vast majority who buy women’s bodies for sexual purposes.

    The sexual objectification of women as a result sends a very strong message to our community about how we perceive men and that it is permissible for boys and men to see women as objects for sexual use and that prostitution is harmless fun.

    The buying of women’s bodies implicates that it is normal for men to have entitlement over women as sexual commodities.

    “Legalising or decriminalising the entire industry of prostitution normalises an extreme form of sexual subordination, it legitimises the existence of an underclass of women, it reinforces male dominance, and it undermines struggles for gender equality. It is time to start tackling the attitudes which say that it is acceptable to view and treat women as sexual objects by tackling the demand for commercial sexual exploitation.” http://www.turnofftheredlight.ie/learn-more/

    If we are truly serious about addressing the inequalities and oppressions that women experience in our society – sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence and child sexual abuse – then decriminalising and legitimising the buying of women’s bodies and the sexual objectification of women will only exacerbate the current inequalities that women experience.

    I would like to address a number of the issues that have been raised in the community in the ‘prostitution debate’.

    1. Prostitution is not an issue of choice.

    It is very apparent that most women who enter and are involved in prostitution do so as a result of being impoverished and marginalised. Many do not have valid alternatives available to them in regard to alternative employment. For most women involved in prostitution they perceive this to be a temporary solution to the many problems that they face.

    1. Prostitution is harmful in and of itself.

    Mary Sullivan from Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Australia in her paper:

    “An Update on Legalisation of Prostitution in Australia” has stated:

    “Attempts to treat prostitution businesses as similar to other mainstream workplaces actually obscure the intrinsic violence of prostitution. This violence is entrenched in everyday ‘work’ practices and the ‘work’ environment and results in ongoing physical and mental harm for women who must accept that in a legal system such violence has been normalised as just part of the job. “

    She argues that the assumption has been made by Victoria’s OHS strategies are that women are able to negotiate safe sex.

    “Studies have shown that male buyers in Victoria will not use condoms, with one in five men having admitted to unsafe sex.” (Louie 1998, p.23).

    “Men have also become more demanding in the type of services they want. The demand for oral sex, for instance, has been replaced by the demand for anal sex.” (Arnett-Bradshaw 1999).

    “That these risk prevention strategies are considered normal safety procedures for women in prostitution expose how the prostitution work environment is unquestionably a place of extreme and constant violence that cannot be compared to other workplaces.”

    http://www.turnofftheredlight.ie/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/What-happens-when-prostitution-becomes-work.pdf

    Meagan Tyler has also argued that the traditional forms of legalisation and decriminalization do nothing to protect women from high rates of physical and sexual violence, as well as psychological trauma.

    “Systems of legalization foster greater demand and create an expanding illegal industry surrounding them, so it is a fallacy to pretend that in localities where prostitution is legalized, all women are actually in legal forms of prostitution. In addition, rates of trauma are similar across legalized, decriminalized and criminalized systems of prostitution.” http://www.feministcurrent.com/2013/12/08/10-myths-about-prostitution-trafficking-and-the-nordic-model/

    In fact there is valid research which shows that men who men who buy sex are more likely to hold degrading views of women, have misogynist attitudes and therefore are more likely to commit sexually coercive acts and other acts of violence against women”.

     Violence is a part of prostitution.

    “STILL, PROSTITUTION in itself means violence. All organizations working for the rights of prostituted women – whatever their opinion on prostitution is and wherever they’re located in the world – agree that prostitution is dangerous/harmful for women in prostitution. Those who want prostitution to keep existing usually speak of “harm reduction”, i.e. that it’s important to reduce the damage inflicted in prostitution.”

    http://www.kvinnofronten.nu/eng/speaking-of-prostitution.htm

     

    1. Legalising prostitution only benefits pimps, traffickers, and sex buyers.

    Mary Sullivan has successfully shown that legislation in Victoria has created a ‘prostitution culture’. In which it is the government, financial institutions and sex industry which financially benefit from prostitution industry. Their growth in profits from prostitution allows them greater economic power, gaining from the sexual exploitation of women.

    Legalisation has offered nothing for women caught up in this system of exploitation. Legitimising prostitution as work has simply worked to normalise the violence and sexual abuse that they experience on a daily basis. Victoria must not be seen as a model for other countries attempting to deal with the escalating trade in women and children for sex. Legalised prostitution is government-sanctioned abuse of women and violates their right to equality and safety.

    “Today sex trade is one of the largest and most profitable industries in the world. It includes street prostitution, brothels, “massage parlors”, strip clubs, human trafficking for sexual purposes, phone sex, child and adult pornography, mail order brides and sex tourism – just to mention a few of the most common examples.”

    It has also led to the growth of illegal activities within the prostitution industry. Illegal prostitution is more lucrative and profitable, and there is the ability to hide such illegal activities within legalised prostitution.  http://www.kvinnofronten.nu/eng/speaking-of-prostitution.htm  

     

    1. Legalising prostitution does not remove the stigma.

    It has been argued by those who support the full decimalization of the buying of women’s bodies that such legislation will remove the stigma of prostitution.

    This is not the case.

    “In the Netherlands, Germany, parts of Australia, and Nevada in the States, where prostitution is already viewed as “sex work”, women in prostitution are still just as stigmatized as they are here.

       The ones not getting stigmatized there are instead the perpetrators – pimps/brothel owners and buyers – who now have been turned into respectable “business men” and their “clients”. ”

    http://www.kvinnofronten.nu/eng/speaking-of-prostitution.htm   

     

    1. Legalisation or decriminalisation of the entire industry expands prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation.

    The Directorate-General for Internal Policies, Policy Department – Citizens Rights and Constitutional Affairs. Sexual Exploitation and Prostitution and Its Impact on Gender Equality Study have found:

    “The most conservative official statistics suggest that 1 in 7 prostitutes in Europe are victims of trafficking, while some Member States estimate that between 60% and 90% of those in their respective national prostitution markets have been trafficked. Moreover, the data available confirm that most trafficking in Europe is for the purposes of sexual exploitation, principally of women and girls.”p.6

    On the other hand, under Swedish legislation, also known as the Nordic model where the selling of sex has been decriminalized and the buying of sex is criminalized –

    “According to official evaluations, this seems to have effectively reduced demand and deterred traffickers.”

     

    1. Sex trafficking and prostitution regularly affects children; when legalised, even more so.

    As with sex trafficking, child prostitution occurs in all sectors of the prostitution industry.

    “ECPAT reported that Victoria has around 1,800 children used in commercial sex. This is the highest number for all Australian states and territories (ECPAT 1998, p.32). We need to ask why a state that promotes itself as having among the most advanced regulation for the prostitution industry in Australia, and possibly the world, has the largest child prostitution trade in the country?” df

     

    INTERNATIONAL STUDIES show that the most common age of entering prostitution is early adolescence, around 14 years of age. This is confirmed by the Prostitution Unit of Stockholm.

    “The basis for prostitution is sexual abuse of children. The majority of all who are bought in prostitution have suffered other forms of sexual abuse before entering prostitution, and the debut age of prostitution is often around 14 years. “ 

     

    1. Indigenous Women

     

    There are studies which suggest that Indigenous women are in higher proportions of numbers in prostitution. This can be directly linked to social and cultural disadvantage and oppression that Indigenous women experience in Australian culture. http://eprints.batchelor.edu.au/297/1/Homelessness_Report_v2_1_Print.pdf  ‘Captains’ and ‘Selly-welly’:

    “In doing so, it has revealed the extent of the atrocious life conditions experienced by this population, in particular, by women, who both endured and perpetrated violence. Women did not perceive there to be safe places for them to live and nor did they view police and police spaces as necessarily safe alternatives. This study has also revealed that women among this population were routinely subjected to sexual assault and rape from a range of perpetrators – one of the most significant findings to emerge.

    The study concluded that Aboriginal women’s involvement in prostitution reflected Racial oppression and disempowerment.”

    http://www.news.com.au/national/paul-toohey-darwin/story-e6frfkp9-1226634776568

     

    For a recent article please read: Legalized Prostitution in Australia: Behind the Scenes

    and to NORMAC, Nordic Model in Australia Coalition

    The Nordic Model Australia Coalition has been established to educate, to disseminate information, promote and research Nordic Model laws on prostitution, and in particular, for

    • The decriminalisation of all prostituted persons
    • The criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services
    • The education of the community, and particular men, about the harms of prostitution and the value of women.
    • The ongoing investigation and prosecution of crimes involving trafficking and sexual exploitation of the vulnerable.
    • The rejection of any form of commercialisation or corporatisation of the sex industry.
    • The provision of holistic exit programs for prostituted persons, including sustainable long-term funding.