“Kingpin of Australia’s adult toy industry Malcolm Day has begun raising money for the listing of what he claims will be the world’s biggest brothel, a three-storey 42-room mega-sex-plex opposite Sydney University on the city’s Parramatta Road.
“The new complex will create the largest short-stay bordello globally. On completion, earnings are projected to double to $40 million of revenue and $12 million of EBITDA,” according to a stockbroker presentation obtained by BusinessDay.
Westpac is the senior financier on the deal, chipping in $12.1 million to redevelop 84 and 86 Parramatta Road, and slap it together with the existing brothel at number 82 – replete with a large underground car park.”
This letter has sparked quite the debate at feminaust, with some inappropriate comments slung at Emily but also a number of more thoughtful comments, and a post from one of the feminaust editors, which I refer to below. I’m writing to defend Emily’s letter as an important opportunity to talk about the sex work industry.
One third of the feminaust team has chosen to respond to Emily’s use of language. It’s a tricky aspect to write about, especially as one side of the argument sees the term ‘prostituted women’ as being paternalistic, whereas the other side sees it as important language that reflects attention back to the people seeking prostitution services. What I take from this is that each genre of feminism thinks deeply about the language they use and to assume they don’t and not even attempt to understand where they come from lets us all down.
The former argument went on to speak about women’s agency being compromised by the aforementioned language, whereas I’m knowledgeable enough to know that the radical feminist response to that would be to question how easily women can exercise “agency” when there are so many coercive forces being brought to bear upon them. And, statistics taken of sex workers show that they do overwhelmingly represent (but are not always) marginalised groups (regardless of their profession). For more information visit http://projectrespect.org.au/, they have primary data from their outreach program which they publish in their annual report.
My point is, this is a website for debate and discussion. If you refer to our guidelines here, it states that we will not “try to please all of the feminists all of the time!” So be prepared to read about a feminist viewpoint you don’t agree with. And most importantly, we are not here to define feminism and so personally attacking each other if you don’t agree is unacceptable. Rant of an editor over. In this post, I’m going to avoid the politics of language altogether.
What I felt was important about Emily’s letter is that it highlighted for me the fact that sex work is a profitable, global industry and therefore needs to be questioned on an ethical, social and industrial level. For example, we happily scrutinise the workplace conditions of office jobs (ie. OH&S), we question the ethics of how cows are killed in Indonesia and we speak out about our views on the mining industry and how it links with the redistribution of wealth. We can talk about the language surrounding prostitution/prostituted women/sex work till we’re blue in the face but what I want to talk about is the women working in a stigmatised but highly profitable industry.
My questions are:
How do we support women who are working in an industry that requires panic buttons?
How do we support women who are working in an industry that places them at a high health risk?
How do we support women who are working in an industry that also works with trafficked and imprisoned women?
How do we support women who don’t want to be prostituted women any more?
How do we support women who take pride in sex work and have the right to?
For me, it comes back to choice. How do we as a society make sure these women have the choices to protect their health, protect their co-workers, change professions as they see fit (as most people do), enjoy the same workplace rights and protections as anyone else, but also have access to support which is sensitive to their line of work. Sure, exercising agency in a patriarchal society is bloody difficult for any woman and man, but to argue that women completely lack any agency at all is to do them a disservice.
Coming back to Emily’s letter, as a bank providing funding to “the largest short-stay bordello globally”, Westpac has an obligation to think seriously about how they support women’s human rights in this industry – as they should about any other industry. And it is absolutely Emily’s right to voice that as a feminist she believes that prostitution is a violation of women’s human rights and she will rethink her association with Westpac.
I believe supporting women in prostitution means being vigilant against sex trafficking, providing exit programs, ensuring that sex workers have an OH&S approved workplace (as dorky as that sounds) and that any instances of violence are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The list could surely go on. How a bank or any other corporation achieves all this, I don’t know, but some one has to make sure its happening. I also don’t pretend to have the answers but if we work together then we could get there as a movement.
I would love to hear from sex workers as to how they view their industry, what they need to be safe in their workplaces and their view of sex work more generally.