Women in the Public Sphere: Gendered Responsibility -2019

CW: Violence against women/sex workers, femicide

On Tuesday the 13th of August this year, a woman was stabbed to death while at her place of work. Police described the attack as ‘terrifying carnage’ and it was initially speculated that it was perhaps linked to terrorism, which they later clarified was not the case (ABC News, 2019). The attack happened in the early afternoon and was played out quite publicly with a number of eye-witness accounts immediately releasing footage of the ‘rampage’ to social media sites. It wasn’t long before the focus shifted away from the perpetrator and onto the victim whose occupation became sensationalised and central to the discourse emerging from the attack. Michaela Dunn was a sex worker working under the decriminalised model in the state of NSW and was still not safe from misogynistic violence which ultimately took her life. This essay will explore a number of intersecting factors that have converged with Michaela’s death and will interrogate the cultural perception of such an event. I will begin with a discussion on how violence is used to enforce patriarchy and how that links to ideas of appropriating of femininity. Statistics highlighting how prevalent misogyny is within contemporary Australian society rounds out the first section. The next section will analyse the role of discourse and mass media and how the pathologisation of both perpetrator and victim have direct impacts on our cultural understandings of gender roles. An internalised tension between sexual vigilance and the right to feel safe is also discussed in regards to gendered responsibility. The final section will consider the impact of dichotomous understanding of women through the Madonna/whore complex.

In a patriarchal society which is organised in a way that give men the majority of power; they dominate, oppress and exploit (other men and) women as a way of maintaining that power, violence is often employed when there is a direct challenge to that power (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 394). Kane & Schippers have suggested that women are the gatekeepers to heterosexual activity and therefore hold a potential power over men; “men fear women’s ability to use sexual allure as a manipulative tactic to ‘unman’ them” (cited in Bareket et al, 2018, pg. 520). In this regard the stigma that is attached to sex workers makes a little more sense as sex workers directly threaten the patriarchal dominance through their awareness of their sexuality. Double standards are rampant in modern society, especially when it comes to sexuality and sexual practices between the genders. Bareket et al. argue that double standards play a specific role in line with patriarchal ideology and seek to regulate, control, and restrict women’s sexual expression and sexuality (Bareket, 2018, 2018, pp. 520-521). Violence against women is no new phenomenon but the rise in visibility has gained worldwide fame through the recent #metoo movement. The movement highlighted how prevalent misogyny and sexual violence against women really is and along the way created a community of survivors rallying for social change (Me Too, 2019). Vicious attacks on women like the one that tragically took the life of Michaela Dunn could be argued as an attempt at restoring social order to the world (Butler, 2004, pg. 34). Kimmel further argues that “Men’s violence toward women does not happen when men’s power over women is intact and unthreatened; rather, it happens when men’s power breaks down, when his entitlement to that power is threatened and insecure. Violence is restorative, retaliatory.. When that entitlement is aggrieved, they don’t just get mad; they get even” (cited in Everbach, 2018, pg. 17). The aggressive nature of these sorts of attacks place women in a particularly vulnerable position in wider society as Gilchrist et al revealed that “although women are not inherently more fearful of crime in public spaces than are men, women’s fear is strongly associated with the performance of appropriate femininity” (cited in Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 344). The discussion that followed included a number of examples of ‘flawed femininity’ including “walking home alone at night, or drinking too much alcohol” (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 345). Sex workers may be seen as the embodiment of everything anti-feminine, the perfect example of inappropriate femininity.

Given the precarious nature of sex work in much of the globe it is difficult to obtain true figures surrounding attacks and murders of (predominately female) sex workers. Often seen as the most vulnerable in society, it has been suggested that the more labels attached to a woman, the less she is seen as a full human in the eyes of others; nobody cares much when a ‘street-based, ‘homeless’, ‘drug-addicted’, ‘trans’, ‘woman-of-colour’ goes missing, or even worse, is murdered (Fox & Wykes, 2015). The statistics around violence against women in Australia are slightly easier to gather and prove that gendered violence is a patriarchal epidemic deserving of attention and scrutiny. According to Our Watch a woman in Australia is murdered on average once a week by either a current or former partner; a third of all Australian women have experienced physical violence; a fifth of Australian women have experienced some form of sexual violence; almost 10% of Australian women have experienced violence at the hands of a stranger; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were experiencing violence at 3.1 times the rate of non-Indigenous women (Our Watch, 2019). When incidents such as the murder of Michaela Dunn occurs it is a stark reminder of the value that women hold in society, and that female sexuality does not hold the same respect and value as male sexuality.

In an article by news.com.au the main problem represented in the reporting is that violence and murder are a part of the job if you are working within the sex industry. The article has a number of quotes from a prominent sex worker who goes by the name of Jessie-Lee Pierce who states; “I’m not shocked by it [Michaela’s murder], but it saddens me because I think violence and murder are a part of our job” (cited in Graham, 2019). The words expressed by Jessie-Lee are an example of internalised whorephobia and highlights the gendered responsibility that women are expected to carry while navigating through society. Her words appeal to many anti-sex-work radical feminists whose ideology rests on the idea that sex workers “become the victims of regular sexual objectification, exploitation, and violence; and that, by participating in this kind of industry, sex workers become co-perpetrators of these crimes” (Miano, 2017). This perception is highly damaging as it places the blame on women working within the industry and frames it as though sex workers are responsible for any violence inflicted on them. The mass media then plays its part by exacerbating and reproducing these narratives further excusing the behaviour by men. The discourse surrounding sex work, bodily autonomy, as well as questions surrounding appropriate forms of labour always have a gendered focus and the responsibility of men is a constant silence throughout these public discussions. One of the ways that the media perpetuate the gendered nature of public sexual discourse in regards to violence is in the way that perpetrators are presented to the public. A number of scholars have argued that violent men are represented in one of two dichotomous ways; on the one hand we see media representations of vicious ‘monsters’ and ‘assholes’; and on the other we have presentations of ‘normal’ men who are facing a misunderstanding or even a full fabrication (Quadara, 2014; Fanghanel & Lim, 2015). By pathologising the perpetrator as an irrational abject figure, the concept of risk is externalised and the ‘asshole’ functions as the source of danger relieving ‘society’ of the responsibility to manage similar issues of safekeeping, public danger and security. The role of governmentality becomes apparent here as motivations behind these abject attacks are individualised and are not seen as a symptom of wider rape culture. Instead, these figures become anomalies and a scapegoat for which other (good) men publicly condemn the attack while shouting “not all men!”. The lived effects of the invisibility of these ‘normal’ men results in what we now have come to consider as rape culture, feminist writer Clementine Ford argues in her book; “[rape culture] characterises a society in which the impact of sexual violence is not only minimised but the definition of what constitutes ‘real’ sexual assault is considered up for public debate and scrutiny. It enforces and codifies the language of victim-blaming and perpetrator excusing” (Ford, 2018, pg. 293). Consider the statistics from the ABS Personal Safety survey 2016; over half a million women (553,700) experienced sexual assault by a male they knew (87%), with only 1 woman out of every 10 reporting the incident to police (ABS, 2017). Perpetrators are created through the legal discourse, that is, their performativity needs to be verified in order to be legally labelled as ‘perpetrator’. The failure of so many cases to be reported (and subsequently of those that are reported but fail to reach a conviction) truly defines the rape culture we currently live in.

It is clear through the reporting that emerged after Michaela’s murder that discourse and language are extremely telling of the gendered inequalities in wider society. In many of the articles in the days that followed much of the focus was on the ‘heroic’ men who stopped the perpetrator once he was out in the streets; “social media has been full of praise for the men, and Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said they were ‘the highest order or heroes’” (ABC News, 2019). Some within the sex worker community have spoken out about the dominance of the ‘hero’ angle in the media, suggesting that the overshadowing of Michaela’s death highlights the disposable nature of the ‘prostitute’ in society; “her job does not make her a lurid story” (McGowan, 2019). Speaking in regards to the media framing of two particular incidents in Melbourne a number of years ago Jane Gilmore argues that “women are not people in the eyes of the news, at least not the way men are. Women are tits and arse, they’re glamorous or fat, they’re wives or mothers or stupid or demanding or nagging or annoying or sweet or pretty. Men on the other hand, are fully-rounded, complex people- as long as they’re not too womanlike” (Gilmore, 2019). Simone de Beauvoir argued that society needs prostitutes as scapegoats; “the existence of a caste of ‘lost women’ makes it possible to treat ‘the virtuous woman’ with the most chivalric respect” (de Beauvoir, 1949, pg. 613). The explicitly titled; “’She was a whole person’: Michaela Dunn’s murder and its impact on Sydney’s sex workers” further alludes to the point that women within the sex industry are less-than-whole beings, with society focusing on the sexual dimension of the work as the question of morality trumps all questions surrounding rights and autonomy (McGowan, 2019; Mac & Smith, 2018, pg. 25).

For many women, an internalised tension is always in play in regards to personal safety and/or freedoms. On one hand woman believe they should have the freedom to wear/say/do what they please within public spaces without fearing for their safety, yet on the other they are equally aware of their personal obligation to be safe in public spaces. This vigilance of personal safety is extremely gendered and emerges through particular discourses which are further perpetuated through mass media. Fanghanel & Lim argue that the representation of women within the public realm as problematic stems from the 19th century construction of gendered public and private spaces (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 342). They argue that the public domain was seen as the man’s place while the private domestic sphere was expected to be inhabited by women. The sexual vigilance women face serves to solve the ‘problem’ of women in public spaces and is an example of victim-blaming discourse, a key component to wider rape culture. At the beginning of the 20th century women were increasing their presence on the labour market and scholars have suggested that the discourse surrounding trafficking of (predominately white) women “helped to draw the literal and figurative borders of the ‘nation’, and became a way to police (especially) female and non-white sexuality more broadly” (Laite, 2017, pg. 38). The anti-trafficking discourses which began to emerge around this time put emphasis on the anti-exploitation of particular bodies within sexual labour paradigms. However as a number of scholars have suggested this perspective was carefully calculated to ignore certain intersections of work and sexual labour, specifically for women, as their unpaid labour was still crucial to the workings of the capitalist system (Laite, 2017, pg. 42). The moral panic that was created at this time helped distract the public away from the inherent exploitations built into the capitalist system and stressed the “moral over the monetary” when discussing the plight of the sexually fallen women who had ended up in the sex industry (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). For many women had consensually chosen to step into the field of sex work as a way of gaining financial freedom at a time when there were very limited (paid) employment opportunities, in line with de Beauvoir’s argument that equality is not a possibility without women’s economic freedom from men (de Beauvoir, 1949). Although the unemployment rate for women in Australia is a considerably low 5.2%, women are still seen as imposing on the public male domain and remain ‘responsible’ vigilant subjects within wider society (Australian Government, 2019).

Fanghanel & Lim have argued that the ‘safekeeping’ that women are expected to perform in their everyday lives is an extremely gendered experience and links back to the performativity of gender (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 344). As one of Butler’s core ideas she argues that “it is important to distinguish performance from performativity: the former presumes a subject, but the latter contests the very notion of a subject” (Butler cited in Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 392). In other words it is through the performance that we are constituted as subjects and that doing brings into being that which it names. For women in society are also often portrayed as a dichotomous entity embodying either the virgin or the whore (Brownmiller cited in Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 343). Stemming from psychoanalytic theory, Freud coined the term Madonna-whore complex to stipulate a hindrance that some heterosexual men face when engaging with the opposite sex (Bareket et al. 2018, pp. 519-520). Freud’s understanding of the Madonna/whore complex stems from his psychoanalytic training and disregards all social and cultural aspects arguing instead that the root causes lie in the unresolved sensual feelings towards the mother. The Madonna-whore complex speaks to the way women are expected to perform (in)appropriate femininity represented by both the Madonna (good, chaste & pure) or the whore (bad, seductive & promiscuous). These polarizing perceptions have long existed and can be traced back to the ancient Greeks which has, over time, permeated outside of the Western context (Pomeroy, 1975; Bareket, 2018, pg. 519). Coming back to the original argument presented by Fanghanel & Lim, what they suggest is that within media discourses, the types of women who are attacked are presented as not performing the right kind of femininity. In the case of Michaela Dunn she was quite literally a whore, an aspect of her life which was sensationalised throughout the media as a way of dehumanising her to the public. It highlights the way in which we organise and stratify different sexualities and reveals how society punishes or rewards certain kinds of intimacies. Mechanisms for holding accountability through governmentality are more apparent from this perspective. Pathologisation of Michaela as the ‘whore’ not performing the right kind of femininity and the condemnation from those even within her own community speaks to the way women are expected to be in society. The ‘safekeeping’ advice women are confronted with on a daily basis comes from a number of sources including other women. Coming back to the article posted on news.com.au Jessie-Lee also implies that particular websites attract “sick” clients and that advertising on higher end websites, instead of the classifieds page Michaela was advertising on, could have had a potentially different outcome (Graham, 2019). Jessie-Lee fails to condemn the behaviour of the murderer, maintaining her position that violence is a part of sex work and even ended the article with tips for other workers to “eliminate as much risk as possible” (Graham, 2019).

This essay has attempted to highlight that the way in which mass media, and increasingly social media, frames particular events and the importance of language to perceptions. Michaela Dunn’s death was overshadowed by the pathologisation of her killer, as well as the sensationalism of her job choice. Women who are sexual continue to be demonised by society, an interesting paradox given that women are socialised to recognise themselves as sexual objects yet are highly punished when they recognise and attempt to capitalise off of that very same sexuality.


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Bareket, O, Kahalon, R, Shnabel, N & Glick, P, 2018, ‘The Madonna-Whore Dichotomy: Men Who Perceive Women’s Nurturance and Sexuality as Mutually Exclusive Endorse Patriarchy and Show Lower Relationship Satisfaction’, Sex Roles, No. 79, pp. 519-532

Fanghanel, A & Lim, J, 2017, ‘Of “Sluts” and “Arseholes”: Antagonistic Desire and the Production of Sexual Vigilance’, Feminist Criminology, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 341-360

Gilmore, J, 2019, ‘Rape is not ‘sex’, and ‘broken hearts’ don’t cause murder. Women are dying- and language matters’, The Guardian, 1 September 2019, < https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/aug/31/is-not-sex-and-broken-hearts-dont-cause-women-are-dying-and-language-matters>

Graham, B, 2019, ‘’Murder is part of our job’: Sex worker calls for protections after Sydney stabbing’, news.com.au, 15 August 2019, < https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/murder-is-part-of-our-job-sex-worker-calls-for-protections-after-sydney-stabbing/news-story/8ccb05130f6a84c20ab04543068ba3b9>

Laite, J, 2017, ‘Between Scyalla and Charybdis: Women’s Labour Migration and Sex Trafficking in the Early Twentieth Century’, International Review of Social History, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 37-65

McGowan, 2019, ‘’She was a whole person’: Michaela Dunn’s murder and its impact on Sydney’s sex workers’, The Guardian, 17 August, 2019, < https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/aug/17/she-was-a-whole-person-michaela-dunns-and-its-impact-on-sydneys-sex-workers>

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Vickery, JR, & Everbach, T, ‘The Persistence of Misogyny: From the Streets, to Our Screens, to the White House’, Mediating Misogyny, pp. 1-27

SWERF vs. Historian: Literature Review-2019

This literature review analyses two articles that focus on the broad concept of ‘sex work’. From the onset it is important to make clear that sex work encapsulates all forms of sexual labour being exchanged for a resource, which in most cases is money but may also include shelter, drugs or alcohol (Mac & Smith, 2018, pg. 1). It is also important to note that sex work, by definition, is not the same as sex trafficking, a conflation which will be discussed in detail below. Sex work (prostitution) has long been considered the oldest profession but the stigma and perception of deviancy still remains (Basserman, 1967 & Pomeroy, 1994). Different perspectives on sex work exist; from those who believe that as a society we must eradicate all forms of sex work in order to protect women, to others who understand the industry as work and are actively seeking ways to counter the essentialisation of sex workers identity. Melissa Farley is a staunch anti-sex work campaigner who has been researching and writing on the topic of prostitution and the sex industry for over 35 years. Her article ‘Bad for the Body, Bad for the Heart: Prostitution Harms Women Even if Legalized or Decriminalized’ (2004) showcases her radical feminist ideology focusing on the victimisation of women in the industry ignoring the possibility of individual agency or choice. The second article also focuses on the sex industry, however the approach is vastly different. In Julia Laite’s article ‘Between Scyalla and Charybdis: Women’s Labour and Sex Trafficking in the Early Twentieth Century’ (2017) the focus is not on the sex, the clients or the victimisation, instead Laite focuses on the labour. She provides a discursive analysis of what was happening in the context of the early twentieth century in an attempt to deconstruct the contemporary understandings of sexual labour and sex trafficking.

Farley’s article was written in 2004 and is a response to the decriminalization of the sex industry in the state of New Zealand. Farley asserts her view that all aspects of prostitution are inevitable forms of violence against women stating “Prostitution is an institution that systematically discriminates against women, against the young, against the poor, and against ethnically subordinated groups. Prostitution cannot be made safer or a little bit better by legalizing or decriminalizing it” (Farley, 2004, pg. 1117). Her ideological stance is representative of a radical faction of feminism known as SWERF: Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminism (Sugathan, 2015). In line with ‘radical feminism’ Farley’s understanding of the sex industry is based off the idea that “patriarchy rests on the subordination of women through sexuality and reproduction” (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 409). By framing all women within the sex industry as victims rather than workers providing labour, Farley’s reductionism actually creates more harm as explained by Gira Grant; “The experience of sex work is more than just the experience of violence; to reduce all sex work to such an experience is to deny that anything but violence is even possible” (Gira Grant,2014, pg. 104). Farley and other SWERFs are working towards the full eradication of the sex industry from their ideological high horse by putting forward source-less assumptions within her academic pieces. These assuming statements help situate the reader within the ideology of the author, for example; “Often they [sex workers] do not think that their health has benefited or that they are offered more protection under legalized or decriminalized prostitution” (Farley, 2004, pg. 1089). Without referencing this particular statement, Farley is subjecting her own voice as the speaker of the workers presenting her opinion as an objective truth. As discussed by Hall “It is we who fix meaning so firmly that, after a while, it comes to seem natural and inevitable” (Hall, 1997, pg. 21), representing the importance of history to further understand the way in which we make sense of the world today. Hall is also highlighting the fact that if we only expose ourselves to one story, after enough time that story becomes our truth. In this regard it is important to recognise that Farley constantly references her own work perpetuating her own opinion and voice on the issue.

The way that Farley has given herself authority on this topic is especially troubling given all the silencing that actual sex workers face, a point that Farley herself is aware of; “Women in prostitution are silent for many reasons. They are rarely given the opportunity to speak about their real lives because this would interfere with sex businesses. The silence of most of those in prostitution is a result of intimidation, terror, dissociation, and shame” (Farley, 2004, pg. 1117). Given the social and academic capital Farley already holds, she’s ignorant to her own silencing practices as has been pointed out by other academics, as well as those within the industry (Pit, 2019). Ronald Weitzer has written a number of responses to Farley’s work, critiquing her biased perspective and interpretations of research (Weitzer, 2005). Weitzer found that when women in the industry had views in opposition to Farley’s she would discount their voices claiming a ‘false consciousness’ on behalf of the women. This ‘false consciousness’ stems from a Marxist model and is understood as “a phenomenon undermining the agency of the working classes whereby the individual ‘imagines false or apparent/seeming motives’” (Engels cited in Levy, 2016, pg. 47). This model represents the manipulation possible for those who hold power to discredit the experiences of marginalised people. Miller argues that discourse does not mirror the ‘true reality’ of the world, rather it holds power and “we cannot get ‘outside’ of discourse and gain access to anything beyond it” (Miller, 1990, pg. 116). Weitzer also critiqued her “methodological problems” and noted that “many of her citations are to her own co-authored articles” (Weitzer, 2005, pg. 971). Weitzer’s main concern was that “it is quite possible to replicate a flawed study, reaching similarly flawed conclusions” (Weitzer, 2005, pg. 971); a perspective similar to Hall.

In discussing the positive public health conditions surrounding HIV and the work of the NZPC (New Zealand Prostitutes Collective) Farley resigns to the fact that sex workers peer education and activist work “.. has undoubtedly saved lives” (Farley, 2004, pg. 1112). However she continues the section by implying that organisations that encourage HIV and health awareness within sex worker communities only encourages and proliferates prostitution on the whole. She suggests that the goals of many of these groups is based on financial incentives and argues “The distribution of public health funds for HIV prevention has occurred with little oversight of recipient goals, program implementation, or ethics.” (Farley, 2004, pp. 1113-4). This alludes to a conspiracy theory around funding and the intentions of these organisations even though it is highly hypocritical for Farley to suggest this. Much of Farley’s own research has been done through ‘Prostitution Research and Education’ which is a not-for profit organisation that Farley herself founded (Talavera, 2012). She uses extremely strong language which is deliberate in order to capitalise on the shock value in an already highly politicised topic. An example of this is the way in which she describes workers as ‘prostituted women’. This problematic description emphasises Farley’s perspective that prostitution is something that is done to women, and symbolises her view that women lack choice/agency within a sex industry that exists in a capitalist society.

Unlike Farley, Julia Laite’s perspective is a lot less clear as she takes a more objective approach to her topic of inquiry. While the first article viewed all women within the industry as prostituted women and conflated sex work and sex trafficking to be a singular concept, this article takes a look back through history to understand the origins of the concept of sex trafficking. Through her research Laite discovers the moral concern over labour conditions of women during a time of increased employment opportunities for women. The discursive analysis that Laite undertakes is in part due to the context of her research, as she is researching the historical construction of trafficking. The importance of discourse in relation to knowledge and power is crucial to this topic as “discourses are now active agents, not even merely performances, in the material world of power” (Grossberg cited in Fornas, 2000, pg. 50) a point which Laite is clearly aware of.
Laite’s main argument is that exploitation is not unique to the sex industry; rather, exploitation is actually the very thing that upholds the capitalist system. Through her research Laite proposes that the discourse surrounding both licit and illicit womens work was calculated to uphold certain ideological notions specifically in regards to capitalism, gender and race. Where Laite and Farley differ dramatically is in the way they view ‘prostitution’; for Farley the focus is on the sex, the body and the dynamic between ‘john’ and ‘prostituted woman’ (Farley, 2005) whereas Laite recognises that prostitution is a form of labour and focuses much of the article on the way in which trafficking first came to be understood at the turn of the twentieth century. Given her understanding of prostitution as work, Laite’s article focuses on more than just the morality of the industry through her discursive lens to suggest that there were a number of events that occurred during that time which helped shaped the way we view the sex industry. Laite outlines the forming of a special committee under The League of Nations known as the Advisory Committee (AC) to investigate the increased number of women entering into the sex industry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through her research she discovers that the committee found that exploitation under capitalism was a leading cause of women entering into sex work; “Key studies on prostitution throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries found, repeatedly, that women and girls were motivated to sell sex because of economic factors and because of exploitative experiences in other kinds of work” (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). The AC framed the issue as a moral issue, creating a public moral panic surrounding “white slavery” distracting the public from the real issue that all work under capitalism is exploitative; “[AC] delegates could only understand exploitation as sexual exploitation and in so doing were blind to both the way that sexual labour could (like other work) be done in good and bad conditions, and the way that women might articulate their positive engagement with that work” (Laite, 2017, pg. 50). Admitting to the real catalyst for women entering the sex industry would be to publicly announce that the social structures that uphold Western societies in modernity are exploitative and harshly unequal. It was in the best interest of the AC to reshape the issue through a moral lens in as a way to keep the social subjects in order through governmentality.

In line with her first argument, contradictions and double standards surrounding not just sex, but also labour are highlighted throughout her article. She gives a number of examples of figures of authority turning a blind eye, much like Farley, when the information provided did not align with their own beliefs. Much of the evidence that Laite references throughout her article focuses on the international entertainment industry which was heavily saturated with young women and girls being transported across state lines to engage in the legal entertainment industry which was commonly linked to clandestine prostitution (Laite, 2017, pg. 51). An example of the double standards surrounding the public discourse includes the blatant ignorance of actual abuses by recruiters and employers and focusing on the moral aspect of promiscuous sex. This double standard speaks a lot about gender at a time when women were largely entering the paid realm of labour and helped set the foundation of gender labour roles that continue to exist today; “Indeed, this period, which witnessed the sharp rise in the migration of women to work in care and service industries in Britain, helped lay the ground work for what has today grown to be an army of foreign domestic labourers who work under exploitative conditions” (Laite, 2017, pg. 56). Many of the arguments that are presented by Farley also contain double standards that she distracts with her emotive language that describes the experiences of prostituted women, however as Laite suggests many of the abuses and possibilities of exploitation exist in all forms of labour and again highlights the link between discourse and power.

Basserman, L, 1967, The Oldest Profession: A History of Prostitution, Dorset Press, New York
Farley, M, 2004, ‘Bad for the Body, Bad for the Heart: Prostitution Harms Women Even if Legalized or Decriminalized’, Violence Against Women, Vol. 10, No. 10, pp. 1087-1125
Gira Grant, M, 2014, Playing the Whore, Verso, London
Hall, S, 1997, ‘The Work of Representation’, Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, Safe Publications, pp. 1-74
Laite, J, 2017, ‘Between Scyalla and Charybdis: Women’s Labour Migration and Sex Trafficking in the Early Twentieth Century’, International Review of Social History, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 37-65
Mac, J & Smith, M, 2018, Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Worker Rights, Verso, London
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Weitzer, R, 2005, ‘Rehashing Tired Claims About Prostitution: A Response to Farley and Raphael and Shapiro’, Violence Against Women, Vol.11, No. 7, pp. 971-977
Weitzer, R, 2005, ‘Flawed Theory and Method in Studies of Prostitution’, Violence Against Women, Vol. 11, No. 7, pp. 934-949

Precarity in the Labour Force: Discourse as Distraction-2019

For many in the West the idea that some people in the world are suffering through different forms of exploitation (more often than not for the benefit of the West) is unimaginable, especially considering modern technologies that have been developed to benefit human civilisation. It is impossible to deny that exploitation across the globe is both racialised and gendered, and the rise of globalisation has changed the understanding of how and where our products and services are being produced and provided. The dominance of ‘convenience’ in a modern society has changed the global political and financial economies, as well as having a detrimental impact on our environment. In contemporary times, the ways in which we understand ‘exploitation’ has been shaped by particular institutions and have come to reflect economic and political agendas of a specific group of elites who hold political, economic and social capital. Arguably sex trafficking has dominated global discourse surrounding human trafficking as a whole. The significance of this weighted rhetoric is calculated in order to further the political agenda of those in power. Exploitation and precarity go hand in hand with the migrant worker and this essay will attempt to highlight the ignorance of the intersection between women’s exploitation within the wider labour force and human trafficking. The essay will begin by looking at the early 20th century history of trafficking discourses which came about at a time when women’s participation in the labour force was increasing. Following on will be a discussion around the separation of different forms of labour and impact that patriarchy has had on understanding gender roles within modern societies. The final part of the essay will be a case study on the recent anti-trafficking bill in the US and the implication on migrants and other marginalised people.

While many scholars taking an historical approach to understanding trans/international trafficking of humans and take a positivist perspective in regards to the human rights protection the debate affords, others have been more critical in regards to the driving factor for these discourses (Laite, 2017, pg.40). One such critic argues that “the historical anti-trafficking movement was about crime control rather than relief or rights” (Knepper cited in Laite, 2017, pg. 40). To better understand this point, an investigation of the events that birthed this discussion within modern times is essential. At the turn of the 20th century a new debate surrounding the exploitation of white women and children in the context of mistreatment and prostitution began in Europe. This has had a considerable impact on the way in which we understand sex trafficking around the globe. It was during this time that key studies surrounding the exploitation of women within licit work were undertaken. This prompted The League of Nations to create a committee known as the ‘Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children’ in 1921 (Laite, 2017, pg. 46). In 1927 the committee commissioned research to be undertaken to investigate both the extent and the character in which women were being exploited within the entertainment industry. Labour migration within the entertainment industry was extremely common, especially in women aged 15-25 years. It was understood that this particular group of women were especially at risk of being coerced or duped into the sex industry. The vulnerability of these women was framed to highlight the exploitative nature of sexual labour while ignoring the exploitation that was inherent in other industries, including the entertainment industry. The need for legislation was justified in the intent to ‘protect’ these susceptible women from the immorality of the sex industry. This reflected the perspective held by the majority of the committee, who believed that all forms of sex work are inherently immoral and degrading (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). The 1927 report found a direct link between the exploitative nature of ‘women’s work’, in that the wages were not enough to be considered a ‘living wage’. It was this economic factor that pushed many women into prostitution. What is important to note here is that although the report stated that the economic factor was to be considered, the focus was on morality rather than financial; “Though members of the Traffic Committee bemoaned the influence of women’s low wages and subsequent poverty, they emphasized the moral over the monetary” (Boris cited in Laite, 2017, pg. 48). Focusing on morals rather than the financial was a calculated move by the Advisory Committee; by ignoring that sexual labour may be considered work like other forms of labour, it ignores the fact that regulation may be beneficial for those participating in the industry. By imposing specific ‘morals’ on women in the industry disregards their agency and autonomy as citizens within society, and has helped to fuel a designed discourse that has perpetuated into contemporary discussions on the same issue.

As already mentioned, one of the key issues in this discussion is the separation of sexual labour from other forms of labour, which has resulted in forced sexual labour coming to be understood as “the nexus of all so-called social evils” (Shah, 2008, pg. 20). Towards the end of the 19th Century the development of a “free” global labour market in conjuncture with the move to abolish slavery gave way to a new (gendered) understanding of unfree and free labour, an understanding that continues to persist to this day (Laite, 2017, pg. 44). This is made obvious in the statistics surrounding time spent providing domestic and care work within family institutions and the gender disparity that exists today; 86% of women in Australia believed they did the majority of the housework, while 73% of men stated that they were the primary breadwinners (Acharya, 2018). This highlights the understanding that women are natural care givers and this type of labour should remain in the domain of unpaid labour. Understanding the gendered dimensions of labour is vital to this discussion. The way in which sex is viewed within our contemporary society is still based on religious and patriarchal ideologies, which stem from a misogynistic worldview that women are ‘less’ than men. In the words of the French feminist Simone de Beuvoir “He is the Subject; he is the Absolute. She is the Other” (2011, pg. 6). The patriarchal dominance of Western society is important as it dictates what is allowed to be commodified in an open market. When it comes to female sexuality and the female body, commodification only appears to be acceptable when the objectification is coming from the outside. Morality is questioned when women provide sexual services (consensually or not) yet society has no problem in objectifying women in the name of marketing, using the female body to sell anything from beers to vegetarianism. The sexual autonomy of women has long been seen as immoral, and many people who hold abolitionist views on the issue (of consensual sex work) disregard the inherent exploitation that capitalism thrives off. The way in which this issue is represented in the media is also calculated and as Andrijasevic and Mai argue;
Stereotypical trafficking representations conveniently distract the global public from their increasing and shared day-to-day exploitability as workers because of the systematic erosion of labour rights globally. In doing so, they become complicit in the perpetuation of the very social inequalities, hierarchies and conflicts that allow exploitation and trafficking to occur” (2016, pg. 9)
The issue of sex trafficking is a gendered issue that transcends national borders. It is impossible to discuss gendered understandings of labour, especially in the context of paid/unpaid labour, without discussing the dominance of patriarchy throughout history. The assumption that patriarchy is naturally inherent for humans is wildly misguided; the end of the nomadic period for humans dramatically changed the gender dynamics of communities and the physically stronger men were in charge of defending and providing for the physically weaker females (Ananthaswamy & Douglas, 2018). Marx also understood the importance of this societal shift and discussed it in relation to the rise of the labour market: “great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled onto the labour-market as free, unprotected and rightless proletarians” (cited in Cohen, 2006, pg. 13). The way in which Marx uses the word ‘free’ is specific in its use, and refers to the freedom that proletariats have from ownership of land or resources that allows them to sell their labour power as a commodity. The subordination of women taken as something natural helps to enforce particular ideas around what can be commodified within a patriarchal capitalist society. The role of the media in perpetuating certain rhetoric’s within the public discourse is significant, not just through news media but also through film portrayals including biased representations within the documentary field (have a think about how many films, both fiction and non-fiction, that have been made about sex work without any consultation with ACTUAL sex workers). A number of scholars have highlighted this media influence, stating that it is not just news media that help frame the situation in a particular light but general understanding are a product of both history and contemporary media.

Prostitution is commonly referred to as ‘The Oldest Profession’ and the exchange of sexual services for economic or other material gain has been around since the Greek Dark Ages approx 1100 BC (Bassermann, 1993, pg. 1). Prostitution has been framed in a number of different ways over the course of history, depending on the political climate of the time. In modern times, the conflation between sex work and trafficking has been extremely damaging to those (mostly women) who are engaging in consensual sex work. Those who are even more susceptible to this damaging rhetoric are minority sex workers, including migrants, people of colour and transgender workers. While consensual prostitution or sex work may be defined as “the exchange of sex for money, drugs or influence between two consenting adults” (Galucci, 2019), trafficking on the other hand involves third party control. The key difference between the two is agency, something that is more than often overlooked within the political discourse. The remainder of this essay will focus on the current US context since the implementation of FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Traffickers Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) bills in April 2018.
The image conjured in the public mind when we hear about a victim of trafficking is often of a “young, innocent, foreign woman tricked into prostitution abroad” (Andrijasevic& Mai, 2016, pg. 4), which is why the events leading up to the enforcement of the FOSTA bill was even more shocking to the US audience. Classifieds website ‘Backpage’, which predominately hosted adult services content, was involved in a high-profile court case in which it was found to be not-guilty of hosting illegal content, even though the court found that Backpage were aware of the illegal content on their site. The content in question was advertisements of underage girls being trafficked through the site. The most shocking thing to both the local and international audiences was the fact that the majority of the girls being trafficked through the site were American citizens, challenging the above notion of who the victims are. The not-guilty ruling was thanks to Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act which stated that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (Reynolds, 2019). In basic terms; prior to FOSTA/SESTA websites were not held liable for what third parties posted to their websites, these bills changed the onus and the effects are being felt by many not just in the US, and even those outside the realm of ‘sex work’. This ruling prompted the FOSTA/SESTA bill and it was signed into law by the Trump administration on the 11th of April 2018 (Romano, 2018). These bills amended the Communications Act so that responsibility was in the hands of the website should the content be involved in “the promotion or facilitation of prostitution” or “facilitating traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims” (cited in Peterson, Robinson & Shih, 2019). It is clear by the language used in the policy that sex trafficking and prostitution are conflated and doesn’t allow any protections for consensual sex workers. Given the public understanding of ‘trafficking’ the bills received a lot of public support including support from both sides of the political spectrum and even some high-profile celebrities (Romano, 2018). However, although these bills appear to have good intentions the actual impacts are far more detrimental than expected, hardly surprising once you consider that sex workers were not consulted throughout the policy development process. To avoid potential liabilities a number of websites that were used by consensual sex workers have been removed from the internet putting the lives of sex workers (who are already marginalised within society) at even greater risk. The way in which sex work has operated since the birth of the internet dramatically changed improving the safety of many workers (giving them access to networks and lists of ‘bad johns’ etc.) with FOSTA reversing a lot of these advanced safety measures and pushing sex work into the shadows. Within the first month following the enactment of the bill thirteen sex workers were reported missing with two more confirmed deaths by suicide, highlighting the danger imposed on consensual sex workers by pushing them into an invisible economy (Chamberlain, 2019, pg. 2174). Many anti-trafficking advocates and social commentators have argued that these anti-trafficking bills will have ‘unintended consequences’ and the threat to internet freedom is wildly ‘unconstitutional’ (Patel, 2018).
Evidence suggests that migrants and other marginalised people such as queer identifying, transgender people, disabled and people of colour have been more affected by these bills and some have suggested that this is intentional as the US has a history of “profiting off the mass incarceration of already vulnerable people” (Patel, 2018). The status of workers has a direct impact on the resources they have access to, and often face extra hurdles in landing a stable job such as language barriers, cultural differences and blatant racism. For many undocumented migrants in the US the employment opportunities available to them are very limited, leading many of them to unregulated jobs, including within the sex industry, making them more susceptible to trafficking (Murphy-Oates, 2018). Although there are many industries where trafficking of people occurs, it is only the sex industry that seems to garner the most attention. This speaks to the gendered and racialised understanding of trafficking victims and as Alice Miller suggests “we need to avoid the perpetual retelling of the story of the sexually abused victim who needs only rescue rather than a demanding woman who needs rights and social justice as a citizen” (cited in Crosby, 2007, pg. 46).

What this essay has attempted to highlight is that work under a capitalist system is inherently exploitative and political discourses are crucial to understanding different flows of not only people but also information, both within and across national borders. Criminalising a particularly gendered form of labour, in this instance sexual labour, has done more to “serve more the interests of states in controlling their borders than protecting women in situations of vulnerability” (Crosby, 2007, pg. 46). While many immigration controls do foster precarious working conditions for migrants this essay emphasizes that within patriarchal society, precarity is prevalent for all those who are seen as ‘the other’ including women, migrants, people of colour, disabled, non-cis and non-heterosexual people.

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Ananthaswamy, A & Douglas, K, 2018, ‘The origins of sexism: How men came to rule 12,000 years ago’, New Scientist, 18 April 2018, viewed 10 June 2019, < https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23831740-400-the-origins-of-sexism-how-men-came-to-rule-12000-years-ago/&gt;
Andrijasevic, R & Mai, N, 2016, ‘Editorial: Trafficking (in) representations: Understanding the recurring appeal of victimhood and slavery in neoliberal times’, Anti-Trafficking Review, Issue. 7, pp. 1-10
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Chamberlain, L, 2019, ‘FOSTA: A Hostile Law with a Human Cost’, Fordham Law Review, Vol. 87, No. 5, pp. 2171-2211
Crosby, A, 2007, ‘People on the Move: Challenging migration on NGOs, migrants and sex work categorization’, Development, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 44-49
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Hodge, D, 2008, ‘Sexual Trafficking in the United States: A Domestic Problem with Transnational Dimensions’, Social Work, Vol. 53, No. 2, pp. 143-152
Laite, J, 2017, ‘Between Scylla and Charybdis: Women’s Labour Migration and Sex Trafficking in the Early Twentieth Century’, International Review of Social History, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 37-65
Murphy-Oates, L, 2018, ‘Shutting Down Websites to Curb Sex Trafficking Has Life-Threatening Consequences for Sex Workers’, The Feed, viewed online 9 June 2019, < https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-feed/shutting-down-websites-to-curb-sex-trafficking-has-life-threatening-consequences-for-sex-workers&gt;
Patel, S, 2018, ‘We Must Repeal SESTA, a Deadly Law That Does Nothing to Help Trafficking Victims’, Vice, 22 May 2018, viewed online 14 June 2019, < https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xwmdkk/repeal-sesta-fosta-sex-work-suraj-patel&gt;
Peterson, M, Robinson, B & Shih, E, 2019, ‘The New Virtual Crackdown on Sex Workers’ Rights: Perspectives from the United States’, Anti-Trafficking Review, Issue 12, pp. 189-193
Reynolds, M, 2019, ‘The strange story of Section 230, the obscure law that created our flawed, broken internet’, Wired, 24 March 2019, viewed online 14 June 2019, < https://www.wired.co.uk/article/section-230-communications-decency-act&gt;
Romano, A, 2018, ‘A new law intended to curb sex trafficking threatens the future of the internet as we know it’, Vox, 2 July 2018, viewed online 10 June 2019, < https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/4/13/17172762/fosta-sesta-backpage-230-internet-freedom&gt;

Morality vs. Human Rights: Understanding Cultural Policy and Sex Work-2018

The importance of everyday life is vital to developing a sound cultural policy. Everyday life of everyone in the community should be valued but it is clear that this is not the case. Government policy is heavily influenced by economic values and it is for this reason most governments expect “outcomes for their investment” (Victorian Government cited in Caust, 2003, pg. 52). This economic paradigm often favours the arts over other cultural products within cultural policy and Boaden and Ashton suggest that this is due to the arts being the “easiest cultural area to manage” (Boaden & Ashton, 2015, pg. 21). With the rise of globalisation and information technologies the global markets underwent a rapid change and the approach to cultural products and services has resulted in aspects of our culture losing government support and/or funding. Given the ambiguous nature of the term ‘culture’, competing definitions of culture have made cultural policy even more complex as funding decisions are informed across different cultural forms including: “everyday lived culture, lifestyle culture, elite culture, alternative culture and subculture” (Craik et al. 2003, pg. 29). However, if cultural policy is dominated by an economic paradigm, aspects of culture that are not seen to have the capacity to generate a financial return may be ignored. Human sexuality is an intrinsic part of everyday life yet it is almost never discussed from a policy perspective. The link between sexuality and citizenship is much stronger than is often assumed, and the way in which societies are organised frequently support the ‘normalcy’ of heterosexuality and monogamy. This essay will explore the link between sexuality and citizenship, specifically looking at sex workers and the sex industry. It will focus on the moral and ethical considerations that dominate the public and policy discourse. Cultural planning and mapping will be discussed in regards to its exclusivity and the invisibility of certain groups of people in order to maintain the status quo of society. There are a number of ways in which sex work can be viewed and these paradigms will be discussed in relation to their influence over policy. The final part of the essay will discuss the best legal framework for the sex industry to be safe for all involved and will look at New Zealand as a brief case study that highlights the possibility of a model in which the rights of workers are prioritised.

The concepts of both cultural planning and mapping are vital to developing strategies and policies for sustainable development of the community, ensuring that cultural diversity is not lost or compromised. Cultural planning may be described as “strategic and integrated use of cultural resources in urban and community development” (Mercer cited in Boaden & Ashton, 2015, pg. 22). In other words, community development should be based on a number of processes that attempt to understand the human needs of a community while assessing the resources that enhance the development and participation of citizens within cultural life. Cultural mapping is a key part of this process and is best described as an assessment of existing cultural resources, with an emphasis on community engagement that measure both tangible and non-tangible cultural artefacts (Boaden & Ashton, 2015, pg. 23-24). Historically much of the cultural planning that has occurred in Australia has largely focused on facility provision and arts facilities, ignoring large sections of community culture, namely those that fall outside the ‘arts’ domain. It may be argued that there are aspects of our community we choose to ignore from the cultural perspective and this results in a lack of inclusion during policy development. The privileging of certain aspects of culture within cultural policies is a form of ‘hegemony’ in which “the dominant culture uses education, philosophy, religion, aesthetics and art to make its dominance appear normal and natural to the heterogeneous groups that constitute society” (Miller and Yudice cited in Mulcahy, 2006, pg. 320). This hegemonic dominance of society offers different understandings of male and female sexualities, based on biological assumptions rather than “a consequence of social differences in how female and male sexuality are constructed” (Hekma & Giami, 2014, pg. 13). This asserts the fact that under patriarchal society, male dominance within all social structures appears to be innate and natural rather than socially constructed.

The assumed hegemony of society is damaging to minorities who are often overlooked in the cultural mapping process. One of the biggest issues with cultural mapping lies in the silencing of certain peoples voices; often marginalised people are ignored, especially when they are functioning outside of legal frameworks. Sex workers in much of the world certainly fall into this category and have far too much to risk working under criminal systems where speaking out could put their lives in danger. Sex workers aren’t unique to this silencing technique as drug users, homeless people, migrant workers and the elderly are often ignored and overlooked when community development is underway. Individual freedoms can justifiably be denied to a member of the community who does not conform to social norms and heteronormativitiy, such as sex workers, and many western politicians rely on biological essentialism to further their argument surrounding what is ‘natural’ to continue denying an individual’s rights and freedoms. Given that much of human sexuality takes place in the private sphere, it is often overlooked from a policy perspective. However Weeks suggests that sexuality may be considered “the magnetic core that lies at the heart of the national political and cultural agenda” (Weeks cited in Hubbard, 2001, pg. 53). Arguing that sexuality is often used as a political tool in order to demonise ‘bad citizens’, such as queers, ‘perverts’, sex workers and other minority sexualities further establishing heterosexuality as the norm.

In many contexts there is a level of shame and taboo that surrounds sexual discourses that are driven by historical and religious understandings of sexuality. As discussed the ‘natural’ understanding of sex as a tool to reinforce hegemonic heterosexuality encourages citizens to participate in accepted forms of sexuality which include heterosexual, monogamous, pro-creative sex. Sex workers, specifically female workers, actively challenge patriarchal ideals and expectations as they embrace and capitalise on their sexuality, and it is for this reason sex workers are so heavily vilified. When the sex industry is discussed in the public sphere it often creates a ‘moral panic’ in which a debate around the ethics of sex work is discussed among cultural ‘experts’ or ‘commentators’. Ethical and moral questions are not unique to policy debates surrounding sex work, as historically we have seen similar discussions that weigh up between science/facts and ethics/morals; including HIV prevention, stem-cell research and needle exchange programs (Weitzer, 2010, pg. 53). These examples of contentious issues have all been topics in which the status quo of society is threatened, and a moral panic had been employed to ‘fix’ the problem. By giving priority to morals over rights, we ultimately deny full citizenship to certain people. In this case it applies to those who deviate away from heteronormative ideals through a lack of sexual citizenship:
“Sexual citizenship refers to the transformation of public life into a domain that is no longer dominated by male heterosexuals, but that is based in gender and sexual diversity. The goal is a society in which diverse people can take responsibility for their own sexual lives” (Hekma cited in Meyer, 2018).
Once we comprehend that much of our understanding of human, specifically female, sexuality is based on social constructs rather than these ‘natural’ assumptions we take for granted, we can then remove the moral and ethical questions and focus on the safety of all members within in a society.

Far too often sex work is used synonymously with sex trafficking and this is one of the most problematic issues when it comes to discussing sex work. Exploitation is often discussed in regards to the sex industry yet it never applies to any other industry, especially those that thrive on paying their employees minimum wage (hospitality, retail etc). Many negative assumptions are put forward by oppression theorists (discussed below) who dominate public conversations about the sex industry. Cohen’s ‘moral panic’ model; which attempts to engage the state to ‘fix’ a potential problem brought about by a particular group or event which is seen as a threat to the status quo of society, is often employed when sex trafficking (or work) is brought to the public’s attention (Homan, 2011, pg. 2). The role of these periodic moral panics, which are often perpetuated by media and the authorities, function to “reassert [the state’s] right to power.. [which] supports the view that questions of sexual morality are prominent in definitions of citizenship” (Hubbard, 2001, pg. 53). What Hubbard implies here is that those who do not conform to a ‘moral sexuality’ are ultimately denied their rights and are not seen (or treated) as full citizens in regards to benefits and political recognition.

When we focus on sex work discourse several paradigms occur. The first paradigm is the oppression paradigm, often the most dominant discourse that permeates the public realm. The oppression paradigm sees all forms of sex work as the “quintessential expression of patriarchal gender relations” (Weitzer, 2009, pg. 54). This view is ignorant of different factors that may be in play such as the type of sexual commerce, agency of the worker, national situation, historical time period etc. Radical advocates go further and suggest that violence against women, subjugation and exploitation are an inevitable and a core part of the sex industry with some oppression academics arguing that “when men use women in prostitution, they are expressing a pure hatred for the female body” (Dworkin cited in Weitzer, 2010, pg. 54). For many oppression theorists there is a general understanding that under patriarchy, there is no way that a woman can choose to be a sex worker freely and all workers are victims who need to be saved. Through this perspective research is often skewed and biased to further the author’s own personal perspective on the subject. They frequently engage in ‘prescientific reasoning’ which is described as “conclusions formed in the absence of evidence or lacking in the critical ingredient of falsibility” (Popper cited in Weitzer, 2010, pg. 15), often presenting their central arguments to be undeniable absolute truths. Frequently oppression theorists will focus their research on workers who fall into the lower rungs of the ‘whorearchy’ (see image 1), often ‘survival’ workers, which produce warped conclusions. There are a number of reasons the oppression paradigm is extremely problematic in its perspective, most obviously it completely discounts the voices of the workers. By making sex workers voices not heard you create an invisible demographic of people within a society. There is a general understanding in Western societies that “all individuals are apparently equal in the eyes of the law and the state” (McDowell cited in Hubbard, 2001, pg. 53), and Hubbard suggests that heteronormativity is accepted as the norm and those who ‘transgress sexual and spatial order” (Hubbard, 2001, pg. 58) are disciplined, in this case silenced, which then reinforces hegemonic heterosexuality and sexual monogamy.

The opposite end of the discourse spectrum would be the empowerment paradigm which holds that sex workers have agency to make decisions for themselves and see sex work as another service provided within the neoliberal free market. Supporters of the empowerment paradigm push against prohibitionist laws and suggest that much of the social stigma is due to the illegal nature of sex work (Oselin & Weitzer, 2013, pg. 454). While not as extreme as the oppression theorists in their perspective that all women are victims, or in this case empowered, supporters of the empowerment paradigm can sometimes fail to recognise that there may be a level of subordination involved in some forms of consensual sex work, arguing that “there is nothing inherent in sex work that would prevent it from being organised for mutual gain to all parties” (Weitzer cited in Social Spaces and #SexWork: An Essay, 2013). What this paradigm largely ignores are the varied complexities that exist within the sex industry and that not all workers feel empowered by their jobs. It is true that some sex workers feel empowered through their work, yet the idea of empowerment and work as intersecting concepts only seems to apply to the sex industry. Another issue with the empowerment perspective is that it highlights one of the biggest issue in the industry; not recognising sex work as work. If we fail to see this work as a job, like any other job, the idea of empowerment (and consequently degradation) are often central to the morality debate, which begs bigger questions surrounding how we view both sex and sexuality, specifically in women.

If the oppression paradigm is situated on one end of the spectrum and the empowerment paradigm is at the other, the polymorphous paradigm would sit somewhere in between the two. The polymorphous paradigm holds that “there is a constellation of occupational arrangements, power relations, and worker experiences” that exist within sex work (Weitzer, 2010, pg. 55). The other two are quite radical in their ideologies, whereas the polymorphous paradigm has a level of flexibility and understands there are a number of complexities to consider on a more individualised basis. From the polymorphous perspective there is an even consideration between subordination and agency; it recognises that both subordination and agency may be at play at different stages in a sex workers career. Both the empowerment and the polymorphous paradigms understand that sex worker rights are human rights and advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work.

There are a number of different legal frameworks under which sex work can operate around the world. The first is most strongly influenced by the oppression theorists, which is full illegality of full service sex work (prostitution). This undeniably has the most negative impact not just on the workers directly, but the social stigma and general discourse in the wider public. This is where skewed research depicting the worst examples of sex work are used to stereotype workers and treat them as representative of the whole demographic of workers. While prohibition is pushed by anti-sex work activists, it is clear prohibition won’t solve the problem. Studies have shown that violence against sex workers actually increases in places where there is a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards full service sex work (Sanders & Campbell, 2007, pg. 4). Under an illegal framework organised crime is given the conditions to thrive without regulation. Studies suggest that decriminalisation or legalisation leads to a more transparent industry which makes it tougher for criminals to succeed in their illegal activities. Lupton suggests that most of the dangers that sex workers face within illegal contexts are not inherent parts of sex work, rather, the lack of access to material resources is the key cause of these added vulnerabilities (Lupton cited in Sanders & Campbell, 2007, pg. 12). Again this suggests that more vulnerable women lacking in social and economic capital would find it the hardest to access the necessary resources for their ongoing safety. Much like the discourse around female safety in greater society, the onus on safety is often placed on the worker (predominately female), being held responsible for personal risk avoidance. This reactive approach highlights the ignorance of many state Governments that put morals ahead of human rights, advocating that if women were not in the sex industry this violence would not occur. The ignorance towards safety of all citizens, and the personal responsibility most workers face further establishes the patriarchal dominance that permeates western societies and confirms the hegemony that many government policies wish to further cement.

Another framework under which the sex industry can operate is legalisation, in which strict rules and licensing are created by the state in order to regulate and control the industry. The Nordic Model is an interesting interpretation of a legalised framework that decriminalises the sale of sex, while simultaneously making it a criminal offence to purchase sex. It was first adopted in Sweden in 1999 as a reaction to oppression theorists dominating the national sex work discourse (Levy & Jakobsson, 2014, pg. 2). Legalisation brings about a binary within the industry; of legal and illegal practices. Anybody participating in sex work outside the often restrictive ‘legal’ guidelines are still subject to criminal punishment and it fails to protect many within an already marginalised minority (Green, 2015). This is due to many regulations favouring sex workers within the higher rungs of the whorearchy, who generally have the most access to the resources they need. In places where sex work is legalised there are often many abuses of power, predominately from police who manipulate workers with threats and coercion (Murphy, 2015). Many prohibitionist’s are actively against any form of legalisation or decriminalisation from a moral perspective as they believe that it “symbolically gives an official stamp of approval to a vile institution and creates what they call a prostitution culture, in which commercial sexual transactions are rendered acceptable” (Weitzer, 2010, pg. 22). But this moral standpoint actually enforces the lack of respect for human autonomy and agency, arguing that if for whatever reason you end up in the sex industry you are not morally worthy of protections that the rest of society have access to. Reaffirming that citizens who fail to conform to the moral sexuality deemed ‘normal’ by the government results in ‘second-class citizen’ status as perceived not just by the state but also by other ‘first-class citizens’ who have conformed to the state expectations, also known as social stigma (Hubbard, 2010, pg. 53).

Human rights organisation such as Amnesty International support decriminalisation of sex work who, unlike many cultural planners, actually engaged in a dialogue with current and former sex workers before reaching this conclusion. Decriminalisation is the final legal framework and is the framework which is supported by an overwhelming majority of sex workers and their allies (SWOP, 2018). In 2003, New Zealand was the first country in the world to decriminalise sex work. New Zealand is an excellent case study for a well-developed cultural policy that enables sex workers to work freely and have access to the same legal and employment rights as the rest of the population (Abel, 2014, pg. 581). While the process towards decriminalisation in New Zealand was not without is hurdles the State understood the need to prioritise the human rights of all workers/citizens ahead of the moral and ethical considerations. The push towards decriminalisation came from a sex-worker led group formed in 1987 known as the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) who have been receiving funding from the NZ Government since 1988. All of the arguments presented by the NZPC were evidence-based and “public health and human rights arguments were central to the passing of the PRA [Prostitution Reform Act]” (Abel, 2014, pg. 14). Since decriminalisation passed in New Zealand several reviews have been undertaken and have found that the positives have outweighed the negatives in all aspects of the updated policy. Because sex workers in New Zealand have full rights, crimes against sex workers are taken seriously by the police and the State, and a number of convictions of crimes against sex workers have been processed through the New Zealand judicial system.

Regardless of which side of the morality fence you sit, we need to view sex workers (and other minorities within the community) as human beings deserving of the same human rights as everyone else in society. Throughout this essay it is clear that there is a huge resistance to members of the community who threaten the status quo, especially women in control of their sexuality. From the policy perspective, morality and ethics are given too much weight within public debates which is extremely damaging to many people within our communities. This is especially true when there is an obvious lack of evidence to support these moral judgements. These negative public discourses on sex work stemming from oppression theorists, does nothing to eradicate the true harms that do exist and as discussed has been proven to further perpetuate violence and stigma against (female) sex workers. From the economic perspective, decriminalising sex work would allow for sex workers to contribute to the local economy and takes much of the power away from criminals who understand the demand for sexual services. By decriminalising compared to legalising, governments are able to take away criminal punishments without being seen as ‘encouraging’ the growth of the sex industry.

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