Bringing sex workers out of the shadows
I once heard a story about a prostitute and a man who claimed to be her husband.
The prostitute, a middle-aged woman had complained about a car that was constantly parked outside her place of work and even sometimes as she made her way home.
Several weeks later, the car was spotted but when the man inside the car was approached and asked why he was parked there, he immediately started to cry. Pointing to the window of the brothel he said, “My wife is in there.”
Turns out the married man had always believed his wife was a night receptionist in a motel, but one day his suspicions got the better of him and he followed her to work. He confronted her and they broke up but he’d continued a heartbroken vigil parked in his car outside the brothel for several weeks.
As break-up stories go it’s a particularly rough tale but I’ve always thought the greater tragedy was the picture it paints of a society still so confused and uncomfortable with the issue of prostitution at all. And why as one of the oldest jobs in the history of the world it remains one of the most difficult to discuss, understand, respect and control.
But later this week a female member of the National Assembly of France is attempting to change that; Chantal Brunel is calling for a vote in the Senate that will decide whether or not France will “bring back the bordello” and formally legalise state-run brothels throughout the country.
And I think she should be applauded for having the guts to face the issue and needs of a legitimate industry head-on; sex is big business.
In an article for the Times Online Charles Bremner wrote that up to 30, 000 men and women gain a regular income on which they are expected to pay tax, as sex workers in France.
And the Senate discussion follows a national poll that found 59 per cent of French people (49 per cent of those women) were in favour of establishing places where “sexual services would be possible with medical, legal and financial protection”.
Here in Australia, the issue of prostitution is highly complicated and I’m told far more difficult to gauge a comparable number of sex workers because our laws are governed by each state and territory. And even they’re convoluted.
You can read the latest laws here but according to Sue White of RhED a community organisation based in Victoria who assist sex workers, even if France does choose to legalise prostitution, it won’t fix everything. She says that the laws in some parts of Australia can be so tight they are rendered ineffective, with many sex workers still driven underground and operating on their own.
What it could do however is begin to peel back the layers of stigma associated with the industry.
Feminist campaigners in France have supported the proposed legalisation in light of the freedom it would provide sex workers to work whenever and however they wish; not to mention the positive impact increased safety, medical and legal measures will have on reducing exploitation, trafficking and maybe even drug use.
Most importantly effective national legislation will also take a big step towards formally recognising the multitude of very real human faces behind the profession.
As Janelle Fawkes, president of the The Scarlet Alliance a national peak organisation for sex workers in Australia told ABC Online.
“It is always more plausible to understand sex workers as victims than it is to understand us as intelligent, articulate and community-minded.”
So whatever the outcome in France this week, let’s hope it makes the conversation about the sex industry a more considered one.
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