I note with some dismay that the sky has not yet fallen …

… nor has there been a marked rise in calves born with two heads or other such examples of fantastic Apocalyptic imagery.

Yes, it’s been five whole years now since the enactment of my favourite piece of legislation from our government, the Prostitution Reform Act.* First, a little retrospective: the amazing Georgina Beyer‘s fantastic, inspiring speech during the Parliamentary debate:

It provides people like me at that time with some form of redress for the brutalisation that might happen when a client pulls a knife. The horror of that situation is that it could be a life and death one—one does not know—but it would have been nice to know that instead of having to deal out justice afterwards to that person myself, I might have been able to approach the authorities—the police in this case—and say: “I was raped, and, yes, I’m a prostitute, and, no, it was not right that I should have been raped, because I said no, and it was not paid attention to.”

Prostitution is always one of those problem issues for feminism. There’s the really-really-anti-prostitution crowd; the really-really-pro-individual-choice/freedom crowd; there’s even the occasional pro-sex-work-as-liberating crowd. Suffice to say, they don’t always get along brilliantly. I think this post from Renegade Evolution (via Uncool, via Fetch me my axe) sums up my feelings on the first group.

The Prostitution Law Review Committee has just released a report on the state of things since the enactment of the PRA. Are things amazingly cool and awesome? No, and given the remaining huge social stigma around sex work, let’s not pretend that’s surprising or unexpected. But has the sky fallen? No. Has the number of sex workers quadrupled? Are the streets knee-deep in immoral, extramarital ejaculate? No, unfortunately, because that would be awesomely surreal. And have people’s attitudes to sex or sex work fundamentally changed?

That would be another big old no.

Elsewoman got me thinking with her post on the recent PRA report and the nature of the clients who go to prostitutes – a rather neglected facet of the industry, to put it lightly. There are no studies about the kinds of men (because the vast majority of clients are men, that much is pretty certain) who patronise (ooh, subtle double entendre there) sex workers. Like almost everything to do with the industry, it comes down to anecdata and personal experience.

So in view of enhancing the discourse, here’s mine.

I was a university student (still am), looking for work that would fit around my lectures and pay pretty well. Now, I’m not the kind of person who can handle doing sex work, and I don’t mean that perjoratively – I’m also not the kind of person who can do outbound calling, or work in retail. It’s a personality thing. Heck, I envy the women who choose and enjoy sex work – they were paid a helluva lot better than me, standing behind the bar, serving drinks to their clients.

The official term is “receptionist”, though I as a newbie wasn’t trusted to actually do the bookings and handle the gigantic wads of cash. I also wasn’t much of a bartender, but a brothel isn’t exactly the kind of establishment people frequent for the quality of their bourbon. I lasted a couple of months, because 12-hour shifts with no break because you’re the only non-smoker on duty, the dim lighting and overly loud music, and the chaotic management was killing my brain; but you bet your bottom dollar I had a good look around while I was there.

What kind of people go to brothels? They’re sleazy, lonely, gross guys who can’t get lucky in normal bar situations. And they’re well-dressed businessmen with platinum Amexes having a fun night out. They’re surprisingly often American tourists, here for work or vacation, checking out what a fabled Legal Sex Industry looks like. They’re young, happening, attractive guys who’d have no trouble with women just coming in for a laugh and a 21st-birthday ritual. They’re obnoxious loud drunks looking for a place that’s still open, quiet reserved guys with really particular tastes, regulars who all the workers know and love. They’re guys I know, who to this day are quite open about having used sex workers; and they’re well-to-do Pillars of the Community who certainly don’t want it known where they’ve spent the occasional Friday night.

What kind of women work as prostitutes? They’re students fortunate enough to have no crippling student loans, the lucky things. They’re mothers. They’re down-on-their-luck, or they’re out of other options, or they’re loving the cash-in-the-hand – and it can be damn good cash in their hands – lifestyle.

Do some of them want to get out of the industry, and need help to do it? Yes. And they should get help. But I cannot phrase this better than the report itself:

by no means all sex workers want to exit, and some sex workers find it offensive that they should be being offered assistance to leave a job where they are quite happy. There are as many reasons for exiting as there are reasons for entering the sex industry and a ‘one size fits all’ approach to support and assistance in exiting will not be appropriate.

There is currently little dedicated support available for those wishing to exit the sex industry. The Committee recommends that central government make available adequate funding for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide a range of services to the sex industry, including assistance with exiting for those who wish to exit.

Acting like sex workers and their clients are stereotypes from bad American cop shows doesn’t help anyone.

*Civil Union Act might have done it if only I wasn’t still deeply convinced that it’s not equality, it’s avoiding the damn issue.


  1. Nine

    HELL YES. Thank you for this post. I only found it by chance, and it represents the sex industry so much more realistically than the typical abolitionist rhetoric. It shouldn’t be groundbreaking to acknowledge that all sorts of different people are sex workers and clients … but it is.

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