Opinion / Pledging to end the violence of prostitution

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ADRIAN Bayley, the man who raped and murdered Victorian journalist Jill Meagher in 2012, had a history of violence towards prostituted women.

Andrea Tokaji
Andrea Tokaji.

His attitude was, according to an interview, that once he pays for someone he can do what he wants with them.

Although not all men who buy sex have these attitudes, when a legalised industry allows a man to “rent” a woman’s body in prostitution, it has the real effect of temporarily suspending her wishes and desires – making it closer to coercion rather than an equal and fair transaction. 

Also, when considering the high levels of abuse and exploitation in the industry, it is difficult to see its workers as “voluntary”.

Rachel Moran, activist and survivor of the sex trade, recounts that the majority of women in prostitution are there as a result of various forms of exploitation – whether psychological, emotional, physical or financial – and witnessed first-hand women who were trafficked, kidnapped, raped and physically brutalised. 

The statistics bear this out as well. Renowned psychologist and researcher Melissa Farley’s international study into nine countries of the conditions for prostituted women found that 73 per cent of women in prostitution have been physically assaulted, 64 per cent have been threatened with a weapon and 57 per cent have been raped – why would anyone “voluntarily” enter such a degrading, violent and abusive workforce of their own free will?

Needless to say, it is mostly women who take on the role of prostitute, and it is mainly men who take on the role of the “John”. 

This, therefore, becomes a gender equality issue. 

As we pass another International Women’s Day, it is important to recognise the gender inequality that occurs in the adult industry.

Male sexual entitlement, which is inherent in violent sexual behaviour, is something that needs to be recognised and addressed.

The truth is, we will never address gender-based violence in our community if we continue to allow women and girls to be bought and sold in legalised industries. 

The Prostitution, I Don’t Buy It campaign seeks to bring the men into this conversation publicly. 

It calls on all men and boys to take a pledge declaring that they no longer want to see the commodification or exploitation of women in their communities – and pledge to make healthier choices in their tomorrows. 

Tom Meagher, husband of Jill Meagher, ran the Prostitution, I Don’t Buy It campaign in Ireland and was successful in shifting not only the social acceptance of male sexual entitlement and sexualised violence against women in legalised industries, but also changing legislation in favour of the Nordic countries’ approach of treating all purchasing of sex as violence against women. 

This campaign in Australia is a way to bring the conversation into the public arena and encourage men to consider the broader impact their choices are making on all women in our community. It calls on all men to reject the idea that a person can be sold, traded or bought in any way for personal sexual gratification. 

This is the first year of what will become an annual campaign that calls on all state and territory jurisdictions to change the laws that make exploitation and trafficking a possibility in our nation, and legislating towards a more human-rights compliant, gender-equal policy framework along the lines of the Nordic Model. 

By signing the pledge (at prostitutionidontbuyit-fightingforjusticefoundation.nationbuilder.com) we will give a clear signal that our mothers, sisters and daughters should never be bought and sold in any society that values the inherent dignity in every woman.

Andrea Tokaji is a PhD candidate on gender-based violence and founding director of Fighting for Justice Foundation at fightingforjusticefoundation.com 

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