Tuesday the 12th April 2016
Senate Finance and Public Administration Committees
PO Box 6100
Canberra ACT 2600
To the Committee Secretary of the Domestic violence and gender inequality.
NorMAC is a secular organisation directed by and for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation in Australia, a harmful cultural practice that we seek to end.
It is NorMAC’s view that Prostitution undermines gender equality by commodifying women as sexual goods, this only contributes to violence against women which is an endemic part of Australian culture.
We are responding to your Inquiry into Domestic Violence and Gender Inequality in the hope that you will take note of the correlation between gender inequality, domestic violence and exploitation of (particularly) women and children by the sex trade.
In our submission we aim to highlight the negative social determinants including experiences of family violence, which have created pathways for individuals to sex exploitation and the sex trade.
- the role of gender inequality in all spheres of life in contributing to the prevalence of domestic violence;
Research carried out in Australia highlights some alarming statistics about women in the sex trade and there seems to be a correlation between domestic and family violence within the home as a factor which is over-represented amongst women who end up in the sex trade.
In 2005 the National Drug and Alcohol Research centre published Mental health, drug use and risk among female street-based sex workers in greater Sydney. The project interviewed 72 women who had been involved in prostitution for 3 months or more, statistics highlighted the following;
- One quarter of the respondents identified as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
- More than half left home before the age of 16.
- The median range for school completion was year 9.
- 14% had no fixed address or were currently homelessness.
- Nearly half the sample reported being homeless within the past 12 months.
-Three-quarters of the sample experienced child sexual abuse before the age of 16.
- Almost two-thirds reported that after the age of 16 someone had raped them.
- One third of participants reported moving into prostitution before the age of 18.
- Two thirds of respondents found sex work stressful with half stating that the clients were the cause of this stress.
- 85% of women reported experiencing violence in prostitution, particularly physical assault (65%), rape with gun/knife (40%), rape without weapon (33%) and attempted rape (21%).
- Depression was also prevalent in this study with a little over half (39 respondents) reporting severe depressive symptoms, a little over half of this group (54%) reported having attempted suicide and one-quarter of these had been before the age of 18. Half the sample also screened positively for a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) with approximately half the total sample also meeting the criteria for PTSD with 31% of respondents reporting current PTSD symptoms.
Also a 2009 study from University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology surveyed women from three sections of the sex industry. This included 103 private ‘sex workers’, 102 legal brothel workers and 42 illegal ‘sex workers’, 33 of whom were street workers. The results showed that 83% of illegal ‘sex workers’ had been exposed to sexual abuse during childhood, 45% of licensed brothel workers and 48% of private ‘sex workers’ also reported childhood abuse. It also showed that 52% of illegal ‘sex workers’ had been raped or bashed by a client; 15% of private ‘sex workers’ and 3% of brothel-based ‘sex workers’ also experienced these traumas. The study highlighted that street workers were four times more likely to have mental health problems than brothel workers, but overall prostitutes from all sectors had poorer mental health than Australian women of comparable age who were not involved in the sex industry.
More clearly a number of studies from Community Service organisations working with women in prostitution have found that these women experience higher rates of domestic violence.
Project Respect, an advocacy and support service for women involved in the sex industry in Victoria, recently stated the following in their 2014-2015 annual report on the issue of domestic/family violence for women involved in the sex industry. “Family violence has particular and profound impacts on women from the sex industry. Whilst there is increasing research on and advocacy to address family violence, there is limited research about the relationship between this form of gendered violence and the experiences of women in the sex industry are facing. However, evidence suggests that women in the sex industry face higher rates of family violence than other women. This evidence is reflected by Project Respect’s experiences, as a large number of women we engage with report currently living or having lived in a violent partner relationship, or having experienced various forms of family violence. Some women report that they entered the sex industry as a direct result of being in debt due to relationship breakdowns, or in attempt to secure the financial means to exit a violent relationship. In addition, men also perpetrate family violence against women in the sex industry in specific and additional ways. These forms of violence often go unrecognised by the police and specialist family violence services.”
Project Respect’s submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence went further in documenting the experiences of family/domestic violence of the women that they work with in the sex industry.
Forms of family violence specific to women in the sex industry
Women in the sex industry tell us that men perpetrate family violence against them in seven specific and common ways, by:
- Forcing their partner into the sex industry;
- Not allowing their partner to leave the sex industry;
- Taking their partner’s earning from the sex industry;
- Disclosing or threatening to disclose that their partner or ex-partner has
been in the sex industry to others, including to their children, other family
members, friends, children’s teachers or school, employers, the police,
Child Protection, the Children’s Court, the Magistrates Court, the Family
Court and the Australian Taxation Office, with a view to discrediting and
humiliating the woman;
- Verbally/emotionally abusing their partner or ex-partner in terms of their involvement in the sex industry (eg calling them a whore or a slut);
-Making accusations of infidelity or being sexually jealous; and not allowing their partner to leave the sex industry;
- Coercing their partner into having unwanted sex or types of sex by accusing her of wanting to have sex with other men but not him.
A study by Sacred Heart Mission in 2001 also drew links between abuse in the family as well as later experiences of domestic violent relationships. The survey interviewed 35 females in prostitutions in the Victorian suburb of St Kilda. All respondents stated that they had experienced sexual abuse as children, all had experienced past or present domestic violence.
- the role of gender stereotypes in contributing to cultural conditions which support domestic violence, including, but not limited to, messages conveyed to children and young people in:
- the marketing of toys and other products,
- education, and
Educating students about gender inequality and the consequences of family and domestic violence is crucial for the changing future attitudes and enabling children to recognise and disclose violence that they witness.
This is particularly pertinent given that gendered violence is the highest cause of premature death or ill-health for women in Victoria under the age of 45; this is higher than causes of death due to other risk factors including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking. Statistics in Australia also highlight that one in three women experience intimate partner violence within their lifetime.
We believe that it is essential that violence prevention, gender equality and the value of women are taught in schools alongside sex, nutrition, physical education and exercise.
It is essential that children are equipped with the skills to analyse the negative messages they receive regarding the role of women through misogyny, patriarchy and sexism which are ingrained in much of the media and advertising industry. This imagery forms a broader negative cultural attitude towards women.
It is NorMAC’s view that if we are going to change the rates of gendered violence in Australia, then it is essential that our discourse needs to examine hyper-sexualised portrayals of women in the media and the sex industry which continues to pose a barrier to gender equality by relegating women to objects of men’s sexual gratification.
VIDEO GAMING & ONLINE MEDIA
It is NorMAC’s position that it is essential for governments to do more to ensure that online media and games which promote violence against women are censured and prevented from being accessible in the public domain, particularly when they may normalise gendered violence.
A recent case in point was December 2014 where survivors of prostitution lobbied for family stores, including Target and Kmart to withdraw Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) from sale within their stores. The game came to attention because of its November 2014 high definition re-release. Criticisms focused on the games platform which allowed players to have sex with prostitutes, then kill and rob them after death.
The normalisation of gendered violence could be seen from the online gaming community’s response to the campaign against GTA V. This was highlighted by some of the disturbed attitudes of game users who took to twitter to defend the game and highlighted their own violent attitudes towards women.
@REALFunnyMario stated "Punching women in gta cause they deserve it."
@Lekinineie said "I play the game to because you can hurt women."
Daniel NoFarks Gibbons stated – “Prostitutes rally together to stop a violent video game?... maybe they should use that time to get an education and stop sucking dick for cash.”
While @hamtarosam said “I hope you get gang raped by a pack of RockStar employees you fucked feminist slut”
As an organisation led by a survivor of sexual exploitation NorMAC director Simone Watson released a response to the media. “As a woman and survivor of male violence it is distressing to know that there are men out there in the world enjoying playing out fantasies of buying, bashing, torturing and murdering women. This is unacceptable, indeed intolerable. If you sell it, you are complicit in endorsing it.”
It was at this time that Australian Chief of Army David Morrison called individuals perpetuating this type of violence to account on ABC’s 7.30 Report; “… may not perpetrate any violence against women, they may not distribute foul images, but if they know about them, if they know about violence, if they don’t do something about it, if they’re bystanders, then through their actions they need to be held to account.”
A study completed by the University of Tasmania in 2013 asked 430 students about their attitudes to child pornography and found that 10% of students did not think it was harmful to watch or distribute it. Researcher Dr Jeremy Pritchard questioned whether the statistics highlighted the internet normalising child exploitation material? Pritchard stated; “I think maybe some people just think it’s data, that it’s an ethically-neutral collection of zeroes and ones.”
NorMAC questions the role of the internet in not only normalising child pornography, but equally the role of mainstream pornography and child sexualisation in the media as contributing factors to normalisation of sexual violence against women and children.
In reference to child sexualisation in the media, social commenter and children activist, Melinda Tankard Reist recently discussed the content of men’s magazines stating; “The publishers claim the girls are 18+ years but the content and images deliberately make them appear younger, and more akin to child porn. The girls are posed in pigtails, wearing braces, school uniforms and surrounded by soft toys.”
In October 2008 The Rudd Labor Party proposed the introduction of mandatory internet filtering. At the 2010 election the plan came under attack from minor parties and the Liberal opposition who claimed the scheme was ineffective and expensive, others argued it was an attack on civil liberties. The proposal was later dumped by the labor government under Julia Gillard.
Despite claims to the contrary, the Rudd governments plan to filter internet content was widely supported by the community. In February 2010 ABC’s Hungry Beast program commissioned McNair Ingenuity Research to perform a telephone poll of 1,000 Australians. One statement said “We need Government regulation of content on the Internet the same as we have Government regulation of content for other media.” 62% agreed while 35% disagreed.
Another statement said “Having a mandatory Government Internet filter that would automatically block all access in Australia, to overseas websites containing material that is Refused Classification? (Refused Classification was defined as) ‘Images and information about one or more of the following: child sexual abuse, bestiality, sexual violence, gratuitous, exploitative or offensive sexual fetishes, detailed instructions on or promotion of crime, violence or use of illegal drugs’.” 80% were in favour and 19% were against.
In a wider context mainstream pornography provides extreme sexual imagery at the click of a button. The problem of this being unregulated lies in the fact that it often depicts aggressive sexual acts with women as the primary victims of this aggression. A 2010 analysis of 50 bestselling adult videos in the US found that 88% of the scenes included physical aggression. This aggression is overwhelmingly carried out by the male, with the target of the violence being a female 94% of the time.
Hardcore pornography is now seen as mainstream, why is it that these aggressive and violent depictions of sex with women continue to be beyond regulation when they would not be allowed in print or televised media and in many cases would be censored on social media?
- the role of government initiatives at every level in addressing the underlying causes of domestic violence, including the commitments under, or related to, the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children; and
We note question b. which focuses on the message conveyed to children and young people which contributes to cultural conditioning and normalisation of gender inequality and domestic violence.
One crucial question that we believe is missing from this current analysis and the questions posed by the commission, includes the role of men in challenging gender inequality. We believe an essential component of this is for men to change their views towards women in prostitution.
Having a caste of women set aside for the sexual service of males has a wider impact on men’s attitudes to all women at all levels of society. This was reflected recently when Australian barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, Julian Burnside AO QC stated “Prostitution affects all women because it affects the way men regard women.”
A study published in 2015 in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence co-authored by UCLA Professor Neil Malamuth profiled men who buy sex. It found that men who buy sex are more likely to report having committed rape and other aggressive acts.
Professor Malamuth, a professor of communications studies and psychology, said – “Our findings indicate that men who buy sex share certain key characteristics with men who are at risk for committing sexual aggression. Both groups tend to have a preference for impersonal sex, a fear of rejection by women, a history of having committed sexually aggressive acts and a hostile masculine self-identification. Those who buy sex, on average, have less empathy for women in prostitution and view them as intrinsically different from other women.”
Recently, campaigns have been launched by men, challenging other men to turn their backs on the sex industry. Tom Meagher, husband of murdered Melbourne woman, Jill Meagher, is spokesperson for an Irish campaign called Prostitution: We Don’t Buy It. At the launch of this campaign in Ireland, Mr Meagher revealed his horror when he heard an earlier interview with his wife's killer, Adrian Bayley. Mr Bayley - a serial rapist – attempted to justify his brutal treatment of prostitutes. When asked why he had repeatedly and violently raped a prostitute he said, “I paid for her, I can do what I want with her”.
Mr Meagher said, “The transfer of money does not turn a no into a yes”. He also highlighted the degrading comments posted by men about the women they’ve paid for sex. For example – “She didn’t even speak English. Not what I was looking for and I’m the one paying for this.' And, 'I’m paying her €2.50 a minute and I can’t even fuck her in the position I want, this is not fair.”
The (mostly male) purchasers of sex often record their opinions of the (mostly female) providers of sexual services on what are known as ‘punter’ websites. These comments, or ‘reviews’, display misogynistic and often racist attitudes towards prostitutes. Some examples -
- ‘Anon’ complained that the woman he purchased in prostitution lied about her age and was ‘an absolute bitch’ and ‘ugly’. He said, ‘Whores like this should stay in Japan as they would not treat customers like this’
- Another ‘Anon’ said the Asian woman he purchased – ‘a 20-year old named Ashely (sic)’ said three words over and over – ‘very cute boy’, ‘big cock’, ‘good sex’ – LOL, but ‘it was very cheap which kinda (sic) made up for that part I suppose’.
- ‘Fred’ said there were ‘young Asian chicks on offer’. He then described his experience with the woman he purchased – ‘She was going to put on condom for sex. I said just wanted head. She said Ok, but not to blow in her mouth. 10 minutes later I blew in her mouth, she got up and retched into sink and told me off. HA HA HA! (sic)’
These ‘anecdotes’ related in a public forum by purchasers of sex expose the disturbing reality of the purchaser-purchased dynamic in the sex industry. It is completely inappropriate to regard sex as just another product or service, and punters as buyers of a service like any other.