Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography

By Rebecca Whisnant; Christine Stark | Go to book overview

Sheila Jeffreys


Prostitution as a harmful
cultural practice

In the last two decades arguments that prostitution should be seen as ordinary work or women's choice have been used as the basis for legitimising the growth of a burgeoning international sex industry (Jeffreys 1997). I shall argue here that prostitution should, on the contrary, be placed within United Nations understandings of what constitutes a harmful traditional/cultural practice.

With the legalisation of brothel prostitution that has taken place in Australia, Netherlands and New Zealand, prostitution has become a very profitable business. In Australia the industry of brothel prostitution has been legalised or decriminalised in Victoria, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and Queensland, and legalisation legislation is being considered in Tasmania. Street prostitution, which is less easily turned into a profitable industry, remains illegal except in tolerance zones in New South Wales. New Zealand legalised brothel prostitution in June 2003. Where brothel prostitution is legalised it quickly becomes a booming business for those who skim the profits from this harmful cultural practice, both pimps and governments. A 1998 International Labour Organisation (ILO) report called for the recognition of the important role of prostitution in the economies of countries in South-East Asia in which it accounted for between 2 and 14 percent of GDP (Lim 1998). The Age newspaper devoted the front page of its business section to SEXPO (the sex industry exhibition) in 1998 alongside a profile of Australia's sex industry, said to have an estimated annual turnover of $A1.2 billion.

Meanwhile, the traffic in women and children to provide the raw materials of this industry is growing at an alarming rate. It was recognised by the United Nations as a major issue of international crime in the protocol to the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime (2000). The number of women and children trafficked internationally each year is estimated as between 700,000 and 2 million (Richard 1999). A 2003 report from Europap estimates that well over half of all prostitutes in the EU were not born in the country where they work, a figure which has doubled since 1990. Today threequarters have travelled from outside the EU (Stewart 2003). As the industry grows the import of vulnerable women from poorer countries is required because there are not enough women from within the EU who can be induced to enter the expanding number of brothels. There is more and more

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