Prostitution is recognized as one of the oldest professions in the world, and the practice of renting and hiring female bodies for certain monetary compensation has existed in human community for thousands of years.
Regardless of the prolonged history of sex industry, it has been ignored until recently because of moral considerations. Blaming sex workers for their choice and regarding them inferior to other people, the community and legislators disregarded the instances of their assaults, not providing them with the necessary protection.
The negative attitude of the community and the criminalization of sex works made workers of his industry vulnerable and susceptible for the physical assaults of men in the street, their customers and even policemen.
Not answering the question whether a woman offering sex services in the street deserves being assaulted directly, most people do not care much of destiny of street workers and prefer to ignore the existing problem.
Rooted deep in the cultural beliefs on feminine victimization, social realities of disparity between the salaries of men and women and the legal framework criminalizing the sex industry or not giving it serious consideration, the problem of the increased vulnerability of street workers cannot be regulated through imposing certain policy measures only.
Undergoing the influence of the normative ideas about appropriate gender roles, the social and criminal justice responses to sex work diminish the basic human and civil rights of street workers, exposing them to the increased risks of moral and physical assault.
Discourse of feminine victimization
The feminist scholars claim that the attribution of the sexualized meanings to the corporeality of women within the legal discourse is the main precondition for silencing women’s problems and establishing the philosophy of female victimization in the public consciousness. The tendencies of silencing the problems of women in general and sexual workers in particular are rooted in the social and legal domains.
Smart (1990) noted that the legislative acts operate only partial and incorrect data on female reality and patriarchal relations, inadequately treating women’s experiences (p. 200).
The legislative discourse reflects the one-sided interests of men, ignoring the real state of affairs in the community. For instance, the family law treats married women as men’s dependents though in fact they return to the labor market and contribute to the family budget. As it was cited in Binion (2002), Cornell (1998) noted that women’s legal identity is bound up with the social perspectives on their traditional roles of wives and mothers due to the community patriarchy (p. 174).
In the context of phallocentric culture structured for complying with the needs of masculine imperative, the discrimination and inequality are the concepts becoming parts of not only superficial systems, including those of imposed by social and legal institutions, but also parts of the women’s unconscious and their gendered identity of victimization (Smart 1990, p. 202).
Along with feminist approach, the problem of silencing the problem of violence towards the street workers requires adopting a humanist approach for considering the main preconditions for the occurrence of the problem and the tendency to ignore it.
As it was cited in Quillen (2001), Nussbaum as the proponent of humanist feminism argued that the women’s dignity should be protected on the basis of equality of women as human beings without overemphasizing the gender-based differences (p. 92).
There is evidence that prostitution as one of the oldest professions has existed for at least 6 000 years since the human society was divided into different social classes and the patriarchal relations were established (Brown 2009).
The existing legislative discourse and practices within which the cases of violence towards the street prostitutes are silenced and ignored are rooted in the patriarchal relations and social misconceptions concerning the sexual identity of a woman and the profession of a prostitute.
The instances of violence towards street workers
Emphasizing the rising levels of street violence, the Australian media tends to silence the instances of violence towards the street prostitutes, not recognizing the rights of these women for the equal rights and safe working conditions due to their profession and social status.
The street prostitutes are one of the most disadvantaged social groups susceptible to victimization due to their social marginality and relative invisibility (Grattet & Jenness 2001, p. 697).
The main reasons for this vulnerability can be found not only in the consciousness of the criminals counting on the low degree to which the society and the criminal justice system care of what happens to a prostitute, but also in the legislative framework which allows considering a victim as unworthy of law enforcement.
The accurate statistics of the instances of violence towards street workers is missing because women are frequently afraid of approaching the police because of the possible fines and the reasonable lack of belief into the police protection.
Middendorp (2010) noted that in St Kilda which is recognized as the centre of the street sex work in Melbourne hardly a day can pass without a prostitute being robbed or seriously assaulted.
Being the most visible manifestation of the prostitution in the country, the street prostitutes count for not more than 2% of the industry but undergo additional risks due to their hazardous environment (Middendorp 2010).
Most women working in the street are physically and/or socially disadvantaged because they are frequently homeless and suffering from mental illnesses, drug and alcohol addiction (Caiazza 2005, p. 1610; Cornell 1998, p. 46).
Moreover, the sex workers are frequently abused by their dysfunctional customers, and this circumstance further complicates the issue. There is also evidence that even policemen can handle women suspected of prostitution inappropriately (Brown & Heidensohn 2000, p. 51).
In general, the established patriarchal relations and the culture of feminine victimization preconditioned the dynamics of sex industry. As a rule, women rent their bodies for earning their living because due to their personal circumstances they cannot find another way for surviving.
However, it is always demand that determines supply, and these are men accustomed to patriarchal relations, disrespecting women in general and prostitutes in the first place which makes them treat female bodies as commodities and hire them for satisfying their sexual needs.
The debates of the ethical considerations of prostitution and its negative implications for the public morality resulted in criminalizing it and making the sex workers vulnerable and susceptible to assaults.
Analyzing the cases of violence towards street workers which remain ignored, it can be stated that these are the public contempt and the criminal justice framework criminalizing their activities which undergo the influence of the normative ideas about appropriate gendered behavior of women and do not allow street prostitutes to speak out being assaulted and protect their rights.
Facing the inevitable
Taking into account the fact that the practices of criminalizing prostitution did not decrease the activities, but caused the violation of the basic human and civil rights of the street workers, it can be stated that disregard of the problem does not allow solving it.
The rights of sex workers need to be protected like the rights of the workers of other industries. The assumption that street prostitution can be eliminated through appropriate policing is only a myth because the legal restrictions are unable to prevent the individuals from wanting to purchase sexual services (Middendorp 2010).
Existing for at least 6000 years, prostitution can be possible only under the conditions of treating female bodies as commodities and general disparity between the incomes of men and women (Brown 2009). Thus, the gender-based ideology of feminine victimization and disrespect of female body are established deep in the public consciousness even though ignored due to ethical considerations, but cannot be solved through enforcing certain legal acts.
Until recently, the conceptualization of sex industry was inevitably linked to raping, limiting the prostitutes’ opportunities for receiving the same protection in case of sexual assault as other women receive because it was hard to persuade the jury that a prostitute can be raped.
Further complicating the issue, not only actual involvement into the sexual industry, but also prior history and even victim’s reputation could be taken into consideration by the jury. The situation changed only after the rape law reform taking place in late nineties when the admissibility of evidence exploring the individual’s sexual reputation in the course of the proceedings was limited (Sullivan 2007, p. 132).
Additional factors contributing to the changes in the existing legislative framework include the rise of the feminist activism and the shifts in the public attitudes towards rape and prostitution.
A clear understanding of the dynamics of industry and the main underlying causes of the problem were necessary for making the first steps in transforming the existing legislative framework from victimization towards criminal defense (Westervelt 1998, p. 2).
The phenomenon of sexual services in general and the street workers in particular should not be regarded as the consequence of women’s sexual liberation, but should rather be treated as one of professions, and the civic and labor rights of its representatives need to be observed as well as the rights of people working in other spheres.
Social response to violence towards street workers in Australia
As to the legislative system of Australia, the problem of criminalization of sex work is solved differently in different states. Prostitution is regarded as illegal activity in SA, Western Australia and Tasmania, but is legalized in NSW.
There are certain licensing programs regulating sex work in Queensland, Victoria and ACT (Kelton & Swallow 2011). The activities of public organizations play an important role in changing the Australian legislative acts and practices concerning the protection of street workers from violence and assaults.
For example, in May 2011 about 50 people organized a rally near the Parliament House at South Australia, demanding the decriminalization of all types of sex work and services in South Australia (Kelton & Swallow 2011). Considering the sex services as illegal, the legislative bodies diminish the rights of sex workers significantly.
Claiming that the current legislation on sex services bound by acts from 1930s to 1950s is outdated, Ari Reid, the manager of the Sex Industry Network admitted that the current legislation has to be reformed and Labor MP Stephanie Key was intended to introduce a bill into the Parliament for decriminalizing sex industry in SA (Kelton & Swallow 2011).
The main features to be considered in the enforcement of the bill include ensuring the equal rights and responsibilities for sex workers and separating brothels and centers of street workers from schools and places of worship (Kelton 2011).
Criminal justice response to violence towards street workers in Australia
As to Victoria, where the licensing programs are intended to control sex industry, the regulation is performed in accordance with legislative acts and laws.
Victorian legislation contains the following legal documents aimed at regulating sex workers’ behaviour, Sex Work Act 1994, Sex Work Regulations 2006, Sex Work (Fees) Regulations 2004, and Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. The main idea of these documents is to make the prostitution legal and safe profession.
Sex Work Act (1994) is created with the purpose to control sex work in Victoria. The latest amendments were inserted on January 1, 2011. Sex Work Regulations document (2006), with amendments incorporated on December 1, 2010, is aimed at listing transmitted diseases and requirements imposed on those who work in the sex industry, implementing “safety matters relevant to the suitability of licence applicant” and “controls on the advertising by sex work service providers”, and informing about “participants to be given to the Authority by small owner-operated business” and “the form of registrar’s certificates” (p. 1).
Sex Work (Fees) Regulations (2004) are aimed at prescribing fees which are to be paid in accordance with the central document, Sex Work Act (1994). Finally, the main purpose of Public Health and Wellbeing Act (2008) is to make sure that the citizens of Victoria are aware of the health issues which may cause great problems in the future.
These legislative acts are aimed at helping people perceive the profession of sex workers and do not create them additional problems. The understanding from the side of the society may help reduce the rate of violent acts and prejudiced attitude in the relation to prostitutes. People should know that this profession is protected with the law.
Analyzing the legal implications of the above-discussed acts, it can be stated that regardless of certain progress in regulating the sex industry which is made in Victoria as compared to other states where sex services are criminalized, there are certain inconsistencies in current regulations and further improvements are required for handling the existing problem of high rates of violence towards street workers.
The problem of the rising level of violence towards street sex workers has been silenced for a long period of time due to the legal framework criminalizing sex industry.
Undergoing the influence of the normative ideas about appropriate gendered behaviour, the social and criminal justice responses to street workers were negative. The reputation or even suspicions of involvement into the sex industry could be regarded as evidence influencing the decision of the jury.
The rise of the feminist movement and the public activity of sex workers struggling for their labour and civil rights have fostered the shifts in public consciousness and attitudes towards sex industry.
The licensing programs controlling sex industry in Victoria can be regarded as a significant step forward on the way of decriminalizing the industry. However, particular inconsistencies which can still be found in the current legislative acts require further improvements of the legislative framework.
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