This article originally appeared on the ABC here
“Love how you treat them like slaves too bro love your work” pipes up one young Australian dad on Facebook. He is messaging Tim “Sharky” Ward, a notorious Australian pimp who lives in Pattaya, Thailand.
Pattaya’s lucrative sex trade boomed off the back of the United States Army who frequented the town for a bit of “rest and relaxation.” The trade continues to this day, bolstered by favourable economic policy and cohorts of sex tourists.
Pattaya’s demand for young women is particularly well served by the continued exclusion of minority and ethnic groups in the region.
Sharky, Pattaya’s resident pimp, boasts several hundred thousand online fans that flock to view his explicit images of young women. He also shares stories of how he demands respect and uses violence if “girls” don’t pay up – for instance, he put one woman in a “sleeper hold” in order to snatch her money. Sharky’s fans applaud.
We might expect pimps like Sharky to be embraced by the deadbeats of the world. Surprisingly though, Sharky may find his greatest promoters are actually those who consider themselves progressives. From within their stronghold of so-called feminist and left-leaning supporters, they are calling for pimps like Sharky to be recognized as legitimate managers and professionals.
Such is the case in a new policy adopted by one of the world’s most renowned progressive organisations, Amnesty International.
In recent days, the debate has heated up over Amnesty’s call for full decriminalisation of the activities of pimps, sex-buyers and those profiting off exploitation in the sex trade. Australia’s feminist media has been quick to respond with declarations of support for Amnesty and their pimp comrades.
Mamamia was among the first to lay out a business case for why Amnesty’s policy merits support. Destroy the Joint followed suit. Yet both ignored the many organisations whose research and experience stands in opposition to Amnesty’s policy – including the EU Parliament, the European Women’s Lobby and Council of Europe, not to mention hundreds of grassroots organisations that support people within or getting out of the sex trade.
Daily Life published a piece by Eurydice Aroney claiming that Amnesty’s opponents want to “criminalise sex work.” This charge was echoed by Rebecca Hiscock in The Conversation. Both articles’ claims are demonstrably wrong, given that petitions against Amnesty’s policy clearly state they do not support criminalising anyone who sells sex. Hiscock frames opposition to Amnesty as a kind of over-simplified “tragedy porn” that ignores voices of those involved in sex work and that therefore misses important nuances. On the contrary, a blanket approach to decriminalising all aspects of pimping is a culpably oversimplified response that is neither contextually attuned, nor attentive to the voices of those most exploited by pimps.
Aroney in Daily Life regurgitates invalidated claims about how decriminalising pimping and brothel keeping is necessary for the safety of sex workers, and then pronounces that anyone who doesn’t concur must be too “privileged, wealthy and white” to understand. Although I suspect it is the privileged, wealthy, white pimps like Sharky and his ilk that understand it best.
Unfortunately, Aroney fails to follow her own advice: rather than consult with any grassroots organisations that support marginalised women, she instead quotes one Australian woman as saying: “I have never met a pimp, I’ve never been coerced. If someone tries to tell me what to do, I tell them where to go.”
While it is undoubtedly important that women with free choice in the sex trade are given a platform to speak within the Australian media, Aroney effectively re-enacts the same blinkered and ignorant approach she herself condemns: where are the voices of women with less choice or no choice at all? For example, Esohe Aghatise works with sex trafficked Nigerian women. She points out:
“The vast majority of women enter [the sex industry] in the absence of real choices. Many are children – or were children when they first supposedly consented to it … Legalisation of the sex trade has failed spectacularly where it has been introduced. In Germany and the Netherlands, violence and trafficking have hugely increased. Both countries are now backtracking from previous policies.”
Daily Life has a track record of claiming to be feminist, while wilfully ignoring women with least capacity to speak out for themselves. For example, in a recent piece entitled “Would intervening with adult advertising actually stop sex trafficking?” Clementine Ford examines Backpage.com, an online marketplace that banned online payments for sex due to a large number of girls being sex trafficked on their site. Remarkably, however, Ford manages to sidestep the issue of sex trafficking and who it is that sex trafficking most profoundly affects. Without any consideration for one of the most abused and vulnerable groups of people, Ford instead quotes exclusively from women who say they have freely chosen the sex industry and are worried that the ban on Backpage payments will affect revenue.
The necessity of ongoing revenue is the apparent logic behind promoting the sex trade. Yet this logic is not applied to any other industry on earth. There are calls to shut down coal and shut down global supply chains – “smashing the state” was even a topic explored at the recent All About Women feminist conference. Little concern is expressed for the workers in any of these industries. Undoubtedly anti-free trade, and yet bizarrely pro-sex trade, the feminist left seeks to undermine capitalist industries, except the one industry responsible for some of the most heinous human rights violations on earth, all the while proudly declaring its impeccable moral bona fides.
The standard defence for this hypocritical position relies on the notion that “any exploitation is bad, sexual exploitation is no different.” This is echoed by the more explicitly socialist version, “all work is exploitative under capitalism, so work involving sex is no different.” Amnesty International draws on this to explain that all labour exploitation is equally bad. Yet it doesn’t take a trauma therapist or criminal lawyer to know that sexual crimes are treated differently from non-sexual offences for good reason. There is a world of difference between being forced to wash dishes against one’s will, and a person being forced to have sex against their will, usually for years or decades.
Amnesty and their supporters in the Australian feminist media argue that there are sufficient laws to deal with sexual exploitation and trafficking, including child sex abuse. They argue that not all prostitution involves sex trafficking.
On the contrary, all sex trafficking results in prostitution and any increase in the industry influences rates of trafficking. Research out of various European states, including the London School of Economics, has shown that any legalization of the sex trade significantly increases the flows of sex trafficking. An international study of male sex-buyers found that fully one quarter preferred women under the age of 18, with a universal preference for young women. This is reflected in Thai estimates that the sex industry involves around 40% children. Research shows over half of the women in Sydney’s sex trade are from overseas and many lack English comprehension.
The Australian feminist media not only evades many of these issues, but effectively represses these women’s stories by focusing solely on Australians who engage in sex work of their own volition.
While the causes and solutions to sexual exploitation are complex and varied, the Australian feminist left leaves little room for any perspective other than their own – that is, the privileged, naive position that they so despise, yet doggedly espouse in equal measure. After all, the author who claims to have drafted Amnesty’s pro-pimp policy is Douglas Fox, a man with vested interest in UK brothels. The endorsement of sexual exploiters is now the purview of Australia’s feminist progressives. You find friends in the strangest places, right Sharky?