Working girls : prostitutes, their life and social control
The working lives of prostitutes
The working lives of a sample of Sydney prostitutes in the 1990s are scrutinised and compared to earlier studies of Sydney prostitutes, and sex workers in America. Descriptions of workplaces and problems that arise, the nature of sex work, and the men in the business are offered for analysis, and the reasons why prostitutes enter the business are examined. The more positive features of the work are compared with the negative features.
In the last Chapter the study was concerned with the social backgrounds of prostitutes. In this Chapter we will concentrate on the other part of prostitutes' lives: their working conditions. In spite of the great amount of media "exposure" and common perceptions of prostitutes at work, very little is known publicly about this side of their lives. Even customers rarely manage a realistic appraisal because their perceptions are too often screened through a bias of sexual fantasies. Few researchers have been able to study this aspect thoroughly because of the sex industry's closed ranks against outsiders. Most researchers, though, have shown greater interest in causal factors leading to a woman's entrance into prostitution than in the actual working conditions.
In recent years, however, a number of symbolic interactionist studies have been "breaking the silence", especially where there has been a heavy dependence on in-depth interviews, enabling prostitutes to speak out and express their work in their terms. Thus, a profile of their working conditions is becoming more widely known. But, even so, the guiding hand of the researcher in these cases is quite apparent, and much depends on the selection of material by the writer to stress his/her point about the work. Thus, William Isaac Thomas (1967), the renowned "father of symbolic interactionism", in 1922 emphasised the adaptability of his subjects, who could move easily from their sexual working life to a socially conventional life. Claude Jaget (1980), a French journalist writing about the "prostitutes strike" in 1975, selected interview subjects for their anger and frustration in the face of political and social insensitivity. Kate Millet (1973), the feminist literary scholar, used her interview material to stress the psychological effects of sex work and criminalisation on her subjects. Eileen McLeod's (1982) subjects were selected to highlight occupational normality in sex work. Reinhart Filla (1975a & 1975b), an Australian sociologist who undertook research into Melbourne prostitutes, used his interview material to explain his subject's sense of reality as a critique of socially designated "deviance". Perkins and Bennett (1985) utilised their material as a way of stressing the extent of assertion and control prostitutes have over their working lives. From these examples it can be appreciated that there exist many sides to a prostitute's working life, and its interpretation for public audiences depends as much on the medium (the writer) as the author (the prostitute).
What is attempted throughout this Chapter is an observer's account of prostitution, supported by statistical responses from the 128 prostitutes surveyed and enlivened with some comments from the interview material obtained in the course of the present study. This account is not utterly devoid of personal biases, which are impossible to overcome completely for any writer/researcher. But the intention here is to present a view of prostitutes' working conditions from its positive and negative perspectives. Since the subjects are Sydney prostitutes it will be particularly pertinent to sex work in this city. But my knowledge of prostitution in other parts of the world would suggest that the sex industry in Sydney is essentially no different to that in most western cities of an equivalent size.
Public to private : where prostitutes work
There are a number of circumstances and environments in which the exchange of sexual pleasure for cash occurs. For instance, in some bars and hotels of Sydney women sit and drink with the express purpose of meeting men and offering sex for a fee. About fifteen years ago the author became aware of a hotel in the centre of the produce markets in the inner city area of the Haymarket where mostly Aboriginal and Islander women hung around to service the produce workers sexually when they finished work. The hotel manager was well aware of the situation and, in fact, supported it by offering rooms to customers at an inflated tariff. The place received a great deal of attention by police, partly because of the frequent brawls that occurred, but also because of a particular racial bias of many policemen at that time. The hotel was never closed nor the licensee arrested, perhaps due to an "arrangement" with the local police. This was a lively area of prostitution in its "heyday" but it came to and end when the produce markets shifted to Flemington in the late seventies. Although this was the women's only livelihood, most bar prostitution today is casual and clandestine.
Another form of prostitution once flourishing among a small group of women was that catering to merchant seamen. The women involved were given the derogatory term of "ship molls" and they operated in certain hotels of the city and Pyrmont (an inner city wharf area) frequented by seamen on leave. Occasionally these women were invited on board the ships for "parties" and "orgies" but mostly their work was conducted on shore. Today, they are rare as speciality prostitutes in Sydney, while, a small handful of such women still work as "ship molls" in the southern New South Wales industrial port city of Port Kembla. In Sydney, seamen on leave now visit the established and well publicised inner city brothels, although sometimes escorts are hired for "orgies" on board visiting ships.
"Courtesans" or women who date, marry or become mistresses to wealthy men for financial gain are not unknown in Sydney's "haute classe" social circles. However, it is often difficult to identify them clearly as their true intentions remain closeted and even their besotted beaus, lovers, and spouses are usually convinced their relationship is based on love or desire and not mercenary premeditation. It is quite unlikely that any of these women would admit to being prostitutes, but the only real thing that separates them from the much maligned streetwalker is that they do their hawking in exclusive society instead of under a street lamp.
Juvenile prostitution often receives a great deal of media attention, usually following an unqualified comment by a politician, a visiting dignitary or leading churchman. Then comes the usual police blitz of rounding up any likely looking youngster on the streets of Kings Cross after dark. These "kids of the Cross", as they are often dubbed, quite often turn out to be young adults dressed as teenagers to attract the paedophilic subconsciousness of many street clients. In spite of the large number of teenage prostitutes stated by outraged officials, the fact is there are very much fewer "under-aged" prostitutes than often supposed. In three consecutive nights in October 1986 the author counted no more than 30 street boys and girls in known areas of street soliciting in Kings Cross. Their ages ranged between 12 and 15, and they usually roamed about in pairs or groups from pinball parlours, Fitzroy Gardens in the heart of the Cross and Green Park in Darlinghurst, regular areas for client pick-ups. Their young ages prevent them from working in the established areas of street prostitution because the women resist their presence there. In mixed-sex groups they spend the night in casual prostitution as they require money, "hanging about" and "scoring dope", and when they retire to bed it is often half-a-dozen or so to a rented room, in squats or in a youth refuge.
There are an infinite number of prostitution operations, and these are but a few of them. They are referred to here as casual, clandestine and minority forms of prostitution. The rest of this Section concentrates on the "professional" forms of prostitution; that is where there is no doubt about the commercial nature of the exchange and the women involved very much identify as prostitutes at work, even if there is a strong denial in their social lives. Often, there will be an attempt to avoid the reality of their situation through a pretence that they are working only for a brief period, or by a preference for the term "working girls" as their social designation rather than "prostitute" or "whore". The term "whore" is particularly abhorred by Sydney prostitutes, unlike many of their European and American counterparts, who use the term in reference to themselves frequently. On a politically motivated level it serves to "defuse" the stigma of whore used as a derogatory term by society at large. However, the resistance to it by prostitutes in Australia is probably because of a belief that the word is more a label for social identification and psychological propensity, whereas "prostitute" is more closely linked with the occupation of commercial sex, and is an occupational designation, like "plumber", "bus conductor" or "engineer". In any case, most Sydney prostitutes prefer to be called "working girls".
"Professionals" work full-time or part-time as a prostitute, and sex work is their only source of income, or, at least, is the largest portion of their income if they have two jobs. These women work on the streets, in brothels (parlours, bordellos, or "traps") as "straight" prostitutes, bondage mistresses and escorts, and about a quarter work in private as "call girls" or agency escorts.
Female street prostitution in Sydney occurs regularly in three areas: the heart of the commercial section of Kings Cross; along William Street, which connects Kings Cross to the city centre; and on Canterbury Road, a major arterial road in the western suburbs. Each of these areas has a slightly different mode of operation, and these will be described in turn.
Kings Cross streetwalkers stand against walls and shopfronts on the footpaths of the well-lit "red light" streets within close proximity to private hotels or rooms rented for the purpose of taking clients. The usual method of operation is for a prostitute to initiate contact with a male pedestrian by asking him if he wants a "girl". But a male strolling the area with prostitution in mind might initiate contact by asking a prostitute how much "she is". Most of the clients are tourists, country visitors, young men from the outer suburbs having a "night out" in the Cross, and sailors from the nearby naval base. Very few married men in Sydney risk chatting to a street prostitute under the area's bright lights with its milling crowds in case someone known to them spots them.
Kings Cross street working attire is quite mixed, from jeans and little make-up to sexy dresses and heavy make-up. The women who choose tight-fitting garments that show off their figures to advantage usually do the most business. The women claim that red and black (most especially), either together or alone, seem to have the best effect, and spiked-heel shoes attract most clients.
In such a confined area competition is strong and each woman has a well-defined working space ("her spot"), which she guards jealously. Vigorous objection follows any encroachment on this space, occasionally leading to violence between contending parties. Sometimes an innocent female visitor to the Cross finds herself at the receiving end of a prostitute's verbal abuse when she unwittingly stands on a claim. Arrangements are often made between women so that each is aware on which particular days or nights she has a right to work on a particular location.
The professional pimp has gone nowadays, and is replaced by the "sitter" as protector against male violence. These are usually lovers of the women or hired off-duty club bouncers, and they pass the time sitting in nearby coffee shops or lounging on cars where they can keep an eye on their girlfriends or charges.
Since most of the streetwalkers are addicts, a high customer turnover is preferred as this brings the most money in the shortest space of time. Thus, "short time" or the "quickie" is aimed for with prices between $30 and $50, depending on whether the client is prepared to haggle and whether the service will include halfstrip (removing the woman's top) or not. The absolute minimum is fellatio or coitus removing only the woman's panties and taking only five to fifteen minutes. An efficient worker will be back on the street soliciting within half-an-hour.
Street working on William Street is quite different to Kings Cross. Rather than take their clients to hotels or flatettes, most women on William Street pay for the use of rooms in nearby houses leased by enterprising entrepreneurs. Instead of individual spaces, they stand on the street in clusters, according to the proximity of these houses. Thus, these women are found to cluster about street comers about I 00 metres from the house of their choice. Each house has a hired "sitter" whose job it is to organise rooms as the prostitutes arrive with their clients, and to deter violence from aggressive customers.
This does not imply a cooperative effort in business. In fact competition is even fiercer on William Street, where potential clientele come from passing male motorists. The object then is to catch the eye of the cruising motorists, rather than attract men with conversation as in Kings Cross. The dress of William Street workers is scantier and more revealing than in Kings Cross, with short skirts, leotards and fish-net stockings bringing attention to the legs, or wearing eye-catching colours and dazzling outfits. Also unlike Kings Cross, the men driving along William Street are more likely to be married Sydney residents, preferring the anonymity of traffic lines to the bright lights of Kings Cross.
When a car pulls up at the William Street kerbside, the driver will beckon to the woman of his choice. She will approach the vehicle from the passenger side and speak to the man through the open window, careful not to place her head inside the car and thus avoid the possibility of being seized by the hair and dragged in. The bargaining of services and prices is conducted between the man and the woman through this open window, he attempting to obtain a maximum service for a minimum fee, she trying to get agreement on the minimum service for the maximum fee, until eventually a compromise is arrived at. Then the woman will point to the house where the service will take place and agree to meet him outside. Most of these women have learned through experience not to enter the client's car, but to see him on their terms, in a house well protected by a "sitter" and the presence of other people.
Nearly all of the William Street women are addicts. They are strictly forbidden to take drugs on the house premises by the "sitter" and shooting-up inside will result in instant dismissal. In the past,. less scrupulous house owners and "sitters" actually dealt in drugs, but nowadays the women have to arrange to meet their drug dealers outside.
Operations on Canterbury Road are similar to William Street in that potential clientele are motorists cruising along the kerbside. But there are no houses to which the women might take their clients and they are forced to use the men's cars for servicing. Consequently the women are strung out along a four and a half kilometre stretch of road. Some of the women claim that the lack of Organisation means less competition and greater business. But, of the three areas of street prostitution, in the opinion of most streetwalkers interviewed Canterbury Road is the least desirable. Having to resort to "car jobs" increases the risk of injury and being robbed considerably. Furthermore, the relative isolation of the Canterbury Road worker compared to say, William Street, is a potential risk from misogynist men with no intention of paying for sex. Because of the proximity of dwellings, schools, churches and a hospital on this road, it means few locations are "legal", unlike Kings Cross and William Street, and the Canterbury Road worker is at constant risk of arrest. The quieter area attracts more drug dealers in cars and also increases the risk of arrest for the women caught in possession of recently purchased quantities of drugs.
The public exposure is one disadvantage that deters most prostitutes from choosing to work on the streets. Violence is also more prevalent here than in any other form of prostitution. Bashings. robbery, rape are just some of the hazards, usually associated with "car jobs". But others include street violence, which means that avoidance of "car jobs" is no guarantee of eliminating injury. One woman in 1985 was lassoed on William Street by young maniacs in a car who then accelerated, dragging her behind the vehicle. Verbal abuse and ridicule from passers-by is another hazard, which can be emotionally debilitating unless the street worker can develop a psychological barrier to the jibes and barbs and learn to deal with these by clever repartee or ignore them. Much of this negative interaction with passers-by is linked with the community's overall difficulty in accepting the presence of street women, and it undoubtedly reflects a recent popular sentiment that prostitution is acceptable so long as it is not too visible.
But street prostitution has some advantages too. Firstly, it allows bargaining with customers, and providing the minimum of service means it is the most lucrative form of sex work. This makes it especially attractive to heavy drug users. The low overheads for an independent street worker, whose only major outlay is nightly rent of a room, and the flexibility enabling a street worker to work as long as she likes, or for only a brief time, provides her with control and manipulation of her working life. For some women standing out in the open, exposed to the gaze and seem of all, threatened by the potential danger, risking limb and reputation, filled with the mixed emotions of fear, tension and excitement, street working offers an adventure matched by few other everyday experiences available to women. For these women standing alone on the street late at night is the female equivalent to a man's adventure into unmapped territory.
In October 1986, at the beginning of this study, 71 brothels (parlours or bordellos) existed across the Sydney metropolitan region. Three years later, when writing this book, exactly 61 remained. Although this latter figure includes a few new premises, many more had disappeared altogether. The decline was due to some forced closure under the Disorderly Houses Act, but most closed down because of a general decline in business. Although public fear of AIDS has been largely responsible for this downtrend, much of it is also due to the gradual decline in commercial sex with the increase in casual sex in society over the past 20 years. This will be discussed at length later, but, for the moment, let us look at Sydney's brothel industry in some detail.
"Brothel" is a general term used to describe houses of prostitution and assignation. In Sydney, however, it is a specific term within the sex industry for the little houses in East Sydney. They have been a part of a tradition of brothels located in East Sydney, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills for well over half a century, directly descended from Tilly Devine's Palmer Street trade and the little brothels of the lanes in the 1960s. In 1983 22 of these houses existed throughout East Sydney and Darlinghurst. Three years later only four remained, and still remain today. The rest had been forced into closure by the Disorderly Houses Act, the City Council and the local resident action lobby. It was definitely the end of an era. But it is ironic that it should have survived the extensive police pressures of the past only to end in a period of "decriminalisation".
The operation of the East Sydney brothels is traditional. One or two women usually occupy one of these little terrace houses at a time. They stand in an open doorway to attract attention from passing male pedestrians and motorists. Their dress is similar to the women on William Street. The open door and red light are the signals indicating that the house is a brothel. When the door is open, it acts to invite men to step inside and inquire of the prices and services. When it is closed it signifies that the occupants are busy. Furniture and decor in these places are minimal and not intended to impress visitors. Instead this indicates cheap prices and quick service. Bargaining and "short time", like streetwalkers, are the preferred options. These places have an advantage for the client, according to Lisa, who, like most of the workers in these brothels, is a "professional" of many years and gained her apprenticeship on the streets in the late 1950s and in the lanes in the 1960s:
Men feel comfortable coming to our houses. They don't want to go to a massage parlour and be asked if they want all weird and wonderful things. They just want to come in here, have sex, pay their money and go. Young girls rush them; they are frightened if they go with the girls around the Cross they will be ripped off. They like the homey atmosphere of our houses. They feel safe here, and they know that if they leave their wallet on the dressing table and they come back in an hour you're going to give it to them. They know they're not going to catch anything, and no one's going to bash them over the head. They feel welcomed and they know they can come in, sit down and watch television.
The other kind of brothel is much more extensive. Colloquially it is referred to as "parlour", having derived from the term "massage parlour" and probably introduced into Sydney in the late 1960s (with the demise of the brothels in the lanes) from an American West Coast concept of disguising a brothel as a massage clinic in order to avoid the law. In the 1970s Sydney parlours, like their American counterparts, had prostitutes dressed in the white uniforms of a masseuse, massage tables instead of beds, and no condoms on the premises, so as to minimise arrest. Most parlours were also paying police as much as $1000 a month to "turn the other way". But with the changes in law in 1979, this subterfuge and extortion was no longer necessary and "massage parlours" became brothels, plainly and simply. It is possible that some police corruption continued by using threats of arrest of managers for living on the earnings.
Parlours can be divided into a number of "types". For example, at one end of the trade is the average suburban parlour, with its armchair comfort but lacking exotic and expensive looking trimmings. At the other end are the elaborate, extravagantly decorated, "haute classe" parlours, which one well-known manager of the famous "Touch of Class" parlour, the late Zara Powell insisted should be referred to as bordellos (Reines 1985). These are mostly found in the inner city suburbs of Potts Point and Surry Hills. A third type might be the so-called "Asian parlours", which have Asiatic decor and employ Asian (mostly Thai) immigrant women. Finally, there are the few bondage and discipline parlours, which cater for speciality services involving sadomasochism, fantasy jobs and other "kinky" sex.
The usual parlour arrangement involves an owner, a manager, a receptionist. and a number of prostitutes. Sometimes the owner and the manager are the same person, and sometimes the receptionist has the job of managing the premises. The manager's role is to organise shifts by Fostering each prostitute's working time throughout the week; to keep a ledger of cash received and paid out; to o@anise a linen service or the washing; to purchase toiletries, bathroom and other items; to pay prostitutes their earnings at the finish of their shifts; and to hire and fire staff. The receptionist's role is to answer the phone, make appointments for clients, answer the door, and see to the client's comfort in the waiting room. Although receptionists are not usually assigned authority over the prostitutes, those who have never previously worked in the sex industry sometimes assume a position of superiority over prostitutes based on the common social designation of whores as low status women. Ironically, under the present legal situation receptionists are vulnerable to arrest for "living on the earnings of a prostitute" while the prostitutes have legal status.
When a customer walks into a parlour without a prior appointment, he is the immediate focus of attention. The receptionist offers him a complimentary drink and then advises the prostitutes on duty so that they might see him for a selection. The receptionist is anxious to process her part in the operation so as to minimise the time she must spend pampering to his needs in the preparatory stage. She is also often anxious for him to be taken to a room by one of the prostitutes quickly to avoid becoming a sexual object herself. Men entering a brothel assume that all the women inside are available for their sexual whims, otherwise, they rationalise, whatever are they doing there? However, prostitutes make themselves available in the brothel; receptionists never do.
The system of selection is not always the same in every parlour. In some the client enters a lounge room and is seated among the workers, so that he may select the woman of his choice after a look around and a short conversation involving all of them. In others, each worker on duty enters the waiting room individually so that the client might choose one of them after a series of such entrances and exits. A number of parlours parade their workers in a line, known to some prostitutes by the derogatory term of "meat rack", in order for the client to size each woman up and compare them before he makes his choice. Whichever selection process is used it has the effect of putting the women in a competitive relationship with one another. Some prostitutes, critical of this system, argue that a client is looking for sex and anyone of the women would do. But a tradition of selection has evolved over the years, so that customers expect to see a number of available women, and this does nothing more than feed their egos and vanities.
Most suburban parlours operate on a two shift basis (16 hours) while many of the inner city premises have three shifts and are open 24 hours a day. Women who have been with the same parlour for some time are in the best position to obtain shifts suitable to other routines in their lives and most convenient to their regular customers. Newcomers usually end up with the shifts no-one else wants.
Unlike the streets and the East Sydney brothels, prices in a parlour are fixed by the management and the customer pays for the prostitute's time, rather than a minimum or maximum service. Thus for half an hour of her time a man might pay $70 to $90, depending on the place, or, for an hour of her time he is expected to pay $ 1 00 to $150, and so on. This usually entities him to fellatio and coitus (as many times as the man is capable of in the allotted time) and any other kind of sexual activity carries an extra fee, or is negotiable with the prostitute. In most parlours, prostitutes are obliged only to participate in masturbation, fellatio or coitus. If a woman is averse to other forms of sex or "kinky" sex, she may decline the request and refer the customer to a bondage house.
The amount of money a prostitute is credited with by being selected by a number of clients in her shift is usually split 50/50 with the house. Thus, if a woman sees 10 men in a shift and each sees her for half an hour at $70 per half hour, she brings in $700 and takes home $350 as her earnings. Some premises expect "shift money" or $20 to $50 per shift from each prostitute as well, others charge for use of toiletries or drink money, all of which most workers interpret as exploitation. But the practice of "extras" is declining because with decreasing business and fewer workers, most parlour owners are anxious to attract more prostitutes to their premises. In an effort to increase the number of workers, some parlours have even made the split 60/40 in the prostitute's favour.
The big inner city parlours attract more workers because their appearance and reputations are assumed to have a higher turnover of clientele. Some of these fabulous parlours, with their plush, luxurious and expensive interiors, have cost as much as a quarter of a million dollars just to renovate. Customers are waited on by a manager making certain their needs are served, by a receptionist introducing them to the workers, and by a drink waitress serving the complimentary beverage. Each man is ushered into a different waiting room, giving him the impression of exclusivity, and ensuring his every whim is satisfied. Many women interviewed have expressed dissatisfaction after having worked in these places, which usually expect them to dress in designer clothes, wear expensive jewellery and have their hair dressed at the most exclusive salons, all at their own expense. In others, there is a list of workers' earnings displayed for all to see, with the name of the week's highest earner placed on the top each week. If a woman's name consistently appears on the bottom she is fired. Intended to motivate ambition in individuals in a spirit of "fair" competition, it promotes envy, suspicion and lack of confidence. Resentment among the workers in this kind of atmosphere is high, and women have pointed out that rather than a "fair" arrangement, high earning power depends on a number of factors other than an individual's ability, personality and looks. It depends on such factors as one's shift (night workers tend to do better than day workers), one's personal commitments restricting her to daytime work, the inconsistency of client turnover, and favouritism with a boss. A system intending to increase business, often actually has the reverse effect with a rapid turnover of resentful women.
Relations between workers and management varies considerably from parlour to parlour. The assumption that a female boss in a female parlour is a better arrangement than a male boss is not always correct. Some men in charge are considerate towards their staff, and some women in charge act like tyrants. About half of the parlours are managed by men and about half by women (although in many instances the owner is a man), but the problems that most often occur between a boss and a worker are more often due to poor industrial relations than unequal gender relations. There are, of course, instances where male bosses sexually harass their staff and some expect to sleep with new workers to "try them out". But, some workers claim to prefer male bosses because they are easier to manipulate than a female boss. Most workers, though, express a preference for a female boss, regardless of how tyrannical she might be, because female bosses are more likely to have a greater concern for health and safety in the workplace. Women managers will appreciate the need for mandatory condom use in a parlour more than men in charge, who, like the client believe that condoms are a barrier to satisfactory sex. Female bosses are also more likely to have empathy for a worker suffering menstrual tension and not assume it to be a ploy for avoiding work, as some men are likely to do. On the other hand, female bosses are more likely to detect a sham when it occurs.
The crux of the tension in industrial relations in the brothel trade is linked to a conflict of interests. The boss is motivated by profit; the worker by personal feelings. Thus, the boss expects the worker to see every client, unless he is diseased or violent, and is not prepared to accept her reluctance on grounds of physical repulsion or her fatigue. Some bosses believe their workers are basically lazy, and even rejecting a client under suspicion of infection is considered an excuse to avoid work. Seeking a second opinion on a client's state of health serves two purposes: to assure the worker that she assessed correctly; to convince the boss that she wasn't lying. A client sitting too long in a waiting room is assumed by some bosses to be one of the worker's boyfriends hanging around or a drug dealer. They want clients processed in a parlour like an assembly line, with their workers tirelessly doing the processing like machines. The human factor of weariness, and inability to function varying from individual to individual after a given time, and the psychological limitations to repetition are rarely considered in the quest for profit. When workers complain of overwork, a boss might put on more staff, which then increases competition between workers, builds up staff tensions, and contributes to resentment among workers for the inevitable lowering of income. Unlike other industries, prostitutes have no union or industrial arbitration to turn to when they feel dealt with unfairly.
Like any other work situation the presence of a boss in a parlour increases tension and decreases efficiency. The workers become nervous under a belief that the boss is scrutinising their work, while the boss is suspicious in the belief that the workers are "ripping him/her off" by wasting time or dissatisfying customers. Any worker who spends too long in a room with a client or appears to be too nice to a customer, is often suspected of making private arrangements either to get extra money from the client and thereby short-change the boss, or to see the client outside and thereby deprive the boss of regular income. The problems of the brothel are often not so much related to police harassment, customer aggression or prying officials, but more usually due to the day-to-day administration of the place.
The ultimate solution for most Australian prostitutes in Sydney when they feel they are being exploited, harassed and abused is to move to another parlour where the conditions are more satisfactory. But that is often impossible for the immigrant prostitute, especially if she is in this country illegally. Most of the immigrant prostitutes are Thai, but large numbers also come from Cambodia, the Philippines or China. Even with a three or six-month visa it does not permit them to work in Australia. But many continue to stay and work in Australia after their visas expire, which means they become illegal aliens and as such are targeted by federal immigration officers. These women are often caught in an economic dilemma. Most have borrowed heavily from opportunistic agents in their own countries to travel here. These agents are operating an illegal trafficking business and the fees they offer to accrued interest for arranging passage are highly inflated. One Thai woman claimed she had a debt of $21,000 to these agents, but more often the debts range between $10,000 and $15,000 per woman. Since many of the women come from poverty stricken families, and they believe Australians to be extremely wealthy, they grasp the opportunity to work in Australia as prostitutes in the firm belief that they will pay off the debt well before their visas expire and have ample cash to send back to their families. Invariably, they not only fail to do so but often accrue a further debt in order to pay the first and end up on a treadmill of prostitution and debt peonage.
Arrangements for a working venue are usually made in advance by the foreign agents through contacts in Australia, so that the Thai woman with no knowledge of English will be taken to a parlour soon after she arrives. Most (but not all) of the brothels receiving the immigrant prostitutes are the "Asian" parlours, so-called because of a decor of pagoda gables, rice-paper lanterns, Chinese screens, prints and other objects, and the Buddist shrines (used as altars for prayers and offerings by the women). Most of the clientele are South-East Asian men resident in Australia, with the occasional overseas visitor and Australian male looking for an "exotic" experience. Because most of the workers are in similar circumstances, these parlours act as a cultural refuge in an alien and sometimes hostile world beyond. Faced with the reality of a much smaller income than anticipated, many of these women are forced to work double shifts, or 16 hours a day, seven days a week, in an effort to rid themselves of their debts and send relief back to their families. Thus, it is not whips, chains or locked rooms keeping these women tied to a ceaseless life of commercial sex but debt, poverty and a genuine fear for their safety if they return to their homelands still owing the traffickers.
Very different is the situation in the bondage parlours. The women who work in these places are among the most assertive and independent in the sex industry. As Marie put it: "in bondage I can have a say in my working conditions to a certain extent". Few other sex workers have the same amount of control over their working environment as the bondage mistresses. Bosses often do not interfere with the way they conduct their work, because in some instances the boss does not understand sadomasochism and fantasy and feels more comfortable keeping his or her distance. In the case of the ex-mistress who is a boss, she understands that this kind of work is a highly personal experience in which the mistress achieves the most efficient business if left to her own devices. Experienced mistress Fatale explains her situation:
I like working in a dungeon where it is quiet and I have full control over the environment. I put on music which I know will heighten the experience. I am conscious of every move I do, and it is an exercise in all my skills.
The compatibility with her working environment can be explained as being an extension of her private preferred home environment:
I feel comfortable in the dungeon. It's like the way I live at home, in total darkness, like a cave, and this is how I am. My home is like a dungeon and a dungeon is like my home, so I am going from one comfortable environment to another as I go from home to work.
To enter a bondage parlour is like passing into another world; a world of science fiction, of fairy tale, or Disneyland, or of a Hollywood set for a Gothic horror movie. The lighting is dim, reminding one of gaslight, and the hallway walls are festooned with chains, whips and graphic images of torture and pain. The dungeon is the centre piece of this world; a large room painted black and red, with racks, torture wheels, ceiling harnesses, a complete set of whips and canes of every imaginable type on display, and leather suits for confining movement, like the ancient straight jackets of medieval torture chambers. But the dungeon is not the only room in the house for client fantasies. For those with transvestite fantasies there is a "tranny" room, by contrast well-lit, and decorated with fluffy, frilly ultra-feminine dresses, rows of over sized stiletto-heeled shoes, and a dressing table that would make a film star envious. There is also a medical room, equipped with an operating table, charts and pictures of male and female anatomy on the walls, and every conceivable cutting, slicing, pulling, grasping surgical instrument available. Water sports with enemas and urinal pans are usually conducted in this room too. Then there are schoolrooms, baby rooms, kindergartens, the variation from house to house is endless. Like most parlours, bondage houses have a "girl's room" where the women can relax between sessions, adjust make-up, hair and clothing, and chat about the last client. Where most prostitutes in other parlours change into conventional garments in this room at the start of a shift, mistresses will be stepping into rubber outfits, zipping up studded leather garments, bat-suits, nurses, teachers or infant costumes ready for a day's work.
According to brothel workers, working in a parlour has one distinct advantage over working the streets: it is a safer, more secure environment. For a lonely woman, working in a parlour can offer an opportunity for regular contact with other women and even for striking up friendships. Cameraderies between brothel workers are not unusual because of the ample time to communicate with one another between visits by clients, especially since they have shared experiences at work, regardless of their individual backgrounds. There is less opportunity for this on the street, and whatever bonds form among streetwalkers these tend to be more often related to the after hours common experiences of scoring from the same dealers and using drugs together.
But brothel workers also express some disadvantages to working in a parlour. High among these are the restricted working hours, splitting half the takings with the house, and the imbalance of power with the boss in command dictating working conditions. Another common complaint, especially where workers are not communicative, is boredom, sitting around waiting for the next client. Some workers blame their high level of smoking and drinking on this. For avid readers and students filling in time with an assignment, this is less of a problem, and may even be an advantage. But for some women, the parlour can be a lonely, tedious, stultifying environment relieved only by the occasional session with a client. Where intra-staff relations or relations between staff and management are strained, the confined space of the parlour can intensify disharmony and alienation, and a petty disagreement might trigger off months of tension and exacerbate an already explosive situation. While this sort of situation can arise in any workplace, in a brothel, where there is an atmosphere of sexual tension, anxieties about clients, perhaps anxieties about one's own role, and the constant fear of public exposure, strained industrial or staff relations will exaggerate events to such a level that resolution becomes impossible. This kind of situation can encourage an ex-streetwalker, who may have left the streets because of the daily hassles of visible prostitution, to return to the free-ranging life of street soliciting.
Escort work also takes place in a brothel which offers house or hotel calls. An available brothel worker will be sent by taxi or hired driver to the place designated by the client over the phone. It works much the same way for escorts attached to an agency independent of the brothel trade. In either case escorts split the take 50/50, but there is a better opportunity of obtaining a fat tip or "extras" from a satisfied client in the afterglow of a good night out.
Zoe is an escort worker for an agency. She describes the arrangement thus:
I would phone up and tell them I would be on call that night. Then I got dressed ready to go out, and sat home waiting for the phone to ring. They might ring from the agency and say there's a client at the Menzies Hotel, or whatever, a business man with a Bankcard for two hours at $125 an hour. I would catch a cab to the hotel, meet the client in the bar, fill in the Bankcard or take the money, phone through to the office to tell them I've arrived, have a drink with the client and go out or up to his room. Most of the work was fairly chatty, chatting about his business or silly small talk, do the job in his room, and then phone through after it to let them know I've finished.
Escort work can sound glamorous and exciting, especially with a client with a high public profile. But it can also be the most dangerous of all prostitution work, as Zoe points out:
The job risk is much higher than in parlours. You are very vulnerable in the client's room and have no control over the situation, which can be pretty frightening if things get nasty. You always let the client know that you have to phone the office before and after the job so that he is aware that you are being guarded. If you haven't phoned in an hour after you've told the office you've arrived when you are booked for an hour job, presumably they would send someone out looking for you. But meantime you could be dead.
What is referred to as "private prostitution" in Sydney is the equivalent to the work of the American "call girl". This is the most clandestine operation of the "professional" forms of prostitution. The most basic example is one or two women in a rented flat answering phone calls from clients (thus, the term "call girl") and making appointments to see them in the flat. The number of women involved in one such business can be as high as four or five. There are also situations where a person rents an apartment or house and hires a few women as "call girls". The owner-manager might take all incoming calls and arrange the appointments. Although this kind of arrangement has all the earmarks of privacy and exclusivity, and certainly no one is seen without an appointment, in structure it is more like a mini-parlour then an independent "call girl" business.
In October 1987 I estimated there were some 76 "private prostitution" businesses (see p.64), and taking two sources in September and November 1989 there were a total of about 161 "private" and escort operations. To gain an impression of numbers of private operations the advertisements in two major weekly publishing outlets for prostitute advertisers, viz. Naughty Sydney, 8 September 1989, and Wentworth Courier, 1 November 1989. Under the column heading of "Home Entertainments" in Naughty Sydney were 46 entries; but after eliminating all duplicate phone numbers the total left was 38 businesses. Under the column heading of "Escort Services" in Naughty Sydney were 62 entries; but after eliminating all duplicate phone numbers and the obvious parlour advertisements the total left was 44 businesses. Under the column heading of "Personal" in Wentworth Courier were 175 entries, but excluding those for "straight" massage, male escorts, "call boys" and obvious parlours, the total left was 102 businesses. Adding all three totals together (that's 38 + 44 + 102) the number of entries was 184; but after eliminating all phone numbers duplicated from one column to the next the final total is 161 businesses. Consideration, however, should be given to the probability of some businesses with two or more phone numbers which are impossible to determine by looking at the entries. It is likely that, if known, the elimination of these would reduce the total quite significantly. This estimation does not necessarily mean that the number of "call girls" has doubled, but, applying the "rule of thumb" approach of 1987, and comparing this with the decline in numbers of parlours, there does seem to be some correlation between the decrease in one and the increase in the other. Ignoring probable discrepancies due to some businesses with two or more telephone numbers, and what appears to be a much higher ratio of single workers in 1989 than in 1987, the calculated average of two workers per business decided on in the 1987 estimates will give us a total of 322 women, compared to only 152 in 1987. Since as many as 10 parlours have closed between 1986 and 1989, it might be argued that 170 more "call girls" in 1989 represents the shift of previous parlour workers into private operations. Such a calculation, however, especially without knowledge of actual individuals involved in this surmised relocation, should be treated with caution, and used as a guide to possible trends only. Can this mean that "private prostitution" has become more attractive to those "professional" prostitutes as business in general declines in the sex industry?
Private prostitution depends solely on advertisements for recruiting business. The amount of new business acquired through word of mouth is almost negligible and certainly not sufficient to maintain a business. The trick to advertising prostitution is not to be blatant so as to attract the law prohibiting the advertisement of commercial sex, yet to make it obvious to the male reader what the advertiser intends. This can be done without mentioning sexual services (which also contravenes the obscene publication law) nor prices because the implications are potent enough for the interested parties. Advertising prostitution is highly competitive and for the "call girl" totally dependent on it she has to offer a "personal service" in order to compete with the big parlours, and she must individualise her advertisement to attract the potential client searching for his special sexual fantasy in order to compete with other "call girls". The result is often highly imaginative text, coupled with wit and a childish prattle which seems to accompany the fantasies of male sexuality. Some advertisements pander to male fantasies for exotica, others to coquettishness, and yet others to a kind of adolescent or infantile sex romp. A few examples of the text of these advertisements will suffice to illustrate the point:
Oriental Delights Excitingly different International ladies of your choice. Try our new Spanish and Indonesian delight
Mediterranean Magic New to Sydney, leggy attractive lady, black hair, fair skin and very, very friendly
Black is Beautiful So too is Santina Carribean Beauty Dark hair, dark skin with fabulous body and a soft, caring touch
Leeza is sweet and serene but will make your desires just sizzle with satisfaction. She adores dressing up and will fantasise beyond your wildest dreams.
I'm sensuous & seductive with an unsatiable desire for nice guys who want something different. You do?
Mature Lady has some spare time from the housework to entertain the weary businessman.
Aunt Agatha. Good old fashioned discipline like Auntie used to give.
Obedient Stephanie needs a firm master to make her behave.
Naughty Michelle seeks firm headmaster.
I am a sophisticated intelligent well-bred well spoken lady offering an opportunity for discreet executive to experience... a service in a class of its own.
Source: Wentworth Courier, 4 October & 1 November 1989.
The initial contact with the client is by the phone. He may be enquiring about prices, or just trying to find out if the woman on the other end sounds like his fantasy or suits his personality. It is this moment when the "call girl" needs to exercise all her skills at salesmanship, by coming across as pleasant, sexy and nice to be with, without giving too much away. After all, it might be a policeman on the other end and mentioning sex and prices could be construed as advertising. The most successful "call girls" are those with a pleasant disposition on the phone, a sense of wit and alluring. "Crank calls", curious schoolboys and "wankers" (men who telephone to derive sexual gratification from simply listening to a woman's voice) are non-profitable, and the "call girl" has to learn to distinguish these in order to deal with them quickly. While the advertisement might arouse a man's interest, the phone conversation has to make the woman irresistible because even after making an appointment some men fail to keep it. Many clients ring a number of "call girls" and then decide which they most like the sound of.
The "call girl" also needs to be skilful in evaluating her caller by his tone, expression and enquiries in case she invites a dangerous man to her place. But once this is done to her satisfaction and an appointment is made, the next step is to try to develop the new client into a regular. The business of the "call girl" turns over at a much slower rate than in a brothel, so she needs to cultivate a higher ratio of regular clientele. Men who prefer visiting a "call girl" to visiting a brothel are usually seeking more than sex; they are often looking for a female friend, companion or mistress. The "call girl" recognises this and acts the pseudo-mistress with her regular clients, so that she might have a number of mini-relationships going at the same time. The emotional strain of keeping such pretence going is much more draining than the brothel worker who sees her clients for the express purpose of sexually satisfying them. Although some clients in brothels do develop an attachment for certain women and this adds a strain in the relationship for the workers, the "call girl", from the first visit when the man arrives nervous and uncertain, must appear calm and amicable towards him even though she too might be secretly anxious, and thereafter as he becomes a weekly regular she has to maintain an intense level of intimacy with him. And, while she might be the only woman he has such intimacy with, she is on the same terms with as many as a dozen or more men. The streetwalker who refers to the "call girl" as a "lazy flatbacker" obviously has never been in her situation.
There are certain distinct advantages to the working life of the "call girl". Not the least of these, so far as she is concerned, is the anonymity of the work. Whereas the streetwalker is in public view for all to see, and the brothel worker is occasionally discovered by a man known to her, or worse, a member of her close family (like the Canberra parlour worker whose father walked into her workplace as a client), the "call girl" through the expediency of "sussing" a caller out on the telephone can usually detect anyone known to her. In any case, she can always spot a man who has made an appointment through the "peep-hole" in the door. "Call girls" are usually free agents, whose independence avoids the tensions of industrial relations and intra-staff conflicts sometimes experienced in brothels. Since much of their work is carried out in the daytime, a mother of young children can work as a "call girl" between say 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. by placing her children in a child-minding centre or creche as any working mother might. She does not have to abide by a roster system.
The chief disadvantage to working as an independent "call girl", especially if a woman decides to work alone, is the risk of violence. In spite of great skills at detecting a maniac on the phone a misjudgment sometimes occurs, and then the woman has to call upon all her powers of persuasion and remain calm in a potentially deadly situation if she is to escape injury. If this fails the results are sometimes fatal. The history of prostitution is filled with tragic situations when a woman is alone with a crazed misogynist, like Julie Plater, who was bashed to death on Christmas Eve, 1985, when she saw a man alone in a parlour in Harris Park, or of the horrifying death of the Kings Cross worker who saw a man alone and died with a leg of a chair shoved into her eye and brain.
The heavy dependence upon advertisements is another distinct disadvantage of running a private operation. If a newspaper in which an advertisement appears regularly suddenly decides to cease taking advertisements from prostitutes or deletes the "personal" column a "call girl's" business is drastically affected immediately. When the Manly Daily stopped running its "personal column" in 1986 the number of private operations on the North Shore rapidly declined almost overnight (although when another printed outlet was found some re-opened).
These then are the main types of prostitution carried out by "professional" prostitutes in Sydney. As stated at the beginning of this Section they do not differ much from similar operations in other western cities, and if they do differ noticeably it is usually in degree rather than kind. The famous "window" prostitution in Amsterdam, for instance, is not unlike the east Sydney brothels, except the Dutch prostitute sits behind a house window while the Sydney worker stands in a doorway. The women's attire, the male cruising, the bargaining, and closing curtains or door when busy are basically the same; the minor differences are but variations on a theme. Figures 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3 show the distribution of sex workers in the Sydney metropolitan region over recent years.
Entrance into prostitution
Perhaps the aspect of prostitution which most fascinates many people is why women enter the sex industry in the first place. Many researchers have attempted to answer this by providing psychological motives from events in childhood or early adolescence. But as we have seen, there have been so many conflicting opinions on the subject that little has been gained in this line of investigation. Jennifer James (1977) found early negative sexual experiences as a possible predetermining factor for her street and juvenile samples. In the previous Chapter, the present study indicates an early coital experience as a possible predisposing motive for women entering prostitution at a later date, based on a more representative sample of sex workers, and, unlike the studies of James (1977), Mimi Silbert (1982) and Nanette Davis (1971), these early sexual activities were little different in kind to the similar experiences of other women. This Section, however, concerns the immediate motives for women becoming prostitutes, and attempts to reconstruct a scenario linking reasons given by the prostitute sample for entering prostitution, with the findings in the social background variables discussed in the last Chapter.
Firstly, it is useful to consider some general social perceptions on why women enter prostitution. The two non-prostitute samples of female university students and health-workers as indicators were asked if they had ever considered taking up prostitution themselves. Keeping in mind that in the preliminary stages of this study 13 completed questionnaires from these two groups were discarded lest they biased the findings, the balance responded as shown in Figure 4.4.
Quite obviously prostitution is largely rejected as a job option. But in view of the high level of social resistance to the sex industry and the negative misconceptions about it, it may be surprising to find so many of the health-workers and students considered it at all, let alone nearly 9 per cent of the original number of respondents to the questionnaire who admitted to actually working as prostitutes. Because the prostitute stereotype is a constant image of the archetypal "bad girl" in the subconscious of most women, it frequently flashes into the conscious mind whenever the individual thinks of "sin", "sexual promiscuity", "wantoness" and other concepts of negative socio-sexual behaviour. Other images, such as the nun stereotype for "purity", the temptress stereotype for "seductiveness", the virgin stereotype for "innocence", the housewife stereotype for "duty", the mother stereotype for "nurturance", also play their part of emerging from the subconscious whenever the conceptual occasion arises. Women therefore relate to any of these at different times depending on the situation. Thus, a woman who is constantly concerned about her sexual behaviour with men may often fantasise about herself in the role of a prostitute, but she more than likely will never actually take on this role. Many more women imagine themselves as prostitutes than actually become them. Those who do may simply be women who have put their fantasies into reality.
In view of this, the imagined prostitute role will no doubt include motives for entering prostitution. The two samples of non-prostitutes responded to a question on why they thought women entered prostitution. The reasons they gave are listed in Table 4.1.
Very clearly the non-prostitute sample imagine drug-taking and economic imperatives as the most frequent reasons for women entering prostitution. They also imagine that pimp manipulation, greed and a higher income incentive, and a past as uncontrollable children or juvenile delinquency are powerful motives in women becoming prostitutes. It is interesting to note the high ratios of psychological motives, such as low self-esteem, lack of love or affection, loneliness and nymphomania, supposed as underlying reasons for taking up prostitution. The list complements the usual assumptions about prostitutes made in the media, such as drug addiction, pimps, low self-esteem and poverty as the main contributors to women's entrance into prostitution. The general assumption here is that prostitution is such an odious existence that no woman in her right mind would freely choose it as an occupation; some powerful driving force over which they have no control gets them involved.
The reasons prostitutes give for having entered the sex industry, however, tell a very different story, as is seen in Figure 4.5.
An immediate contrast with the imagined motivations for entering prostitution suggested by the health-workers and students presents itself Whereas the non-prostitutes supposed that drug addiction and pimp manipulation were high level motivations for becoming prostitutes, the reality of the prostitute sample is that these feature quite low among motivations. The economic motives of unemployment, supporting families and pursuing higher incomes given by the prostitutes as reasons for their own entrance into the sex industry do coincide more closely with the assumed motives given by the non-prostitutes. Another economic motive often overlooked by non-prostitutes is that of offering commercial sex in order to pay for an education, for money needed to take an overseas trip, to pay off debts, to purchase a car, house or other large expensive item, or for some other specific purpose. It is far from unusual to find a prostitute with a specific goal, giving herself a time span in which to earn a high income and acquire the desired object or objective. The reality is then that the vast majority of prostitutes have entered the business for money and remain in it for money. In other words, prostitutes see and treat prostitution as a job option, unlike most non-prostitutes, who see it as an expression of a psycho-social deficiency.
The age of entrance for the prostitute sample provides further insight into this phenomenon. Figure 4.6 shows the ratios of age groups for commencement of prostitution.
Most prostitutes seem to enter the sex industry in their late adolescence to early twenties. Figure 4.6 shows that over three-quarters were between 16 and 25 when they began working as prostitutes. Very few were in their early adolescence and little over 10 per cent were over 30 when they began. An interesting pattern occurs in the 16 to 25 years age group which would indicate that there are two age periods when large numbers of women enter the sex industry: about mid-adolescence and early twenties. The first period saw the entry of many of those girls who had experienced early coitus. These girls may have been promiscuous teenagers with a long history of coital activity, or, just as likely, they may have been girls who found prostitution the only means to pay for their drug habits. The women entering prostitution in their early twenties, on the other hand, are mostly women making clear and rational choices about becoming prostitutes based on a strong economic motive, either in order to pay for an expensive item or some other benefit, or, as Figure 4.5 indicates, due to unemployment or as a means of increasing earning power. Women who choose prostitution as a higher paying occupation represent over 40 per cent of the sample: they are not necessarily poverty stricken women with families, drug habits and pimps to support. Like many women in their early twenties, they have become dissatisfied with their low-paying jobs and little chance of an early promotion, and sought other means of earning much more in a much shorter span of time. Why prostitution? Well, possibly no other job options for higher earning power are open to them, and maybe, as women confident of their sexuality, prostitution seems attractive to them as mature young women. But it is not that simple. There is one other important, almost essential, ingredient for entering the sex industry which enables the mature woman despondent with her working life to cross the barrier of social taboo and adopt the role of prostitute.
Let us listen to what some of the prostitutes I interviewed have to say. Martine entered the sex industry for a clearly economic purpose:
I didn't have any money and I couldn't get a job. I was very depressed because I couldn't make any money, and I knew women working in bondage and discipline and this sounded too good to be true. It did also fascinate me and I wanted to do it. So I just started because there were opportunities there. I didn't have any trouble getting a job because one of the women running the place was a personal friend of mine.
For Maggie, prostitution seemed to be the fastest way to pay off her debts:
I needed some money because I was having legal hassles and my present job wasn't bringing in enough to pay for this. A girl friend of mine had an escort agency and this seemed the quickest way to get the amount of money I needed.
Laura's decision to become a "call girl" was also economic, but was more spontaneous:
She was the first prostitute I had ever met. She worked privately. I sat around with her listening to her conversations about work, and sat there with my mouth open hearing her on the phone making appointments. There was my girlfriend, Sharon and Kerry, the prostitute, who needed two girls to see two men. The phone call came and we just happened to be sitting there, and Kerry said: "Oh, come on, I'll dress you and tell you what to do and say. All you have to do is make love to these guys. It will be real easy." We needed some money at the time and we were out of work, so we went and did it and it was real fun. The whole fear was getting over the first time.
Sharleen began working in another area of the sex industry:
I met an old school friend and we had lunch together. She told me she was a prostitute and how much money she made. She asked me if I would "sit" for her one night at five pounds a night (in the 1950s). But the fellows kept asking for me, not her. So, I thought, I must be sitting on a gold mine. And that's how I started.
Caroline had also worked in the sex industry other than as a prostitute before becoming a sex worker herself:
I arrived here without a job or money. Because I had worked as a receptionist it was easy for me to look for a parlour to work in. If I had not worked as a receptionist in a parlour before, there's no way I would have become a prostitute. I would rather have begged on the street than become a prostitute.
Cassandra was paid to babysit for a prostitute's child:
This woman was paying me $20 to mind her kid, while she came home after four of five hours with $200 or $300 for doing you know what. I thought: "Bugger this, why should I put up with her pissy kid when I could be out doing the same thing." I knew a vice cop and he got me a job down here. It's marvellous just how many cops have got girls jobs.
June lived in Kings Cross where she could closely observe the street prostitutes working there:
The first time occurred because I needed money to go overseas; I was determined to go overseas. But it probably wouldn't have happened, or I wouldn't have thought about it, had it not been for the fact that I lived in the Cross, where a lot of my social life was spent. Although I didn't personally know any prostitutes, I knew of many hanging around coffee shops and other places. I thought about prostitution as a possibility to earn money for about a month before I actually tried it.
We have earlier seen how Jeanette's husband turned out to be pimp and put her on the street (pp. 215-16). Streetwalker Kelly had very similar experience:
I was living with this guy for four years and his ex--wife was a prostitute. As the years went by I found out he was having an affair with a girlfriend of mine and he started her working. Being as it may, love is blind, and I gave him an ultimatum: if he got rid of her I would start working for him.
Apart from Kelly and Jeanette, these women entered prostitution for economic reasons (although one could argue that pimping is also an economic motive, except the motivation is from the pimp, not the prostitute). But in all of these examples one common factor clearly presents itself. Each of these women knew someone - a friend, a policeman, a prostitute who hires her, or prostitutes and their work generally - before they entered the sex industry. It would appear that for most women an economic imperative or even a psychosexual inclination is not enough (otherwise, the argument goes, all poor women and nymphomaniacs would automatically become prostitutes, which, of course, they do not). It seems that just as important as these two factors is the need for a woman to be closely associated with the industry first, or to have acquired some knowledge about it, before she actually takes the step to become a prostitute herself.
But there are exceptions. Marie is one such exception. You will recall that she was raised in a home with exceptionally frank views on sexual behaviour (p. 209). This might indicate that for Marie becoming a prostitute might present less trauma than for most women. However, she entered the sex industry without prior knowledge about it:
I could see my money getting smaller and smaller, and I didn't really want to go back to one of those casual jobs; that kind of thing didn't appeal to me any more. I could easily have got a job and I had lots of offers in the fashion industry, but it just didn't appeal to me. I thought I would like to do something different. I had seen these ads in the paper, which said something like: "ambitious woman wanted." I knew what it meant, but I thought I would ring up and inquire. It took me a whole day to make the phone call, and another whole day for me to get it together to go around there and see them. I was surprised to find the other women there a lot like me because I had expected them to be different, like floozies.
Here is an insight into the reason for so few women entering the sex industry as prostitutes. If a woman with Marie's liberal and open family life was so hesitant when her economic and psychosexual inclinations could have been motivation enough, it is understandable why simply being poor or inclined to promiscuity is not enough for most women not to just contemplate prostitution, (many women do that), but actually to become prostitutes. Knowledge or knowing someone is the key nexus between economic or sexual motives and practising commercial sex. Certainly, those women above, judging by their comments, would never have become prostitutes had it not been for a friend, a cop or contact with the industry previously.
If Marie is an unusual case (and, I must suppose, that there are other women with similar backgrounds who underwent similar experiences), then Katherine's case might even be more unusual.
Because I have been overwhelmingly curious about it, and having lived in London and run a wine bar, I used to see a lot of guys who needed extra attention. Having given it away for such a long time and feeling that that is not very fulfilling, and having travelled around living out of a rucksack for a few years, I wanted a bit of comfort as well. Not to make a fortune, but just to live comfortably and have a bit of money to spare to help people and involve myself in other areas that I like. Prostitution gives you the security, but it also gives you a lot of free time.
Katherine had an economic motive for entering prostitution, and it seems that her "overwhelming curiosity" might have been the other side to a sex life that was not "very fulfilling". You will recall she had never had an orgasm before the day she began prostitution (p. 220). Obviously there was a very powerful psychosexual motive propelling her towards sexual experimentation. It seems that for her, prostitution was an inevitable conclusion, or, at least, would have eventually been attempted in her quest for fulfilment as a sexual being. As it was she was nearly 33 when she became a prostitute, an age well beyond the average for entrance.
None of this should detract from the fact that overwhelmingly entrance into prostitution in inexorably linked to the economic situation of the women who become prostitutes. In the study of 121 inner city prostitutes in 1983 (Perkins & Bennett 1985, p. 293), over 96 per cent gave an economic reason (including the need for high incomes for supporting a drug habit) for commencing prostitution. According to an American study conducted by John Decker in 1979, 31 per cent of his sample of 29 mid-west prostitutes took up commercial sex for entirely economic reasons, 10 per cent did so for psychological reasons, and 59 per cent became involved due to a combination of factors. In a study of 23 street and brothel prostitutes of East Sydney (Perkins & Bennett 1985, p. 291) 61 per cent gave economic reasons for entering the sex industry, 13 per cent were perceived as having done so for psychological reasons, and 26 per cent for combined reasons. Eileen McLeod's (1982, pp. 26-9) study also indicates the extent of unemployment, poverty and low pay in "straight" occupations as motivating factors in the lives of the English prostitutes she investigated. It was clear to all of these researchers that the economic position of women entering prostitution is a reflection of the situation of females generally.
Table 4.2 shows very clearly the differences in earnings between women and men in the states of Australia.
In spite of women's better education and involvement in the nation's productive output, men still remain the economically privileged sex. Hackneyed arguments to prop up this inequality, such as men need more money as the family "breadwinner", no longer have validity in the face of increases in double-income families, divorce rates and single mothers. The high ratio of single mothers in prostitution is one example of this. Prostitutes generally are women who have tried to address the disparity in wage-earning power by entering the sex industry. But, as we have seen, they are just the tip of the iceberg.
A common assumption exists that prostitutes are women incapable of other kinds of employment. Table 4.3 compares the sample of prostitutes' past work experiences with those of the samples of health-workers and students.
Little separates the three groups in their past work experiences. The relatively high number of previous welfare/health and nursing work experiences among the health-workers is to be expected, but the high ratios of work experience in sales, office work and the service industry among the prostitutes may surprise some people. Popular perceptions might have assumed a much higher ratio of other sex work, such as stripping and pornographic movies, for the prostitutes. But the most instructive finding here is the low ratio of prostitutes who had never had any other work experiences. What this configuration indicates is that prostitutes are women who have emerged from the general workforce; prostitution is not their first and only work.
A comparison of Table 4.3 with the national census on women in the workforce in Table 4.4 proves interesting.
A glance at both Tables 4.3 and 4.4 will show that the prostitutes' past job experiences, not unlike the national census, has a high percentage of clerks, sales and service workers, a low percentage of para-professionals, and a medium percentage of the physical work of labourers (factory and domestic work). Little can be gleaned from this profile, however, that might provide some indication of the prostitutes as a group of women with special work skills. In fact, on the contrary, they appear to be a highly diversified group. But if anything, their work experiences do seem to lean towards the lower paid occupations of factory work, office work, sales work, domestic work and work in the service industry. This might explain why prostitution might appear an attractive economic alternative to the women involved in those occupations, but it does not help us to understand why women in high paid administrative occupations or in arts with a high level sense of creative achievement would turn to prostitution.
Comparing this Table 4.4 with Table 3.11 reveals certain sharp contrasts with male occupations; eg. three times as many men in management/administration, eight times as many men as tradespersons, five times as many women as clerks, three times as many men as plant/machinery operators and transport drivers.
Fatale, you may recall, is the bondage mistress with a close affinity with her working environment (p. 243). She is also an artist, and to understand this side of her is to understand why an artist could find sex work attractive. She tells us something of her background:
I've been a landscape artist, professionally. I've made money out of performances, and I've done art work both for nothing and for remuneration. And I've played in bands professionally, and as a professional musician I've taken part in sculptural performances. I'm working in a band at the moment on the performance piece called "Lady Macbeth", extracted from Shakespeare, of course.
She describes a period of her career as a sculptor, which she quite clearly associates with her role as a bondage mistress in one of Sydney's best known parlours:
I started doing little sculptures called "cult objects", which were suitable expressions of my own suffering. They represented a mythical evolution, which I had created myself for figurines showing stages in this evolution. They were quite distorted with their facial expressions of agony and ecstasy. They all appeared androgynous, except the last figure, which looked as though it were pregnant. Having had the kind of childhood that I have already spoken to you about [p. 199], 1 became fascinated by these images coming before me. I wished to express some kind of ecstasy inside the pain of my own past, and I was drawn to the images of our cultural past for inspiration, such as Christian iconography, like Bernini's "St Theresa". I actually did a piece on St Theresa's ecstasy, an installation involving a painting and, since I'm a symbolist, an electric fan to symbolise energy, and a turning crucifix as a mesmerising object. In addition, I included a film of Bernini's sculpture with the camera scanning the length of St Theresa's body. I was definitely struck by the state of agony and ecstasy shown on Theresa's face. I suppose this state might be described as "masochist in tendency". Now my little figurines also expressed that state with the higher order of St Theresa, and I think that state is related to the primal substances that are a part of our inherent nature. In a lot of primitive cultures this state is in evidence through the shamanistic rituals of pain involved with an ecstatic experience. I am drawn to that state and empowered by it. A lot of my sexual pleasure derives from it. You might call me a masochist, but I think sadism is a primal state too, so the two go together. By doing sex work I am in touch with other people's energies, and I don't mean just physical energy either, but mental and spiritual energies as well; I mean primal energies. As an artist I've made it a goal to tap deep into the recesses of my own being and I think I have been given a gift to show how others can reach inside themselves to tap the common human and vital source of our primal energies in our primitive roots. Pain is an abstract term, but it stands for a common experience to all living things which comes from deep within us.
Pain has so many ways of being delivered, but being delivered in a sexual way, the experience starts with arousal and a vulnerability which opens up deeper feelings rarely opened in normal everyday existence. I think it is necessary for the whole being to tap into your primal energies, as I do in sex work and in my artwork.
None of the other women I interviewed had such exotic work experiences, and certainly nothing to which they might apply an esoteric understanding of the sex work in which they became involved. But, taken together, these women had an extraordinary range of past work experiences. Take Martine as an example:
I've been a strapper, looking after horses; I've done that for years. I've worked on farms, and as a nanny. I've worked in radio, and worked on a woman's newspaper for a couple of years. I've worked as a television presenter for a while, and I've also been a waitress and a dishwasher.
Marie has an equally versatile working past, and enterprising as well:
I used to work as a manageress of a fashion boutique. I've also done modelling. Once, when I was much younger I had this job selling hired television sets door to door. Also in my younger days before I came to this country I used to buy items cheaply in other countries and sell them for a profit when I brought them back into Germany.
Katherine had an aptitude for indoors and outdoors occupations:
Basically I've gone in for office work, or running an office; anything steady, that was me. But I had to be in the front part of the office because I've always been gregarious and enjoyed the company of people. When I finally branched out by doing some travelling, I did anything, including farm work; I loved getting a bit of dirt under my fingernails. Just recently I began working full-time in an advertising firm and continued prostitution part time.
June is another with a versatile working past:
I've worked in chemical laboratories, nursing, cinema projecting, teaching English as a second language, bar work, work on a prawn trawler, and waitressing.
But for all their broad work experiences, qualifications, and their obvious abilities at adaptation, these women in the end turned to prostitution for their major source of income. And the reason for that was simple: it paid more, and obviously considerably more to compensate for a lowered social status, the risk of disclosure and the other risks attached to the sex industry. These women were no struggling poor, although at the time of their entrance into the sex industry many of them were out of work, tired of mundane and unsatisfactory work, or in desperate need of extra cash. Table 4.5 compares the highest weekly earnings of prostitutes before they entered prostitution with that of the health-workers and students.
The figures in Table 4.5 were gathered in 1985-86, when the average weekly earnings for females in New South Wales was $265.80 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1984-85). Over half of the prostitutes earned less than this as their highest weekly income, compared to about 45 per cent of the students and almost none of the health-workers. Since most of the health-workers were professional women they might be expected to include a number with very high salaries. A few of the prostitutes had also achieved high weekly earnings in their pre-prostitution occupations, which raises the question of their economic motive for becoming sex workers. Other factors, such as job dissatisfaction, might have been at work.
The evidence in this and the preceding Chapter indicates that women enter prostitution in two waves, based on age. The evidence of age of entry (see Fig. 4.6) found that about a third of the prostitute sample became sex workers under the age of 19, but mostly it was between 16 and 18, and more than a half of the sample became sex workers above the age of 20, mostly between 21 and 25.
Overwhelmingly an economic motivation was given as the reason for becoming a prostitute (Fig. 4.5), while about a quarter of the sample said that curiosity about prostitution or themselves (their sexuality) was an important motive, and a little less than ten per cent admitted to drugs as the motivating force. Earlier we discovered that women destined for prostitution more than likely had histories of coital experiences back to their early adolescence (Table 3.32). From these findings we can construct two scenarios for entry into the sex industry.
In the first scenario are girls of 18 or less. Most of these had "lost" their virginities before their sixteenth birthdays and more than likely initiated the occasions of initial coitus. They felt sexually mature by 16, but were still curious about their sexual passions and no longer held men in awe. They had learned that men most desire young female bodies and "innocent" girls, and were willing to pay handsomely for them. Coupled with the atrociously low wages paid girls in "straight" occupations, the economy of sex has an enormous appeal to these young women. Some of the girls were already practising virulent promiscuous lifestyles, so that prostitution is a mere extension, albeit profitable, of this kind of sex life. Another sub-group within this age group are girls who experimented with drugs in their early adolescence, so that by 16 to 18 they had developed uncontrollable addictions to expensive narcotics or other drugs. For them prostitution is the only occupation open to them able to support their habits.
The second scenario includes the bulk of women entering prostitution. They were above 20 when they first exchanged sex for cash either in the context of the sex industry or in a private social arrangement to a persistent stranger. They too had learned that the sexuality of young women has a price on it. The vast majority of this group were "broke", out of work, or bored with their present job when they decided to take up prostitution. They too had a mature approach to sex and had learned not to fear men, derived from long histories of coital interaction with males as far back as their early adolescence. But they had none of the wide-eyed excitement of their younger colleagues. These women were pragmatic in their decision to become prostitutes. But even so they required knowledge about the sex industry first from trusted friends or people already involved in order to dismiss the myths and negative popular notions that act as a barrier to entry.
Thus, we have two entrance scenarios, different in age, motives and kind. These are, of course, flexible, for, as always among prostitute women, there are exceptions, such as some a little older or a little younger than these pictures suggest, in which case they fall within the intermediate age group of 19 to 20. But this after all is the human diversity in prostitution, as in all social institutions.
The nature of the work
In the first Chapter we viewed prostitution as a work-based occupation from the perspective of the prostitute. Whatever sexual gratification or other emotional satisfaction a sex worker might obtain in commercial sex doesn't make it any less work, but simply more pleasant work. Earlier in the present Chapter the reader was introduced to "types" of work undertaken by the "professional" prostitute, including the structure of these "types" and their functions. In this Section we will delve deeper into the work of prostitutes by examining its nature and determining both the benefits and the drawbacks to being a prostitute. For example, how much is earned, how much time is involved, what is done, what workers think of their job.
Prostitution may be work, but it is also a service for men (although occasionally women also use the services of a female prostitute), for which they must pay a fee to the prostitute. This fee forms the basis of the sex worker's earnings, whether it be a portion of the fee in an arrangement with the management of the house in which she works, or forms her gross income from which must be extracted her overheads. Figure 4.7 indicates the average earnings of the prostitute sample of 128 women.
These figures were collected in 1985-86, but since the prices for sexual services have not changed in three years (nor had they for at least ten years prior to that) these earnings may serve as an example of prostitutes' weekly incomes today. If anything, in the wake of much negative publicity surrounding prostitution as a possible source of AIDS, prostitutes in Sydney at present may actually be earning less.
Over half of the sample had earned between $501 and $ 1,000 a week on average, before tax, while only a little over a fifth had earned less than $500, and about a quarter had earned in excess of $1,000. A few of the prostitutes were earning between $2,000 and $4,000. The overall average, however, is something like $800. Most people may have thought a prostitute earns more than that, and a few might be resentful that she could earn so much for "doin' what comes naturally". Most prostitutes feel that they are not paid enough, and they are impatient towards those who think they "get it easy".
But, all resentment aside, the fact remains that prostitution is a highly paid occupation, certainly one of the highest possible for women. If the weekly earnings shown in Figure 4.7 are converted to an annual salary, a comparison with the annual incomes of individual Australians would appear as Table 4.6.
From this comparison we can see that half of the prostitute sample earned on average as much as the highest earning two per cent of the Australian population, or as much as the highest earning 0.4 per cent of females in Australia. Over three-quarters of the prostitutes earned as much as the highest earning 9 per cent of Australians. Thus, there is no question that prostitution is an extremely lucrative occupation. Still, while most Australians in the workforce earn their salaries including such benefits as five weeks annual leave, public holidays or weekend double-time, not to mention other fringe benefits, these annual earnings for prostitutes may be considerably less if they do not work 52 weeks a year. Many prostitutes will leave the sex industry if they cannot earn at least twice the salary they would earn in "straight" employment because they have a value on what it is worth to work as a prostitute.
Another misconception about prostitutes is that they do not pay taxes, and therefore not only get "easy money" but "bludge" on the system as well. However, many prostitutes do pay taxes on their incomes, especially "career" sex workers who have been working for many years, otherwise such large capital expenditure and property, dwellings and cars would leave them open to suspicion and likely indictment for tax avoidance. The lesson of Tilly Devine is not lost even today. But numbers of young prostitutes do not pay taxes. Some work only as their economic needs arise, others are so committed to a drug habit that every cent earned goes towards supporting their addiction so that their actual living expenses are negligible and they live like paupers, and there are those who feel resentful at paying taxes to a government which stigmatises them, does not support their demands for improved working conditions, and spends their taxes on paying police to persecute them. Martine compares her situation with that of another taxpayer of equal income rank:
I pay the same kind of taxes that a doctor does. But, I actually receive a lot less because I can't work until I'm 65 like my father can, I get no prestige from my job, and no recognition for what I do.
In recent years taxation agents have approached brothel management to assist them in collecting taxes from their employees. This has especially been successful in Melbourne's legal brothels where the tax deduction arrangement is similar to other places of employment. This is another reason why Sydney prostitutes oppose the introduction of legalisation in New South Wales. They maintain that prostitutes are free agents, even in a brothel where they are not paid a salary but share the service fee with the house on a contractual arrangement. It is not the place then for brothel owners to deduct tax on behalf of the government, but it is up to the individual prostitute to pay her taxes as a self-employed income-earner rather than as a wage-earner. After all, the brothel worker is treated as a hired agent by many owners in that they are not supplied uniforms and are expected to pay for their own overheads. In the case of a bondage mistress this can be exorbitant, as Martine points out:
We have to buy all our own equipment, our own dildos, our own enemas, even our own amyl nitrate as the clients like snorting in a session. We have to buy our own leather clothing, which is very expensive, and our own lingerie, which is also very expensive. So, we do have considerable expenses.
For an independent "call girl" like Laura, who has her own business, her high earnings are offset against the overheads required in a successful operation:
I make between $1,500 and $2,000 a week, minus my expenses. I take home between $1,400 and $1,800. But that depends on how long I want to sit in the apartment. Whatever I make, the deductions of rent, electricity and phones are the same. And then there's the initial outlay for furnishings, linen and such like. I have to consider this apartment as part of my business expenses because I have my own apartment elsewhere. Any expenses I incur in the business apartment have to be considered business expenses.
On the other hand, for the streetwalker, overheads are comparatively minimal, as Kelly assures us:
Apart from rent for a room, cab fares and babysitters, there aren't any other expenses. I don't go out of my way to buy working clothes. The clothes that I wear at work I've had for a while. I don't think it matters what you wear. I've gone in all dressed up and feeling really good and not done very well. Other times I've gone in dressed really casually in a pair of jeans and a top and done better than with a short dress.
Ultimately prostitution is a business of chance, dependent on the whims of customers, the general financial situation (for example the vagaries of stock market or a recession), the time of the year (Christmas and the end of the fiscal calendar are usually slow for business), and media hype on AIDS or police blitzes, which "kill" business altogether immediately afterwards. As Martine notes: "I can go to work for 12 hours and not earn any money at all". So, while it might be a lucrative business, it is also very erratic.
The average number of hours worked by the prostitute sample is shown on Figure 4.8.
A third of the prostitutes work 25 to 36 hours a week, or, as brothel workers, three to four days a week. Less than a fifth work the "normal" working week of 37 to 48 hours, or, in a brothel, five to six days a week. More than a fifth work 49 to 60 hours a week, although as brothel workers they are probably doing three or four days of double shifts. The women putting in more than 72 hours a week are streetwalkers with expensive drug habits. Compared to the hours actually worked by individuals in New South Wales, the prostitute sample worked less hours per week pro rata. Whilst 82 per cent of the state's employed worked 35 or more hours a week (Australian Bureau of Statistics Census in New South Wales 1986), only 55 per cent of the prostitutes did so. This raises the old thorny morality of prostitutes receiving high wages ("of sin") for little effort. This, of course, depends on one's personal value of one's body, and many prostitutes consider that for hiring out their bodies the hirer must be expected to pay a price equivalent to their value. Unions, of course, argue much the same thing in their struggle for higher wages. But the objection to prostitutes' high wages and short hours often seems to disguise a Protestant work ethic response.
As noted earlier, prostitution is a service, and it is paid for by the customer of the service. It is, then, about servicing customer demands, but not always about sex, for men frequently go to prostitutes as much for company as for sex, and sometimes the sex is superfluous to the actual contact. But, in most cases, sexual pleasure for the customer is the sole purpose. A usual service in a brothel is "part-French and sex", or fellatio to arousal followed by coitus for climax. In bondage houses sadomasochistic fantasies predominate as a service. On the street, it is usually simply fellatio to orgasm or a quick coital intercourse without preliminaries. While street prostitution services finish with the customer's climax in minimal time, in the brothels (parlours) the service depends on the length of time paid to be with a prostitute and therefore in an hour service, for instance, the customer may climax two times. The experienced brothel worker in a session develops a technique of prolonging arousal and foreplay so that actual intercourse time is minimised. Men who have been drinking (but not drunk) are disliked as clients because they take too long during the motion of intercourse.
The number of different services available in prostitution is quite extensive, and each has a colloquial term understood among prostitutes but not always outside the sex industry. A list of the more important of these is provided below:
- B&D: abbreviation for "bondage and discipline".
- Bondage: shortened term for "bondage and discipline", which refer to sadomasochism as practised in the sex industry.
- Buck's Party: all male party in which one or more prostitutes are often hired to liven it up and one is usually presented as a "gift" to the male in whose honour the party is held.
- English: whipping or caning; a term not in much use nowadays.
- Double: involves two prostitutes with one client, or, less frequently, two clients with one prostitute.
- Fantasy Job: scenario suggested by client involving transvestite, infant, school-room, Gothic or other themes and costumes.
- French: fellatio; can also refer to cunnilingus. Full French: specifically refers to fellatio with ejaculation.
- Golden Showers: urinating on client. Greek: anal intercourse.
- Hand Relief: masturbating the client; most often performed in a massage parlour as part of full service; also referred to as hand job.
- Heavy Bondage: involving torture and pain with welts and drawing blood.
- Kissing: extra service paid for by client; but it may also be given freely as a token of affection for a favourite regular client.
- Lesbian Acts: two prostitutes hired by a client to make love in front of him. Although not exclusive to lesbians, if lesbian or bisexual women are on the premises they will agree to do it.
- Light Bondage: spanking but leaving no marks nor involving pain, and may include some tying up but without torture.
- Medium Bondage: caning, whipping, the rack and stocks, including some pain but without drawing blood or leaving welts. Part French: fellatio without ejaculation.
- Sex: coital intercourse; a term used specifically for coitus.
- Sexual Surrogate: medical-therapeutic work in which a prostitute is hired by hospital/doctor to service a handicapped patient.
- Spanish: rubbing client's penis between breasts until climax.
- Submissive Work: where sex worker receives a beating or acts as a slave to client; opposite role to mistress work.
- Threesome: where a client hires a prostitute to join himself and a companion (sometimes his wife) in lovemaking.
- Water Sports: frolicking with basins, bedpans, siphon hoses and enemas often involving urination.
There is a clinical ring to these services, and certainly most prostitutes would view their work in a clinical way, even when this involves the pretence of love or affection with their clients. The reason many experienced prostitutes, once having overcome inhibitions about deriving pleasurable sensations in sessions with clients, seek orgasms at work is to make the job seem less clinical and mechanical to them. Some prostitutes find that the sex they have with their clients discolours the sex they have with their lovers or husbands. The comment by Zoe seems to sum up this disposition:
I had become so well established in my identity and role as a prostitute that whenever I went to show some initiative or assertiveness in my relationship with my boyfriend I saw myself as a prostitute. In prostitution sex is just a job, yet when I was in a love situation I couldn't dissociate the sex from the job situation. So when I made love it was like a job and I felt like a prostitute every time I got into bed with him.
This is certainly not the case with every prostitute, but it may be the reason some prostitutes will not kiss clients, or allow them to perform cunnilingus, since these are reserved for lovers only and serve as the acts in sex which distinguish work from love. Many prostitutes have lovers who are as far from the perceived "typical" client in appearance, mannerisms and attitudes as it is possible to be. For example, these lovers are often much younger than the prostitute, unorthodox in attitude and less conventional looking than most clients. In other words, prostitutes are more likely to be attracted to men as lovers who are least like the client stereotype in a subconscious motive to distance themselves from their work in their private lives. The disposition is probably not too unlike the plumber who loathes having to work on his own pipes.
There exists a common notion that prostitutes are not free agents at work, that they must do exactly what the client expects of them. If that was true once, it is certainly no longer the case today. In some parlours managers insist on no condoms, demand that a client with a suspected disease be serviced, and expect every request by clients be met in a kind of "the customer is always right" attitude. But the experienced prostitute will not tolerate such dictates, and even the less experienced who may be persuaded to take a chance without a condom or with a suspected infectious client would rather leave the job than have to do a sexual act which is personally unpalatable. In this respect work reflects private sexual tastes, for these same distasteful acts are usually also avoided in private or social sex as well. Tables 4.7A and 4.7B contain lists of services offered or rejected by prostitutes in this study.
The services most acceptable to the prostitute sample are "Part French and sex", "sex (coitus)", "hand jobs", "threesomes and doubles" and "full French", while those most often rejected are "Greek", "heavy bondage", "sexual surrogate work", "kissing", "buck's parties" and "medium bondage". Interestingly, up to two decades ago Sydney prostitutes refused to offer French at all. The women expressed disgust at its suggestion and took affirmative action if the subject was raised. Lisa, who worked in the lanes in the 1960s, told me that at that time the guys just asked for straight sex and nothing else, no oral or anything, and if they did they would have got their heads kicked in. One girl got caught doing oral when I was on College Street (1950s) and she was smashed and left lying in the gutter.
There was a general attitude among prostitutes then that fellatio was somehow perverted and dirty. This was a curious response in Australia, for as Kinsey and his colleagues (1953, p. 258) point out for American women generally in the 1940s, two-thirds of the younger better educated females who had extensive coital experience had practised oral sex on men. This recalls Laura's comment earlier (p. 205). But one has the feeling that in private, oral sex with Australian couples was practised much more frequently than was publicly communicated prior to the 1970s. In the early 1970s American researcher Morton Hunt (1974) conducted a survey for Playboy magazine to update the Kinsey data. He found that fellatio had increased among married couples considerably since the 1940s and was performed more frequently in the middle class than the working class. In her study of clients of call girls in New York, Martha Stein (1974) found that 83 per cent requested fellatio. But American prostitutes offer and perform fellatio or "full French" much more frequently than Australian prostitutes, and reserve coitus for special clients or services. By the 1970s oral sex had become a standard practice in the parlours. Since the idea of "massage parlours" as clandestine brothels was imported from America, it is also possible that French came with them as a basic service. The older Sydney prostitutes who had resisted fellatio for so long were forced to conform or go out of business. Sharleen, a worker of 30 years, took a long time before she could cope with offering fellatio, and then did so only to compete with her younger rivals:
It's only recently (1980s) that I've done French. Before that no amount of money would have persuaded me to do it. But, as they say, if you can't beat them then join them.
The same sentiments expressed by the older workers towards oral sex in the 1960s is today expressed towards anal sex. As Table 4.7B indicates, Greek is one of the most abhorred of sexual practices for the women. Yet, according to many prostitutes, the demand for it has increased throughout the 1980s. It is in the same position as fellatio was twenty years earlier, and, as with the women then, prostitutes nowadays view it as degrading, depraved and dirty. Reasons often given for rejecting it are, it hurts, it is exclusively a homosexual act, the rectum is for faeces only, and it is associated with AIDS. But, as with fellatio, if anal sex grows in popularity generally it will spread as a regular service in commercial sex, for, contrary to popular opinion, prostitution follows sexual trends rather than initiates them.
The same might be said of heavy bondage, which, at the moment, is almost exclusively offered by mistresses in bondage houses. If it grows in demand as an alternative to sex which transmits body fluids, it may be offered eventually by the very same women who now find it too repulsive.
I asked some of the women who were not bondage mistresses if they offered bondage services in the course of their work. Kelly, the streetwalker answered:
I'm not into bondage very much at all. I do basics, straight sex and part French. I don't go into very many different kinds of positions. If I don't like doing things I won't do them. I couldn't do B & D anyway. I couldn't see myself being cruel to someone, because it's not in my nature.
Maggie's aversion to bondage was due to its association to a part of her past private life:
I'm not capable of bondage because of the violent undertones in my own marriage. I don't like violence in any form, even as symbolic violence.
Laura is more flexible, but even so she puts a limitation on it:
I get requests for golden showers, for instance, but most simply ask for it on the phone and then not turn up. If somebody did turn up and really wanted it, well, I wouldn't do it on the desk. But I would do it in the shower. I don't do heavy bondage, and I won't do submissive work. I get a lot of calls for B & D, but I'll say to them: "I will do domination on you, but I won't allow myself to be tied up."
Caroline is the exact opposite:
Heavy bondage has never come up, but they can do it to me at $100 a pop. It wouldn't worry me at all if it meant drawing my own blood, but I couldn't draw their blood.
Katherine finds it all a bit embarrassing:
I've tried tying them up but I can't take it seriously. There's one guy around here who likes tying the girls up and that's all a bit of a joke too.
The common belief that prostitutes will do anything if the fee is high enough seems far from the truth.
Of the other services rejected by most of the prostitutes buck's parties are avoided because the drunken, loutish behaviour usually associated with these male social events repel most women. Sexual surrogate work is rejected but not because patients are handicapped (in fact, many prostitutes have physically impaired, paraplegics and quadriplegics among their regular clients) but because this kind of work doesn't pay well and the prostitute has to work in an atmosphere of condescending medical staff.
There is a strong indication in all of this that prostitution is not quite as mechanical as many prostitutes claim, for their personal feelings, tolerances and intolerances appear impossible to separate entirely from their working environment. The outcome is individual responses to the sex industry by the women involved in it. The individual responses from the sample group have been combined into a list of major positive and negative reactions. The women were asked what aspects they most liked about prostitution, and what they most disliked.
Nearly all of the prostitutes thought that the financial outcome working in the sex industry was an aspect they most liked. But freedom and flexibility were also high on the list, as was also the camaraderie between the women. Nearly a third found prostitution important for self-evaluation. On the other hand, popular notions of prostitution as sexually fulfilling for the women and as a sexual meeting ground for developing relationships with men do not rate high as positive aspects among the prostitutes. It is no surprise to discover earning power to be so popular, but the importance of female companionship, as pointed out earlier is a highly underrated aspect of female prostitution by outsiders.
For Caroline, prostitution has developed an improved self-identity:
It was the best thing I have ever done, because it has developed a strong character in me. Before prostitution I was just another clinging, obsessive female. Now, I am my own person, independent.
Martine found it gave her greater confidence and higher self esteem:
When I started working I was actually quite frightened of men. Whenever I found myself in a room alone with a strange man I'd get scared. It was an awful feeling and I think most women have it. To be scared most of the time, to live in fear is not a good feeling. Now I'm no longer frightened of men and I'm learning a lot about them. I mean they are no longer as mysterious nor as revolting as I imagined them to be. When they come into the parlour they tell us these terrible secrets about themselves and sometimes they are extraordinarily honest, so that you really get to know these men on a very intimate level very quickly. I love my work because it has given me confidence to communicate with men and it has taken away my fear of them. I'm not afraid of them any more. It's the best thing that has ever happened to me. It's also given me confidence physically and I'm no longer self-conscious about my body. It doesn't worry me that I'm not perfect and I really do think that I'm attractive to some men but not to others, whereas before I use to have this very bad physical self-image.
Cassandra finds freedom and independence in the East Sydney brothels suitable to her role as a prostitute:
I like my freedom, particularly where I've not had to work for someone else. I don't have to pay protection money, or any shift money as some of the girls do in their places, and I don't have to pay out half my earnings like you do in the parlours. My girlfriend and I share everything: the rent, the phone, electricity and gas. I like the hours and we can come and go as we please. This way I am independent.
Street worker Kelly shares her sentiment about independence:
What I like about what I do now is I can start work when I want to and finish when I want to. I am virtually an independent person. I don't have to put up with half the things I would if I was in a parlour. Not only independence, but the money's better on the street. Overall, prostitution offers me much more money than I could get anywhere else, and the hours are more flexible than in any other kind of job.
For "call girl" Laura, prostitution has given her a jet-set standard of living:
I greatly enjoy my freedom. By freedom, I mean not so much on a daily basis, but on a yearly basis. If I want to go somewhere for a month, I can just go. I am not tied to five weeks annual holiday. I can just choof off and go when I like and for as long as I like. It has allowed me to travel and I've travelled a lot due to prostitution. When I travel to Europe I can go to an apartment with two girls working in it for a week. I only need two days in that place and I've got $ 1,000. If I work there a week I can travel freely anywhere afterwards. That's what I enjoy most about prostitution.
These few examples probably reflect the sentiments of many prostitutes. Martine's discovery that her role as a sex worker enabled her to overcome her fear of men is a common experience with prostitutes. It is the first step to controlling the situation in prostitution. The popular concept that prostitutes are entirely under the control of the clients' demands is another example of the mythology surrounding the sex industry. In the individual interaction of prostitute and client, in fact, it is the prostitute who establishes the boundary of behaviour; the client simply announces his request, and if acceptable to the prostitute, she then sets the limits within her framework of convention. In some respects the client-prostitute interaction is reminiscent of the early stages of ordinary courtship, when social convention demands that the female stabilises the pace of the sexual process in the romance in order to avoid sexual anarchy. Yet, of course, as in ordinary romance, it can sometimes go awfully wrong, resulting in violence. But in the majority of instances the prostitute controls the situation. As Laura expresses it: "I can always rush them if I want to or I can allow them to stay longer". June, a woman with a strong feminist consciousness, discovered where the myths end:
You do have a degree of autonomy in prostitution, which actually surprised me. Within that whole realm of men selecting women with its notion of female passivity, there is a strong input of sexual control by the women.
Zoe is another prostitute with a feminist perspective who found sex work to be very different to gender relations in everyday life:
They are paying for you, so you can demand what you want and don't want; no you can't kiss me, no you can't do that, time's up, whatever. In my personal experiences I found it was a total role reversal to the usual positions of power and dominance by men with women subservient to them. I gained a lot of confidence out of it.
Once more, women in prostitution are seen to have gained from their experience with the result that their relationships with males generally change thereafter; their perspectives of male sexuality becomes more realistic; and their position in gender relations is empowered; or as Maggie summarises: "You can control everything yourself". To return to Martine, in the dungeon her initial loss of fear of men had a very positive outcome for her in her working relations:
I couldn't believe that I would have the opportunity to vent my anger upon men, to harness them, and act violent towards them, as they had towards me in the past. Although men are not subjected to my outrage unwillingly, and the power relations in bondage have false parameters, most of the time it is the inverse of how it operates outside and it gives you an opportunity to be in a powerful position as a woman, which hardly ever happens in straight society.
These are the more positive aspects of sex work. There are also many negative aspects, as Table 4.9 shows.
The highest rated dislike is having sex with men not liked. This, at first glance, might seem to contradict the above discussion on power in prostitution and women in control, because, if a woman has so much control, why does she put up with men she doesn't like? But in the practical transactions of commercial sex, if a woman chose to see only those clients she intuitively liked she would soon be out of business. Pragmatically she must endure disagreeable men to survive, but she can restrict them much more than pleasant men, for whom she might provide privileges such as kissing, staying a little longer, an extra drink, or extending her usual boundaries on behaviour. Of course, in a parlour there is less opportunity to pick and choose clients because of management scrutiny, but even independent "call girls" and streetwalkers have to put up with unpleasant men. But this is usually relative to the level of business, so that prostitutes can afford to be more choosey when business is booming.
A third of the women find it distasteful simply having sex with men unknown to them. Most non-prostitute women would probably find that to be one of the most repulsive aspects of sex work. June agrees with them, but manages by being objective: "I just basically want to get on with it, fuck with them, and get it over and done with."
Boredom and bitchiness are usually associated with brothel work, but in slow times an idle "call girl" or streetwalker might also express boredom as an unpleasant aspect. Staff conflicts in a brothel, as already discussed (p. 241), are destructive to the work environment, often driving a former brothel worker into private prostitution or onto the streets. But the streets are not necessarily devoid of tensions between workers, although a pair of incompatible streetwalkers have a much better opportunity to avoid one another than two women hostile to one another on the same shift in a brothel.
It may surprise some readers, in view of earlier comments, to find that problems with the boss have such a low priority. But this reflects the fact that industrial conflicts are not a frequent experience in the sex industry, and most of the time harmony between bosses and workers prevails. The same might be said of problems with police. This response, however, is made by women in Sydney, where few laws are available to harass them with. This priority undoubtedly would be higher in more legally oppressive climates, and higher still had the investigation been conducted in the midst of a police blitz.
Much more of a concern to most prostitutes are problems with their clients. More than bosses and policemen, clients can make working in prostitution an extremely unpleasant experience, because interactions with customers are much more frequent than with the boss and police, and, it seems, there are many more unpleasant clients than tyrannical bosses. Many men who visit brothels have a deep seated misogyny, or are as much influenced by the negative social attitudes towards prostitutes as the rest of the population. As Kelly remarks:
A lot of people have a tendency to put us down, particularly males who visit us. They're hypocrites because deep down they need us, but won't admit it.
Over a third of the prostitutes demonstrate a high concern for the violence in prostitution. This is not to suggest that all of these women have been victims of violence, but reveals a level of conscious awareness of it as a potential problem. What it does clearly indicate is the extent of violence from men that plagues many sex workers.
Violence, misogyny, hypocrisy are but the outward signs of the social stigma aimed at prostitutes. As Table 4.9 clearly indicates, if it isn't the highest concern of prostitutes, the social stigma is an aspect of prostitution which most of the women dislike. For Laura, it is her only real problem:
What I don't like is that prostitution is not socially acceptable. I feel that is the only thing I dislike about it. I can't tell people what I do as a job without a bad reaction.
So, we see that for prostitutes, sex work is a mixture of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. In a relaxed legal climate such as New South Wales there is one solution to an unpleasant working environment: change jobs. Kelly moved from the little brothels of East Sydney to a parlour, back to the little brothels, and then finally onto the streets in a bid to improve her working conditions:
I left the East Sydney brothels to work in the parlours because winter was coming on and I didn't fancy standing in the open doorway in a short skirt. But I didn't like the parlour I went to work in because their rules and regulations were a bit heavy. It's not that I can't abide by rules and regulations, but when you consider that we girls were doing all the work and the owners were getting half our earnings, having to start at a particular time, finish at a particular time, can't do this, must do that, you have to see everybody, and don't force them to wear a French letter. That was the worst part. I ended up getting gonorrhoea twice because of the doctor visiting the parlour being so slack. I never had a disease in all those years in East Sydney. I had seven weeks off before I started back working in a brothel in Palmer Street. But it was closed down by the City Council a few weeks later. I went into a brothel in Riley Street, but that got closed down a couple of weeks later. Next I went into a brothel in Bourke Street and was there only two months when it was closed down as well. So, the only alternative for me was the streets.
Kelly's response to street working can be seen on page 15. It proved to be the best of her various working environments.
Working in prostitution doesn't last forever. Some women only intend doing it for a limited time, to pay off a debt, to "try it out" or "until something better comes along". The "something better" can be a well-paid job, or "love and marriage". A few women leave the streets or brothel to be supported by a "sugar daddy", but if they think they have stopped prostitution they need to analyse their situation more honestly. Then there are the career prostitutes who have been working for a decade or two. Some of them will retire as prostitutes and then use their experience to get a job as a parlour receptionist. The more frugal among them will have enough capital to open up a brothel or buy an existing parlour business. But very few prostitutes end up owners themselves. For someone like Sharleen, after nearly 30 years as a prostitute:
I'd like to live a normal life and go out to a restaurant every now and again. I've very simple needs really: I just want the house and my husband's business paid off.
Maggie regrets the day she must retire:
As long as I can. I'm now 40 and I thought I would have given up by now, but here I am. I suppose as long as I can still enjoy it. But even after I do give up work I'd like to be involved at some level.
It is likely that Maggie will manage a small private concern in the future since she was acting manager as well as a worker at the time of our interview. For many prostitutes the prospects of losing the pleasure they derive from commercial sex is a sobering consideration. Twenty-six year old Martine is a case in point:
I'd like to think I could work for another ten years. I enjoy it and as long as I continue to do so, and as long as I can cope with management, I don't think I should give it up.
Although the pleasure aspect might be a motive to work as long as they can for some women, others regret having to leave prostitution because it signals the end of youth and perhaps a symbolic decline in male attention. Others aspire for the "yuppie" ideal. Caroline:
I would work until I'm 35 [in seven years]. Hopefully I'll have a terrace house with a sports car out the front, a child, a couple of dogs and cats, and be a housewife. I would provide the sports car, the furniture, the child and the animals. He can provide the house; that's his job.
Laura is undecided about her future, but she nurtures a pragmatic notion of somehow continuing her jet-set lifestyle with or without the sex work:
I don't think it's something you plan, but maybe in five years I'd like to get married and have babies. Idealistically that's what I'd like, but then I don't know how I'll feel when I'm 37. 1 can only know how I feel at 32 looking ahead. But I like my freedom too. Now I can pay for a sudden trip overseas when I want to. I like my little adventure trips. Because I'm used to that and I'm independent, I would find it difficult to tie myself down to one person. The only way I would make a compromise is if he could give me the life I'm accustomed to. Instead of X number of men to get what I wanted, if one man could supply me the same I'd give up prostitution. I'm at a stage in my life when I enjoy travelling and adventure and whether this is achieved through prostitution, a career in photography [an expertise she has] or one man is immaterial.
Laura's reminiscences are a "nutshell" summary of the nature of prostitution. It is the best economic purpose for these women in the pursuit of their contentment and social goals.
Criminality, addiction and contagion
So far we have seen some convincing arguments from the prostitutes interviewed telling us about the positive aspects of working in the sex industry. Whilst the money is good, the work offers a flexibility rare in most other employments, for the lonely woman there is female companionship, and, for many, it has the curious effect of developing character, making a weak woman strong and providing a social confidence that was previously lacking, these benefits are not without their price. The risk of violence has already been mentioned - a subject we will return to in the next Section. Here, however, three hazards of prostitution that are well documented in the research data on sex workers will be discussed. These hazards are police involvement, drug addiction and infection by sexually transmissible diseases. While the criminal behaviour and health of prostitutes are well studied, this is less for the benefit of sex workers and more for the community at large with its phobias about prostitutes as social and health contaminates. Studies of health in prostitution, in fact, represents a fifth of all research on the sex industry, or the most prolific of all disciplines in the literature (see Table 1.1), a clear reflection of the community's greatest concern for commercial sex.
A number of American studies indicate that prostitution and crime are closely related. Jennifer James (1978), for instance, found that 40 per cent of her sample of juvenile prostitutes had been in trouble with the authorities because of their sexual behaviour. Vitaliano, Boyer and James (1981, p. 325ff) compared a group of juvenile prostitutes with a group of property offenders, concluding that the prostitutes had criminal records for theft and fraud almost as high as the women convicted of larceny. Datesman and Inciardi (1979, p. 455ff) argue that the use of heroin by some prostitutes forces these women to commit crimes in order to pay for their habits because income from prostitution is not enough. These latter researchers have a valid point, which corresponds with the activities of certain heavily addicted street prostitutes in Sydney. The reader is referred to previous comments on the effects of a law change in 1983 driving women from their commercial sex income source and increasing the rate of female crimes in New South Wales (p. 145).
Table 4.10 compares the prostitute sample with the samples of the two non-prostitute groups to determine juvenile criminality.
Some 40 per cent of the prostitutes were before the authorities for juvenile offences, compared to about five per cent each of the other two groups. However, "uncontrollable" and "in moral danger" are very likely linked to juvenile promiscuity, so that, together with prostitution offences, half of these offences are for sexual misbehaviour. As pointed out earlier, drugs were a likely commitment in early adolescence, and if we deduct the "possession" offences, we find that less than a third of the offences were for crimes against the person. But what is important to note here is not committing the offence so much as being before the authorities, who act to remind the culprit that she is a criminal, a fact which may not have occurred to the person before that. This then would be the first step in processing the female adolescent into psychologically adopting an identity as "bad girl".
In the case of those who were incarcerated in a state juvenile detention centre, this is the public and institutional reinforcement of what they had already believed of themselves when they were hauled into court. Only one of the non-prostitutes was detained, and 20, or 15.6 per cent of the prostitute sample had been detained. More than half of these prostitute detainees were sentenced only the one time, while four had been sentenced more than four times and may be considered hardened juvenile offenders. This is hardly the sort of statistic to support a contention of prostitutes as criminally inclined women from early ages. These findings confirm evidence from Kerry Carrington's (1989) doctoral thesis, in which 2,046 cases of juvenile female offenders were investigated, and only I 1, or about a half per cent of the total number, had been charged with a prostitution offence. Thus, just as most prostitutes were not "bad girls", most "bad girls" do not prostitute themselves.
In some instances detention might be a preferred option to homelife. Sharleen recalls her own situation:
We liked it in there and didn't want to go back home to get more beatings from our mother. She used to go to court and fight for our release and usually get us back again just to beat us again, and then back in we would go again.
Thus, protection from a negative home environment can be as frequent a reason for detaining a juvenile as the child's behaviour. But whichever is the case, the result is the same. Juvenile detention centres are notable as hot-beds of learning about crime, so that the novice will emerge from it with more skills than simply sexual misbehaviour and petty theft.
The pattern for adult criminal behaviour is much the same as the juvenile criminality for the prostitute sample. Table 4.11 compares the three groups on adult crimes.
Once more we see that over half of the offences are for sexual behaviour and drug usage. Very few of the offences could be described as "serious crimes". Some further commentary is necessary here. Prostitution is socially perceived as a breeding ground for female criminals. This common perception makes prostitution appealing to criminal and quasi-criminal "types", whose initial involvement with prostitutes fostered the sex industry's reputation as a haven for male and female criminals. This circular pattern serves to perpetuate the popular notion, while, as we have seen, the "consorting" and "vagrancy" laws reinforce it in officialdom. So it is to be expected that within such a real or constructed scenario the crime rate among prostitutes will be higher than the general population of women. The surprise is not so much that more prostitutes than non-prostitutes have criminal records, but that this is as low as it is, given the pressures and temptations to become involved in crime that prevail in prostitution.
Also, the highly competitive, often stressful nature of the work can unleash abnormal behaviour under tension. Thus, Jeanette, who was charged with assault and malicious wounding, was driven to violence under provocation from another worker who had taunted her until she lost her temper.
On top of this, police notions about prostitutes, which are no different to the popular myths, mean that sex workers are continually under surveillance, and if arrested for prostitution, it simply begins an unwanted association with police and a criminal record.
But, as with juvenile detention, only 21, or 16.5 per cent, of the prostitute sample have been in gaol, half only once and only one person more than four times. With so few recidivists, this record is far from one expected of "hardened" criminals.
The reader might be surprised to find such a small ratio of arrests for prostitution in the sample. This is due to the more relaxed laws in New South Wales, although those with records of "soliciting", "consorting" and other prostitution-related offences are very likely women who worked prior to 1979, when, as pointed out earlier, very few sex workers escaped arrest. Sharleen can remember when arrest was a daily hazard in prostitution:
We used to get arrested every night, and once I got arrested seven times in one night. In all, I've probably been arrested about 2,000 times, at least.
But even in a legally repressive climate such as the past in New South Wales, present-day Queensland or North America, some prostitutes manage to avoid arrest. Goldstein's study (1979, p. 13) of New York street prostitutes reveals that as much as two-thirds of them escape the police cordons. Figure 4.9 (overleaf) shows the number of times the prostitute sample have been arrested for prostitution.
Less than a quarter of the sample had ever been arrested for prostitution. Those with above 20 arrests probably worked prior to 1979, whilst the rest were mostly arrested for soliciting near a dwelling, church, school or hospital. Arrests for prostitution can sometimes lead to arrests for other offences. For example, a woman taken to the police station to be charged with a prostitution related offence provides the arresting officers opportunity for further arrests. They may check her past record and discover an outstanding warrant, or they may search the contents of her handbag and discover evidence of illegal drug usage or a stolen item purchased by the woman from one of the many petty criminals who hawk stolen property around the streets, in bars and brothels. Thus, the fact that prostitutes are vulnerable to arrest for prostitution means they are more likely to be arrested for other offences than the drug using population in general or other members of the community at large.
Prostitutes' relations with police vary from mistrust to open hostility. Most of the women have had at least one unpleasant experience with a policeman. Perhaps the attitude of many policemen might be seen in an experience the author had with a police sergeant in 1982. This officer had responded to a complaint I made that a male resident on Liverpool Street had threatened a young street prostitute with a carving knife. As soon as the culprit saw the sergeant and his police companion he hid the knife inside his shirt. Although this was pointed out to the officers by those nearby who witnessed the entire event, the sergeant refused to search the man. When I insisted he do so he remarked that "If you want my opinion and the opinion of most of us at Darlinghurst (police station), if these women weren't here in the first place this sort of thing wouldn't happen", and he turned on his heel and went away. It is such attitudes which have continued to strain relations between police and prostitutes.
To gauge the extent of mistrust of police by the prostitute sample they were asked about police malpractices. The response is seen in Figure 4.10.
Although in the 1980s police demands for money from prostitutes were negligible, this was likely to have continued with some managers and owners as indicated in the Select Committee inquires in New South Wales in 1985 and the Commission of Inquiry into Police Corruption in Queensland in 1986-87 which exposed police corruption. But police corruption in Sydney was much more widespread before 1979, according to the views of many prostitutes. Lee, a Kings Cross prostitute of the 1970s comments:
Weighing in was part of the way things ran in those days. What made me angry was that hooning was an offence and the police charged a lot of guys. Yet, I used to think to myself, the cops had a legalised form of hooning.
Jeanette also worked in the 1970s:
Most of the cops weighed-in, but I've never known any to demand a "freebie", not to me anyway. I think the idea was always put to the police by the girls who flirted with them. I've worked over 20 years and I've never seen it happen where it was put on the girl. But I have known girls who put it on them. The police were more interested in money; the "freebies" they could get anyway. There's a lot of cops' wives whom I've helped put fur coats on their backs, and a lot of cops' kids whom I've helped to educate right up until the laws changed in 1979, and all of a sudden I had surplus money.
If a parlour did not pay up Zoe tells us the consequences:
The Parlour was paying protection money to a police undercover guy who came around occasionally. But the Council was trying to close us because we weren't a health studio. We began losing money because the clients were getting scared with Council men snooping around, so we didn't have the pay-offs for the cops, who began putting pressure on us to pay up or get busted. In the end the manager had no choice but to shut down and we were all out of a job.
But after the soliciting law was introduced in 1983 some of the police attempted to reinstate the previous extortion of the street workers, as Bonnie points out:
They're so corrupt in Sydney. Cops pick me up [in 1983] and say: "Well, it's like the old days girls, cough up or you're going to get busted".
Other kinds of malpractices were mentioned by the women I interviewed. Katherine mentioned one incident:
A friend of mine had drugs planted in her handbag and one detective wanted her to go down on him.
Jeanette was also a victim of some mistreatment:
It gave me lots of courage, and leaves me with nothing but contempt for them today. Of course, we were also young and cheeky, but it was a power trip for them. They'd push you and you'd say "Don't push me", but they'd push you more. So we just gave them a mouthful of cheek. For me, it was standing up for my rights. I had two cigarette burns here [her breasts] that I got from police.
In 1982 a new Vice Squad Inspector was appointed. This was Ernest Septimus Shephard, a man with a reputation for strict morals and high principles. Within a year major re-shuffles occurred in the rank and file detectives, with certain policemen being transferred to outer suburban and country stations. The corruption began to decline, and suddenly former policemen known for their extortion methods among the women ceased visiting them on the streets. Since Shephard's appointment and subsequent promotion to the Internal Investigation Branch the situation for prostitutes in Sydney has much improved.
Drug use is popularly considered to be extremely high among prostitutes (see p.255 , Table 4.1). Silbert, Pines and Lynch (1982, p. 193ff) found that 59 per cent of a sample of San Francisco street prostitutes were current users of various drugs, and 39 per cent had done so in the past. Among New York prostitutes, Goldstein (1979) found that 84 per cent of streetwalkers used heroin, 33 per cent of call girls and brothel workers were using amphetamines, 81 per cent of streetwalkers were alcohol addicted, a further 20 per cent were regular users of sedatives, and all of the sex workers were regular smokers of marijuana. With findings like these overseas, it is little wonder that a common assumption of prostitutes as drug addicts prevails in the community.
George Klein (1983) in Sydney in 1982 found a 76 per cent rate of heroin addiction, costing as much as $3,000 a week for some individuals, in a sample of 101 street prostitutes. Perkins and Bennett in 1983 found 27 per cent of their sample of 121 inner city brothel and street prostitutes were regular drug users, while in another sample of 91 prostitutes who had sheltered in a woman's refuge in Kings Cross they found 69 per cent addicted to drugs. They concluded:
Boredom, frustration, lack of opportunities for employment, emotions in everyday relations, peer pressures, all play their part in making young women conform to the experimentation with drugs that goes on in various youth cults. In the end prostitution is the only work that will supply the necessary money (Perkins &Bennett 1983, p. 243).
But prostitution itself can also be stressful enough to indicate a need for powerful drugs. Bondage mistress Kellie describes her experience:
I wasn't coping with screwing all these guys, and from the first night when I screwed 14 men I knew I was going to need something a little stronger than smoking dope. I was using heavily and started to go into debt - my money outlay was way over my inlay. I dropped a trip one night at work in the middle of a B &D job. I cracked up completely and I guess I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I became so hooked on drugs, so introverted, and in the end I was living in this one-room cold water place with a mattress on the floor, no blankets, no sheets, no food, no nothing, and finally someone rang up the drug rehab centre.
Table 4.12 indicates the type of drugs used by the three sample groups in this study in their past.
From this it is apparent that prostitutes are more likely to have higher drug consumptions than health-workers, students and the broad female population. However, what is learned from this comparison is that, whilst more prostitutes took more drugs, neither of the other two groups are entirely free from drug addiction, and, in fact, we find that only 15 per cent less of the prostitutes than the health-workers never took any drugs regularly in the past.
The next question that arises is when these women began taking drugs. The results of this can be seen in Table 4.13.
This pattern bears a broad resemblance to the configurations of the early sexual experiences, initial coitus and first love affairs in that the two non-prostitute groups have higher ratios in pre-pubescence, and the prostitutes lead in early adolescence with some levelling in mid-adolescence., The differences are slight but it might reflect a parallel between drug experimenting and sexual maturity in adolescence. What is even more significant is the relationship between earliest drug taking and entrance into prostitution. Table 4.13 shows that nearly a third of the prostitutes had begun experimenting with drugs when under the age of 16, while between 16 and 18 more than a quarter of the sample commenced drug taking. Figure 4.6 shows us that a little more than five per cent of the prostitutes entered prostitution when under the age of 16, and over a quarter did so at 16 to 18. Figure 4.5 indicates that only about 9 per cent of the prostitutes began prostitution because of a drug habit. What all of this suggests is that whilst most of the prostitutes were experimenting with drugs in their early to mid-adolescence, only a small number of them entered prostitution because of it. In other words most of these drug takers were not sufficiently addicted at that stage to seek prostitution as a source to pay for their habits. Most were regular users of tobacco, alcohol and various "pills" for a "booster" or to complete a "stone". The minority of drug-addicted teenagers who entered prostitution in order to pay for expensive habits were very likely committed to costly drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
One of the drugs most used by prostitutes is tobacco. Many of the women in brothels complain that boredom sitting around waiting for clients is responsible for smokers increasing their consumption. Table 4.14 compares the prostitute sample with the other two groups.
The two non-prostitute groups correspond with a survey of females in New South Wales. The youngest of the groups, the students, are parallel with the census figure of 77.8 per cent of females aged 15-17 years who have never smoked, while the health-workers resemble the census population of 54.3 per cent of females aged 18-24, 51.2 per cent aged 25-34 and 55.2 per cent aged 35-44 who have never smoked. Over 30 per cent more prostitutes than the general population of females smoke on a pro rata comparison, and they smoke more cigarettes a day on an individual comparison, with over half the prostitute smokers consuming 21-40 cigarettes a day compared to only a fifth of the general female smoking population who smoke that number (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1985).
The stereotype of the hard-drinking prostitute has long been a figment of popular culture. Table 4.15 provides a more realistic picture.
The prostitutes do not appear to consume as much alcohol as the health-workers. If we accept a weekly drink as the boundary between heavy and medium drinking, then 46 per cent of the health-workers are heavy drinkers compared to 30 per cent of the prostitutes. The few prostitutes who drink more than once a day are well into the danger zone for alcoholism. In any case, all three sample groups are considerably above the New South Wales census for drinking among females, with 21 per cent of women 18-24 years, 16 per cent between 25-34 years and 19 per cent between 35-44 years moderate to heavy drinkers (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1985).
The prostitutes are by far the heaviest current consumers of a variety of cannabis products. If any particular illegal drug is a likely candidate as "the prostitutes' drug" it is cannabis. It is a pleasant social drug, which is sometimes smoked either before a job for relaxing nerves or with a client to make the time pass with less tension. As regular consumers of the drug with surplus cash, prostitutes are a prime attraction for dealers. But the problem with smoking "grass" at work is its illegality, and most cases of arrest for drug offences in brothels involves the possession of a small quantity of marijuana by one or two of the prostitutes on the premises. Consequently, most managers ban it in brothels.
Table 4.17 compares the consumption of "pills" and other drugs by prostitutes with the two non-prostitute samples.
Once again the prostitutes currently consume much larger quantities of "pills" than the other two groups. These are usually not the major drug consumed by drug-addicted prostitutes, although some of the women have made the stimulant "speed" (amphetamine) important as a means of coping with boredom in a parlour and have become addicted to it. Hallucinogenic drugs are usually avoided by most prostitutes, especially bondage mistresses, whose consumption of LSD in a dungeon could have a disastrous effect.
The public image of prostitution is often a heavily dosed heroin addict on the street propped up by a lamp-post or shop front. Many people, therefore have the impression that heroin is the major drug taken by prostitutes. They are wrong, of course, as heroin was a drug in use mainly among streetwalkers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With the introduction of methadone treatment programs, heroin addiction has declined considerably over the past few years, although cocaine consumption is increasing among both street addicts and other former heroin and "speed' addicts in other areas of prostitution. Tables 4.18 and 4.19 compare the consumption of these two drugs in the sample groups.
Among American prostitutes Goldstein (1979, pp. 70-86) found that a class distinction of drug use existed, with street addicts working as prostitutes using heroin and brothel prostitute drug addicts using cocaine. That distinction is less apparent in Australia (and probably now in the United States too), for, if anything, cocaine, which a few years ago was cheaper than the opiates, is gradually replacing heroin as the main street drug. The prostitutes in the sample were surveyed in 1985-86, and the above figures reflect the earlier stages of this process, with an infrequent use of cocaine and a more committed use of heroin, as though they were still "dabbling" with the former. I suspect that in time cocaine (or its derivative "crack") will have all but replaced heroin as the major intravenous drug, just as it seems to have done in the United States.
Philpot, Harcourt and Edwards (1989, p. 499ff) have investigated prostitutes attending the Sydney Hospital STD Centre to determine the effect of drugs on their health, especially intravenous drugs as a major contributor of AIDS. The study involved two samples: 122 sex workers in 1985, and 150 in 1987. Both groups were almost exclusively brothel workers. Of the earlier group 18 per cent took tranquillisers, 6 per cent amphetamines, 42 per cent marijuana, 15 per cent cocaine and I I per cent heroin. Of the latter group 26 per cent took sleeping pills, 8 per cent tranquillisers, 19 per cent amphetamines, 48 per cent marijuana, 16 per cent cocaine and 11per cent heroin. On smoking tobacco both groups were similar, with 36 per cent in 1987 non-smokers, 14 per cent up to I 0 cigarettes a day, 13 per cent smoking up to 20, 28 per cent up to 30 and 9 per cent above 30. There are broad similarities between this and the present study, with striking correspondence in marijuana and tobacco use. Philpot et al. (1989) concluded that differences in drug use between prostitutes and non-prostitutes related to the work experiences in commercial sex. This has already been noted in relation to cigarette and marijuana smoking.
Goldstein (1979, pp. 53-70) thought that most intravenous drug-using prostitutes had entered prostitution to support their habits. This was also the case in the present study, but it is not the case for drugs generally. However, as with cigarettes, it does seem that more prostitutes with habits of marijuana, narcotics and "pills" increased their consumption since working as prostitutes rather than decreased it. Figure 4.11 confirms this.
Undoubtedly, prostitutes take more drugs more often than non-prostitute women. In the case of intravenous drugs, such as heroin and cocaine (which is inhaled as well), sex work was undertaken to support the habit. In the case of other drugs, as well as tobacco, there is a tendency to increase an existing habit but this was not the reason for entering prostitution in the first instance.
An important reason for the nexus between drugs and prostitution is drug dealers, along with other peddlers and penny capitalists of commodities (such as "hot" property), who are attracted to the surplus cash of prostitutes. With various drugs pushed under their noses and with the power to purchase expensive items, it is little wonder that so many prostitutes indulge in drug consumption, one of modem society's most sought after luxuries. To a much lesser extent some prostitutes will seek out drugs as a means of relieving stress at work. Finally, between ten and fifteen per cent of sex workers use prostitution just to support their drug habits.
As with crime and drugs, sexually transmitted diseases (STDS) are considered in popular thought to be closely associated with prostitution as a source for public contagion with its high level ratio of infection among prostitutes. In the climate of fear following the spread of AIDS throughout the community, prostitutes are often assumed to be a "high risk" group by the public, the press and health authorities regardless of contrary evidence. As always, the truth paints a very different picture. In 1983 the World Health Organization claimed that no more than 6 per cent of male cases of STDs were contracted through female prostitution. In 1985 the NSW Select Committee On Prostitution (1985, p. 154) was informed that: 11 probably around 10 per cent of the total incidence of STD in New South Wales is prostitution-derived". But with less than 0.06 per cent of the State's females regularly employed as prostitutes, and only 4 per cent or 5 per cent of the male population (see next Section) as regular customers, this is a considerable output. Thus, while not a cauldron for diseases for the community at large, prostitution may still be an important contributor.
There are, nevertheless, many conflicting studies on the subject of contagion in prostitution. Conrad, Klefis, Rush and Darrow in 1981 tested 237 Atlanta prostitutes and found 20 per cent infected with Neisseria gonorrhoea. They compared these findings with those of studies elsewhere, such as an infection rate among prostitutes of 28 per cent in Fresno, 42 per cent in Agra, 51 per cent in Butare, 62 per cent in Stuttgart and 63 per cent in Colorado Springs. They were forced to conclude that prostitutes were "major transmitters of gonorrhoea and other sexually transmitted diseases" (Conrad et al. 1981, p. 244). An investigation of patient files at Sydney's STD Centre revealed that of 100 prostitutes who sought a total of 695 medical screenings, nearly a quarter were found to be infected (Jones 1984, p 303).
The recent findings have a remarkable similarity with earlier studies. For instance, in the mid- 19th century, medical practitioner, William Sanger (1858), investigated some 2,000 New York prostitutes and found 41 per cent with infections. At the turn of the century Flexner (1914) reported rates of infection among registered brothel inmates in Berlin at between 22 per cent and 32 per cent. Rosenthal and Vandow (1958, p. 94ff) found that an infection rate of 24 per cent for gonorrhoea in New York Prostitutes in 1946 had declined to five per cent in 1956, no doubt due to the widespread use of penicillin as treatment as well as improved methods of prevention. The cruder methodologies for detection and investigation in these earlier studies compared to current medical diagnoses make some of them unreliable.
There are also conflicting findings on the role of the brothel in STD infections. Some argue that its presence contains disease. When authorities closed the famous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Fayette County, Texas, on moral grounds in 1973, cases of gonorrhoea in the local population spread from 12 in the period 1967-72 to 93 between 1974-79, while syphilis increased from 12 to 17 cases in the same time. There appears some evidence that the brothel had minimised the spread of infection, but William Darrow (1984) pointed out that a rise in population following an oil boom or more diligent screening for gonorrhoea are other factors that should be considered. On the other hand, a study conducted by Basil Donovan in a Sydney brothel over a period of a year provided opposite evidence. In that time he screened 70 prostitutes on a regular basis, discovering 53 episodes of gonorrhoea, or a weekly rate of 10 per cent new infections. Among new workers he found an infection rate of 44 per cent in their first month of work, compared to only a weekly yield of 5.5 per cent of infections contributed by the regular workers, which, he feels, may be due to the latter's greater ability to detect infections in their clients. Lack of awareness in uses of prophylaxis were probable causes. Donovan (1984a, p. 268ff) concluded that the situation might best be rectified through cooperation between brothel managers and health authorities.
Table 4.20 compares the three sample groups in the present study to determine which STD infections they have experienced.
The pattern of the three groups varies slightly in order of STD prevalence, but in all cases thrush is the most prevalent by far. The fact that this infection does not always occur through sexual transmission alters the rate of infection between the three groups very slightly compared to other rates of infection. What is most striking about the configuration, though, is its similarity in overall pattern to the ratio of previous drug uses. In other words, about 19 per cent less of the prostitutes than the health-workers, and 15 per cent less of them than the students were never infected nor indulged in drugs. The connection here is not clear, except that sex work and social experiences somehow increases the likelihood of contagion and addiction (for example the older health-workers possess greater experiences of life than the younger students).
Table 4.20 demonstrates that the work of prostitution puts women at considerably greater risk of gonorrhoea, hepatitis B (more likely through intravenous drug use sharing of needles) and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and at moderately higher risk of herpes, chlamydia, trichomonas, warts and lice infections. Table 4.21 compares the frequency of infection.
This Table makes it clear that while prostitutes might be more likely to be infected, the rates of recurring diseases are not any more frequent than the non-prostitutes. They are not, therefore, continually infectious creatures. In a study by the Sydney STD Centre 132 prostitute patrons were infected most with thrush (64 per cent), gonorrhoea (58 per cent), trichomonas (52 per cent), herpes (51 per cent), and chlamydia (46 per cent), while a control group of 55 non-prostitutes followed the same pattern, except for gonorrhoea and much lower constellations of overall occurrence. But, interestingly, the pattern of recurrence was almost identical (Philpot et al. 1988, p. 195).
The impact of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) on Australian society has wrought changes in prostitution, as in all other social groups where the transmission of human fluids between individuals has played a large part. Table 4.20 indicates not a single case of seropositive human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the viral cause of AIDS, among this sample of prostitutes surveyed in 198586. About the same time the Sydney STD Centre tested 132 prostitute patrons for HIV and also reported no cases of seropositivity (Philpot et al. 1988, p. 195). In the United States, where the disease has existed longer and is more entrenched in the population, similar results of either negative infection or very small numbers of infected prostitutes have also been reported. The US Federal Centres for Disease Control conducted a massive national survey of prostitutes and found 1. I per cent seropositive women in a sample of 94 mostly female prostitutes in Georgia, none among 34 brothel prostitutes in Nevada, 1.4 per cent in 71 Colorado Springs women, 4.3 per cent in 184 Los Angeles women, 6.2 per cent in 146 San Francisco women and 57.1 per cent in 56 intravenous drug using women in New Jersey. In all these cases there was a close correlation between seropositivity and intravenous drug use and women with histories of other STDs were more likely to contract HIV (Centres for Disease Control 1987, pp. 157-61). There have been a number of more recent studies whose findings continue to support this trend in America (see Cohen et al. 1988; Fischl et al. 1987; New York Times, 20 September 1988).
In Europe no seropositivity was located in samples of prostitutes in London, Paris and Nuremberg (Smith &Smith 1986, p. 1392), but 6 per cent of 200 prostitutes in Athens were reported seropositive, none of whom were known as intravenous drug users (Papaevangelou 1985, p. 10 1 8). Reports of infection in Africa are far more alarming. In Rwanda 88 per cent of 33 prostitutes were reported as seropositive (van de Perre et al. 1985, p. 245), while in Kenya 54 per cent of 90 sex-workers were found to be seropositive, most of whom bore symptoms of AIDS Related Complex (Kreiss et al. 1986, p. 414ff). It must be realised, though, that in central Africa there is a much higher ratio of casual prostitution than in western countries, that the social identification of "prostitute" is much more broadly applied (as it was in early colonial Australia), and the ratio of HIV infection in the population is as high for females as it is for males (it is much more heterosexually located than in Australia).
In 1985 no Australian female prostitutes were seropositive. However, by 1989 a handful of street prostitutes with histories of intravenous drug use were found seropositive in Sydney and Melbourne. The New South Wales Liberal Government reaction to the situation indicated panic and repression of individuals, with one prostitute involuntarily detained in hospital (see p. 156). This hard handed response, so reminiscent of 19th century attitudes seen in the Contagious Diseases Acts, attempts to level blame on the individual and a particular group, such as, in this case, prostitutes. Both gay and prostitute advocates have demanded the removal of the tag "high risk group", since it perpetuates the existing stigmas of homosexuals and sex workers, and insisted on replacing it with the term "high risk activities" (referring to sex without a condom and the sharing of needles for example), because most gay men and prostitute women are now practising safe sex.
What is safe sex for prostitutes? Condom use with every client is essential, although some prostitutes switch to bondage services to avoid sexual contact altogether. In America the use of condoms among prostitutes has increased with the spread of AIDS. The Centres for Disease Control in 1987 (p. 158) reported that 16 per cent of prostitutes use condoms with every customer, 80 per cent do so at least some of the time and 4 per cent use them with both their clients and their private sex partners. Sydney STD Centre researchers found that patrons to the clinic had changed their sexual habits quite dramatically. In 1985 less than 20 per cent in a sample of 132 prostitutes used condoms in 80 per cent of their sexual contacts, but in 1987, following a series of explicit television ads in the so-called "Grim Reaper" media campaign by the Federal Government's National AIDS Council, 71 per cent of 200 prostitutes were using condoms on more than 80 per cent of their client contacts. The probable result of this change in habits was a decline in episodes of STDs from 70 cases in 1986-87 to only 30 in 1987-88 in 50 prostitutes attending the STD centre (Harcourt et al. 1989a, p. 4ff). It is possible that prostitutes regularly attending STD centres do not represent the broad population of prostitutes, since many, if not most, seek medical screening from private practitioners.
Figure 4.12 indicates precaution against disease taken by the sample of 128 prostitutes.
Irregular use of condoms, washing and douching after each client and inserting a sponge or diaphragm into the vagina are not sufficient methods of prevention. Medical testing is only satisfactory for detecting infection and is only useful for this purpose until the next sexual contact. In fact, some diseases, HIV for example, have long incubation periods and may not be detected in an initial test but will be exposed only in subsequent tests. The only safe method of precaution is the use of condoms on every occasion. But even here with a condom failure rate of around 1: 121 (see Richters et al. 1988, p. 1488) this is not absolutely foolproof. It is, though, as safe as you can expect and with infection rates of HIV, for instance, much lower than that, the likelihood of being infected with AIDS from a single burst condom in a hundred sexual contacts in a client pool of 40,000 men is extremely minimal. As Figure 4.12 shows, more than 30 per cent of the prostitutes at that time were at considerable risk of infection from one kind or another of STDS. In more recent times, brothel owners have responded positively and most houses now have a mandatory condom policy, or at the minimum, each woman has the final choice (personal communication, Sydney brothels; see also Harcourt et al. 1988b, p. 540).
Medical testing has become essential for most prostitutes. Over 48 per cent of the sample said they sought testing for HIV antibodies once a month, and a further 39 per cent did so less frequently. The Sydney STD Centre reported a slight increase in numbers of prostitutes seeking HIV antibody test shortly after the "Grim Reaper" media campaign, but the frequency dropped to normal in subsequent months (Harcourt et al. 1988). Thus, there appears to be increases in medical checks as levels of anxiety rise. But growing awareness of proper prevention should reduce both anxiety and these "panic" tests.
Figure 4.13 indicates the frequency of medical screening by the sample of 128 prostitutes in the present study.
Over half of the prostitutes felt it necessary to have medical checks every week. Due to the incubation variation of diseases it is probably insufficient for detecting every infection in a week, and if the person is safeguarded by condoms on every sexual contact it is certainly excessive. But weekly checks assure some brothel managers that their staff are "clean", and, especially in brothels where the use of condoms is forbidden, it is considered necessary to protect the customer. However, apart from the complete lack of sensitivity for the worker, it is far from a positive security for clients. Such prevention methods are only as good as the medical report provided a week or so after the check-up, and then only for those diseases detected. In the meantime the worker may have been infected by her next client and will continue working and unwittingly infecting as many as 50 men a week until the report is known to her. She will be laid off, but it is too late. Unfortunately, such false security precautions are too often profit-motivated with an attitude that workers are a dispensable component of the business.
Another problem facing prostitutes in the workplace is the possibility of pregnancy. In an effort to avoid such a crisis the worker has to take precautions. Table 4.22 compares contraception methods employed by the three sample groups in this study.
The most outstanding feature of this configuration is the much higher ratio of prostitutes using more contraceptive devices. This obviously reflects their repugnance for failing pregnant to a client. This contradicts the response by a handful of sex workers who use no contraceptive device whatsoever, unless these women are regular users of condoms, whose main purpose is to avoid disease but of course it serves the extra function of preventing pregnancy.
Other health problems in prostitution have been reported. "Dr Mack", whose Kings Cross practice introduced him to many concerns of prostitutes working in the area, found fatigue, emotional stress, poor nutrition, and injuries from assaults common health hazards in their lifestyles. Improper hygiene was also a concern. One patient suffered cervix malignancy due to advanced syphilis, and another had acute salpingitis due to PID (Perkins & Bennett 1985, pp. 274-8). Donovan (1984b, p. 272ff) also noted stress due to competition, tension with management, overwork, chronic depression and over indulgence in social activities common to brothel workers he treated regularly in a western suburbs premises. Thai prostitutes in the present study complained of continual pelvic pain due to their small frames accommodating relatively large size penises of Australian men. Although most brothels in metropolitan Sydney are scrupulously clean places with generally healthy spatial environments, some are obviously unhygienic and unkempt, adding to the problems of over-stressed workers.
In this study there are clearly more prostitutes than non-prostitutes involved in crime, drug addiction and disease contagion. On closer inspection it is not a matter of the majority of prostitutes, but 37 per cent more of them committed criminal offences than the health-workers; 15 per cent more of them took drugs at some time; and 19 per cent more were infected with STDS. In other words, it is a matter of degree not kind. The evidence throughout points to a clear fact. It is not so much that criminals, drug addicts and women deliberately testing fate with diseases are more inclined towards sex work, but that women who enter prostitution significantly increase the probability of involvement in crime, taking more drugs and being infected more often.
Pimps and patrons : the "boys" in the business
By now the reader should be used to the fact that prostitution consists of many facets. For instance, the workplace or workspace, the price structure, equipment (such as B & D items, condoms, or clothing), working conditions, are all examples of inanimate components. The owner of premises, the brothel manager, parlour receptionist, the prostitute, the client, the pimp, are examples of the human components. To date we have spent most of the time investigating one component, the prostitute. We will now deal briefly with two male figures, the pimp and the customer. All the human components relate to one another in different ways. The prostitute, for example, treats the client as a business contact. In spite of the physical intimacy of this contact, she offers superficial affection and will restrict the kinds of activities she will do with him. With her pimp, on the other hand, she offers loving affection, and will be prepared to maximise their sexual activities in an emotional union of mutual pleasure.
Let us begin with the pimp. "Pimp" is a term often interchangeable with "panderer" or "procurer", and possibly derived from the French "pimpant", meaning seductive (Oxford Dictionary etymology). In universal legal terms it refers to a person, usually a male, who "lives on the earnings of a prostitute", even if the prostitute is happy with the arrangement. Popular culture has created an image of the pimp as a brutal standover man who uses intimidation tactics to take most of the prostitute's earnings for his own keep. It is this image along with a common notion that the man should be the breadwinner not the woman that underscores the law on "pimping". For most prostitutes, however, men usually described as "pimps" are their lovers or husbands, whom they choose to support. Often these men act as protector or "sitter", driver, or have some other task established for them by their prostitute girlfriends or wives. There are many varying points of view on the role of the pimp. In one American study (Collier 1965, p. 120) it was claimed that most prostitutes have pimps and in England one writer (Mancini 1963, p. 73) thought that 80 per cent of prostitutes had them in the 1960s. Silbert and Pines' (1982b, p. 395ff) study of San Francisco street and juvenile prostitutes in the 1980s indicates that two-thirds of the women supported men. In West Germany the New South Wales Select Committee (1986, p. 96) found that "the practice of male 'pimping' has been almost institutionalised throughout the large cities." In Sydney in the 1960s and 1970s brothel worker Lisa informs us that "nearly all the girls had blokes (pimps)". Street prostitute Lee at the same time points out:
There were plenty of pimps around 20 years ago. Most of these hoons [pimps] only had one lady, but there were the few clever ones who managed to have two - one at one end of Kings Cross and another at the other end - and spend their whole night running backwards and forwards between them.
In Sydney it is mostly an arrangement not unlike ordinary heterosexual coupling, but in America it seems closer to the popular stereotype:
A player [pimp] may have anywhere from one to twenty ladies, although two or three is most common. While the woman is walking the streets, hanging out in bars, or patrolling hotel lobbies, the player is out "on the set", moving through the "scene" of the city's night life (Milner 1972, p. 9).
Gail Sheehy describes the behaviour of pimps in New York:
The street pimp demands his girls bring in from $200 to $250 a night. The girls rarely see more than 5 per cent. The pimp pockets all and doles out "walking around money", $5 at a time. Because of his neurotic need to prove total control, the pimp makes no allowance for a girl who can't meet her quota (Sheehy 1973, p. 5).
Karen, a Sydney prostitute of the 1950s, describes a ploy used by her pimp to get her involved withz him and sex work initially:
This guy used to live off girls and he was the one who got me started off on the game. He introduced me to other girls whom I thought were terribly glamorous, not the type I thought prostitutes should look like. This hoon kept telling me how much money I could make. I was mad for the guy at the time and would have done anything for him. He told me he owed a couple of guys money and couldn't I do it for him a couple of times to help him out. I must have been a real dope, but he was so persuasive and, as I said, I was mad over him.
We have already seen how Jeanette was first put on the street by her husband (pp. 215-16) and how Kelly agreed to work for a lover in order to have him for herself (p. 261). Margaret first went on the street to work for a female pimp:
I was 13 and had run away from Ashfield [girl's reformatory] and it was my first time up the Cross. I met this lady of 30 something. She was really a mother figure and all these models were after her, but I got her. It was for her that I worked. She had other girls working for her on the street but I felt really secure with her. I remember the first time I went out and she was saying: "Go on, you can do it." I was standing in Victoria Street still in my school uniform with her saying: "It's OK, just ask them if they want a girl." She used to bash me around, but I never got it off the ground at that stage. I did a few hand jobs, but no sex.
Obviously love is a major medium by which pimps get women involved in prostitution just to support them. But, in case the reader might be persuaded to think that this is a common method of entry into the sex industry a glance back to Figure 4.5 shows that only 5.5 per cent of the sample of 128 prostitutes entered prostitution to support a man.
Pimps are often drug dealers, petty criminals with one foot outside the law, or men seeking petty power. Margaret:
I had this guy, a pimp. Really tall and skinny he was, and he slept with a shotgun under his bed. He had four girls working for him. He was really mean, but in a strange sort of way I really felt safe with him around. I thought he was good because he supplied me with as much dope as I wanted. But I found I wasn't making any money. He was taking it all and just giving me dope.
Pimps in Munich, according to Barbara Yondorf, are responsible for 90 per cent of crimes associated with prostitution, while prostitutes only cause 10 per cent (Yondorf 1979, p. 423). But a number of crimes go undetected; assault of a pimp against a prostitute, for example. Silbert and Pines (1982b) found that over half their sample of 200 street and juvenile prostitutes were regularly beaten by their pimps:
In 50 per cent of these cases the women accepted it as a way of life, felt they deserved it, or were flattered by it as a sign of caring: [a prostitute told them] "It made him feel like more of a man and I felt it was my duty." (Silbert & Pines 1982b, p. 398).
There is a strong sense of masochism in this kind of attitude. Margaret also seemed to be constantly on the receiving end of some pimp's exploitation or brutalisation. She mentions another pimp who "upended me out of a top story window and held onto me by my heels". The sadomasochism apparent in these kinds of relationships might be an outcome of the pimp's own insecurity as a man having to depend on women for an income, or, as a lesson in fear (that is "leave me and you'll get worse treatment"). Karen discovered the extent of violence in her pimp when she attempted to leave him:
When I broke away from him eventually he gave me a bit of a hard time and one night he followed a girlfriend and I to a club, where he threw a bottle of beer at us. In the end I got some heavies to have a word with him and he stopped pestering me.
The role of the pimp in prostitution is very much overrated. Rather than simply brutalising there is another side to the relationship between pimp and prostitute. One German study, in fact, found that a quarter of the pimps end up marrying the women they had depended upon (Niss 1971, p. 13). This study also found that half of the pimps had emerged from broken homes, which might be responsible for the anger and aggression they unleash on the unfortunate prostitutes under their control. But there appears to be room for loyalties, alliances and even love in a world of broken dreams, shattered egos, lonely people and a subculture of violence. Benjamin and Masters found a side to the relationship rarely found in popular imagery:
[The pimp] is the only man a girl can talk to. When she comes home in the wee hours of the morning after drawing three freaks in a row, after being "burned" (robbed) and in general having a bad night, it's her pimp who understands. If she feels like sex (as opposed to work) the pimp is ready to oblige. If she is arrested, he is there with bail and lawyer and sympathy. Her pimp is her own private boyfriend who provides her with what little emotional warmth he is capable of (Benjamin & Masters 1964, p. 226).
But as has been said a number of times so far throughout this book, the pimp is a figure that has almost disappeared in Australian prostitution, unless you wish to take the literal meaning of the law and include every man (or woman) who falls in love with, lives with, marries, and is gladly supported in whole or in part by a prostitute.
The customer is very different to the pimp. Whereas the pimp is an irregular, often peripheral figure in prostitution, the man who seeks the services of a prostitute is a quintessential component in commercial sex. Quite simply, without him the business would not exist in the first place. As one prostitute put it: "I see all my customers as $20 bills with arms and legs." Thus, sexual relations in commercial sex is biproductive, with an economic gain for the woman involved and an erotic satisfaction for the male customers. Just as the client views the prostitute as nothing more than a sexual object, so the sex worker feels no obligation to humanise her relations with her customer. Most prostitutes are contemptuous of their clients as men who are cheating on a woman, viz. their wives, fiances, girlfriends. This, coupled with the blatant objectification of prostitutes as women, the base unimaginative lust in most clients, and their folly in paying for sex, are the main reasons for a disdain felt by many prostitutes towards their customers, and is the source for the various terms for them in the prostitutes' argot. "Mug", for instance, among Australian prostitutes has roughly the same meaning as "sucker" in American slang. American prostitutes use the term "trick", alluding to clients' attempts at manipulating for free sex, and also "john" in reference to the clients attempts to conceal their true identity beneath a common pseudonym. English prostitutes call their clients "punters", with the same essential meaning as on the racetrack: that is, they gamble their money away. But these conceptual attempts at providing the prostitutes with a sense of superiority over their clients have an ironic ring. Society, with its male and morality dominated values, perceives the client's interaction with the prostitute as a sex object, his polygynous nature, and his open sexuality as "normal" behaviour, while the prostitutes' promiscuity, economic drive and control over sexual interactions is considered "abnormal". Thus, the client-prostitute relation is complex and contradictory.
Very few studies have been made of clients of prostitutes (in Table 1.1 studies of mates generally in prostitution are less than I per cent of all prostitution studies). Charles Winick (1962, p. 289) was one of the first psychologists to focus on clients. In his study of 732 men who frequented prostitutes he argued that men who seek sex from prostitutes are disturbed in some way, evidence which has received much the same scepticism from later researchers as the earlier claims about prostitutes by psychoanalysts. More substantial was Martha Stein's (I 974) study of 1,230 clients of 64 American call girls. Hers was a remarkable piece of research involving observation and some psychoanalysis, by which she devised nine "types" of clients. Since many of the clients discussed by prostitutes in the present study seemed to fall into one or more of these "types", Stein's typology serves as good basic categorisation of a general client population.
The Opportunists: treat prostitutes purely as sexual repositories, establish no relationship with any of the women, and have minimal contact with them.
The Fraternisers: visit prostitutes in pairs or groups. Their visits are mainly male social affairs involving women only as peripheral companions.
The Promoters: seek personal satisfaction and peer prestige by encouraging other men to visit prostitutes they know. In return they expect emotional support from the women and a kind of non-sexual relationship with them.
The Adventurers: are mostly young men seeking sexual experimentation. They require a kind of therapeutic relationship with the women during their sexual explorations.
The Lovers: seek romantic attachments with prostitutes. They are usually older men who wish to rescue the women from a life of crime and corruption.
The Friends: are usually married, middle-aged and seek to have prostitutes as companions or second wives supplying sex on demand.
The Guardians: are usually the oldest "type". They see themselves as protectors of young prostitutes, perceived as "child-women".
The Juveniles: can be of any age but usually single. They prefer older prostitutes for the opposite reason to the "Guardians" seeking the younger ones. They want mother-figures.
The Slaves: wish to be dominated by prostitutes and seek humiliation in order to express homosexual, infantile, transvestite or exhibitionist fantasies.
Unlike Winick, who sought a universal character in clients, Stein found in them a sexual diversity that reflects the complex nature of the human male mind. The ratio of clients to each of these "types" varies considerably from one category to the next, from 4 per cent for the "Juveniles" to 17 per cent for the "Adventurers".
The numbers of clients seen by prostitutes in a given period of time vary according to the individual's personality, looks and number of services she is prepared to offer. It also varies according to the kind of prostitution, so that generally street prostitutes see a larger number of clients than brothel workers, who have more clients than private prostitutes. Figures 4.14 and 4.15 show the number of clients and percentage of regulars in the sample of 128 prostitutes.
According to Figure 4.14 the sample's average weekly number of clients is about 30 per woman. The women with above 60 clients are streetwalkers, while those below 20 are "call girls", escorts and part-time brothel workers. This average corresponds with some other studies. Stein ( 1974, p. 24), for instance, put the ratio of clients to prostitutes at 30: 1, and an earlier estimate for Sydney was 40 clients per prostitute a week (Wilson1971, p. 67). McLeod(1982, p. 12), however, estimated only 17 clients a week for her sample of Birmingham women. The latter probably reflects the high number of part-time workers in England.
Taking the estimate for "professional" prostitutes in Sydney in a given week (p. 17) and the average number of clients per woman also in a week, we find that approximately 30,000 men visit these women each week. Of course, some prostitutes may see the same man, if he is in the habit of moving about among prostitutes quite frequently, while, on the other hand, a number of men visit prostitutes as little as only once in their lifetime. Also, a number of tourists see prostitutes when they visit Sydney. But, to simplify for the purpose of a statistical guide, if we take the 30,000 men as visiting prostitutes only once a week and all of the men are Sydney residents, we can estimate that about I in 40 Sydney men, or 2.5 per cent of the male population aged 15-64 years, visit prostitutes a week. (The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated population for Sydney at 30 June 1988 was 3,594,400. Approximately half of this number were males. The percentage of males between the ages of 15 and 64 years in the Australian male population was 65.8 per cent, or approximately two-thirds of all males. Thus, 30,000 clients of prostitutes a week in a Sydney population of 1,196,133 males aged 15-64 years is about I in 40 men). Four decades earlier Kinsey and his colleagues (1948, pp. 249-59) found that about two-thirds of all American men had visited a prostitute at least once in their lifetime, and 15 per cent to 20 per cent were regular visitors. Gagnon and Simon (1972, pp. 222-3) claim that there were drastic declines in clientele in the 1960s and 1970s due to the growth of permissiveness in the so-called "sexual revolution". But rather than a sudden "revolution", Kinsey and his co-workers visualised an "evolution" of sexual permissiveness throughout this century. In their study of American females 14 per cent of women born prior to 1900 had experienced pre-marital coitus, compared to 39 per cent of those born after 1900 (Kinsey et al. 1953, pp. 298-302). AIDS too has been held to blame for "killing" the sex business, and indeed there was a rapid decline of up to 50 per cent of client turnover in the few years following the public hysteria on AIDS. But this appeared much more catastrophic than it actually was, because all it did was speed up a process of decline that has been evident for at least a quarter of a century but probably began in the 1920s.
Figure 4.15 on percentage of regulars is a reflection of this position, with well over half the prostitutes having less than a fifth of their clients as regulars. In a commercially buoyant situation, not only would more men be visiting prostitutes more often but we could expect a regular clientele for individual prostitutes much higher than this ratio. The older prostitutes recall the 1960s when they turned over between 80 to I 00 clients in brothels per week each and at least half of these were men who saw them on a regular weekly to monthly basis. Prostitutes today complain that clients circulate among brothels much more than they use to, perhaps in search of women or premises still willing to see them without using condoms. The pattern of client regularity, though, varies between types of prostitution. Thus, while streetwalkers see the most clients, their rate of regulars is lowest, and among "call girls" they have the lowest number of clients but the highest ratio of regulars. Among brothel workers the ratio of regular clients tends to be intermediate between the two. Street and brothel prostitution tend to depend on passing trade, while "call girls" are more dependent on regular clientele.
Where do the clients come from? This can vary from woman to woman, depending on their age, appearance and type of prostitution. Cassandra, 38 years old and an East Sydney brothel worker says: "most of them are married, working-class guys, between 40 and 60." June, 29 years old, North Shore parlour worker: " 18 to under 30 years most of them, a mixture of married and single men, and I suppose 60/40, middle to working class." Kelly, 31 years old, street worker: "Majority are middle-aged, half would be married, a lot of Italians, Greeks, Lebanese." Martine, 26 years old, bondage mistress: "Very poor men cannot come to see us very often because our sessions are very expensive. We don't get Asians, Australian Aboriginal men, nor black men from different countries. Basically we get mostly Anglo men." Laura, 32 years old, "call girl": "About half are married, a lot have just gotten a divorce, and a lot of old men who can't see anybody anymore. I do have a fair share of lawyers and doctors, and those in the upper echelon with their Rolls and Bentleys. But there are also those who work on the railways and are labourers. I find it interesting because I get to meet men I wouldn't normally meet otherwise." The impressions of the prostitute sample are illustrated in Figures 4.16 and 4.17.
The consensus among the prostitute sample is that almost three-quarters of the women estimate their married clients to represent from a half to three-quarters of their clientele, while over two-thirds of the women felt that their clientele was either equally mixed working and middle-class men or of an indeterminate mixture of classes. It would seem that clients' class depends more on the location of the brothel or "call girl" than on the type of prostitution. Thus, in street and inner city brothels there is likely to be an indeterminate mixture of classes among clients, while clients visiting northern and eastern suburb brothels and "call girls" are likely to be predominantly middle class, and those visiting western and southern brothels to be predominantly working class. Combining data from both the sample and the women interviewed, the following client profile presents itself. The men are mostly middle-aged and married, with all social classes more or less equally represented, and a variety of ethnic backgrounds, except in B & D, where Anglo-Australian men, who are generally middle class, predominate.
Among other studies, Stein (1974) found that most of her call girl's clients were middle class and married; Velarde (1975, p. 113) found that most men visiting legal brothels and call girls in Nevada were married while those going to streetwalkers were single; and Burnstin and James (1971, p. 5ff) found that clients of Seattle prostitutes generally were mostly married, over 30 and half were professionals and businessmen. Decker's (1979, p. 169) midwest American streetwalkers' clients tended to be over 30, married and middle class. Thus, there seems to be a general agreement between these American studies and the present one.
Popular culture sometimes imagines love relationships occurring between prostitutes and clients. Movies have not failed to capitalise on this notion with male characters saving female prostitute characters from a continued life of "degradation" by falling in love with them (for example, Crimes of passion, USA 1984 & Candv Ragentag, Australia 1989) and "taking them away from all of that" (for example, Vice Squad, USA 1982). Once again, the reality is very different. Figures 4.18 and 4.19 show the sample's response to attraction to and relationships with clients.
As the figures illustrate, very few prostitutes are physically attracted to many of their clients, and even fewer develop relationships with them. The fact that a single prostitute in the sample never married a client is not to suggest that it is an impossible event (I know of at least two who have). The reason for the low frequency of attraction to clients is not that they are mostly repulsive men, since that is not true; clients are a broad representation of males in general, with some repulsive, some attractive and most average. There is a psychological resistance to the men by the women. They fall into a perceived category of men once they become clients. Just as clients, like the rest of the population, have preconceived notions about prostitutes which cloud reality, so the prostitutes have developed notions about clients as a particular male stereotype which keeps them from having a serious relationship with them. Just as most clients would not marry a "whore" (the antithesis of "chaste" women sought for marriage), so most prostitutes avoid relationships with clients. There is a sort of unwritten taboo on clients as lovers among prostitutes, and the women who do fall in love with and marry clients are generally pitied by the others. The taboo does not exclude expressing opinions about an attractive client, or even going on a date (that could be good for business), but most women avoid beginning a relationship because it could lead to love and marriage. The rationale of the taboo is self-preservation, because clients are men who cheat on other women and therefore cannot be trusted.
Earlier I discussed the limitations prostitutes put on services they will offer. Now it is time to see what men want from prostitutes in the first place. Figure 4.20 is a list of sexual acts most often requested of the prostitute sample by their clients.
There is an extraordinary almost endless repertoire of sexual requests from men, particularly in fantasy jobs. This demonstrates the remarkable sexual imagination of the human psyche. The mutual meeting ground for these limitless fantasies of the men and the limitations of the sex workers is the central dynamic of commercial sex transactions. Still, it would seem that prostitutes offer a broader range of sexual activities than the men's usual source of sex. The low ratio of coital only requests compared to "full French" and "part French and sex" could indicate that fellatio is refused by the men's wives and lovers. This would be particularly more so with older men. Stein (1974, p. 312) found that "the most common complaint about wives was that they would not stimulate their husbands orally". In Winick's (1962) study of clients 73 per cent sought out prostitutes for a sexual satisfaction their wives would not do. Even in the mid19th century Sanger's (1858-1937, p. 206) prostitutes told him the same thing. It is also true of the findings in the present study: men go to prostitutes not so much just to have sex, but to have something they can't get elsewhere. Of course, there are also many men who seek out prostitutes because they are young women, and others who respond to an unwritten male code of sexually "possessing" every woman in sight.
But sex is not all clients want. Streetwalker Kelly:
I usually get them mainly for company. I get a few who want to try kinky things, but most just want straight sex. I find they mainly just want to be with somebody, although they do have their sex as well. I suppose they think: "Oh well I better have sex since I'm paying for it." But their main interest is in talking to me.
Caroline says that many men are not particular:
I will say to them: "is there anything particular you would like?" and most of them say "No". I will give them a choice between full French and intercourse. I would rather give them French, so I try to talk them into that.
"Call girl" Laura feels that she is a refuge for weary workers:
Their requests are very unkinky, very straight-forward, very simple. Unlike a lot of American and European men, I find Australian men wanting nothing unusual. A lot of them really come to me for a little bit of affection. They don't ask for affection, but they appreciate what little affection you might show them. A good part of it is conversation. Not necessarily loneliness, but overwork. A lot are overworked guys who just want a little bit of relief.
Bondage mistress Martine speaks about her speciality clientele: "They most often want to be dominated physically, mentally and with some kind of torture or humiliation, or both."
Bondage and discipline, according to many prostitutes, is the fastest growing side of the sex industry. In ordinary brothels the women say that fantasy jobs are on the increase. It may be triggered by an item of clothing. June: "Fantasy requests increase dramatically when I'm wearing my rubber dress to about 10 per cent." Katherine: "About 25 per cent or 30 per cent of phone calls want kinky things, such as wanting me to wear nice underwear." Fetishism plays a large part. Kelly: "I have this one guy who just wants to fondle and kiss my feet." Bonnie: "I had boots on this particular night and he wanted me to kick him in the balls, harder and harder until he came." Katherine:
There's this bloke who wanted me not to wash my fanny for 24 hours. He simply liked crusty fannies. He was an old boy in his 70s who had a nanny when he was a child and she had a smelly fanny.
A comparison of clients' requests in Figure 4.20 with Table 4.7 showing requests rejected by prostitutes is instructive. Over 7 per cent of the most requested sexual acts are of the fantasy and bondage kind, and as many as 40 per cent of the prostitute sample will oblige with fantasy jobs or I I per cent who will perform heavy bondage. Thus, the most bizarre request will be complied with by some woman somewhere. As Caroline put it:
If a telephone caller is into heavy bondage we put him in touch with a bondage house. We tell him we can only cope with something light and simple. If he wants equipment and all the rest we send him elsewhere.
Figure 4.21 (overleaf) indicates the percentage of bondage and fantasy services requested by clients.
Quite obviously the 8 per cent of women who receive over 75 per cent of requests for bondage and fantasy services work in a bondage house, while the rest are women in ordinary brothels, "call girls" and streetwalkers who are sought for bizarre sexual services. Some, as we have seen, will agree to do fantasy jobs, light and medium bondage. But most find it too repugnant, particularly heavy bondage. The kind of job described by Martine below would repel most prostitutes, while the mistresses obviously got into the fun of it:
I made him jog on the spot naked with his knees up high, blindfolded, masturbating with one hand and a finger from his other hand up his anus, and rotating in a circle on the spot, with me belting him at the same time. It looked so fantastic that all the other mistresses in the staff room came and had a look.
The fantasy below described by Fatale would be more palatable for most prostitutes, at least up to drawing and sucking blood:
I have one regular who's into a vampire fantasy, in which I am the vampire. He brings along the costume, black nightgowns and other things, and we re-enact a scene which involves both fantasy and B & D. You've got to be a good actress in this job, and it's good experience for an actress.
Sado-masochism is the sexual theme for most fantasies. Laura tell us of an experience of a girlfriend of hers:
This guy wanted her to dress in a Gestapo uniform and go out in the hallway of his hotel, knock on the door of his room, yelling: "Open up you dirty Jew", and hold a gun to his head.
The motivations for such bizarre performances obviously have a deep-seated psychosexual propulsion. It may not be as simple as Katherine suggests with her old man's passion for unwashed vaginas based on the odour of his nanny, and it is obviously more complex than the automatic response to conventional sex based on cultural socialisation. The limitless variety of requests would suggest an idiosyncratic and highly individualistic libido probably dependent on a life history of situations and events leading to the specific nature of the desire. How else would you explain one man's wish to be anally penetrated by any object, while another demands that the penetrating instrument be nothing else but a cucumber? There is a powerful urge to see bondage and fantasy enactments in terms of role reversal. If, for example, ordinary sex relations have sublimated sadomasochism, as the Freudians have been telling us for years, with males dominating females, then the transvestite fantasy of a male client represents a reversal of the situation. Many cultures in the past, including European medieval societies, have had rites of reversal, in which the sexes swap clothing or the king becomes a beggar and a beggar the king for a day. Perhaps bondage and fantasy in the sex industry is a human social need to relieve the burden of responsibility and power temporarily that is no longer socially recognised in the wider community. Mistress Kellie may have a point when she said: "Too much power and authority in their own life; I guess they want to feel what it's like on the other end." But many mistresses tell me that men of all classes visit them, except, as Martine noted, poor men do so less often because bondage sessions are expensive.
Other studies have attempted to explain the presence of explicit sadomasochism in modem society. Kinsey and his colleagues (1953, p. 677) found that only 3 per cent of females frequently responded erotically to sado-masochistic stimuli, compared to IO per cent of males, although 9 per cent of females did so infrequently compared to 12 per cent of males. Obviously men either need to express it more or they have more opportunities for doing so. Janus, Bess and Saitus (1977, p. 677), in their probe into the sexual lives of America's most powerful men, found that sado-masochism was preferred to coitus among the nation's top men- once again, the association of sadomasochism with socially ascribed power. Stein (1974) found 13 per cent of her call girls' clients falling into the "slave" category, a situation with a much higher ratio than appears among the clients of my prostitute sample.
Whatever the true nature of the client's desire for humiliation there is often a fine line between reality and madness in the bondage session, which is juggled by the mistress in control. Martine:
People go crazy in sessions sometimes, but, because we're usually dominant in the arrangement we can control the situation. I've had a couple of guys freak out; not on me, but get so scared. One tried to jump out of a top storey window once, but his dick was tied to the ceiling. Had his dick not been tethered he would have killed himself. We had to jump on him and hold him down, and he cried for about 15 minutes. They get pretty close to breaking down at times, but as a mistress you have to learn people's breaking point and you have to make up your mind whether you can take him to breaking point or not. If you decide to, you are then in a position of having to bring him back to reality.
For some men bondage is not a reversal of the power structure, but a role reversal situation enabling them to release emotions normally restrained. Bondage and fantasy in prostitution acts as a safety valve for a number of social tensions in men's daily lives.
Whilst most men may not decline telling other men that they visit prostitutes for "straight" sex, very few will ever disclose visits to a mistress. Although a temporary relief of male responsibility, it is still perceived as a de-masculating experience by most men, and whoever undertakes it has a suspect masculinity. Prostitutes understand this, which is why they keep customers secluded from one another in the bondage house. But what emerges from this apparent consideration for the sensitive nature of male peer approval is that the prostitutes become collaborators in an elaborate disguise of the truth about male sexuality, for which they are well paid. That is why the more bizarre and unmasculine the man's behaviour is in a session, the more he is willing to pay. It is the price of silence written into the so-called prostitutes' code of confidentiality. Prominent men are no different to other men and will also visit prostitutes from time to time. But the cover-up is more elaborate and the fee higher. Thus, the mystique of the prostitution industry is maintained. Wives and other women are convinced that only the most desperately lonely of men and men who habitually seek sexual partners as part of their unquenchable sex drive visit prostitutes. Men know about other men's visits to a brothel; that's part of the "boys club" syndrome. But they too are convinced that only "sick" men go to mistresses. This could not be further from the truth.
Bondage is sometimes assumed to channel potentially violent men into a harmless charade of violence. Bondage mistresses will reject this notion and point out that their clients are among the most sensitive and non-aggressive of men. Prostitution generally is also sometimes argued to be a sexual diversion that keeps the rape of women to a minimum. That too is untrue, as rape analysts like Susan Brownmiller (1975) will point out with their power thesis of rape. If others think that prostitutes are able to deal with male violence better than other women because they are somehow more "hardened", then they too are totally wrong. It is a concept carried to the highest authorities, as is clearly seen in the comment of the chief prosecutor in the famous English Yorkshire Ripper trial: "Some of the victims were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not." (The Times, London 28 July 1982)
Violence is an important issue in prostitution which has the widest implications for women in general because prostitutes are not beaten, raped, or murdered simply because they are prostitutes, but are so badly mistreated because they are the most vulnerable of women. It is not that they are mainly victims of brutal pimps either. That misconception perpetuates the myth that prostitutes are victims because of prostitution and gives other women false security. Neither are they mostly murdered by psychopathic serial killers, such as "Jack the Ripper" (whose five victims were all prostitutes), Peter Sutcliffe (the so-called "Yorkshire Ripper", most of whose 13 victims were prostitutes), the "Green River" murderer who slew more than 20 street prostitutes of Seattle and dumped their bodies on the banks of the river, or the so-called "Los Angeles Ripper", a maniac responsible for the agonising deaths of I I prostitutes. Most danger done to prostitutes is by their clients; men, who as we have seen come from ordinary social and family backgrounds. The grisly toll of prostitute's deaths in Sydney, such as Marion Rooney, who was strangled to death in Kings Cross on New Years Eve 197 1, Francine Godwin, stabbed to death in her car on 20th February 197 1, and Julie Plater, bashed to death in a brothel on Christmas Eve 1985, were the result of client violence.
Studies of prostitutes in other countries show an appalling record of violence committed against the women, mostly by clients. Jennifer James (1972, p. 102ff) found two-thirds of her sample of Seattle street prostitutes were victims of assault by clients. Silbert and Pines (1982) found that 70 per cent of their sample of 200 San Franscisco street prostitutes had been raped by clients on average 31.3 times, 78 per cent had been forced into an act of perversion by clients on average 16.6 times, 65 per cent had been assaulted by clients on average 4.3 times, 45 per cent had been robbed on average 3.6 times and 65 per cent had been physically attacked by other males on average 9.2 times. Joseph Scharbert (I 974, p. 339ff) wrote that 20 prostitutes in Munich had been brutally slain between 1962 and 1972, and 30 prostitutes had been victims of armed robbery and 801 had been robbed in other ways throughout 1973. The prostitute sample in the present study were victims of rape and other violence at work to the extent shown in Figure 4.22.
From this we see that prostitutes are more vulnerable to assaults other than rape, than to rape itself. These assaults include bashing the victim with a fist or weapon, knife or razor attacks and the occasional deliberate running into a streetwalker with a car. Because violence is often spontaneous, bashing with fists is most common and usually motivated by misogyny, particularly after the client has climaxed, or a notion by the client that he has been "cheated" (he feels he didn't get his money's worth). "Car jobs" (working in a client's car) and being on premises alone are especially dangerous, leaving the woman in a most vulnerable position. But escorts and servicing house calls (going to a client's home) appear to be even more dangerous, according to the number of complaints the author has received from women involved in various kinds of sex work. Assaults or threatened violence with a weapon are usually premeditated with robbery in mind, and are less the actions of clients and more that of professional crooks. Menaces at gunpoint are not an uncommon experience in suburban brothels held up by a gang of robbers. But there have been incidences of knife and razor attacks by clients with a psychopathic hatred of women.
There are a number of reasons why rape at work is less prevalent than non-sexual assault. For one thing, the latter is quicker and less likely to cause the attacker injury. Prostitutes offer less of a challenge to rapists exerting power through sexual violence over women. Also, prostitutes are probably often technically raped without them realising it. For example, the client who goes over time in spite of protests from the woman is technically raping her, but she probably would not perceive it as a form of rape. Comparing Figure 4.22 with Table 3.38 we find that Prostitutes have been raped more often outside work. One reason for this variance could be that outside of work sexual assault is more easily identified as rape and rape by a trusted man has a much greater impact on the woman's emotions. But rape does occur in prostitution with alarming frequency. The most commonly identified forms of rape are where a client has sex with a woman and then refuses to pay her, and where women are kidnapped from the streets by a gang of youths.
Youths in vehicles are a particular menace for streetwalkers. Most often these "westies" (as they are dubbed by the women in the belief that they are young working-class men from the western suburbs) are simply an annoyance with their foul-mouthed yelling and flinging rubbish out of car windows. But sometimes a youth gang might go further, ending in a rape of a prostitute dragged into a car from the street. In a twelve-month period between December 1984 and December 1985, 46 prostitutes on William Street had been Victims Of Some Outrage and 23 of them provided the author with details of 26 episodes of violence. This included such sadistic acts as burning a woman's breasts with a cigarette, dragging another along the footpath by her nipples, and lassoing a woman and dragging her half a block behind a speeding car (reported by the author to the Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 1986, in an appeal for police protection of street prostitutes). Wolfgang and Ferracuti (1967) tried to explain youth gang violence as attempts by working class youth - frustrated by poverty, a political and legal system they cannot deal with, and the dominance of the middle classes - at redressing the balance. Unfortunately, their targets are usually people in more vulnerable positions than themselves, who are even more victimised by the system, and are in the same social class. Thus, street prostitutes become one of their favourite victims.
Figure 4.23 lists precautions taken by prostitutes as protection.
The list shows a number of measures a prostitute might take to avoid becoming a victim of violence. The most important seems to be to avoid being alone with a client in a house (flat or brother) or in his car. The presence of other prostitutes and/or staff is most desirable for deterring client aggression and for calling out if in trouble. The "Ugly Mug" list was a list describing clients who had caused trouble based on reports from prostitutes. It was operative in the prostitute community in 1986 and 1987, published by the now defunct Australian Prostitutes Collective. It was particularly useful for street prostitutes spotting number plates of dangerous men's cars and for escorts scanning the list of troublesome men before visiting a hotel or private house. The above list of precautions indicates the awareness among prostitutes of the potential danger in their occupation, and without these precautions undoubtedly the incidence of injury or death would be much higher.
Jeanette survived a particularly savage attack on her by a deranged client. In her description of the incident she blames herself, as many female victims of male violence are prone to do:
I had broken all the rules of the working girl. I went to work late, walked into a house after everyone had left and broke the rule that you do not work alone, and I picked him up in a back lane. Therefore, it was my own fault. He undressed and sat there holding his silly little thing and said: "Suck it!" In those days (early 1970s), French, Oh! my God, what would the other girls say, and could you ever live with yourself again? So, I glared at him and said: "You filthy mongrel!" Had I put my head down he would have slipped a noose of wire, such as they train you with in the army, around my neck. When I refused he whipped out a cutthroat razor. I ended up with 27 stitches in my hand, four in my nose and five in my throat. I wasn't raped. Had I been I think I would have died. But I was able to fight my way out of it and really stand up to him, even with every thing I owned practically hanging loose. And that gave me a great deal of satisfaction.
What have we learned about men in female prostitution? Firstly, while professional pimps exist, they are highly over-rated and hardly exist in Australia any more. The image of the brutal standover man is largely a figment of the popular imagination. Most of the men defined as "pimps" by law are in fact lovers and husbands freely chosen and supported by prostitutes. Clients are also the subject of popular imagery. They are not, however, lonely, perverted or in possession of powerful sex drives, but most often middle-aged married men of any social class. Violence in prostitution, often attributed to hoodlums, brutal pimps and psychopathic serial killers, in fact is most often committed against prostitutes by the clients and is probably not very different in dynamic to the domestic and other violence endured by women in everyday sex relations. So, what do we end up with? Ordinary men paying to have sex with ordinary women, who choose to support other ordinary men as lovers or husbands.
The working world of the prostitute is a complex structure of different operations and methods of trading in sex work, of pricing and management, of services rendered in a supply and demand system, and of men's secret sexual fantasies being expressed and fulfilled. To enter this world is not an easy choice for the women who do so. Some of these women have entered it as juvenile refugees from very unpleasant homelives, the reformatories and teenage street subcultures. But most are women in early adulthood who find themselves in dire financial situations and have someone they trust already involved in the sex industry. Contrary to popular thought, the sex industry is not dominated by mafia-style gangsters and standover pimps, and the women have control over their sexual interactions with clients.
There are the hazards, only too well-known in popular culture, and these include violence, infection, drug addiction and arrest. Occasionally, a prostitute is brutally murdered by a madman, or she is infected with HIV and develops AIDS, or she becomes heavily addicted to narcotics, or she ends up in prison. These are tragic consequences disproportionately "exposed" in the sensationalist press, dramatised in numerous movies, thundered from pulpits as object lessons for wayward women, or argued by politicians eager to show their mettle as strong leaders by calling for tougher legislative measures to deal with prostitutes. The truth, as we have learned, is that most prostitutes protect themselves against potential violence in men and against diseases, avoid overindulging in drugs, and do not involve themselves in crime.
Once again myths have been exploded by the truth of empirical investigation. On the one hand prostitution is a superficial reflection of everyday sex relations with its dominant males gaining access to female bodies through economic power. But, on the other hand, the reality of prostitute women setting limits, gaining in economic strength, and acquiring knowledge of true male sexuality, is a far cry from the common feminist assumptions of prostitutes as the most explicit example of female sexual oppression. I have already alluded to the concept of prostitutes paid to remain silent about the true nature of male sexuality in case men discover one another's secret desires. More threatening still is the possibility of wives and other women learning what prostitutes already know. If they did then the sexual revolution would well be won!