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Working girls : prostitutes, their life and social control

The prostitutes' response


This chapter reviews some of the common social attitudes that have lead to the mobilisation of prostitutes. Perkins undertakes a history of the prostitutes' movement and discusses some of its shortcomings. Finally, she attempts to find a way of locating prostitutes' rights within the general women's movement.


We have come a long way together throughout this book and have now reached the concluding chapter, In the first half of the book the view was put forward that laws which criminalise prostitutes should be removed. In the second half evidence was presented in support of the argument that prostitute women generally have largely similar social backgrounds to most other women in our society. Three social factors taken together were seen to influence women commencing prostitution: at least half of the prostitutes have much earlier coital experiences than most women; most of them have some prior knowledge of prostitution; and, most sought sex work because of an economic reason. Although throughout the book comments by prostitutes have been invaluable as supporting evidence for the empirical data, so far these have been individual statements by women explaining or defending their actions.

It is time now to examine the more organised response to the moral, academic and legal attitudes of society from prostitutes as a politically active body of women. We will witness this phenomenon by firstly reviewing some of the common social attitudes that have lead to the mobilisation of prostitutes. Secondly, we will undertake a history of the prostitutes' movement and discuss some of its shortcomings. And lastly, we will attempt to find a way of locating prostitutes' fights within the general women's movement as the only practical solution for asserting these rights.

No bad women, just bad laws

The title for this section is one of the slogans arising from the world prostitutes' movement. It seems to sum up most grievances felt by prostitutes. They do not consider they are "bad women" because they do no harm to society and their lives, apart from working in the sex industry, are undifferentiated from other women. And they accuse society's laws based on social misconceptions for their oppression. The problem for prostitutes continues to be reinforced by conflicting views in the recent literature on prostitute women. On the one hand, are the works of Jennifer James (1979), Nanette Davis (1971) and Mimi Silbert (1982), whose studies of juvenile street prostitutes disclose a social background of family violence and child sexual assault. On the other, are such accounts of prostitutes by Eileen McLeod (1982) and Gail Pheterson (1989), whose treatments of adult prostitutes illuminate women from ordinary social backgrounds asserting themselves sexually through sex work. Both sides offer a sympathetic view of the prostitutes' position as victims of a harsh society. But, whereas the first sees them as damaged women beyond repair with prostitution as a continuing arena of violence and abuse, the second argues they are women victimised by a male privileged economic system where they make clear choices for survival through prostitution. Both sides make claims to their subjects as "typical" prostitutes. There is little of William Isaac Thomas' (1967) "unadjusted girls" moving from "normal" to "abnormal" then back to "normal" situations as their economic position demands or certain aspirations are realised in the first scenario, and little of the battered woman syndrome in the second.

So, what is the "typical" prostitute, one that might satisfy both sides of the argument and find agreement with the prostitutes' own viewpoint? To endeavour to discover this let us return to the survey of the 128 prostitutes that have formed the empirical data base for this book. If we divide the entire sample into three "types" according to age of entry into prostitution, that is those who commenced sex work as early adolescents, those who did so in mid- adolescence, and those who became prostitutes in late adolescence or early adulthood, we discover three distinct groups with emphases on different social factors. Table 5.1 compares the three groups' responses to a list of experiential variables often associated with negative aspects in prostitution.

Seven women (5.5 per cent of the sample) commenced prostitution under the age of 16. For the sake of convenience, these shall be referred to as "kids". Thirty-four (26.5 per cent) commenced it between the ages of 16 and 18 inclusive. These shall be termed "girls". Eighty-seven (68 per cent) began sex work over 18 years of age. We shall call them "women". The disproportionate numbers of the three groups is a reasonable reflection of the dimensions of women entering prostitution in the various age groups.

Table 5.1 : Comparisons between prostitutes (n=128) who began sex work under 16, between 16-18 and 19 or over.
Experiential variablesProstitutes
Began under 16
Began 16-18
Began 19+
Unhappy homelife14.30 03.00 10.30
Parents divorced/separated57.00 44.00 21.80
Distant father00.00 17.60 15.00
Distant mother43.00 26.00 11.50
Sexual assault by "uncles" etc14.30 17.60 15.00
Sexual assault by close relative14.30 20.60 10.30
Coitus by 16100.00 70.60 33.30
Initial coitus as rape or incest14.30 20.60 06.90
First male lover 5 years older28.50 23.50 27.60
Juvenile arrest28.50 59.00 23.00
Raped outside work28.50 50.00 39.00
First drug used by 1657.00 44.00 24.00
Narcotic use past and present85.70 53.00 36.80
Pills, LSD, "speed" use past and present100.00 61.80 39.00
Street working experiences42.80 32.30 12.60
Brothel experiences85.70 88.20 57.50
Escort experiences57.00 47.00 30.00
Bondage experiences14.30 03.00 04.60
Private experiences43.00 26.50 18.40
Other prostitutions in past00.00 08.80 01.20
No previous experiences00.00 06.00 28.70

As Table 5.1 indicates, the "kids" have higher ratios of broken homes, problems with mother and are drug users. The "girls", on the other hand, have the highest ratios of sexual assaults and arrest by the juvenile authorities. The "women" have much more moderate figures for broken homes, poor relations with mother, sexual assault, drug use and juvenile arrest. The latter are probably much closer to a general profile of women, as their larger influence on the comparative figures between the prostitute, health-worker and student samples throughout this book suggests. This is most apparent when we note that only a third of the "women" experienced coitus before 16 years of age, compared to almost half for the entire prostitute sample. What inferences might we draw from this data?

The emphasis on home life problems for the "kids" leads us to imagine that prostitution and drugs were the results of escapes from a torrid natal home and/or a strained relationship with their mothers. We might suppose that these represent the so-called "kids of the Cross" or adolescent children who drift to the Kings Cross area as unwanted children by their families. There they communicate with other "kids" of both sexes in similar situations who moved to the area earlier. The newcomers learn survival techniques from the established "kids", experiment with drugs which lead them into an addiction, and take up prostitution as a means of paying for their drug commitment. It is likely their prostitution began as a casual way of acquiring cash from men who approached them in pin-ball parlours. As their drug intake increases so does their commitment to commercial sex until finally they end up as "professional" street prostitutes.

With the "girls", sexual assault in family situations is as much a cause of their disjunction with their natal homes as broken homes through parents divorcing one another. The extraordinarily high ratio of rape beyond work among this group suggests that these young women's sexual lives were a series of violent episodes, a fact which may have played no little part in their decision to become prostitutes. But they also had high drug consumptions, another reason why many of them turned to commercial sex. Of most significance, however, is this group's involvement with the juvenile authorities. Since most girls are punished for sexual "misbehaviour" when brought before the courts (as opposed to boys, who are more often punished for acts of aggression, theft or violence), this group may well have internalised an official attitude of "bad girl" based on their sexual exploits. They would then fit the drift theory of Nanette Davis (1971) by which these "wayward" girls have identified with prostitutes before they even begin earning money through commercial sex work. The "girls" differ from the "kids" mainly through their process into prostitution. The latter are the unwanted children who learn to survive through commercial sex, while the "girls" are mainly products of a juvenile justice system which persists in condemning adolescent females for their sexual experimentations.

Finally, the "women" fit more easily into the general assumptions made about prostitutes throughout this book. There is little in their early lives to suggest that their social experiences are very different to most women in society. Some (the dissected figures on Table 5.1 suggest about a fifth) have much earlier coital experiences than other women, but most seem to have reached late adolescence without particular social traumas that might lead them into prostitution.

What leads them into prostitution is an economic situation, or financial survival for themselves and, in many cases, their children, coupled with a knowledge about the sex industry which removes the barriers of mythological notions enough for them to perceive prostitution as a viable economic option.

What we have found in this analysis of prostitute sub-groups based on age of entry into prostitution is not one "typical" prostitute type, but three. James (1979), Davis (1971) and Silbert (1982), by their concentration on "kids" and "girls", arrived at findings for those groups which suggest a scenario of abuse leading into prostitution. McLeod (1982) and Pheterson (1989), on the other hand, concentrated on adult prostitutes and correctly concluded that female prostitutes are in sex work because of economic circumstances and not broken homes, drug use, juvenile delinquency or child sexual assault. Prostitutes across the world have rightly objected to being lumped in with the "kids" and "girls". On the other hand, they must realise that very young females do enter prostitution because of some of the social factors used to stigmatise all prostitutes. These young females are closer to the popular stereotype. But, society too has a responsibility to realise that the "kids" and "girls" in prostitution as an outcome of difficulties at home, juvenile "misbehaviour", sexual assault as children, or drug addiction, represent a minority among prostitutes. Adult prostitutes should not be made to bear guilt for the social flaws in juvenile prostitutes' backgrounds. And nor should the juveniles be made guilty for circumstances affecting them over which they have no control.

On the one hand the world prostitutes' movement has arisen as a challenge to the legal notions that continue to criminalise those who work in the sex industry. But, on the other, it is also a response to common attitudes in society that continue to strengthen the whore stigma. These attitudes and the laws are, of course, inter-related: the law exists as an outcome of the attitudes, but the attitudes continue to exist because of the illegal nature of sex work. Take the common notion that prostitutes "get what they deserve", for example. It motivates police to arrest prostitutes much more often than clients even where laws exist to prohibit "gutter crawling" as well as "soliciting" (such as in Victoria and England). The in-built attitude here is pure mate chauvinism, whereby men are doing what comes "naturally" cruising for sex, while the women on the street are considered to be "unnatural" initiating sexual contact. Prostitutes receive little sympathy in the law even when they have been clearly wronged, as the classic example of the torture, murder and mutilation of the English prostitute Patsy Malone illustrates. Malone was sadistically tortured and then stain by police constable Peter Swindell, who only received a three-year gaol sentence for his heinous crime. In summing up the case, the judge justified his light punishment by saying that Swindell's crime "was not of the type from which others need deterring" (The Times, London, 28 July 1982). Rightly so, English prostitutes were outraged. Some demonstrated in front of the courthouse, while most cringed in fear with the knowledge that the judgment had virtually declared open season on them all.

Another attitude given legal sanction which angers prostitutes is the common belief that the women are helpless victims of some brutal pimp, of which the legal response is the prohibition of men "livings on the earnings of prostitution". Usually, the pimp figure in the popular consciousness is a brute, a working-class man or a black man. All sorts of racist and classist concepts are tied up in this notion, not the least of which is a shadowy figure conveniently distanced from the bourgeois law makers. Where the "bad women" image no longer seems viable to legislators, the pimp figure is a scapegoat for explaining why the state has failed to contain so many women in prostitution. The pimp becomes a "bogey-man" enticing innocent young girls from their loving families and trapping them in an environment of sexual slavery. Tied into this picture is a sexist attitude that women depend on men, even to the point of wanting to finance them to stay. Another sexist attitude related to this situation is that pimps defy a "natural" order of men supporting women (which is why an earlier Australian colloquialism for "pimp" was "bludger", now synonymous with "freeloader" or lazy person; Wiltes 1978). Firstly, prostitutes are outraged by the suggestion that they must have a man to dominate them, and, secondly, they insist that they should be allowed to support whomever they like without their husbands or lovers being stigmatised as brutal pimps. They correctly assess this as another attempt at isolating them from mainstream society in a classic state manoeuvre to make them legal outcasts.

A third example of popular attitudes which are at the heart of prostitutes' grievances with society is that which believes that the sex industry, including the workers, are controlled by some sinister criminal forces. The common assumption is that the prostitute is at the bottom of a hierarchy of devious criminals, with a "Mr Big" at the top and "sleazy" brothel keepers in the middle ranks. Within this kind of fanciful regime we can perceive patriarchal notions of social order at work. The prostitute represents feminine powerlessness dependent on masculine economic power, while the brothel keeper is imagined as a slimy low-class man extracting huge profits from female helplessness. It is significant in this kind of fantasy to see him as a basically weak man unable to compete in the "real" world of male capitalism. The "madam" on the other hand, is perceived as a tough old tart ruling the brothel with the iron hand of a one-time underling suddenly granted dictatorial powers by the graciousness of some benevolent vice lord. She is no longer a helpless female but a male surrogate with masculine powers granted her. At the apex of this imagined power structure is a Mafia style crime boss ruling everyone and everything. He is, of course, representing male political power in this "natural" order, but it is important for the bourgeois power brokers of society that our "Mr. Big" is perceived as a migrant Italian or Middle Eastern man so that the law and order politics remain in the hands of white Anglo-Saxon men.

Prostitutes rebuke such notions because not only are they far from true but it also once more imagines the women involved in sex work as unable to control their lives without male hegemony. What many of the prostitutes in this book have pointed out time and again is just how much more control over their lives, including the inter-sexual contact with male clients, they have in sex work compared to social situations beyond prostitution.

Attitudes detrimental to prostitutes are so intrinsic that most dictionaries carry two meanings for "prostitute". At the beginning of the book (p. 3) both meanings in The Macquarie Dictionary were cited. It is easy, therefore, for a lay person to convey these two expressions as having the same essential meaning, so that the woman "who engages in sexual intercourse for money" is also "one who debases (her)self... in an unworthy way". This kind of inter-locking meaning is at the core of the whore stigma, which Gail Pheterson goes to lengths to explain:

If a prostitute is a woman who "sells her honor for base gain or puts her abilities to infamous, unworthy use", then by definition she has no honor and does no good. The definition does not limit the unworthy use to sex, but, if one indeed collapses the noun and verb definitions, as public opinion is apt to do, then sex work becomes a specific case of dishonor and wrongdoing. It is important to recognise that the woman's shame is based upon what she offers (her body and her sexual abilities) whereas the unworthy cause to which she puts herself is presumedly men's sexual desire as customer... or man's financial interest as "pimp". We are in fact then talking about female dishonor and male unworthiness (Pheterson 1986, P. 9).

The law is, of course, uneven in its application to this logic because it represents a masculine viewpoint, and as such perpetuates the hypocrisy of sexism in yet another area of sexual relations. The cries for equality from libertarians and feminists demanding the arrest of clients as much as prostitutes misses the point here, that punishing men for seeking prostitutes does nothing to remove the stain of dishonour from the prostitute's reputation, or, in other words, two wrongs don't make a right.

Dishonour derives also from the popular notion that prostitutes are "cheap", not of course in price, but due to their giving sex too often to too many partners. It is another common term applied in an effort to keep women under male control.

San Francisco prostitute campaigner Scarlot Harlots's sardonic response is well understood by most prostitutes:

  • Cheap is when you fuck them just to shut them up.
  • Cheap is when you do it because they are worth so much.
  • Cheap is when you suck them till your jaw hurts so they won't say you're uptight.
  • Cheap is when you do it to keep them home at night.
  • Cheap is when you want less than pleasure, a baby, or a hundred dollars.
  • Cheap is when you do it for security.
  • Cheap is what you are before you learn to say "no".
  • Cheap is when you do it to gain approval, friendship, or love.

The advent of AIDS, an event which should have brought endangered groups together, has done little to bring a greater understanding of prostitutes to the wider community. Much of the blame rests with the health authorities who have treated prostitutes as a potential threat to the health of the heterosexual population. The bureaucratisation of AIDS control and prevention among prostitutes has witnessed the health bureaucrats desperately trying to find a way to communicate with women they have been taught are distasteful to the moral palate. One attempt to bridge the gap has been the bureaucrats' use of the term "sex worker" and its acceptance by prostitutes. This enables the bureaucrats to overlook their notion of "bad women" and it acts as a soft sell to gain easier access to prostitutes by using "nice" terms of reference. But, it does little to disguise the fact that these bureaucrats and health-workers have the opinion that prostitutes need health protection since they are unable to protect themselves. The low rate of viral infection among prostitutes should have convinced them to the contrary.

There is a problem allowing others to define you. The word "prostitute" has for so long been used as a social control weapon that prostitutes themselves find the ten-n repulsive. Its Roman origin meant rebellious women, but Christianity has made it mean immoral women. European prostitutes are currently referring to themselves as "whores" in an effort to "take back" the word (just as gays have done with "poof') and defuse it as a weapon to perpetuate stigma. So too should prostitutes make the word "prostitute" their own and give it a dignity as an interchange with "sex worker". Eventually then, society would redefine the dictionary meanings by a positive word association, instead of the current negative one. If the words so long used to denigrate prostitutes are reclaimed by them, the stigma will lose its sting with moralists continually trying to re-invent new words as weapons.

Throughout this book the evidence should be sufficient for our legislators to rethink the prostitution laws and to consider decriminalisation seriously. If empirical social facts are not enough,, then costs should be. Earlier (p. 140) the New South Wales Women's Advisory Council's paper on the high cost of law enforcement of prostitutes leading to law reform in that state was mentioned. In the United States, Julie Pearl (1987, p. 769) pointed out that irrational application of harsh laws against prostitutes is one of the most costly exercises in law enforcement in the country. Between 1976 and 1985 violent crimes, she notes, increased by 32 per cent yet the rate of arrest for perpetrators of those crimes rose by only 3.7 per cent, while prostitutes were being arrested at an increasing rate of 135 per cent, in spite of no apparent rise in prostitution activities. In 1985, 16 American cities spent over $53 million on police, nearly $36 million on judicial procedure and almost $32 million on the correctional process in combating prostitution with little or no effect on deterring further prostitution. Pearl concludes:

Many Americans may never wish to condone prostitution, but the time has come to ask whether we can afford to keep it illegal. In the face of rising complaints of violent crime in virtually all major cities, the thousands of highly skilled vice officer manhours devoted weekly to prostitution represent tremendous opportunity costs... A decision to reallocate our resources need not be a declaration of the acceptability of prostitution. Rather it would be a well-founded statement concerning the proper use of criminal justice resource (Pearl 1987, pp.789-90).

Social attitudes expressed through newspapers in response to the New South Wales Select Committee Upon Prostitution from 1983 to 1985 prompted a number of prostitutes and brothel owners to form a group to present an alternative report to the Select Committee through a submission direct to Premier Neville Wran. It was in a desperate bid to persuade the Government not to reintroduce harsh laws but to consider a regulatory system not disfavourable to prostitution. At that stage these women anticipated much more severe recommendations from the Select Committee than actually eventuated with the Committee's Report in April 1986. After a series of meetings with members of the Australian Prostitutes Collective, a small group representing workers and "madams" of East Sydney and Darlinghurst in December 1985 met with graduates in town planning from the Faculty of Architecture and the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales to endeavour to arrive at a solution on prostitution that would satisfy the community, the legislators and those in the sex industry. It was to be a compromise solution for all concerned. Even though those involved in these meetings worked in East Sydney, consideration was given to workers in Kings Cross and to parlours in the suburbs. Although the prostitutes' submission to the Premier was overlooked by the Government in favour of the Select Committee Report five months later, it represents the first time Sydney prostitutes themselves initiated an action through official channels of government.

The prostitutes' submission recognised certain claims by the community as valid and accepted the government's attempt at regulating street prostitutes. Some of the street workers in the group thought that their operations in Darlinghurst residential streets had gone beyond the pale, but agreed that it was unfair that they should have been singled out by the law while the hooligans and sightseers who were the real source of most nuisance problems in the area got off scot-free. Likewise, while the brothel workers could appreciate the potential problems associated with parking in a residential street for large parlours and residents, they considered it unacceptable to object to the presence of private prostitution involving one or two women in a residential area. They devised a system of regulation with the help of the town planner and law graduates which they felt should be acceptable to all but the more extreme moralists.

The prostitutes' recommendations for regulating street soliciting sought to define the legal term of "near to" by replacing this with an actual distance of, say, 100 metres from a residence, a school, hospital or church, only if these buildings were in current use. In addition, to reduce violence perpetrated upon street workers-especially doing "car jobs" - licensed venues for streetwalkers to take their clients were recommended. These could be houses especially rented for the occasion of street workers servicing their clients, or "love hotels" fashioned after the Japanese idea, within close proximity to traditional areas of street operations. The purpose behind these recommendations was both to respect residents' privacy and provide protection for the women. Attempts at eradicating street prostitution for the past three-quarters of a century had failed dismally and did little more than mercilessly persecute economically-deprived women who did no harm to anyone. The prostitutes' recommendations were thought to be the most practical and humane solution to the age-old practice of street soliciting.

Parlours, or brothels with more than four bedrooms, were recommended by the prostitutes as fully commercial operations subject to the current environmental laws. These would be restricted to strictly commercial zones, and licences would be issued for their operation as legitimate businesses. It would be the responsibility of the state government to ensure that venues complying with criteria for obtaining a licence were not obstructed by unreasonable municipal ordinances and Council Chamber decisions.

Smaller parlours, or brothels with no more than four bedrooms and no more than four women working at any one time, were recommended as small businesses with the same legal fights in the environment regulations as a similar-sized doctor's surgery or a partnership of accountants' office. These could receive licences to operate in mixed zones provided they complied with criteria laid down by the laws regulating prostitution operations. This would not apply to private operations of no more than two women, who should under any reasonable consideration be able to work on premises rented or owned by them as residential without the need for official approval in accordance with the "home occupation" provision within the Environmental and Planning Assessment Act 1979.

The final group of recommendations were concerned for a regulatory body to issue licences and inspect premises and to ensure all conditions in the regulation statutes are complied with. A board of three was suggested, consisting of a representative each from the Departments of Planning and Health and from the Australian Prostitutes Collective. The departmental representatives' roles were to ensure that environment and health regulations were upheld before issuing licences, and the latter ensured that workers were not abused.

Licences would be issued on a triennial basis, but the licensing board would have the power to inspect premises at any time and to cancel licences as it saw fit. The board would also receive complaints from workers and managers and deal with them appropriately.

Social attitudes and legal reflections of them have long been a source of outrage to prostitutes. Only recently, though, have they sought to do something about this. The above action is one example, and the world prostitutes I movement outlined in the next section is another. But governments also have a responsibility here. Before introducing harsh laws to deal with the supposed misbehaviour of prostitutes, the lawmakers should ascertain the truth and advise the community accordingly.

A decade and a half of struggle : the prostitutes' movement

The political mobilisation of prostitutes, like many politicisations of minorities, was inspired by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. But due to the extensive surveillance and intrinsic involvement of police in prostitution, the collaboration of brothel owners with the authorities, and the extremely oppressive nature of the laws and law enforcement resulting in the powerlessness of prostitutes both in society and within their own subculture, their politicisation came somewhat later than, say, blacks, gays, women in the feminist movement, anti-war activists and the conservationists. Political campaigns require a great deal of public exposure for the individuals concerned, and most prostitutes were in no position to expose themselves and their families to derision. They had more to lose than other activists. Leaders of the gay movement, for example, were usually men who had emerged from the "closet" years earlier, and had developed lifestyles in supportive and empathetic gay subcultures. Prostitutes, on the other hand, were living two lives, the sanctity of their social life and their relationships with their children being threatened by the consequences of disclosing their clandestine life as "whore". The police would take care of that by arresting and publicly exposing as a criminal any prostitute who dared to challenge the authorities. From an early period in the feminist movement it was obvious to most sex workers that they were going to get no support from that quarter, and they could not expect support from other personnel in the sex industry, such as clients, pimps and brothel managers, whose own interests would not be served by publicly "coming out". If a prostitutes' movement was to take place it would have to be initiated and carried by the prostitutes alone.

When the movement did begin it had followed a period of extreme provocation, and not surprisingly, the main focus was on the removal of oppressive laws. The word "decriminalisation" was coined as a result. The first prostitute advocacy of any permanency was the Organisation known as COYOTE (an acronym for "Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics"), founded by the ubiquitous Margo St James on, appropriately enough, Mother's Day 1973, after receiving a grant of $5000 from the radical Glide Methodist Church in San Francisco. In view of earlier comments made in this book about the role of the Christian Churches in condemning prostitution, such a gesture seems oddly out of step with mainstream Christianity. But throughout the history of the prostitutes' movement individual churches and pastors have defied the authority of the central Church by assisting the campaigners. In France, England and Canada, for instance, prostitute activists have conducted protest demonstrations inside churches (in the tradition of seeking "sanctity" or protection from God) with the blessings of the resident vicars. The first three meetings of the Australian Prostitutes Collective were held in the rooms of Kings Cross' Wayside Chapel. Indicated here is a tension in modem Christian thought, or what might be described as a maternalistic undercurrent in the unrelenting paternalistic Christian mode.

The main thrust of COYOTE's momentum was law reform, but it raised funds to keep the momentum going by public social events and conventions. The first convention was held in the Glide Church in 1973 and the money raised from this went into organising the first Hooker's Ball in San Francisco, a major profit- making event which thereafter became an important gala occasion every year in the city's social calendar (Jaget 1980, pp. 200-1).

The "official" launch of the prostitutes' movement, however, occurred in France, not America. It began with protests by street sex workers in Lyons, who had endured extreme police harassment, imprisonment and the murder of a number of their colleagues by a serial killer. A formal protest was sent to the authorities and press by a mixed group of prostitutes and supporters, including members of an activist Organisation known as Nid, noted for "rehabilitating" prostitutes, demanding an end to police harassment and to police inertia with regards to investigating the homicides. When these demands were ignored, and police increased their fines, some 150 prostitutes occupied the church of St Nizier on 3rd June 1975 and called a press conference. They told an eager press gallery that they refused to budge until certain prominent parliamentarians listened to their grievances. While the French left-wing newspaper, Liberation, headlined an article on the event "Hookers in the House of the Lord", prostitutes inside the church hung a banner out the front reading: "Our Children don't want their Mothers in Gaol". The focus of attention for the prostitutes was very different to the public interest. Until that time most people had probably not thought of prostitutes as mothers. The Minister of Women's Affairs and other government officials requested by the prostitutes for a communication refused the women's invitation, and instead the women were driven from the church by a police baton charge early in the morning a week later.

But the exercise in demanding rights had not been in vain. Across the country, in Paris, Marseilles, Grenoble and Montpellier prostitutes also occupied churches when they learned of events in Lyons, and in Cannes, Toulouse and Saint-Etienne they "downed tools". The entire affair was dubbed "the prostitutes strike" by the press and a group of Parisian prostitutes formed themselves into an Organisation they called "The French Prostitutes Collective". At the political level the French Parliament agreed to allow prostitutes more time to pay fines instead of gaoling them police were ordered to step up investigations of the murders and were investigated for corruption following a number of reports by the women (Jaget 1980, pp. 35-54).

But no move was made to decriminalise the laws in France, and later when the government proposed the return of licensing and the "maisons de tolerance" the prostitutes vetoed the idea completely as another attempt at controlling them. These events in France, however, sparked a universal resistance by prostitutes and the formation of a number of organisations modelled on the French idea of a collective. Prostitute advocacies mushroomed across Europe, including the Committee of Civil Rights for Prostitutes in Italy in 1979, Hydra in West Germany in 1980, ANAIS in Switzerland in 1982 and De Rode Draag in Holland in 1984 (Pheterson 1989, pp.67). Prostitutes in England were quicker off the mark, with Helen Buckingham founding PLAN (Prostitution Laws Are Nonsense) in 1975, and a group modelled directly on the French Organisation, calling itself the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) in the same year inventing the slogan which seems to sum it all up very nicely: "No bad women, just bad laws". ECP soon developed a strong socialist feminist perspective and on 18 November 1982 followed the French example by 18 members occupying the Holy Cross Anglican Church in Camden in protest over police brutality. They managed to achieve an official monitor of police behaviour as a result of the press coverage. In Canada, a Vancouver Organisation, ASP (Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes), staged a massive demonstration outside City Hall on 20 April 1983, and followed up with a church occupation on 20 July 1984 in protest over new tougher legislation (Network July 1983; The Body Politic 1983; ECP Newsletter 23 July 1984).

A number of advocacy organisations were formed in America (among which were PONY in New York, PUSSY in Pennsylvania, PUMA in Massachusetts, KITTY in Kansas City and CAT in Los Angeles). But the most publicly active was the US Prostitutes Collective, with a strong feminist persuasion. In Tulsa they staged a street comer stand-in on 18 September 1983 in protest over penalties forcing prostitutes to become street cleaners (Tulsa World, City/State 16 September 1983: Time, 3 October 1983, p. 25). In March 1984 they conducted a street protest in Seattle in response to police inertia in the "Green River" serial murder investigations (The Seattle Times, 17 March 1984; Time, 16 April 1984; Penn 1984). In Sacramento on 14 March 1984 a newspaper office was picketed for printing an inflammatory story thought to encourage violence against prostitutes (The Sacramento Union, 15 March 1984). Masked protesters (it has become a tradition for prostitutes staging public demonstrations to wear masks to hide their identities) demonstrated outside Berkeley City Hall because of the municipal council's sanctioning of citizen vigilantes aiding police to hunt down prostitutes on 20 March 1984 (The Tribune, 20 March 1984; SF Examiner, 20 March 1984). In January 1985 a small army of masked colleagues of a "mistress of sadomasochism" marched with banners outside the Sacramento Superior Courthouse in protest over a trial likely to convict the mistress to a gaol ten-n for solicitation in violation of her parole (The Sacramento Union, 1 February 1985).

Whilst these public outbursts captured the attention of the community at large over the plight of prostitutes, they achieved little by way of solving the legal problems facing prostitutes. In England, though, some headway was made with the co-operative efforts of three prostitute organisations - ECP, PLAN and PROS (Programme for the Reform of Laws On Soliciting), a streetwalkers group founded by parole officer, Louise Webb - assisting MP Maureen Colquhoun in framing a 10 Minute Rule Bill calling for the repeal of a soliciting law penalty that allowed the detention of prostitutes after a third conviction. It passed a first reading in the House of Commons on 6 March 1979, but failed to obtain a second reading and reach the House of Lords for approval because of an electoral intervention and change in government (Jaget 1980, pp. 28-9). However, two years later the issue of repeal was revived as the Imprisonment of Prostitutes (Abolition) Bill, which finally passed through both Houses on 31 January 1983. But what appeared to be a major victory for prostitutes at the time turned sour when the police stepped up arrests and the courts increased fines, so that women still went to gaol, only this time it was for failure to pay fines. Nevertheless, what was achieved was real co-operation between prostitutes and government agents.

On an international scale in this decade some important advances were made to form a coalition of these prostitute organisations to deal with governments worldwide. The first steps were taken by Margo St. James, who with feminist Priscilla Alexander, founded the US National Task Force on Prostitution in 1979 in an effort to provide a mutual outlet for the actions of the myriad of advocacy groups then in existence across the country. A major focus of this coalition was to pressure the United States into ratifying the United Nations 1949 convention on the trafficking of women and children (see p 56) and to recommend "decriminalisation". It also hoped to negotiate with European prostitute groups for a united campaign to end legal oppression worldwide (Jaget 1980, p. 20; Pheterson 1989, p. 5).

The American coalition was not as successful as it was hoped, due mainly to opposition from the US Prostitutes Collective, whose chief spokeswoman, Margaret Prescod, argued that St. James and COYOTE's "good times approach belittles the prostitutes' plight" while the US Prostitutes Collective's street protest approach is much more effective (The Wall Street Journal, 28 March 1984). St. James and her colleagues, though, had greater success in Europe, where she and social psychologist feminist Gail Pheterson formed the International Committee for Prostitutes' Rights (ICPR) in 1984, an Organisation which was responsible for two "World Whores Congresses". The first Congress took place in Amsterdam on 14 February 1985, and involved some 75 participants equally mixed between prostitutes and supporters from six European countries, three South-East Asian countries, the United States and Canada. It was mostly notable for two outcomes. The first was the unfortunate ideological differences between the Socialist feminist dominated ECP and the more "grassroots" approach of ICPR which came to a head in an unresolved outburst during one of the sessions. A permanent split between the feminist organised ECP, US Prostitutes Collective and their sister groups in Canada and the Caribbean on the one hand, and the prostitute organised groups attached to ICPR on the other seems imminent as a result of this. The second outcome was much more positive: the "World Charter for Prostitutes Rights", which listed decriminalisation, human rights, self-determination in working conditions, health control by sex workers, and public education as its main objectives (Pheterson 1989, pp. 33-42).

The Second "World Whores Congress" was a much grander affair. It took place on 1-3 October 1986 in the distinguished halls of the European Parliament building in Brussels. Nearly 150 people attended the three-day sessions, over three-quarters of whom were prostitutes from 18 countries in Europe, North and South America, Asia and the South Pacific. The sessions were divided into three parts, dealing each with human rights, including legal harassment, health, with a focus on prevention of AIDS, and feminism, with a discussion on resolving differences. The dialogue was mostly supplying information, comparing conditions in the various countries, and communicating for the purposes of solidarity, as well as ratification of the above Charter (Pheterson 1999, pp. 43-197).

These Congresses were essential for prostitute solidarity, but they were just as important as a forum for communicating to the governments of the world, as well as the population at large, the needs of prostitutes worldwide. The US National Task Force on Prostitution had achieved non-govemment status with the United Nations; the same was hoped for ICPR. Five delegates, including myself, from the Australian Prostitutes Collective attended the second Congress and put its case for national decriminalisation to the plenary assembly. This Organisation, however, had already established a rapport with the governments of New South Wales and Victoria through the separate inquiries being conducted in each state at the time. A sister Organisation, Prostitutes Association of South Australia, had an even longer and earlier communication with its state government in the bills for "decriminalisation" presented to Parliament (see p. 103).

In Victoria, campaigns for prostitutes' rights actually pre-date prostitute organisations, when a group of feminists demanded the decriminalisation of prostitution laws at the State's Liberal Party Conference in 1970. But as the community conflicts in St. Kilda mounted throughout the 1970s, the Prostitutes Action Group was formed in November 1978 to bring the sex workers' cause to the open forums. At the time they received support from Women Behind Bars and the St Kilda Women's Liberation Group in their public battles with the council and resident conservatives. But eventually the prostitutes, having changed the name of their group to Hetaira to be more appealing to up-market prostitutes, gained the attention of parliamentarian Joan Coxsedge, whose communications with the group led to an interest in law reform by the State Labour Party, finally resulting in "legalisation" (see p. 111)(Johnston 1984, pp. 338-59).

In 1984 the remnants of Hetaira formed a coalition with the Sydney group, Australian Prostitutes Collective, adopting this name as their own. Two years later the group received funding for health and welfare services among prostitutes from the Victorian Government. Such co-operation between government and prostitutes inspired the formation of other organisations in Western Australia, Queensland, the Australian Capital and Northern Territories, and applications for government grants. In 1988 the Victorian group changed its name once again, calling itself The Prostitutes Collective of Victoria, in an effort to dissociate itself from the chaos dividing the Sydney group at the time. In spite of this upheaval's disillusioning effect on the prostitutes movement across Australia, the Victorian group lead the way in arranging the first national conference on prostitution in Melbourne in 1988. In spite of the excellent model established by ICPR's World Whores Congress in Brussels, this conference seemed more beneficial to government officials and bureaucrats who considerably outnumbered prostitutes attending from the various states. In Adelaide the next year a much more prostitute-orientated conference took place with the purpose of forming the Scarlet Alliance as a national forum for prostitute organisations and establishing a national charter for sex workers' rights.

The rise and fall of the Australian Prostitutes Collective (initially called the Collective of Australian Prostitutes) is an object lesson to other prostitute organisations. It was founded by Kerry Carrington, Debbie Homberg, Roz Nelson and myself at a meeting in the Wayside Chapel's annexes in Darlinghurst, Sydney, on 13th July 1983 (Sydney Morning Herald, 10 September 1983; Campaign, August 1983). The meeting was attended by 70 people anxious to give support to prostitutes in their struggle against conservative residents of East Sydney. Initially it was a lobby group only demanding decriminalisation, but in time it also took on the role of a welfare Organisation attending to the daily needs of individuals. Members of the Organisation had earlier established a rapport with the New South Wales Select Committee Upon Prostitution. Both groups had a common interest: to find a solution to the problems occurring between prostitutes and the community at large. With this in mind both groups co-operated, with the APC supplying prime witnesses and the Select Committee seriously considering recommendations from prostitutes. The APC formed a special subgroup with members of the gay youth Organisation, Twenty-Ten, in order to negotiate with the Select Committee through the medium of submissions and verbal communication. This sub-group was called the Task Force On Prostitution, and in addition to presenting 21 written submissions its members appeared as witnesses as under:

  • 30 August 1983, Annette Crowe (APC)
  • 12 September 1983, Roz Nelson (APC)
  • 12 September 1983, Garry Bennett (Twenty-Ten)
  • 4 October 1983, Roberta Perkins (APC)
  • 14 November 1983, Terry Goulden (Twenty-Ten)
  • 15 December 1983, Debbie Homberg (APC)
  • 27 June 1984, Roz Nelson and Roberta Perkins (APC)
  • 19 July 1984, Bebe Loff, Marianne Phillips, Cheryl Overs (APC, Vic.)

Apart from these co-operations, Garry Bennett and I took members of the Select Committee on a night time tour of Kings Cross, East Sydney and Darlinghurst on 6 August 1983, when they spoke to street and brothel prostitutes, visited brothels and gained a general impression of the area. The findings from research conducted at this time for the Task Group On Prostitution were published two years later (Perkins & Bennett 1985).

Among the recommendations made by the Select Committee were suggestions for increases in health and welfare services and the greater availability of condoms as an important AIDS prevention measure. By this time, however, the APC had received a substantial grant from the New South Wales Government in 1985 to combat AIDS in prostitution. It was the first Australian prostitute Organisation to receive such funding, and one of the first in the world. It set a precedent for other Australian governments, and even in California the long-standing advocacy COYOTE was granted funds in 1987 from the state government as well as non-government groups to prevent the spread of HIV among prostitutes. In order to avoid controversy, COYOTE established a sister Organisation, CAL-PEP (California Prostitutes Education Project), so that it appeared like two unrelated groups focusing on different needs of sex workers. Such subterfuge was deemed not necessary in the climate of "decriminalisation" in New South Wales, and. certainly the State Government made no conditions on advocacy when granting monies for AIDS prevention in 1985.

Funding enabled the APC to establish office premises in Kings Cross, employ a staff of "project workers", and service every brothel in the State with condoms and educational material on a rotation outreach system. The idea of a "travelling parlour show" was introduced whereby members of the APC took STD workers to the brothels for thorough STD education programs. This service, along with less personal methods for preventing the spread of AIDS in the community, was largely responsible for the rapid mobilisation against AIDS by prostitutes and the widespread introduction of mandatory condom use in brothels across the State. In every respect the APC, with its liaisons with both prostitutes and the government, became the perfect medium through which the latter could communicate with sex workers for purposes of reducing health risk. While in a "decriminalisation" legal system such as in New South Wales the opportunity for developing mutual trust exists, in an oppressive atmosphere of criminalising laws, heavy penalties and persistent policing such as in California, Queensland, South Australia, England and France, mistrust and resentment make a permanent barrier between prostitutes and governments, and organisations such as CAL-PEP walk a fine line between collaborating with the oppressors and assisting in illegal activities. The use of prostitute organisations in this way by oppressive governments is yet another example of social control.

The APC, for all of its excellent project work, was unfortunately doomed to a short-lived existence. By August 1987 it began experiencing serious internal disjunctions which threatened to disintegrate the Organisation. Part of this was due to individual bids for power, but most of the blame for this unfortunate collapse of a well-run service must be laid at the feet of ministerial inertia in a more conservative Labor Party Government in 1987 than was in existence in 1985. The initial crux of the problem occurred when two senior government bureaucrats entered the management committee of the APC. Although a majority of prostitutes steered this committee, the two bureaucrats assumed a superior power, which led to a demand by the prostitutes for their removal. Instead of recognising the majority decision, the dissenting bureaucrats managed to seize the APC's negotiating arrangement with its bank. Once they had power over the government funds, they systematically removed their opposition on the staff by an expediency of formal dismissals. A first-class industrial brawl broke out, with the "bureaucrats' faction" (as the media dubbed it) claiming to "Protect" public monies, while the "prostitutes' faction" took their grievances to the funding body. When they found this avenue blocked by the bureaucrats' colleagues within the department, they appealed directly to the Minister for Health, the highest authority for the funding body, presenting him with a petition of 500 prostitutes I signatures calling for the official removal of the two bureaucrats. But he claimed to be a neutral party with no right to interfere in what ostensibly is an independent Organisation, in spite of the real risk of abuse of government funds. The prostitutes took this refusal to arbitrate in the dispute as tacit approval of the behaviour of the two bureaucrats, who by now had managed to secure a few token prostitutes on their side by offering them jobs. The prostitutes staged a street demonstration and picketed the Minister's office, which at one point involved police, an action that only inflamed an already volatile situation.

Whatever the Minister's real thoughts on the matter were, the fact was his Party was in a very shaky political position with a series of public scandals under its belt and criticisms levelled at it for its shortcomings in the rising AIDS crisis. He and his parliamentary colleagues were facing a state election in a few weeks and the last thing he could afford was involvement in a scandal over misuse of public monies given to prostitutes, let alone lend support to the prostitutes faction's" accusations of double-dealing by two of his senior officers. I imagine he thought that neutrality was the better course of valour. But his anxieties served him nought, for the much more conservative Liberal Party won the election with a clear majority. The prostitutes gave up now that they were faced with a government that was hell-bent on introducing tougher laws to punish sex workers. In the meantime the APC was allowed to continue operating under the control of the bureaucrats. But the vast majority of prostitutes no longer trusted it, and it became an Organisation without function. In the end the Government decided to withdraw any further funding (now that a "decent" period had passed to allow memories to fade) and finish the embarrassment altogether.

So, finally, what occurred was a bizarre situation. The first prostitute Organisation to receive funding to combat AIDS in an atmosphere of communication with government, legal relaxation, and mutual trust, was also the first to lose it, while other prostitute groups walking the tightrope between antagonistic forces were flourishing with government funds. But, these especially, should be aware of the history of the collapse of an efficient service for prostitutes operated by the APC. They need to be wary of who they allow onto their committee, and government employees, particularly those on the staff of the funding body who feel they have automatic superiority over prostitutes, should be carefully screened before being approved. It is important to realise that, as with the APC, there is no such thing as safety in numbers when the minority have state power to call upon surreptitiously. Most especially they should tread warily with government funding, lest it becomes a source of power to control prostitutes. It may, for instance, be withheld for a period of time until the Organisation ceases its advocacy work, especially when this challenges the laws aimed at prostitutes. Thus, funding becomes a most effective weapon for the control of prostitutes by holding power over their most trusted means of communication with government in the bid for prostitutes rights. An Organisation with all its good intentions in the flush of its early days of hard voluntary work, and dedication to achieving human rights, is soon corrupted with funding, for once this is withdrawn the initial enthusiasm seems primitive and futile. At first the funding appears like a reward for all the hard work of the past and the "generosity" of the government in granting it gives the impression that the politicians understand at last. In the meantime, new workers in the Organisation replace the old and these are motivated more by wages than causes. Soon, the Organisation is structured in such a manner that funding becomes an imperative. Once it is withdrawn, or threatened with withdrawal, the members of the group feel they can't survive without it. Returning to volunteer work seems such a retrograde step. The loss of funding is like a deflated ego or a betrayal, and it seems fruitless to start all over again. Indeed, government funding is a corrupting influence. But it is also a more efficient mechanism for social control than the law. Such was the fate of the APC, for it failed to notice the warning signs in its enthusiasm for expanding its service with government funds. Others, however, might learn from its mistakes. Some prostitutes working in a fully government funded Organisation with "grassroots" pretensions warn others they "should not bite the hand that feeds them", meaning "do not rock the boat", or be compliant. They may learn to their sorrow however, that the hand is made of steel; it cannot be bitten but it can smack with a savage wallop for disobedience.

A strategy for radical integration

I love life, the rain, and the wind.
I love the music of Bach, Vivaldi and Jean-Roger Caussimon,
And of Brel, Brassens, and Greco.
I love children, my children.
Through their movements I discover life.
I love my home;
It gives me pleasure to cook for my friends.
I love being at home and reading for an entire evening.
I love the movies, the theatre.
I love the warmth of my friends;
I love to give gifts.
I love to be nice like that for fun.
I love my man.
Am I not, then, a woman like you?
Oh, excuse me,
I am a prostitute. (cited in Connexions 1984, p. 4)

This poem, written by Barbara, one of the French women who occupied the church in Lyons in 1975, expresses what many prostitutes across the world feel about their own situation. It not only reflects the sentiments of women commenting in this work, but evinces its thesis. In a reverse perspective, some feminists have reflected upon themselves in the same manner (as indeed have many, if not most, women). Radical feminist Susan Brownmiller explains:

I am white, and middle class and ambitious, and I have no trouble identifying with either the call girl or the street hustler, and I can explain in one sentence: I've been working to support myself in this city (New York) for 15 years and I've had more offers to sell my body than I have had to be an executive (Brownmiller 1973, p. 74).

Brownmiller at one stage actually found herself facing the reality of entering prostitution as a strategy for survival:

There was a time when I was an unemployed actress, and working to support myself as a waitress and a file clerk. The disparity between my reality situation and my ambition for a better life was so great that I gave serious consideration to the social pressure to do a little hustling (Brownmiller 1973, p. 74).

Once again we are faced with the prime motivation for women becoming prostitutes. A whim, a piece of luck, a bit of extra money may be all that separates the prostitute from the non-prostitute. But, just how many women, in spite of a superficial identification, try to understand the prostitute as a person as well as a whore? When feminist literary scholar and philosopher Kate Millet decided to write on prostitution she undertook "the long and difficult process of finding women who could teach [me]". But Millet, was no detached analyst- for "I am a woman, so there are more personal motives behind my interest in prostitution." She found that subconscious niche in every woman's mind identifying her with "whore" that I had alluded to throughout this work:

A woman does not really need all that much imagination to have some insight into the prostitute's experience. I found a recess in my mind, a "closet" I call it, which, probably like most of us, I had dimly perceived yet hesitated to approach, a fantasy mesmerising me for half a lifetime, the 15 or 20 years since adolescence... I think many of us, maybe all of us, are really selling and not knowing we're doing it. The question ties then in who among us could stand, or will have to stand, on Broadway tonight (Millet 197 1, pp. 78 & 80).

With such insights by leading feminists why then hasn't mainstream feminism embraced prostitutes into their fold? Why such ambivalence, with some feminists, as we have seen in the previous Section, taking a part as colleagues of prostitutes in their movement for decriminalisation and rights of equality as whores, while others are openly hostile to them? One English feminist was so outraged at the thought of being a prostitute that she wrote in a fit of disgust: "I would rather clean out stinking lavatories seven days a week than let strangers violate my body." (Stott 1978). In a meeting of feminists I attended some years ago, one woman, a nurse, during a discussion on STD prevention among prostitutes, blurted out: "I'm not going to clean out cunts for men!"

In the early stages of the modern feminist movement activists invited discourses between them and their "erring, embarrassing sisters" in sex work. Gail Sheehy describes one such meeting in her typical cavalier style:

The very first conference between feminists and prostitutes in Manhattan degenerated into a brawl. The two-day meeting in January 1972 was run by middle-class panellists in combat boots who wanted to save their sisters of the musk-oiled flesh. Surprise: a few white-collar call girls turned up to speak for themselves. They were not only articulate but also in total disagreement with their would-be saviours, whereupon the liberated panellists brushed them off as uppity. The feminists were determined to come up with a clear cut position on the issue... [call girl] "I'm really tired of all of you talking about the degraded prostitute. You cannot sit here and make decrees about 50,000 to 75,000 prostituting women. At least you have to know the different types "... (another call girl) "You have to realise you're frightened of us. Because it's your husbands, your bosses, your radical-hip boyfriends who come to see us"... (yet another call girl) "I exposed my tender ass to come here today." A radical feminist observed that her sisters took a risk starting the whole women's movement three years ago. Swock! Prostitute slugged feminist. Drubble. The feminist broke into sobs. The conference went to pieces on the spot... [call girl] "So fuck off, feminists, and don't call us, we'll call you." (Sheehy 1973, pp. 1979).

Sheehy summarised the situation: "Working girls are feminists in very basic, competitive, American capitalist terms." One call girl put it even more succinctly:

They're trying to butt into everything, grab the publicity and wreck our business. How many of them can make $ 1000 a week lying down? (Sheehy 1973, p. 200).

It's not as simple as that, and nor do attitudes such as these do much towards resolving differences between the antagonists. As recently as 1985 the battle lines were still drawn when Margaret Prescod met Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney and outspoken feminist, Pamela Cushing, in a public discussion sponsored by Pennsylvania University's Law School Women's Law Group. The only things missing were the army fatigues and the fisticuffs. Prescod pointed to blatant racism and sexism in the state's dealings with prostitution and demanded decriminalisation as the only way to resolve this situation. Cushing replied with an all out assault on sex work:

Prostitution is something we want to keep illegal. We do not want to say that men can control women's bodies. Keeping the laws the way they are is helping women. I feel as a feminist that prostitution should be kept illegal... so that it will be hard for women to go this route... I think there are other ways of making money-I don't think taking the easy way, going out and selling your body, is the answer (The Philadelphia Tribune, 29 May 1985-, The Daily Pennsylvanian, 27 May 1985).

Her response angered prostitutes because she failed to understand the true nature of prostitution, where men do not "control women's bodies" in the contractual interaction, and for most prostitutes it is not "taking the easy way", which is demeaning both to sex workers and to women in general. Cushing, in fact, sounds less like a feminist in this last statement, and more like the patriarchal state, which after all she represents as district attorney. Also in this sense, Cushing's insistence that the laws should he maintained on the pretext that it stops women entering prostitution neither prevents them doing so, nor spares any thought for the women already involved. In the frame of mind of patriarchal Christianity, they are the most punished.

The Second World Whores Congress broached the question of feminism. Belgian feminists expressed surprise at the hostility shown by prostitutes towards the feminist movement: they shouldn't have been, with attitudes such as self-defined feminists like Cushing aired in open forums. In line with the cherished values of the modern women's movement the ICPR at the Congress proclaimed that the prostitutes have the same rights as all other women in a right to "financial initiative and financial gain", to receive "due respect and compensation in... occupation", to an "alliance between all women", to "determine their own sexual behaviour", and to have "relational choice (with) recourse against violence within any personal or work setting." The session on feminism at the Congress concluded with an appeal from ICPR that "urges existing feminist groups to invite whore-identified women into their leading ranks and to integrate a prostitution consciousness in their analyses and strategies." (Pheterson 1989, p. 197)

The crux of this final statement is a recognition that the prostitutes movement is doomed without wider support and that prostitution is a woman's issue to be resolved within a discriminating society, and not just an issue to be dismissed within the context of patriarchal social control.

The problem for feminists coming to grips with prostitution derives from the early feminist theories. Although there exists no thorough feminist analysis of prostitution based on participation, observational and empirical data, many of the major ideologists of the women's movement have attempted to understand the prostitute's role in relation to patriarchal sex relations and capitalist economic relations. One of the earliest was Emma Goldman, the turn of the century American feminist anarchist whose criticisms of patriarchy focuses on the sexual objectification of women. At one time she even tried prostitution herself to raise money for the revolution. The following statements come from her classic paper, The Traffic in Women:

Prostitution has been, and is, a widespread evil, yet mankind goes on its business, perfectly indifferent to the sufferings and distress of the victims of prostitution... What is really the cause of the trade in women?... Exploitation, of course; the merciless Moloch of capitalism that fattens on underpaid labor, thus driving thousands of women and girls into prostitution (Goldman 1973, pp. 309- 1 0).

Goldman was especially critical of female moralists and other women, citing Havelock Ellis' defence of prostitutes in a comparison with married women:

The prostitute never signs away the right over her own person (as married women do), she retains her freedom and personal rights, nor is she always compelled to submit to man's embrace (Goldman 1973, p. 315).

Goldman finishes with a note that might find support among more prostitutes today than feminists:

We must rise above our foolish notions of "better than thou", and learn to recognise in the prostitute a product of social conditions. Such a realisation will sweep away the attitude of hypocrisy, and insure a greater understanding and more humane treatment. As to a thorough eradication of prostitution, nothing can accomplish that save a complete transvaluation of all accepted values-especially the moral ones-coupled with the abolition of industrial slavery (Goldman 1973, p. 317).

Significantly, the year this article was first published, 1910, also witnessed the passage of the Mann Act through the Congress of the United States, the Federal statute which heralded a string of state legislation over the next ten years criminalising the activities of prostitutes to the present day.

Simone de Beauvoir, often held as the founding "mother" of the modern feminist movement, emerged from a background of existential philosophy and literature (as one of the most important scholars of existentialism), rather than radical politics. In her milestone work, The Second Sex, first published in 1949, she made this searing condemnation of the social oppression of prostitutes:

Common prostitution is a miserable occupation in which woman, exploited sexually and economically, subjected arbitrarily to the police, to a humiliating medical supervision, to the caprices of the customers, and doomed to infection and disease, to misery, is truly abased to the level of a thing (de Beauvoir 1979, p. 578).

De Beauvoir also wrote this at a time of legal change, when the French Government decided to end brothel licensing and introduce legislation that virtually criminalises prostitutes. It might appear that her damnation of prostitution supports a legal persecution of those women who persist in commercial sex, for even the hetairas are perceived by her to be both victims and collaborators in the sexual objectification of women by men. However, in a footnoted explanation, de Beauvoir obviously does not believe that the laws in the present system are the answer:

Evidently the situation cannot be changed by negative and hypocritical measures. Two conditions are necessary if prostitution is to disappear: all women must be assured a decent living: and custom must put no obstacles in the way of freedom in love. Prostitution will be suppressed only when the needs to which it responds are suppressed (de Beauvoir 1979, p. 578).

In other words, an end of patriarchy will mean an end to commercial sex, along with, according to de Beauvoir, the institution of marriage, monogamy and the confinement of women to domesticity. Free love is now upon us, at least in its incipient evolution, and much fewer women are confined to a domestic life as most young married women continue in the workforce, but prostitution continues as an essential social institution (though the signs of decline or change are beginning to appear).

For Kate Millet prostitution is a by-product of the nexus between women's economic position and their sexual relation to men:

The prostitute's role is an exaggeration of patriarchal economic conditions where the majority of females are driven to live through some exchange of sexuality for support. The degradation in which the prostitute is held and holds herself, the punitive attitude society adopts toward her, are but reflections of a culture whose general attitudes toward sexuality are negative and which attaches great penalties to a promiscuity in women it does not think to punish in men (Millet 1979, p. 123).

Millet first wrote these words in 1969, at a time when female promiscuity was much more unacceptable than it is today. At the moment the only female promiscuity that receives general disapproval is prostitution. Is the legal punishment of prostitution the only form of penalisation for female sinfulness left, or is this more a reaction by patriarchy to maintain legal control over some women in the face of declining male economic power in the domestic sphere? The situation as Millet saw it two decades ago is much more subtle and convoluted now.

Susan Brownmiller, somewhat later, in her analysis of rape, perceived prostitution in a continuum with male sexual power over women in general:

My horror at the idea of legalised prostitution is not that it doesn't work as a rape deterrent, but that it institutionalises the concept that it is man's monetary right, if not his divine right, to gain access to the female body, and that sex is a female service that should not be denied the civilised male. Perpetuation of the concept that the "powerful male impulse" must be satisfied with immediacy by a cooperative class of women, set aside and expressly licensed for the purpose, is part and parcel of the mass psychology of rape. Indeed, until the day is reached when prostitution is totally eliminated (a millennium that will not arrive until men, who create the demand and not the women who supply it, are fully prosecuted under the law), the false perception of sexual access as an adjunct of male power and privilege will continue to fuel the rapist mentality (Brownmiller 1975, p. 392).

Brownmiller wrote within the tradition of radical feminism, the most virulent force in the women's movement, which sees men as "enemy" and political or social radicalism as the only means of overthrowing male hegemony. Brownmiller's powerful consciousness-raising reaction to prostitution within a framework of a sexual power analysis has a dependence on solving the situation by using the same legal tactics against men that as legislators they use against prostitutes. This seems like a negative approach to a situation that requires wholesale social consciousness-raising changes from both sexes. Though a superficial treatment of prostitution in a different theoretical direction to the economic frameworks of earlier feminist writers, Brownmiller's analysis of sex work is the only one initiated in the radical tradition.

A major thrust of Brownmiller's historical analysis of rape was the concept that a woman is property, exchanged in the male marriage market and possessed by her father or her husband (or their respective kinsmen in some societies). Thus, a man is expected to protect his property (his wife or daughter) against the possession of it (by rape or seduction) by other men. In wartime women are raped by the enemy in a symbolic gesture of possessing captured territory. In such an analysis, however, prostitutes (if not the property of a pimp or other male figure, as indeed most are not) are no man's (or everyman's) property, and are not perceived by the male-dominated legal-judicial system as having really been raped in cases of their sexual violation.

Shulamith Firestone, (1970), one of the earliest radical feminist theorists, does not deal with prostitution in her landmark work on biological materialism. But one might surmise the position of sex work in her overall analysis of women's fundamental oppression in "sex class" hegemony by males. It would be related to "love" in the scheme of male domination of women through ideological control; but in the climate of Firestone's post sexual-technological-social revolution prostitution might have an entirely different meaning in a context of sexual equality and liberated sexual relations regardless of age, sex, gender, sexuality, and, one might suppose, regardless of the nature of sexual exchange.

Whereas Firestone's radicalism might free the prostitute as an oppressed figure, the radical feminism of Mary Daly is likely to oppress the sex worker further. Daly (1978) sees social and cultural separation and female centredness, rather than revolution, as the solution for women in a society not just dominated by male percepts but where men are parasitical to female creativity. Thus, the prostitute would be both a prime example of male sexual despotism over female libidinous energy and a kind of fifth column in the society of women. Due to their supposed closer affiliation with clients, pimps, brothel owners and other male "parasites" than with female culture, the prostitute would not fit well into female separatism, unless, of course, she is a "redeemed whore".

But these are more extreme views. Most feminists seem caught in the dilemma of assisting prostitutes as women oppressed by the patriarchy and condemning prostitution outright as a sexist and patriarchal manipulation of sexual control of females. Feminists attached to ICPR and the prostitutes' movement coming from that direction seem content to support prostitutes in their demands for law reform and improved working conditions, which, of course, means supporting prostitution as a concept, but not as a male institution of female sex work. On the other hand, feminists attached to the ECP and US Prostitutes Collective are at the forefront of a movement to integrate sex workers with housework and female racial inequality as part of a wider feminist demand for equal wages and employment for women and for a recognition of "women's work" as "legitimate work". It is very much related to the general class struggle, which has viewed prostitution as a work option for the most economically deprived women and as an institution for the privilege of mostly middle-class men benefiting from the sex labour of working-class women. Although the division of class is no longer as clearly defined as it once was in prostitution, for Socialist feminists it remains a metaphor for the economic oppression of women driving them into prostitution.

Socialist feminism is an uneasy "marriage" between Marxism and the women's movement. Early feminists, like Emma Goldman, concentrated on defining prostitution as the outcome of economic exploitation of women, but the later radical feminists have been critical of Socialism as a male centred movement which considers women as incidental in the class struggle. Even more "mainstream" feminists have felt that a Socialist's view of prostitution tends to overlook the social predilections that might be as important in a woman's entrance into prostitution as her economic situation. The economic reductionist view of prostitution by Socialist feminists is a cause for a rift in feminist perspectives of sex work.

Marx gave little thought to female prostitution, although it was an important social issue in his time. He did, however, consider it as an analogy to the "general prostitution" of the wider community by the owners of private property. He explained further in a footnote comparing sexual prostitution with exploiting labour:

Prostitution is only a specific expression of the general prostitution of the labourer, and since it is a relationship in which falls not the prostitute alone, but also the one who prostitutes [her]... the capitalist, etc., also comes under this head (Marx 1978, p. 82).

Thus, as the prostitute is the "labourer", so the pimp, brothel owner, or manager is the "capitalist". It is in this light that Socialist feminism's perceptions of prostitution have arisen. Engels (1978) was more explicit (see p. 178), but even his more specific analysis of prostitution is related back to a structure of class dominance. So, while Socialist feminists can provide support to prostitutes without jeopardising their political commitments, it is done with an intention of eliminating prostitution as a source of female class oppression. Although these feminists would adamantly oppose such a suggestion, there does seem to be at least the potential for a "dangerous liaison" with moral reformists in a not too dissimilar situation which turned the 19th century feminists' intention to liberate prostitutes into state oppression of them.

Possibly one of the most sensitive of the feminist leaders to devote a lot of space to prostitutes was Kate Millet, whose insights into the lives of women she interviewed is like a mystical revelation for feminists, with its empathy, compassion, and her reaching out to touch the souls of the women with whom she explored their world of sex work. In her assessment of the prostitute known as "J" Millet feels that she is able to deal with the dilemma of condemning prostitution without condemning the prostitute:

I know what the years in sexual prostitution have cost J too, can see it in the damage in her eyes, at moments their blueness as dead as glass. It is no melodious or pietistic bullshit to see prostitution as a particular crime against humanity. Her suffering comes back when I remember our long halting talks, both her admissions and her denials, the long pained hours, her sensitive face. How much it has all hurt her; the years of silence and repression, the secrecy so deep it forbade her ever to remember for some years after. And at the time, how deeply the pain required that she utterly anaesthetise herself, passive even to the point of numbness. Now too bitter to love anyone. That's a lot to pay even for $800 a week; it's a still more terrible sum for which to hold men liable... For the prostitute, probably the ultimate oppression is the social onus with which she is cursed for accepting the agreed upon social definition of her femaleness, her sexual abjection (Millet 1971, p. 94).

There is a love and heart-felt compassion for this "sister" in pain. But I have heard very similar sentiments by genuinely sensitive Christian social workers evoking pity for women whom they perceive as suffering fatigue, anguish, de-sensitised emotions or an expression of hostility as outcomes of prostitution experiences, when they may not be: but instead might reflect the observer's own bias. To also assume one individual's negative experiences as typical of others in the same situation and to project these assumptions to a wider population is to skew data for which the early psychoanalysts have been heavily criticised by feminists, among others.

Among feminist scholars, the historians have provided us with insights into past prostitution rarely found in feminist writings about present-day sex work. For instance, historians of social history like Judith Walkowitz (1980) on Victorian England, Ruth Rosen (1982) on 19th century America and Golder and Allen (1979) on Colonial Australia have demonstrated that prostitution of a century and more ago was controlled and managed by the women (usually "madams" or ex-prostitutes) themselves in brothels or they worked as freelancers on the streets without "pimps", drug-dealers or gangsters standing over them. Jess Wells, though not a historian, compiled a short historical overview, or "her story", of prostitution. One of her revelations was to show prostitutes as liberated women when other women were heavily shackled by social conventions:

Looking at prostitution as an institution leaves untold the stories of many strong, brilliant women who led the most independent lives of their eras. Escaping from marriage and the patriarchal family, prostitutes were frequently the only women allowed on the streets at any time they chose, to attend theatre and teach (Wells 1982, p. vi).

As in patriarchal Europe, so in America and early Australia. Even on the American frontier, that bastion of male machismo escapism, prostitutes (so wrote feminist historians of western social history), were often the nurses, teachers, businesspeople, even town councillors, before the advent of families, wives, and moralism on the frontier immediately relegated them to outcasts (see Goldman 1972; Jeffrey 1979; Barnhardt 1986). Feminists would have felt more comfortable with prostitutes of the past than many seem to be with those of the present; but this might be due more to a matter of distance than to any changes in prostitution.

The latest feminist attempt at defining prostitution for the women's movement was made by Carole Pateman (1988) in her analysis of the "sexual contract", which involves males dominating female bodies and lives through a tradition of prescribed cultural, social and legal transactions of power. Pateman's contract theory is in fact a variation of Daly's analysis of patriarchy's cultural and ideological hegemony of femaleness. She establishes her position on prostitution thus:

Within the structure of the institution of prostitution, 11 prostitutes" are subject to "clients", just as "wives" are subordinate to "husbands" within the structure of marriage (Pateman 1988, p. 194).

She therefore falls in line with the very earliest feminist debates on patriarchal hegemony, and she takes issue with the historical views of Wells and the feminist social historians. She justifies criticisms of prostitution as a focus on a problem about men rather than the women who are involved in it:

To argue that there is something wrong with prostitution does not necessarily imply any adverse judgment on the women who engage in the work. When socialists criticise capitalism and the employment contract they do not do so because they are contemptuous of workers, but because they are the workers' champions (Pateman 1988, p. 193).

This is an appropriate enough analogy, but is it fully understood by feminists in general? For example, Socialists demonstrate their disgust for capitalism by putting their entire political weight behind the trade union movement. Feminists express their distaste for prostitution, but, apart from a handful of individuals, there is no attempt by women's liberationists mobilising en masse to support the prostitutes' movement. In any case, Pateman herself moves away from the relationship to capitalist structures by using analogous comparisons with "classic" capitalist wage labour, where a worker is employed in the production industry and has no involvement with the consumer of the commodity he/she has produced. In prostitution, according to Pateman (1988), the central contractual dynamic is between customer (consumer) and prostitute (worker), while an employment contract between the prostitute and the brothel owner is peripheral. Indeed, as she points out, many prostitutes are "small scale private entrepreneurs".

If it is difficult comparing prostitution to the production industry, it is less so with a service industry such as hairdressing or massage (indeed, the masseuse often crosses the boundary of prostitution by masturbating clients. Does she become a prostitute on those occasions?). Some hairdressers and masseuses operate their own small businesses, but most, like most prostitutes, work for a boss. There is a contract for service labour between the customer and the hairdresser/masseuse which involves personal taste, bodily contact and an interaction between worker and consumer. The owner of the salon or massage clinic is in a relation to the consumer similar to the large scale owner of the means of production, but the Worker has an intimacy with the consumer that more closely resembles the prostitute's relationship with her clients.

Another of Pateman's analogies is the professional sportsperson whose body is an essential component of his/her contract with the team manager. But, in fact, the sportsperson has less rights with his/her body than the prostitute, because the former has a contractual obligation to compete with his/her body on every occasion demanded by the team manager, whereas in prostitution most prostitutes can refuse a customer or work with their bodies for any number of reasons and at any time.

Even more unlikely is Pateman's attempts at finding similarities between prostitution and surrogate motherhood in which a woman contracts to fall pregnant and give birth to a child belonging to a childless couple. In the first place, the brief period of time a prostitute has with each customer involving virtually no emotional interchange can hardly be compared to the length of time of a pregnancy in which there is an emotional involvement of at least three people: the biological mother, the genetic father and the social mother towards the unborn foetus. Secondly, there is no question of either prostitute or surrogate mother "selling" or even "hiring" her body. She is paid for a service which necessitates the use of her vagina or uterus, just as a motor mechanic is paid to do a service requiring the use of his/her hands or any other part of the body which might be necessary.

The focus of attention in Pateman's analysis is the female body and its relation to sexual (heterosexual) interaction in a social (patriarchal) sense. The problem here is that she assumes it must always be the same in this relationship, if not socio-dynamically, then at least symbolically. She notes:

When women's bodies are on sale as commodities in the capitalist market, the terms of the original contract cannot be forgotten; the law of male sex-right is publicly affirmed, and men gain public acknowledgment as women's sexual masters-that is what is wrong with prostitution (Pateman 1988, p. 208).

Whilst this may be true for such prescribed social rituals as marriage, romance and seduction, it only exists, as I have pointed out, as a figment of the patriarchal imagination in its construction of the prostitution myths. The prostitutes throughout this study have stressed over and over again how different sexual interactions in prostitution are to ordinary social sexual situations. Certainly prostitution might appear a public announcement of the "male sex-right", but the reality is a quite different dynamic. So long as prostitution remains shrouded behind a veil of patriarchal myths this reality will always appear to be more like a reflection of everyday sex relations.

Whilst patriarchal capitalism is responsible for more women being prostitutes than men, and patriarchal myths of the sexual imperative in men perpetuate the objectifying of women, female prostitution is a social situation in which women have more power over sexual interactions than in any other circumstance involving both sexes interacting. In a recent paper on women and AIDS, Kippax et al. (1988) conclude:

Sexual negotiation between men and women typically takes place between those with power and those without... Negotiation may be possible within the "permissive" discourse. Women who are confident in and of their sexuality are better able to resist their complimentary positioning. They are thus more likely to be able to maintain the essential tension of the contradictory impulses to assert the self and respect the self and respect the other (Kippax et al. 1988).

The problem with Pateman's analysis (as indeed is the problem with the writings of most feminist scholars on prostitution, with the exception of the historians, who, not unlike Mary Daly's (1978) "golden age" of matriarchy, have discovered a past of women-dominated female prostitution) is in equating prostitution's sexual interactions with those of most social situations in which women find themselves subjected to patriarchal conditions. In theory and the patriarchal imagination it is the same, but beneath the surface prostitutes are more like the ancient Roman "prostitute", in which the women were rebels of the patriarchy rather than totally subservient to it.

There are two ways women might deal with the patriarchy. One is, as suggested by Mary Daly and the separatists, to remove completely from it, or create two cultures side by side, one male-centred and the other female-centred. But, this may appear a negative approach in which a solution for sexual equality in the same society would be as remote as the sexes would be to each other. The second way is by women somehow empowering themselves in sex relations. The sexual-technological-social revolution of Firestone might seem an extreme action, and much too remote in time. A reassessment of women's position in everyday sexual interactions might be more plausible. Among the most assertive women in society are the prostitutes. If some of this assertion could be converted from commercial to social sex situations, males may discover they have less sex-rights than they are accustomed to think.

Courtship and marriage are traditional means of patriarchal sexual control of women, but with assertive female sex roles these may change for the benefit of women, or disappear altogether in a climate of free sex initiated by both sexes without a prescribed power base. Empowerment in (hetero)sexual interactions has been a key objective for women in the feminist movement's radical aims for removing restrictions on sexual behaviour in the socialisation of females, within a stream of consciousness from Simone de Beauvoir (1979) to Kate Millet (1979), and from Shulamith Firestone (1970) through to Carole Pateman's (1988) critique of "sexual contract". Prostitutes with a feminist consciousness would be invaluable here in the frontline of these sexual politics, even though ultimately such a sexual utopia may spell the end to prostitution. But the concept of marketing sex within a mercantile and materialist society is likely to continue, although in a very different form to its present structure, with, perhaps youth as a commodity and a choice for either sex to sell or buy as the circumstance suggests.

Sexual and economic self-determination for women as major objectives for feminists are partially achieved by most prostitutes in their response to a patriarchal sexual mode manoeuvred to their economic advantage. What requires to be refined here is a feminist revaluation of prostitution as a female control base. With the sex industry back in the hands of a prostitute management, with sex workers continuing to command the terms of individual sexual interactions, and with a feminist consciousness on prostitution expanded to general sex relations, the struggle against male objectification of the passive female body might make some headway. Of course, it may mean the decline of prostitution as it exists today, but with sexual and economic equality in society not many prostitutes are likely to object.

Feminists have long done battle with legislation, for example, in their demands for abortion, reform of the rape laws, equal opportunity in the workplace, childcare, and refraining the family laws. Feminist scholarship has alerted us to the fact of the "whore" stigma as a social control mechanism for oppressing all women. With most women it is used to re-direct them back into patriarchal sexual authority, while with prostitutes it is used to keep them suppressed. The decriminalisation of the prostitution legislation, therefore, would immediately free prostitutes from the shackles of unjust laws, but it would also be a positive step in removing a punitive threat to all women, especially those who aspire to freedom of sexual choice. Without its legal manifest the "whore" stigma would lose its potency, especially with an empowerment of females in sexual interactions as perceived among the key objectives of feminists.

The above outline of aims and achievements for both feminists and prostitutes will only be truly effective in a co-operative effort. It is time to bury old prejudices and rethink the position of prostitutes and their objectives in the light of fresh evidence such as found in this and other recent studies, and incorporate these in the overall political objectives for women. Rather than view prostitutes as passive, misguided participants in the patriarchy's sexual control of women, feminists will find it more profitable to see them as radical traditionalists inside a patriarchal structure turning the situation to their sexual, social and economic advantage. There is no need to elaborate on the dangers of division within the ranks of revolutionary politics. If feminist prostitutes are continually pushed aside by mainstream feminism they may eventually develop radical theories likely to wedge deeply into the rank and file of the women's movement, causing feminists to either align themselves with sexual liberationists or with puritanical reactionaries. Beware the fate of the Victorian feminists' response to 19th century prostitution.

Feminists need to recognise prostitutes' identification as workers in the capitalist structure, and not deny this in efforts to understand sex work in patriarchal structures, because it is work related experiences which are essential in the prostitute's bid for control over their industry. Any focus on the sexuality aspect in sex work feeds fuel to conservative bases in the Church and the state. A Church-state-feminist consortium would eventually crush the prostitutes' movement and demonstrate to women generally that sexuality is one area in feminist politics that is least in need of reform, when, in fact it has been the inter-sex relation most ideologically and politically applied by the patriarchy to oppress women, through the legal punishment of prostitutes and the social confinement of other women.

For mutual effectiveness prostitutes and feminists need to address co-operatively the following issues:

  • Defuse the "whore" stigma by decriminalisation and a general female identification with prostitutes.
  • Encourage sexual assertion such as practised by prostitutes (at work) for all women as a means of acquiring sexual empowerment.
  • Assist prostitutes in gaining control over their industry by identifying their needs with the needs of other workers in the capitalist system.
  • Develop feminist theories that recognise prostitutes' management of their clients, their economic independence (as opposed to an interdependence on patriarchal capitalism and sex-rights, to which all women are in some way committed), and their political potential as assertive women.


This final Chapter began with a summary of the findings for the sample of the 128 prostitute women in this study. By subdividing this group into three "types" based on age of entry into sex work, it was discovered that variations in motivations for entry and social factors existed between them. This suggested that: about five per cent of women in prostitution began in their early adolescence, were motivated by negative homelives and/or problems with their mothers, and socialised with other homeless "kids" surviving by casual prostitution; about a quarter enter the sex industry in their mid-adolescence as females having identities as "bad girls" through involvements with juvenile authorities and the courts, or due to drug addiction, and survive as full-time prostitutes supporting these or later addictions; and, about two-thirds turn to prostitution as a work option in their adulthood as a consequence of economic crises. This, the common prostitute stereotype of the drug addicted teenage streetwalker represents a small portion of sex workers, while adult women from ordinary social backgrounds, including average homelives, the general work force, and a family life as wives and mothers, who make clear economic choices about sex work, represent the majority of the prostitute population.

Since mostly ordinary women take up prostitution due to the general social conditions which are not favourable to women in society, it has been argued that the continuance of repressive and punitive laws against them is a violation of a number of human fights, as well as further oppressing women as the sex most likely to take up prostitution for economic survival. In response to this legal repression, prostitutes in the past two decades have organised into advocacy groups calling for decriminalisation. The AIDS crisis has provided some of these groups already communicating with governments with funds to fight the disease. But, as the experiences of the Australian Prostitutes Collective demonstrates, there is a real fear that the "benevolence" shown by government funding bodies is a subtler means of controlling prostitutes through co-opting their organisations. By themselves, prostitute advocacies are unlikely to win their struggle for decriminalisation and self-determination in their industry. They require the assistance of other branches of the women's movements. Unfortunately, feminist ideologies have adopted negative analyses of sex work by a focus on the sexual interactions in a patriarchal context instead of developing a theory on prostitution as a reflection of male economic dominance and moralism. Prostitutes and feminists now need to co-operate in an endeavour to improve women's general situation in society, so that they can control sexual interactions and take command of the sex industry if they choose to work in it.

This book has covered a lot of ground since its opening passages on prostitution as an occupation. What I have tried to emphasise is the normality of the women who become prostitutes. This normality is often submerged beneath a repertoire of myths about sex work that are far from reality. These myths from patriarchal perspectives frame the laws, the social attitudes, and the popular image of the women. A review of feminist writings about the sex industry concludes the book because the negative response from feminists demonstrates the extent of influence by this mythology; a mythology which is part of the overall social reflection of women's subordinate position in society. The social expectations of women in society are their submission to men in public and private life as compliant, obedient, sexually passive beings. The mythology of prostitution presents a view of sex workers as brazen, socially defiant, and sexually animate. The disparity between mythology and expectation is an obvious divide and rule tactic, but prostitution remains a social venue not just for female misfits with aggressive personalities. It serves as a medium in which women with assertive natures may express themselves, and women normally suppressed in social life are able to assert themselves. And, after all, encouraging women to be more assertive has been a political strategy for feminist demands for over a century and a half.

Probably the last word should come from one of the prostitute women in my study. Martine:

When I started working in prostitution I soon realised that being "bossy" wasn't always negative and actually it is a really strong attractive characteristic in you to some men. I feel good about it now and a lot more comfortable with myself. I'm not going to take it any more that women have to be nice and sweet and, you know what I mean. I come from a feminist background, but I still get all that shit put on me all the time, like: "You're too aggressive!" or "You're too direct!" Now, how can you be too direct, I ask you. Now I just don't take any notice of that shit, and I don't get as much of it these days because I mix with other women who are in prostitution, and we actually shut up.