LEGALISING brothels would not be good for our community. This was made clear by a woman known as Shannon, speaking on ABC Radio in Hobart about her life as a prostitute.
``Vulnerable women, already sexually abused and with low self-esteem, are targeted all the time to work in brothels. Drug-taking is commonplace. It's all about role play. I had to use drugs to dissociate myself. ''
She believes the distribution of pornographic videos from the ACT and on the internet is leading younger men to demand increasingly degrading acts to live out their fantasies.
When asked whether there was any difference between being in legal or illegal brothels, she replied: ``No, because you get the same sorts of clients and the same sorts of girls.''
Shannon believes legalisation ``sends the message that the government approves of women being degraded, damaged and sexually assaulted. Rather than legalising brothels, the government should be proactive and tackle the underlying problem, which is the breakdown of social and cultural values.''
The legalisation of brothels is indeed a failed social experiment.
In Victoria and New South Wales, illegal brothels far outnumber legal ones, women experience violence, degradation and even death, and the illicit drug culture and the trafficking of women are flourishing. The brothel trade has acted as a magnet to attract crime syndicates. Councils, police and government are unable to act effectively against the resulting lawlessness.
In the paper Legalising Brothels is not the Answer: the Example of Victoria Australia, Mary Sullivan and Sheila Jeffries report that ``in the everyday practices of the sex industry, women must engage in acts that are sexually and physically degrading and are forced to dissociate emotionally by using drugs or alcohol to survive.
``The acts that men buy the right to perform on prostituted women include all the forms of sexual violence that feminists are seeking to eliminate from women's beds, homes, workplaces, streets.
``A woman student in Victoria is protected by sexual harassment policies on university premises.
``Male teachers may not grab or insult her. When she crosses the road to the legal brothel, the same men may treat her as they wish. She has little redress. The harassment is what she is paid for.''
A UN Commission monitoring violence against women regularly criticises Australia for allowing legalised brothels, thereby aiding and abetting the trafficking of women and girls for sexual slavery.
Experience shows that the legalisation of brothels fails to protect children from prostitution. The normalising of brothel prostitution by government sanction brings increased demand and greater risk to vulnerable children.
The greater the social, physical and financial isolation of a child, the more likely he or she is to be coerced into prostitution.
A UN Save the Children report found that Victoria and New South Wales, both of which have legal brothels, are the two worst states for child prostitution.
In April this year, a woman was accused of running a child prostitution racket in Sydney's west, preying on homeless girls as young as 13. The woman allegedly arranged for girls to provide sexual services to men in cars and motels.
It is not acceptable that the community would sanction that a supply of women should be available for a fee for the sexual gratification of men, and for a third party to profit, or that men should expect to have a right to hire women for their sexual use.
It is not acceptable for prostitution to be regarded as an occupation on a par with others like nursing and teaching as a means of earning a living or supplementing an income.
In 2005 Tasmania joined the increasing number of countries that have legislated to outlaw brothels and the profiting from prostitution by a third party. We should join them in criminalising the purchase of sex, but not the sex workers, and by creating well-funded programmes to provide safety, care and opportunities to establish a new life for those wishing to leave prostitution.
We need community education programmes to explain the damage that prostitution brings to individuals and communities and to encourage boys and men to relate to women with respect.