Legalized prostitution in Australia attracts traffickers

Legalization of prostitution in Australia benefits traffickers and the government, but not women, including sex trafficking victims. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2012 — Jason Itzer, a convicted pimp from New York, recently published an op-ed in the New York Daily News. His unashamed advice? That Americans should legalize prostitution. However, Mr. Itzer conveniently left out how legalization in other countries, like Australia, has negatively affected women.


It’s been two decades since the Australian government legalized prostitution. At that time, legalization sounded promising to many Australians as supporters said the measures would end violence against females, street prostitution, illegal brothels and police corruption. However, despite legalization, those problems have not diminished. Australia is still facing the same problems it faced in the past, and many have gotten worse.


Legalized prostitution didn’t stop Australian sexual violence against women. According to the 2004 Australian national survey, 34% of women experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.


Legalization also encouraged the growth of a culture of prostitution and actually spiked street prostitution. In 2001, the Australian Attorney General’s office reported approximately 350 women prostituting on Kilda Street, a red light district in Melbourne city.  This represents a market increase in the number of street prostitutes. 


Australia’s legalized sex market has not protected prostitutes from fanatic buyers trying to kill them. In May 2012, a man high on speed killed a 47 year-old prostitute. He punched her, hit her with a tire wrench, and to top it all off, choked her to death with cable ties.


Then there are the brothel owners who traffic foreign women to save on operational costs. For them, sex trafficking victims are much cheaper options than licensed sex workers, as victims demand neither labor rights nor benefits. In 2011, Four Corners, a nationally televised Australian news magazine, investigated sex trafficking in the brothels of Melbourne. One survivor of sex trafficking described her ordeal as follows:


What happened to us was a nightmare. We worked from 11am to three or 4am the next morning, and slept only three or four hours. They treated us like animals. We were sexually abused, we were dragged, and we were hit.


Illegal brothels did not magically disappear from Australia because of legalization. If anything, legalization actually increased the number of illegal brothels. According to police in the state of Victoria, there were approximately 400 illegal brothels in 2011, a figure four times higher than that of legal brothels. What’s worse, even legal brothel owners often used their businesses for criminal activities according to the report by Four Corners.


Illegal brothel owners continue to feed police corruption by bribing officials in an effort to disguise criminal activities like sex trafficking.


Police exploitation remains a serious problem. According to one survey in Queensland, 54.4% of street prostitutes indicated that police harassed them at least once in the past five years. According to a news report from Kilda Street in 2008, there were “at least 40 reports [of] alleged police misconduct in the sex industry from 2000 to 2007” and the Office of Police Integrity said that women in prostitution complained of police intimidation, discrimination and predatory sexual behaviors.


So, what changed in Australia with legalization? For one, Australians no longer see pimps as predators. Instead, they are viewed as successful entrepreneurs earning money in the international sex tourism industry. In addition, legalization provides men justification to visit brothels for business meetings. And, in all situations, the government is now entitled to collect tax money from women exploited in the commercial sex industry. Of course people like our friend Mr. Itzer are in favor of legalization in the United States. But what about the American women in prostitution and those trafficked to the U.S.? Are they in favor of legalization? 


Youngbee Dale is a writer, researcher, and human rights advocate. She invites you to join her on Google+Facebook, or Twitter


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Youngbee Dale

Youngbee Dale graduated from Regent University with Master’s degree in International Politics in 2009. While at Regent, she interned at World Bank and co-contributed to a human trafficking publication, “Setting the Captives Free” by Olivia McDonald (2007). She also worked with migrant workers and human trafficking victims in South Korea. Currently, she stays home with her three-month-old son to exercise the divine rights to mother and breastfeed him. 

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