12 August, 2009

Australia, sex work and our response

Social Justice and Community Development
The Salvation Army - Australia Eastern Territory
August Newsletter
Sex work in Australia, as with many other countries, has become a societal norm. It is something that many of us may not agree with but have come to accept as being a part of common life. To the average person, sex work is far from our everyday thoughts; when we do consider it, we seem to share a narrow or stereotypical view of what it actually is. We associate sex work with the city, the night and people who are seen as being morally incorrect or apathetic. We think of drug users, street crime and the geographical areas of our neighbourhood that we tend to avoid.

There is much debate about sex work and, specifically in Australia, debate about the legality of sex work has strong arguments on both sides. When we consider the issue, we rarely look at the implications it has on the individual, talking more about the moral and social consequences. It’s often a ‘hot topic’ in political debates, awareness campaigns and other public forums. What we need to realise is that sex work not only impacts on society, but also on every individual affected by it. When it comes to individuals, some of us find ourselves saying “It’s their choice” - but is it?

Some would say that in most cases, people make an informed choice to enter sex work or partake in it. What we can’t forget though, is that there are many who may have seemed to make a choice, but that choice has been made out of necessity, survival or an addiction they can no longer control. This brings me to the question so often avoided: is sex work a choice or is it the means to an end for someone struggling for survival by becoming a paid victim of abuse?

One pro-sex work study revealed that there were three types of prostitutes; kids starting before they are 16years, girls entering while aged 16-18years and women beginning sex work after they’re 19years. Statistics revealed that those under 18 largely had experiences of family breakdown, physical and sexual violence and drug abuse. Where as the statistical picture of women (over 19) portrayed that they were led into sex work through “economic situation, or financial survival for themselves”. This indicates that it was an informed choice that these women made about entering the sex industry.

When sex work is seen as the only option, these situations don’t seem to be much of a choice. Maybe it was good economics, maybe it would allow more financial viability for a single-parent household or student trying to pay for an education. Regardless of the reasons, we must not stand by and allow people to be trapped in an abusive life where they had little choice.

There are many women in sex work who choose not to leave, this is for a variety of reasons. Many have a fear of the unknown, an inability to financially support themselves any other way, plus a variety of other circumstantial factors. Interestingly, studies reveal that more than 50% of women would choose to leave sex work if they felt this was a suitable option. It seems we created a society that allows sex work through law, but does not adequately support women who want to opt out of that lifestyle, leaving them ostracised from the general community.

What is the way forward? Political and legal debates will continue to take place, with much justice to be fought for, but for us as Christians our first calling is to love God and to love others as Christ loved us. We accept that, no matter what choices they have made, people in sex work are no different to anyone else and we love them no matter what the circumstance. We don’t just acknowledge them, we build relationships with them, we share with them, pray with them and we are to be ready for when they see a way out, helping them to rebuild their new lives in freedom - holistically and with a deep freedom in spirit and body.

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