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No young girl dreams of being a prostitute

By Wendy Francis - posted Wednesday, 21 May 2014

"So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war."

This was Abraham Lincoln's reported first greeting to the outspoken abolitionist, Harriet Beecher Stowe. The book he referred to was "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

Today, slavery is not legal anywhere, but it happens everywhere. Human trafficking is the modern day slave trade.


We collectively mourn the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian young women, many destined for modern day slavery. Over 27 million people are currently slaves. 600,000 - 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Approximately 80 per cent are women and girlstrafficked into the commercial sex industry.

I have recently returned from accompanying an Australian delegation to Stockholm, Sweden to investigate what has now become known as the Nordic model of dealing with the problem of prostitution.

Because Sweden criminalises men who buy women for sex, it has become an unattractive destination for sex trafficking. Several other countries have followed, or are following, in its footsteps.

Because brothels promote demand for women, they are not permitted. The law hits the purchaser hard, but provides support to the one purchased, in most cases a woman.

After decades of legal brothels, the Swedes radically changed tack. They recognised something Australian State governments have failed to recognise - prostitution exists because inequality exists.

The criminalisation of the purchase of sex was unique when it was first enacted in Sweden in 1999, but since then Norwayand Icelandhave adopted similar legislation, both in 2009, and Francebegan enacting a similar law in 2013.


Other countriesinvestigating this model include Canada, US, NZ, Finland, Belgium, UK, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands.

Prostitution targets those already marginalised. In a society where everyone is equal, you cannot have a situation where you can buy a person's body and neither can you sell yourself. It is a violation of human dignity and it devalues all around you as it normalises the sale of human beings. A society where full gender equality exists cannot at the same time support the idea that women are commodities that can be bought, sold, and sexually exploited.

The law is a teacher and legislation does change behavior. It brings with it a normative influence. Since introducing the ban on purchasing sex, Swedish culture has changed in a similar way in which public opinion has changed regarding smoking.

Buying sex is now simply not acceptable. Strip clubs are banned. Hotels are encouraged to be Porn Free.

But perhaps the most incredible result is that Sweden now has the fewest trafficked women in the European Union with their national criminal investigation department reporting that approximately 400 to 600 women are trafficked into Sweden each year compared with 10,000 to 15,000 trafficked into Finland.

The laws have strong public support.Seventy per cent of Swedes support the government's approach. It is seen as an issue of human rights.

Evidence reveals that the vast majority, 89 per cent, of prostituted women want to leave prostitution if they are given an exit strategy. They suffer post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms equivalent to victims of war.

The average age of entering prostitution across nine countries including Australia is 14-15 years of age. This is not an adult choice. A high percentage of prostituted girls do not even get to grow into adulthood. Worldwide, the average age of death for prostituted persons is 34.

While other countries are taking an adult approach to the dignity of women, it would seem that Australia is moving further and further towards normalising men's entitlement to women's bodies.

A legal brothel on Queensland's Sunshine Coast brothel is offering a lunch time meal deal - an adult form of a 'happy meal' with a woman as a toy. Men buying women along with a meal at lunch time reduces the act of sex to a product with a woman as wrapping.

In 1999 the Beattie Government in Queensland legalised brothels. Peter Beattie claimed prostitution had to be regulated so women could be safe and not part of an illegal, unregulated system.

After fifteen years it is clear the system isn't working. A 2009 report by the University of Queensland on the Queensland law's tenth anniversary found that licensing brothels had little impact on illegal prostitution in the state.

In fact, the report found that many of the illegal escort agencies in Queensland are controlled by criminal syndicates which operate from interstate. Meanwhile Queensland Police report that mining towns in the state are increasingly being confronted with human trafficking. Many of the women cannot speak English and have low levels of education.

The assumption that a woman can be safe from harm in a State-sanctioned legal brothel is heroic. The assumption that this was going to somehow curb illegal prostitution has been proven false.

So successful has the Nordic model been, that there is no talk of reverting to legal brothels again.

If Australian State and Territory governments were serious about equality for women, they too would target the source of demand and criminalise the purchaser.

No one dreams of being a prostitute.

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About the Author

Wendy Francis is the director of the Australian Christian Lobby’s Centre for Human Dignity. Prior to this Wendy has served in managerial positions at the Centre for Public Culture and Ideas at Griffith University and also Queensland Baptists. Wendy also ran for a senate position with Family First in 2010. She commenced a campaign in 2009 calling for outdoor advertising to be G rated.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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