Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Whose rights are we talking about: legalised prostitution

By Mary Lucille Sullivan - posted Monday, 25 June 2007

At the beginning of the 21st century governments worldwide are confronted with an unprecedented escalation of the global sex industry. An intrinsic component of this new world sex market is the trafficking of millions of people, mainly women and girls, for commercial sexual exploitation.

The US Government has intimated that after drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, with the majority of people trafficked for sexual exploitation. Increasingly governments are opting for legalisation of prostitution as the solution to this crisis.

Uncritiqued, the arguments proffered by pro-prostitution advocates for treating prostitution as “work” appear persuasive. They argue that a legally regulated industry will contain industry expansion, eliminate organised crime and help eradicate sex trafficking and child prostitution.


Pro-prostitution lobbyists also propose that legalisation allows occupational health and safety (OHS) conditions to be introduced into the prostitution “work environment”, a means of protecting both women and the buyers (the consumer), and in turn the wider public health.

Much of the discussion around legitimising the industry also draws heavily on sexual liberal discourses and the belief that prostitution is about sexual autonomy and choice.

In this context a woman’s right to equality and safety is translated as a woman’s right to be prostituted. This latter view fits easily with a neo-liberal vision of a laissez faire economic system and the freeing up of the market place where prostitution is reduced to simply a matter of supply and demand. But just whose rights are being protected when women and girls become just another sought-after consumer good in the market place?

In 1984 the Victorian Labor Government under John Cain introduced legalised prostitution, one of the first governments in the world to do so. Victoria’s experience allows us to put the spotlight on the real consequences, particularly for women, of treating prostitution as a job just like any other. Not only does legalisation not control prostitution’s harms, it produces many of its own making. The purported benefits of for women in prostitution of legitimising the trade are a myth.

State endorsement of prostitution greatly expands the legal, as well as illegal, sectors of the industry, with the latter four to five times that of the regulated trade.

Economic analyst IBIS Business Information, in its forward prediction to 2010 revealed that “sexual services”, ranks highest of all personal service industries in terms of revenue. It forecasts that the sector’s revenues will increase to about $2.475 billion by the end of the decade. This equates to a 6.8 per cent annualised rise at a time when the GDP is growing at about 3 per cent.


The impact of this untoward expansion on community living is vast. Brothels and other sex-orientated businesses are now a prominent feature of Melbourne’s urban landscape. Although zoning laws restrict sex businesses from locating in residential localities, the state’s planning laws allow licensed brothels in business centres and on local shopping strips close to residential areas.

Communities are powerless to prevent the encroachment of the sex industry into their daily lives as municipal councils have minimal options to refuse to locate a brothel if its owner is a legitimate licensee.

Those who benefit most from Victoria’s highly lucrative prostitution culture are sex entrepreneurs (pimps and brothel owners), the government and male buyers. The financial returns to sex businesses became apparent when Victoria hosted the world’s first stock market-listed brothel, the Daily Planet, a demonstration that it is now economically viable and publicly respectable to be a brothel owner. Under its new name (Planet Platinum Limited), the company has expanded into tabletop dancing and a chain of Showgirls Bar 20 Strip Clubs aimed at both the Australian and Asian markets.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

Making Sex Work: A failed experiment with legalised prostitution (2007 Spinifex Press) by Mary Lucille Sullivan. This article was first published in Arena in May 2007.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

64 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Mary Lucille Sullivan is a feminist activist and member of the Australian branch of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. She lives in Melbourne surrounded by her five daughters and is passionate about creating a space for women to live their lives free of oppression. She has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Melbourne and is the author of the book, Making Sex Work: A failed experiment with legalised prostitution, available from good bookshops and from Spinifex Press.

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

Article Tools
Comment 64 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy