I’ve been following the story of the brothel on Brunswick St, where a woman was convicted of holding Thai sex workers as slaves. I was disturbed when the conviction was overturned on appeal. Now debate is occurring about a retrial. It’s a terrible story and I hate walking past this place – I usually use the other side of the street.
Update 29 August 2008: the slave owner has had her conviction and sentence reinstated by the High Court.
Sex work is a complex issue. It does seem that many sex workers undertake this kind of employment because of the apparent lack of other options. The correlation of sex work and drug addiction is often mentioned, but cause and effect is more difficult to determine. Do women become junkies then become prostitutes to pay for the drugs, or work as prostitutes then start using drugs to cope with their psychological problems?
Many sex workers may be victims of prior abuse, have mental health issues, or have other problems that result in low self esteen, poor self worth and poor decision making and relationship skills.
Sex work, like drug use, seems deeply embedded in human culture, and will probably never disappear, regardless of the prohibitions or the consequences. Complex issues about sex work include the role of men as clients (many apparently feel ashamed), men as sex workers, and the sane, balanced, educated, economically motivated women freely undertaking sex work.
From an economic point of view, educated western citizens choosing sex work when they have multiple opportunities does not seem like exploitation, particularly if they are self employed. We are free to make (poor) choices.
Conversely, being an unskilled third world citizen brought to Australia to be employed for sex work with little English, and your passport being confiscated by your employer does sound like exploitation. That is the most vile aspect of sex work.
Old school Marxist economics is sometimes still extremely relevant. Being alienated from the product of your labour is exploitation. End of story.