Working Girls: Prostitutes, Their
Life and Social Control
By Roberta Perkins
If prostitution is the "oldest profession" (which is probably
far from true), then it is also the oldest social debate. Legislators,
theologians, philosophers, municipalities, police, criminologists,
psychiatrists and social scientists have debated the proper place
of prostitution in society for centuries. Some have argued that
it is anti-social and should be eradicated; others that it has an
essential role in society. Then there are those who have maintained
that it will persist in society regardless of the opinions of authorities
and ideologists, and therefore should be controlled or regulated
Much of the problem with this on-going debate has been the lack
of substantial evidence either way, which has opened the path for
such speculation and prejudicial convictions. Supposition and predilection
on prostitution has produced a mountain of mythology on the subject,
and, in turn, this mountain has proven to be an effective barrier
to realistic appraisals and irrefutable theories. What is even more
alarming is the morass of myths, morality and misogyny that permeate
the subject, which has arisen partly due to the chauvinism of the
intelligentsia in the past, and partly due to the titillations of
sensationalist journalism, movie screen imagery and other misinformation
from the media at large. It is as though each generation of the
populace is confronted by prostitution as two alien and hostile
cultures. As one prostitute told me in disgust over a newspaper
story: "It is like we are strange nocturnal animals that crawl
out of the sewers at night."
The major cause of this deplorable situation of ignorance and bias
has been too little objective analysis and empirical investigation
from scholars, and a lack of public contact. Too many people have
had too much to say on a subject they are much too ignorant about.
It would be unthinkable for a serious political scholar to write
about the machinations of government without ever having sat in
a parliamentary session or spoken to politicians for opposing parties.
The same principle of observation and objective analysis applies
to writers on prostitution. Of course, the blind prejudices of extreme
moralists who have never spoken to a prostitute will continue to
exist, but these will no longer have the support of scientists,
journalists or jurists who have done their homework well, and, ultimately
they will also not gain credence from any well-informed public.
Some readers may be sceptical about changes to public thought which
has been too indoctrinated by prejudicial views of ancient and modem
ideologists. But, since the sixties, literature on the subject of
prostitution has had a more positive approach, with participant
observers, empiricists and prostitutes themselves beginning to dominate
recent writings. Highly inflammatory news items about prostitutes
no longer have the public credence that they once did, as a more
critical audience, which is better informed, makes more appropriate
This book is an addition to this growing literature on prostitution
from an objective and well-informed position. It has an empirical
approach, with the insights of a participant observer, as well as
the interior perspectives of prostitutes themselves. It reflects
my public support of prostitutes over the years from the position
of a subjective radicalism. I have argued for a decade now that
prostitutes and their industry are among the most maligned and misunderstood
segments in our society, despite having once shared with the rest
of society an opinion of prostitutes as women with high sexual motivations
and criminal minds. In 1980, however, on joining the Crisis Team
of volunteer welfare workers at Kings Cross' Wayside Chapel, I came
face to face with these "denizens of degradation" for
the first time. None of them struck me as representative of the
image I had of prostitutes as loudmouths, untrustworthy over-painted
tarts. They seemed so ordinary. Soon after, residents of Darlinghurst
were mobilising against the street prostitutes in their area. They
were telling newspapers the kinds of things I once believed prostitutes
were capable of. Through my daily contact with these same women,
I realised that neither the residents nor the journalists were telling
the truth, because the women in their stories were nothing like
the women I had come to know and like. It was this misrepresentation
that prompted me to begin a public campaign of counteracting the
myths and malignant stories that often provided moral and political
opportunists with "evidence".
My associations with prostitutes cover two distinct periods. The
first was contact with street prostitutes of Kings Cross and Darlinghurst
and the women in the little East Sydney brothels. Most streetwalkers
were heroin addicts and many of the brothel workers had criminal
connections. But, I soon learned that these women were also mothers
who cared much for their children, that they did not come from broken
homes nor a background of juvenile delinquency, and most of them
did not pursue promiscuous lifestyles outside of prostitution. I
was so impressed by this reversal of the public profile of these
women that I wrote my first book on the subject, Being A Prostitute,
published in 1985.
Five years ago I entered my second period of association. The women
this time worked in parlours (bordellos, up-market brothels) and
in private (call-girls) flats across the Sydney metropolitan area
and in Canberra, Wollongong and Newcastle. Many of them, I discovered,
had worked, or were still working, as office secretaries, as nurses,
as air stewardesses, and in public relations. Others were students
working to pay their way through college or university. Many had
also worked in factories or as waitresses, barmaids or shop-assistants.
A great number of them were single mothers, and about half had bourgeois
backgrounds. Once again they failed to meet the stereotype. Rather
than ice-cool dames with particular misanthropy, they were often
warm, generous, sensitive women with quite ordinary suburban lives
beyond prostitution. Once again I was compelled to write about them,
and this book is the outcome. This book has three objectives:
- To demonstrate empirically that prostitutes are basically ordinary
women with only their occupation distinguishing them from others.
- To bring to the general public a balanced, well-informed view
of prostitution, shed of its tawdry reputation.
- To convince legislators to adopt a more practical method of
dealing with prostitution.
The Macquarie Dictionary has two definitions of the word "prostitute":
- a person, esp. a woman, who engages in sexual intercourse for
money as a livelihood.
- one who debases himself or allows his talents to be used in
an unworthy way.
The first definition is more appropriate to the meaning of "prostitute"
expressed throughout this book. The semantics in the book have been
expanded to incorporate the words "sex workers/sex work",
"sex industry" and "commercial sex" as alternative
terms bearing the same meaning in order to avoid word tedium and
too much repetition.
The first chapter of the book introduces the reader to the subject
of prostitution by taking a number of perspectives, and raising
the issue (tirelessly so in the literature, I'm afraid) of prostitution
either as legitimate work or activity, or as an immoral and basically
antisocial pastime. From four perspectives - that of the prostitute,
the moralist, the scientist, and the jurist-a history and discussion
of prostitution as work, immorality, a subject for study, and a
legal entity is examined, drawing certain conclusions and endeavouring
to determine from the evidence whether in fact the prostitute should
be regarded as a "sex worker" or as a "scarlet woman".
Chapter Two explores the law on prostitution across Australia.
It begins with an historical outline bringing us to the present
situation in Australian jurisdictions; and then discusses in detail
the implications and effects of the three major legislative trends:
criminalisation (in all but two state/territorial jurisdictions),
legalisation in Victoria, and decriminalisation in New South Wales.
In Chapter Three a sample of Sydney prostitutes is compared with
two high-status groups of women-health workers and university students-with
a view to determining the extent of difference between them, especially
in their demographic and class perceptions, their familial and other
social relations, and their early sexual experiences. Findings here
should indicate to what degree, if any, prostitutes are socially,
psychologically, and sexually different to other women, and how
these might be seen as predisposing them for sex work.
In Chapter Four the working lives of the prostitute sample and
other prostitutes are scrutinised and compared to earlier studies
of Sydney prostitutes, and sex workers in America. Descriptions
of workplaces and problems that arise, the nature of sex work, and
the men in the business are offered for analysis, and the reasons
prostitutes give for entering the business are examined in relation
to the popular view. Also, the more positive features of the work,
such as high income, short or flexible hours, and advantages expressed
by the workers themselves are juxtaposed with the negative features
of violence, contagion, arrest and drug addiction in an effort to
arrive at a full and realistic appraisal of the commercial sex industry.
The final chapter serves as a summary and conclusion based on the
evidence at hand throughout the book. It especially attempts a satisfactory
discourse on decriminalisation, the politicisation of prostitutes
and concord between feminists and prostitutes through an ideological
integration. It asks the final question: will prostitution survive
with increasing sexual liberation in society, or will it change
direction in a major reconstruction of the industry? Is saleable
sex really necessary, after all?
This treatise is another addition to a very much overburdened literature
(of some 6,000 or more publications) on the subject of prostitution.
But, it is an important addition in two major aspects. Firstly,
it adds to a small but growing number of books that are reversing
misconceived attitudes on prostitutes/prostitution. Secondly, it
attempts a solution to an age-old debate with some practical concessional
formulae. This book may not be the last word on prostitution, but
I sincerely hope it will be pivotal.
Chapter I Sex Workers or Scarlet Women?
Prostitution has different meanings for different groups in society.
A general impression of commercial sex might be that of the ruling
cultural dictum, but each social group also tends to interpret it
according to the dominant values of its subculture. Thus, to the
prostitute it represents work, with the same values and norms found
in industrial relations and commercial enterprise. To the church
leader and the dedicated Christian it is an immoral act highly offensive
to their God and contravening the codes of behaviour in their religion.
To the academic it is an interesting social phenomenon requiring
research and theoretical analysis to explain its existence. To the
legislator, jurist, lawyer and philosopher of law, it is a human
behaviour beyond social norms demanding legal interpretation and
regulation. To the writer, actor and artist it has a fascinating
aesthetic appeal. To the customer of the prostitute and the average
male it is sexually titillating. To the average woman it can be
forbidding yet intriguing at the same time.
In this chapter prostitution is critically examined from four perspectives
- work, morality, science, legality - tracing the historical sources
as well as arriving at a rational understanding for each viewpoint.
Prostitution: A Work-Based Occupation
People have got to realise that prostitution
is a community service because it provides a definite service
for a lot of men - and women, I might add - who wouldn't have
that outlet for their fantasies otherwise.
This comment by a Kings Cross prostitute in 1983 probably expresses
how most sex workers feel about the business they are in. June,
a parlour worker on Sydney's North Shore, put it another way:
Doing prostitution feels like the amount of money
you're paid gives me the sense that my labour is valued, from
a purely monetary sense [Other] work I've done felt to me to be
particularly undervalued, most particularly in nursing.
This comparison of sex work with other work is a constant theme
in prostitutes' conversations about their occupation. But, what
exactly do they mean by "work"?
The Macquarie Dictionary (1982) has nearly 50 meanings for the
term "work". But, the one which seems most pertinent to
the viewpoint of prostitutes is this one: "Employment; a job,
esp. that by which one earns a living." Raymond Williams notes
There is an interesting relation between work
and labour. Labour has a strong Medieval sense of pain and toil;
work earlier, in one of its senses, had also a strong sense of
toil (Williams 1976).
A common defence by prostitutes when questioned on the amount of
money they make is: "I work hard for my money!" They speak
of aching limbs, mental exhaustion and pelvic pain. Marie is a private
prostitute, who includes fantasy work in her business, and she expressed
The jobs vary in intensity and sometimes I feel
very exhausted and I don't feel like doing another job. I wouldn't
do it unless I could give it all my attention and be as alert
as I should. If I don't have that strength any more then I finish
for the day.
Fatale is a bondage mistress who considers her work extremely demanding:
It does take a lot of energy out of me and it
can be very stressful at times, even an ordeal. To be dominant
takes so much energy; not only does the stance have to be right,
you have to be a supreme actress and give off an incredible aura,
which makes you a good mistress... I usually require some time
in meditation to try and get my thoughts back together again.
I think 12 hours [her shift length] is far too long for me because
of the pace I work at. When it's 12 hours straight without a break,
after a day of working I'm physically exhausted the next day,
and mentally drained if the sessions have been stimulating. I
continually get sick and run down with shifts of that length.
It is probably this aspect of prostitution which others find most
difficult to understand. How can sex be work? After all, for most
people it is a pleasant natural pastime, and for the average permissive
pragmatist its enjoyment makes it inconceivable as toil. For the
Christian moralist, extramarital sex is "sin" not deserving
the dignity of being referred to as "work". In both these
instances, their responses bear a strong relationship to the Protestant
work ethic, with its doctrine of work as toil, sin as pleasure,
and work never equated with pleasure.
The strong economic motivation for women entering prostitution
is the same for anyone entering the work force. This itself is a
strong indication that prostitutes are seeking incomes, and not
just some imagined or real psychological propensities. What prostitutes
have to exchange for this income is the use of their bodies and
time in a sexual service. In the 1983 (Perkins & Bennett 1985)
study of Sydney's inner city prostitutes, nearly 97 per cent of
the sample of 121 women stated earning an income as their reasons
for entering prostitution, and 62 per cent of them claimed their
only other alternative was a welfare pension. An American study
arrived at similar findings. Nearly a third of 29 mid-west prostitutes
worked in commercial sex for entirely economic reasons, while a
further 17 of the 29 were psychologically as well as economically
motivated, according to the researcher (Decker 1979).
In the sense that prostitutes exchange their labour for cash, it
is little different to the everyday exchange of non-sexual labour
for cash. Doctors, chartered accountants, lawyers, typists and tradesmen
also exchange their labours or skills for cash. The argument that
prostitutes are different to these is that they enter an intimate
arrangement with another person by physical contact with that person's
sexual parts. Prostitutes counter-argue by saying that they do not
feel emotionally intimate with their clients and that many of their
services do not include sex. Besides, doctors also make a living
which include physical contact with the sexual parts of their patients,
and no one seems to question their right to take money for it or
treat it as work. Some office secretaries have been known to sleep
with their bosses for a higher income, and no one would consider
calling them prostitutes. Laura, an American call-girl, argued thus:
I use my body to earn a living. What is the difference
between working with my hands and working with my pussy. You're
still working with a part of your body, which is no different
to working with your brains.
The Protestant work ethic principle of separating work and pleasure
often troubles some prostitutes too. Martine, a Potts Point parlour
worker, spoke about her problem with this:
When I first started work whenever I felt myself
getting excited I would stop myself and told myself that I was
doing that because I would get too tired after I orgasmed. But
then, the more I kept stopping myself the more I realised I was
doing it because I felt guilty. I thought that if I had an orgasm
it wouldn't be a job any more but pleasure; it would be too enjoyable
and I shouldn't get paid for it. It takes a lot not to be turned
on as you get very sexually excited jumping in and out of sessions.
Now I think, if I don't orgasm it just becomes like any other
This is a very good point. How many people in the work force strive
to make their job more pleasant so it will not be "like any
other job"? Then there are those fortunate highly paid executives,
actors, artists, statesmen, writers, correspondents, to name a few,
who are stimulated by their work, but who might, like prostitutes,
justify the pleasure they derive from their job with: "But
I work hard for my money!" Should they be criticised like the
prostitute because their work is also pleasurable?
The prostitutes' argot is an excellent indicator of the way these
women perceive what they do. They refer to themselves as "working
girls" or simply "workers". The men who visit them
are called "customers" or, more often "clients",
and their payment is a "fee" or "pay". The owner
or manager of a brothel is called "the boss" and the employees
are "staff" or, in the case of prostitutes "the workers".
Time spent with a client is known as "a job", or "a
session", and the period involved is referred to as the prostitute's
"time". The brothel is sometimes called "the workplace",
and the time spent there is known as "a shift". A prostitute
takes "time-off" for example when having a coffee or lunch
break, going shopping, or seeing a doctor during her shift, and
when she is not working on a shift these are her "days off".
This has been the language of the oldest prostitute I have known
in Sydney, and she worked during World War II, It is also a language
well understood by American prostitutes.
Of course, there are those who will claim that this language has
arisen in an attempt to legitimise and justify prostitution as a
"profession", but, on the other hand, there are professions,
like lawyers in private practice, independent artists, freelance
writers and politicians, who would not use such work-based terms
yet would insist that what they do is work. The fact remains that
prostitutes in parlours are rostered onto "shifts", do
provide labour for cash, and do have customers who pay for the service.
Independent brothel worker Jeanette has a routine which could apply
in any number of professions or trades:
I do my books every Sunday, I go to work sharp
at 7.45 p.m., and I go in to make a certain amount of money.
My many years' association with prostitutes makes it difficult
for me to visualise prostitution in anything else but work-based
terms. During our research in 1983, Garry Bennett and I, in seeking
to define prostitution. were forced to this conclusion:
Prostitution is a business transaction understood
as such by the parties involved and in the nature of a short-term
contract in which one or more people pay an agreed price to one
or more other people for helping them gain sexual gratification
by various methods (Perkins & Bennett 1985).
Years later there is no reason to challenge this viewpoint, and
it may stand as a useful definition for this study. It narrows prostitution
to a purely commercial transaction, in which the payer is called
customer and the payee is the prostitute. It clearly defines "prostitute"
also as someone who identifies her/himself in this arrangement.
It thus avoids confusion with such murky terms and euphemisms as
"good-time girls", "gold-diggers", "hostesses"
or mistresses financially supported by their lovers and other quasi-prostitutes,
or with other social interactions, like dinner date sexual obligations,
sexual favours by career climbers, or the marriage contract. Although,
it is interesting to note the words in the old marriage vows, whereby
the groom said, "With all my worldly goods I thee endow",
and the bride replied, "With my body I thee love".
Using the above definition, prostitution may be expressed in such
work-oriented terms that it can be appreciated as an industrial
relations or commercial interaction. In Marxist rhetoric it is described
thus: the working method of the street prostitute is based on the
principle of bargaining and free trade, similar to street vendors
and open markets as ancient as human society itself. The "call-girl"
reminds us of the small business operations of the petit bourgeoisie,
with its modest, though lucrative, profits, and minimal overheads.
Brothels, or parlours (bordellos, bagnios, stews, seraglios) are
the equivalent in structure to a small to medium sized factory,
a hotel, or other building used solely as a workplace, involving
large capital expenditure, high overheads and a large regular profit.
The "owner of the means of production" may be an individual,
a partnership, or a company of shareholders, who employ auxiliary
salaried staff, such as managers, receptionists, barmaids, or cleaners
and commissioned staff, or the prostitutes. The prostitutes here
work in the proletariat tradition in which their labour is hired
and exchanged for cash. The prostitute's exchange-value is usually
half the exchange-value of the goods (sex) purchased by the client
(customer or consumer). This is her commission in a shared arrangement
with the owner, whose share is a surplus-value from which wages
for auxiliaries, rent, power, telephones, advertisements and other
overheads, and capital for reinvestment into the business (for example,
improvements or expansion) must be extracted. The balance of this
surplus-value is the profit for the owner(s). Whichever of these
modes of operation a prostitute chooses is usually motivated by
earning power, personal preference, ambition, enterprise, discretion
and an ambience compatible with her psychological outlook.
The outcome of choosing a mode of operation can vary enormously
between individuals. For example, in street prostitution much depends
on how an individual will interact with this environment. There
are women who seem to be perpetual victims, who are being constantly
robbed, beaten or raped. The streets are a potentially dangerous
place to them, and were it not for their excessive drug addictions,
for which only street soliciting provides high enough income, they
would not be there. To them, every client and other man on the street
is a threat. They are tense and distant in their contacts with them,
and they lack skills of communication and the clever repartee that
is often useful in extricating oneself from a tight dangerous comer.
They are often obviously nervous on the street and show apparent
lack of confidence.
On the other hand, there are women who are stimulated by street
work. They seem to enjoy the action and excitement, and combine
something of the exhibitionist and the voyeur in their approach
to life on the streets. They have fun communicating with men and
have the talent for a good sales pitch, which brings them a high
number of jobs. They are rarely beaten, robbed or raped, and they
make large amounts of money from quick turnovers, or "short-time"
with many clients. These women are professionals at their business,
but, more than that, they are comfortable with street life. They
ooze confidence and a sense of street-wisdom. While most of them
are also drug addicts, some of them are not. The difference between
these women and the negative street workers lies in their personalities
and their psychological adjustments to various social environments.
In the parlours, adjustment can also depend on these personal factors.
But, just as often, it is the external factors which can affect
the individual's working environment. Where a boss shows more concern
for the welfare of the clients than for the workers, or refuses
the use of condoms, or cheats his or her staff, or, in the case
of a male boss, demands sex from his workers, the workplace is unpleasant.
In instances of condom bans, women often develop strategies of slipping
sheaths on customers without their knowledge. But this induces stress
from fear of discovery and the consequent dismissal. In situations
like these the women have little power or control over the working
conditions. The worst example I heard about where the boss acted
as an insensitive autocrat was where a worker was threatened with
dismissal if she continued to refuse to see a client with obvious
herpes. Marie found her working environment unsatisfactory only
because of management:
The only thing I dislike at the moment is management;
that's the only distasteful part of my present working conditions.
Everything else about my work I really enjoy. I feel really excited
about going to work apart from the occasional conflicts with management.
Another unpleasant aspect of a parlour working environment is disharmony
among the workers. This can arise because of a single disruptive
woman, or a quarrel between two enemies on the staff, or theft by
an unknown worker, or one woman seeking favours from the boss, or,
simply the competition between workers, particularly when business
is slow. Occasionally, one worker will be suspected of not wearing
a condom in a safe-sex house, or she might be doing anal intercourse
or other activity viewed as unsavoury by the rest of the staff.
This can be resolved if management supports their staff and is anxious
for harmony. Then, some women are incompatible with other women
a usually disastrous situation in a parlour's confined spaces.
Caroline admits to being such a woman:
I don't like women and they don't like me...
my main problem is working with women... It is a sense of competition
or something, I don't know, but whatever it is 95 per cent of
women hate me on sight. Yet, my present employer is a woman and
she's been very good to me.
There are pleasant workplaces, such as where management has a policy
of making condoms mandatory, where the boss has a good personal
relationship with everyone on the staff, and, especially where harmony,
even friendships, exist among workers. But even in the most conducive
parlour atmosphere, ultimate control rests with management. The
boss dictates prices, limits working time by Fostering shifts, and
can employ as many workers for a shift as he or she thinks fit (obviously
the more workers the greater the competition between them, while
it means increased business for the owner). On top of this, no parlour
management to my knowledge had ever paid sick-pay, holiday-pay or
superannuation. These are benefits that will only arrive with unionism,
and that can only occur with an empowerment of prostitutes in the
There is an obvious lack of power for prostitutes within this kind
of work structure, which is why some women choose to become independent
call-girls, or take to the streets. Kelly is one woman who chose
the streets after some time working in parlours:
What I like about the streets is you can start
when you want to, finish when you want to; you are virtually an
independent person. You don't have to put up with half the things
you have to put up with in the parlours. And the money's better
on the street.
Street, brothel and parlour prostitution is a very ancient practice,
but did the prostitutes of ancient times consider what they did
as work? One of the earliest forms of commercial sex was in a different
tradition-temple prostitution which once flourished as part of the
religious cults of the Ancient Near East, India and South-East Asia.
Prostitution was a religious duty to the women attached to the temples
of love and fertility deities, and the proceeds they made went to
the up-keep of the temple, which, of course, meant them as well.
But, according to Herodotus, every woman in Babylon was obliged
to prostitute herself on the steps of the temple of the goddess,
Mylitta, at least once in her lifetime. It was not a task relished
by many women, we are told, but they endured it as a task of duty.
Even though the proceeds went to the temple, this toil sounds like
unpaid work. Clement of Alexandria reported that on Cyprus women
sold sexual services in the temple of Aphrodite in order to earn
enough for their dowries. These women, too, might have considered
this toil work (Henriques 1962).
In Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire slaves were often sold to
the keepers of the state-controlled brothels. But the histories
also tell us that non-slave women were prostitutes too, usually
in the taverns and streets. These were usually women without men
to support them, widows, deserted wives, orphan girls the
poorest women in society. Prostitution, for them, would have been
their only source of income, and there is little doubt that they
thought of it as work. In Grecian society there was a class of prostitutes
known as auletrides, who were musicians, acrobats and strip-tease
dancers as well. They were often beautiful young women who hired
themselves out as entertainers at banquets, fiestas and orgies.
Since they were paid, this was their career, their work, and probably
prostitution was not clearly separated from their other activities.
The highest ranking prostitutes in Ancient Greece were the courtesans,
known as hetairai, whose gifts and pecuniary benefits from
the prominent men of Athens were probably considered as payment
for services rendered. But there were other benefits, since their
close association with the most powerful men in Grecian society
brought them a status above all other women. However, in order to
reach this level, a great amount of work was required, for not only
were the hetairai beautiful, but they had to have achieved
the highest social graces and have learned to read and write (Henriques
1962; Simons 1975).
Prostitution also flourished in the European Middle Ages. The streets,
taverns, brothels and courts were places where they frequented.
Once again, widows, orphans and the poorest women made up the lower
ranks of these sex workers, while ambitious learned women were the
courtesans. An interesting development in the Late Middle Ages occurred
with the establishment of prostitute guilds in some towns, indicative
of the trade tradition in medieval commercial sex (Henriques 1963,
In the 19th century the largest numbers of women ever recorded
made a living from selling sex. Once more these consisted of widows
and deserted wives, the unemployed and the under-employed. London
was reported to have 80,000 prostitutes in 1840, mainly on the street
(Flexner 1914, p. 24). In contemporary Paris the number was 30,000
(Simons 1975, p. 75; Ryan 1839). The economic factor in this rise
in female prostitution alone would strongly imply that commercial
sex was an alternative, and often only, form of employment. A French
physician, Alexandre Jean-Baptiste Parent--Duchatelet, in the 1830s
contacted 5,200 Parisian street prostitutes and concluded his investigation
with a statement that nearly all of them were there due to dire
poverty (Parent-Duchatelet 1857). William Sanger in New York a few
years later found that 60 per cent of 2,000 prostitutes were foreign
women, a third of whom had fled starvation in Ireland. The poverty
and alien backgrounds of these women make it very likely that prostitution
for them was employment for survival (Sanger 1858-1937, p. 456).
Today, with increased employment, education and welfare subsidies,
much fewer women need to work as prostitutes. In accordance with
the earlier definition of prostitution, I estimate that about 1,000
female prostitutes worked in Sydney each week in 1986. This is
a mere 0.06 per cent of an approximate female population of 1,680,000
for Sydney (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1984) or about I in
100 women aged between 15 and 45. The NSW Select Committee Upon
Prostitution in 1986 estimated between 1,500 and 2,200 prostitutes
of both sexes in the State of New South Wales worked on a single
day (Parliament of NSW 1986, p. 68). The Victorian Inquiry Into
Prostitution in 1985 estimated there were between 3,000 and 4,000
prostitutes of both sexes in the State of Victoria. The South
Australian Police Department claimed 250 prostitutes in the city
of Adelaide, while an estimate for the State of Western Australia
claimed 330 prostitutes. Estimates for male prostitutes range
from 5 per cent (Select Committee 1986, pp. 71-2) to 10 per cent
of the total prostitute population , but taking the least number,
since there are considerably fewer males working as prostitutes
in other states than New South Wales, and extracting these from
the above estimates, I arrive at the following conclusion: in NSW
the average number of female prostitutes at a given time is 1,750,
or 0.06 per cent of the total female population; in Victoria the
corresponding figures are 3,300 or 0.16 per cent; in South Australia
238 or 0.03 per cent; in Western Australia 314 or 0.04 per cent.
Comparisons with other countries shows considerable variation. In
Paris, for example, one estimate put the percentage of females who
worked as prostitutes at 0.5 per cent (Jaget 1980). In Birmingham,
England, the estimate was 0.47 per cent (McLeod 1982). For the United
States of America, 0.5 per cent of women take up prostitution (Winick
& Kinsie 1971). Why such discrepancies exist between areas of
similar cultural heritage may be explained by any number of causes
like variations in morality or economies that discourage
or prompt women to enter prostitution, or different definitions
of "prostitute" and different methodologies for estimating
populations by the various researchers. What we might conclude,
however, is that as many as 0.5 per cent of women become prostitutes,
and as few as 0.03 per cent. In any case, the numbers are extremely
small. Given that, as we have seen, the pay is good and working
conditions can be pleasant, why do so few women take up commercial
sex? The answer to that lies in the forthcoming discussions in this
Situations and methods of operation may change in prostitution,
but the essential element of commercial exchange, in which one party
pays for a service and the other party receives the fee as a part
of her income, remains the same throughout the ages and across cultures
(excluding temple prostitution). Like the tradesman or the doctor,
the prostitute depends on her skills, expertise and bodily labours
to conduct a service: it is work for an income, little different,
apart from the nature of the work, to other forms of employment.
For the more fortunate among them this work can be pleasant, even
fun, or stimulating. For the less fortunate, it is tedious, boring
and tiresome, or even dangerous. There are those who are traumatised
by it and do not last long in it. On the other hand, there are those
who gain enormous satisfaction from it, and make a career of it.
Like all human endeavours and experiences, prostitution is not the
same for all people.
The Moral Response
The anti-prostitution sentiments of the modern Christian Church
have their sources in Old Testament dogma and the philosophies of
the early Church fathers. Although prostitution has remained condemned
in Christian theology almost since the foundation of the Church,
remarkably there have been long periods of Church tolerance in Christian
societies throughout history. The recent renewed attempts by the
Christian Church to exert pressure on the state to eradicate prostitution
has largely hidden the compromises of the past.
Although in the eyes of the Church some acts of prostitution contravene
the seventh Commandment - "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery"
- there are more direct references to it in the Old Testament. The
most appropriate is found in the Book of Leviticus 19:29:
Do not profane your daughter by making her a
harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry and the land become full
of wickedness. 
It was much more serious for daughters of priests in Israel, since
as members of the upper religious class they had to set a good example;
any of them found as harlots resulted in their extermination by
fire (Leviticus 21:9). Thus, to be a prostitute in ancient Israel
was an unholy disposition, and the early Christian Church adopted
the literal meaning of these references. Curiously though, the responsibility
for ordinary women becoming prostitutes rested with their fathers,
who were forbidden to sell or encourage their daughters to enter
prostitution, and were expected to prevent them if they were so
inclined. On the other hand, daughters of priests bore full responsibility
for their actions because they profaned their fathers.
The early Christian Church, though, was founded in Rome. Here,
it had a direct model of prostitution. While the Romans regulated
prostitution through its state-controlled brothels, citizen women
who took up prostitution were regarded with contempt. For non-slave
Roman women to prostitute themselves meant they gave themselves
the same status as slaves. The aristocrat woman who turned to prostitution,
in fact, was banished from the city (once again because she must
set a good example to ordinary women). The word "prostitute"
is derived from the Latin "Prostitutus", meaning "up
front" or "to expose", in reference to the fact that
prostitutes were expected to appear in public with their faces uncovered,
unlike Roman citizen women, who covered their faces with a palla
(head cloth). Thus, like Hebrew prostitutes, Roman prostitutes were
stigmatised. But the nature of the stigma was quite different. For
Israelites it was sacrilegious; for the Romans, however, prostitutes
were rebels because they could not be controlled by their menfolk,
and therefore defied the social mores of the patria-Roman prostitutes,
as was suggested by their term "prostitute", were public
women (Henriques 1962).
What impressed the founding fathers of the Church were not the
subtle differences, but the outcome, which was the same. St Paul,
who thought celibacy was a holier existence than the sexual life,
provided this example in his effort to demonstrate the spiritual
connection with the body's sexual parts:
Do you know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore
take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?
Never! Do you know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes
one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two shall become
one flesh." But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit
with him. Shun Immorality (Corinthians 6:15-18)
St Jerome, who was tempted during his privations in the desert
by hallucinatory dancing girls, in 385 preached to Eustochium, the
daughter of one of his most devout female followers, on the virtues
of virginity out of concern for an imagined inclination to harlotry.
The most ardent opponent of prostitution at the time was St Augustine,
who invented the concept of original sin to explain the lust of
men and the evil incarnate of women. He strongly alluded to the
fact that the presence of prostitutes in society threatened good
What is more base, empty of worth, and full of
vileness than harlots and other such pests?... Let them be with
matrons and you will produce contamination and disgrace (Augustine
of Hippo; Migne).
Yet Augustine had a practical side too, for he also said that harlots
"fill a most vile function under the laws of order", because,
he warned, "take away harlots from society and you will have
tainted everything with lust." Thus was born the idea of prostitution
as a necessary evil. Centuries later the great medieval theologian,
St Thomas Aquinas would elaborate on this theme:
Rid society of prostitutes and licentiousness
will run riot throughout. Prostitutes in a city are like a sewer
in a palace. If you get rid of the sewer, the whole place becomes
filthy and foul (Thomas 2:2).
Some of Augustine's teachings had a curious influence on men centuries
after him. He promoted the idea of sex without passion as better
than sex with passion, which became a cornerstone in a 19th century
medical rationale for limiting conjugal sex. Men were warned not
to indulge in too much sex with their wives, and when they did so
to do it without emotion. Many men, of course, turned to prostitutes.
and as we have seen, there were plenty available at the time.
The curious role of religion in society sometimes has a double edge.
The necessary evil approach opened up a peculiar tolerance for
prostitution from the 4th century through to the Reformation. Mary
Magdalene provided the perfect model for a harlot to save herself
through redemption, and this opened the doors for a charitable concept
to impose itself on the "necessary evil". Mary Magdalene
may have been a composite of three women, but there are only vague
references to her in the New Testament and even vaguer assumptions
that she was a prostitute. She is referred to as "a woman of
the city, which was a sinner," (Luke 7:37) and Jesus tells
us that "her sins, which are many, are forgiven." (Luke
7:41) Whatever the truth, she was a perfect Church vehicle for a
female object lesson. Whilst an antithesis of the Virgin Mary, in
the end she gained almost as high a place in heaven. Hers was the
classic redemption and one of Christianity's highest ideals.
A number of prostitutes in the early Christian period followed
in Mary Magdalene's footsteps by giving up their trade and becoming
holy women. After death some of them became saints Sts Mary
the Harlot, Pelagia, Afra, Thais, Digna, Eunomia, Eutopia, to name
a few thus proving once again the virtues of salvation, and
demonstrating that the greater the sinner the greater the holiness.
From carnality to canonisation, these women served to underwrite
Christianity's messages of redemption (See Bullough 1982, pp. 38-40).
In the Eastern Church the concept had unprecedented success when
Theodora, the wife of Emperor Justinian I and herself a redeemed
harlot, founded an institution, Metanoia (Repentance), for reformed
prostitutes. In her lifetime 500 repentant prostitutes entered this
institution. In the 10th century, four centuries after Theodora,
Emperor Leo the Wise turned a Constantinople brothel into a refuge
for reformed prostitutes (Bullough 1982, p. 37). The Western Church
repeated this in the 13th century when Pope Gregory IX founded an
order known as the Magdalenes, dubbed "the White Ladies"
on account of the colour of their habit. These were reformed whores
turned nuns, whose convents spread across Europe dedicated to the
purpose of saving "fallen women". The most famous of these
institutions was the Soul House, founded in Vienna in 1384. Unfortunately
the place was closed in 1480 when it was discovered that the inmates
had relapsed into old ways in order to raise funds to support the
convent (Bullough 1982, p. 41). Although the Church viewed the Magdalenes
as an experiment that failed, in fact the order had endured for
over 250 years. In any case, by then the Church had found other
means of dealing with prostitutes.
The necessary evil concept and the Magdalene model had paved the
way for an intimate association between Church and whore that would
have been inconceivable in either ancient Israel or in St Augustine's
time. In the high Middle Ages some extraordinary examples of this
association existed. The Bishop of Winchester rented rooms to prostitutes
in Southwark under an ordinance of the English King Henry 11 which
lasted 400 years (Burford 1976, pp. 41-2). In 1337 the nuns of Stratford
opened a brothel for business to support their convent (Burford
1976, p. 75). In 1347 Queen Joana of Naples opened a brothel in
Avignon next door to the Pope's residence, and gave the control
of it to the nunnery on the other side (Scott 1968, p.68). In Toulouse
a brothel known as "the Grand Abbaye" served as a source
of revenue for the university for 200 years (Cleugh 1970, p. 138).
Early in the 16th century Pope Julius 11 was so inspired by the
success of the Avignon brothel that he established one in Rome (Tannahill
1981, p. 264). No attempt at compromise on this scale has occurred
since that period. The Reformation and its allegations of Church
corruption have put paid to that.
In the 16th century the esteemed Renaissance Humanist Lorenzo Valia,
so admired by Martin Luther, wrote that prostitutes were more useful
than nuns (de Reincourt 1974, p. 241) but his view had come too
late to be appreciated. Notwithstanding his admiration of Valla,
Luther in his attack on the established Church also vilified prostitutes:
[A man] may have had vile commerce with 600 harlots
and seduced countless matrons and virgins, and kept many mistresses,
yet nothing of this would be an impediment and prevent his becoming
a bishop or a cardinal or a Pope (Richards 1979, p. 121 1).
Protestantism rejected prostitution outright and banned its existence
in those countries which adopted Lutheran and Calvinist codes. But
in the counter-reformation, the Papal Church also attempted to ban
prostitution, severing its long association with prostitutes and
their redemption. In 1560 Paris banished its prostitutes and threatened
to brand with hot irons those in the city after 24 hours had lapsed
following the edict. The Pope ordered all prostitutes out of Rome
by 23rd July 1566, but when 25,000 persons (prostitutes and their
dependents) packed to move out, he was forced to rescind the order
on 17th August (Sanger 1858-1937, p. 120). In the grand scheme of
things, in the end, neither the Reformers nor the Papists, successfully
eradicated prostitution. When the dust settled at the end of the
religious wars in the mid-17th century, prostitution in Europe was
There followed a period of moral laxity with regard to prostitution.
But by the mid-19th century a call for moral order returned, with
prostitution its main target. Feminist Josephine Butler, who had
waged a successful campaign in England to gain the repeal of the
Contagious Diseases Acts (insidious pieces of legislation that discriminated
against prostitutes) in 1885 began a fresh campaign for women's
fights. Following a trip to Brussels she was confronted by English
women working in brothels there and assumed they had been kidnapped.
She told her account to a hack journalists W.T. Stead, who followed
up with a highly fictitious and sensational article called "The
Maiden Tribute of Ancient Babylon" in the Pall Mall Gazette.
It blew Butler's story out of proportion with its implications of
hundreds of innocent English girls being whisked off to the Continent
and forced into prostitution. A massive public demonstration in
Hyde Park following the article brought together feminists, evangelists,
Anglican church leaders, Socialists and radicals of every kind and
creed. The British Government responded with a notorious piece of
legislation known as the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1885, an
important set of laws because it ushered in legislation across the
Commonwealth and America that would begin the legal prohibition
of prostitution in the 20th century. The ramifications of this legislation
on prostitution will be discussed in more detail in the Section
on the Legal Response.
The point to be made here is that what began as a concern for women's
rights with the collaborative efforts of feminist Butler and Catherine
Booth of the Salvation Army, with the view to curbing the traffic
of women, set in motion a series of legislative attacks on prostitution
and the women freely involved in it that has continued to this day.
In the later 19th century and at the turn of the century the most
reactionary element of the evangelist movement put their weight
behind the legislation with the successful recruiting of the working
classes in a middle-class thrust for social purity. The National
Vigilance Association was formed in the wake of the legislation
in 1885 to insure its ultimate enforcement. When law enforcement
officers, pushed along by the social purity spirit of this Organisation,
closed 200 brothels in London, drove most of the prostitutes from
the streets, and invaded their little homes, Butler, one of the
original members of the association, resigned in disgust. One of
the leading female social purists, Ellice Hopkins, managed to establish
an active moral vigilante Organisation termed White Cross Army,
made up of mostly working-class men, which gave police a much needed
citizen's arrest committee. When a second bill was passed to deal
with the traffic in women, which became known as the White Slavery
Act of 1912, a much wiser feminist leader, Sylvia Pankhurst, wryly
It is a strange thing that the latest Criminal
Amendment Act, which was passed ostensibly to protect women, is
being used to punish women (Walkowitz 1982, pp. 79-93).
Through the social purity leagues of Britain not only did religion
enter politics, but it aided in the enforcement of the laws it lobbied
for and almost wrote single-handedly. These powerful religious forces
have remained in positions of great influence to this day, still
guiding the hands of government in its moral crusade against prostitution
and what they perceive as other vices (such as homosexuality, pornography,
Fundamentalist Christian organisations are persistently the staunchest
opponents of prostitution in Britain, the United States, Canada
and Australia. But Catholic and orthodox Protestant sects refuse
to alter their traditional position on prostitution. When the NSW
Select Committee Upon Prostitution published its report, the Sydney
Diocese of the Anglican Church responded with a strong criticism
on 11 June 1987. It introduced its response by establishing its
views on the issue:
Prostitution is indeed dangerous. The history
of human relationships proves the point in terms of physical and
emotional danger to the prostitute, those who live off the prostitute's
earnings and the clients who pay for the services. This fact alone
should force responsible governments to limit prostitution. Prostitution
is now inextricably linked with the twin problems of drug addiction
and AIDS. This makes it one of the most powerful vehicles for
harm in our community (Anglican Press Service 1987, p. 1).
Following this, the Church disagreed with those recommendations
of the Select Committee which suggested more moderate legislation,
the repeal of draconian laws, and environmental regulation of prostitution,
on the basis that it "does not condone brothels ... street
prostitution ... brothel operation." According to the Church:
The ideal would be to eradicate prostitution.
Society does not need the stain that it creates ... the desperate
lives of those using prostitution to support drug habits, or unmarried
mothers trying to raise cash to support young children, or young
teenagers seeking refuge from hostile or broken home environments,
or men incapable of building satisfactory relationships being
enticed by what is essentially a very deceptive form of loneliness
and unfulfilled love ... The Church's position is clearly defined:
prostitution in any form is wrong. Adultery, fornication and homosexuality
are not intended forms of human sexual expression. Exchanging
goods or services for such activity does not make them any less
wrong (Anglican Press Service 1987, p. 2).
The Church, however, does not ignore the need for compassion in
this issue of morality and the sex industry. On the contrary, in
the spirit of the Magdalenes it holds out its hand to those drug
addicts, unwed mothers and teenagers it spoke of earlier:
The Church has long had concerns for the disadvantaged in society.
Our Lord was ridiculed as a friend of prostitutes and sinners. It
has been, and continues to be, the Church's wish to reach out in
love and practical help for such people (Anglican Press Service
1987, p. 2).
Since addicts, unwed mothers and teenagers represent less than
half the women in prostitution, how can welfare assistance and institutions
help the other half, who are divorcees, struggling students, underpaid
nurses, and women who choose prostitution as a career? Women like
Laura, Martine and Marie, judging by their comments in the previous
Section, would probably consider this attitude both patronising
and impractical. Most drug addicts, unwed mothers and teenagers
whose only livelihood is commercial sex would probably not be too
In an institution which promotes celibacy, chastity, and the duty
of sex for procreation, it is difficult to see how prostitution
can ever be tolerated by the Church, unless radical departures occur
from its traditional views. In traditional Christian ideology, the
prostitute is influenced by the devil and is therefore antithetical
to Christ. The Church sees prostitution as intrinsically immoral
because it promotes sin. But as philosophy scholar Lars Ericsson
points out in a well-argued document:
To say that prostitution is intrinsically immoral is in a way
to refuse to give any argument. The moralist simply "senses"
or "sees" its immorality. And this terminates rational
discussion at the point where it should begin (Ericsson 1980, p.
Fundamentalist Christians, in particular, often accuse prostitution
of corrupting young people, or as a threat to the family. These
are usually highly emotive responses intended to whip up political
and legislative support for their anti-prostitution sentiments.
Ericsson presents a counter-argument:
Nor has [prostitution] ever been a threat to the
family itself. People marry and visit whores for quite different
reasons. In point of fact, the greatest threat to the family is
also the greatest threat to prostitution, namely, complete sexual
liberty for both sexes (Ericsson 1980, p. 338).
As for the phobia of prostitution corrupting children, this is
often a frontline defence for protecting the family. However, it
is repressive Christian mores and anti-sexual attitudes which more
often break down family relations, with young people fleeing their
natal homes for a better life, and maybe taking up prostitution
as a matter of survival. Street prostitute Kelly is a case in point:
The first home I remember going into was when
I was five and it was a Salvation Army Home. From the time I was
seven until 13 1 was living with these foster parents. My foster
father was quite good when my foster mother wasn't around, but
he used to have this terrible habit of wanting to kiss me on the
lips and he used to pin me against the wall just to kiss me. I
hated my foster mother; she used to bash me and was very strict
with issues. My childhood was very lonely because I could never
get to know any of the children at school. I had to hurry straight
home after school and wasn't allowed to go out by myself. If I
did go out it was with my foster parents, and then everything
was organised for me: what I wore, whom I spoke to, really really
strict. On a couple of occasions they let me go to kid's parties
on condition that the parents of the girl whose party it was picked
me up and dropped me home again. My foster brother used to babysit
me when the rest of the family was out. When I was eight he sat
in the lounge room with just a towel wrapped around him. He started
masturbating and made me sit there and watch. I was scared of
all of them so I did as he asked. As time progressed he started
rubbing his penis in between my legs, until one day he tried to
enter me. He said: "Now don't you tell anyone otherwise I
will tell them you're lying." My foster father was a doctor
and he was a masseur for the local football club. Five of the
boys raped me when I was 13, and that was my first actual intercourse.
My foster mother blamed me and said I looked for it, and she put
me in an institution as an uncontrollable child. I remained there
for a year and then ran away to Tasmania with a girl from the
institute. I was eventually arrested at 16 for being in moral
danger. I had a job in a shoe store at the time. Six months later
I ran off again, this time to Sydney, where I met a man whom I
later married. I conceived on my honeymoon. When I was 17 1 met
another man and he put me into prostitution.
Raised in a Christian institution and fostered to a Christian family
is no guarantee of avoiding prostitution. Margaret, another street
prostitute, has a similar story:
My father was an alky and my mother a barb freak.
She took valium and secanol a lot to cope with Dad and he used
to drink a lot to cope with her. I can understand why Dad took
to drink because Mum used to rave a lot and why she took tablets
because he used to hit her a lot. I felt really threatened and
unloved, and I was put into institutions a lot by my parents because
they couldn't cope with me. I was unlucky to have been born into
a family that was poor and unable to look after me. At age 10
my first introduction to a government institution was for breaking
and entering. No one asked me why they sentenced me, they just
did it, for my own protection they said. I ran away from there
and in a year they sent me home, but it was the same old hassles
of Mum arguing and Dad drunk. So I ran away from there and was
charged with exposure to moral danger. No one asked me why I kept
running away. I was 13 and I ran away again, but this time not
back home. I ran away to the Cross and started working on Victoria
Street in my school uniform.
For Margaret, Kelly and many other young people the family offers
no protection, and for some, prostitution is far better, since it
provides them with a sense of independence and an income.
Yet the moral message remains a very powerful persuasive force
in modern society, distilled as it is through law codes, and pervading
everyday relations through the media and language. Two well-springs
for moral thought exist, in ruling class dictum and intellectual
communication. Lord Devlin's argument for an enforcement of morals
through legislation is an example of the former.
Following the United Kingdom's Wolfenden Report On Prostitution
and Homosexuality (1957), Devlin delivered a lecture to the British
Academy in 1958. He argued that since prostitution was disapproved
of by a majority in society, the law had a duty to protect the interest
of this majority. Sexual deviance, he claimed, undermined the fabric
of society, and society, in order to protect its existence must
utilise whatever power it had at its disposal. He further rationalised
that where a majority in society possesses a moral conviction it
has a right to demand of society the means by which it might maintain
the status quo, since any change, however insignificant it may appear,
changed the moral order for the majority. Devlin argued that this
is the essence of democracy and the law must respond in favour of
the majority (see Devlin 1959/65).
Yale Professor of Law, Ronald Dworkin argued against Devlin:
The claim that a moral consensus exists is not
based on a poll. It is based on an appeal to the legislator's
sense of how his community reacts to some disfavoured practice...
An awareness of the grounds on which that reaction is generally
supported [includes] sifting through these arguments and positions
trying to determine which are prejudices and rationalisations,
which presuppose general principles or theories vast parts of
the population could not be supposed to accept... It may be that
when he has finished this process of reflection he will find that
the claim of a moral consensus has not been made out. In the case
of homosexuality, I expect, it would not be, and that is what
makes Lord Devlin's undiscriminating hypothetical so serious a
misstatement. What is shocking and wrong is not his idea that
the community's morality counts, but his idea of what counts as
a community's morality (Dworkin 1965-66).
Devlin's assumptions about public morality and the need for a legal
enforcement of morals is exactly the kind of ruling class indoctrination
that has worked as a social control forum for centuries, and was
also seen in the middle-class social purity regimes of the last
century, as well as the media and political propaganda of the fundamentalist
organisations today. It is, in fact, less to do with majority rule
and more to do with reasoning through the power of collective consciousness
in a sexual paradigm (see Foucault 1980).
Just as successful as an instrument of moral propaganda is intellectual
communication. Not as overtly intentional as ruling class dictum,
it is, nevertheless, equally effective as a mechanism of moral order.
As a parallel to this there is Freudian analysis reinforcing notions
about female sexuality as providing propaganda for the maintenance
of female submission in western society. The following example which
demonstrates the above theory is one of the most blatant instances
of morality proselytisation.
Ray Sexton, a psychotherapist, and Richard Maddock, a practising
psychologist and Episcopal priest, investigated a series of female
patients whom they were treating for depression, among other neuroses,
some of which manifested in a clearly physical form (for example
headaches, vomiting and abdominal pain). It was suggested that these
might be outcomes of guilt following a proposal that these women
were prostitutes. The authors explain:
In our professional activities we have seen profound psychological
problems in professional prostitutes which required professional
psychiatric assistance in order to help them overcome their emotional
difficulties. But even more frequently we have seen theological
problems that underlie sexual misconduct on the part of individuals
who have never prostituted themselves professionally, but for some
reason believe that they are prostitutes (Sexton & Maddock 1980,
Sexton and Maddock claim that their patients' psychological problems
were due to a past event when a suggestion was made that they may
be prostitutes. This was only effective after the women had realised
differences between good and bad behaviours. In a "primary
gain" of information in early childhood they learned of the
Ten Commandments, including the, meaning of adultery. Later in childhood
they were subjected to a "secondary gain" of information,
including the meaning of prostitution. But, had the women been called
"a bad girl" even before the "secondary gain",
a connection could be made to enable them to identify subconsciously
as prostitutes. Treatment involves regressing the patient back to
the first moment when she was referred to as bad and learned about
The authors mention Jesus' association with "loose or immoral"
women, and "He was aware of the individual problems of prostitutes
and types of sinful behavior. He used these individuals to teach
about the forgiving Grace of God." (Sexton & Maddock 1980).
In a modern sense, cleansing the soul is a treatment that ends these
women's feelings of guilt. In the logic of the authors, God enters
the consciousness first, followed by knowledge of morality. A reverse
logic here might be that had God not entered the consciousness first,
then a concept of wickedness may never exist. Becoming a prostitute
first and then knowing God is a situation not unfamiliar to Christian
missionaries among pagan cultures. Under such circumstances the
missionary expects the individual to re-shape her moral consciousness.
Although the Sexton and Maddock study is an extreme example of
morality through intellectual communication, there are many more
subtle examples of intrinsic moral values in academia, even where
the researcher is unaware of it but unconsciously relays moral messages
through deep-seated biases. Stereotypes of prostitutes are perpetuated
this way from assumptions made in the original study through to
more blatant instances of bias in popular media. The many reproductions
of prostitute characters on the movie screen are a good example
of this process. The filmmaker reproduces popular stereotypes because
he/she responds to a tacit approval of audiences, but also because
of biases which he/she shares with the community at large in a common
cultural consciousness (Perkins 1989, pp. 28-34).
Sexton and Maddock are not too different to Devlin in that there
is an assumption in their work that they are speaking to a majority
of people in simpatico with their religious language and theory.
Such an assumption spills over into fundamentalist organisations
which think they represent a majority. As Dworkin ( 1965/66) points
out, this is done without reference to a poll. In fact polls on
public opinion about prostitution have been conducted in Australia.
In the 1960s a national poll solicited people's opinions on the
"legalising" of prostitution. Of the 1,045 participants,
53 per cent of the non-religious agreed to "legalising",
as well as 51 per cent of the non-church going religious, 43 per
cent of Anglicans, 35 per cent of Catholics, and 28 per cent of
other Protestants among church-goers. Forty-five per cent of all
participants agreed with "legalisation", 46 per cent opposed
it, 7 per cent offered no opinion and 2 per cent failed to answer.
The sexual ratio was 1.1:1 in favour of males; 51 per cent of men
agreed to "legalisation" and only 39 per cent of women
(Wilson & Chappell 1969). The Sydney Morning Herald ran
a poll in conjunction with the researchers Irving Saulwick &
Assoc. in 1985. Some 2,027 Australians were participants, including
436 churchgoers. In all, 75 per cent of the total thought prostitution
should be "legalised", and so did 56 per cent of the churchgoers.
The sexes were nearly equal in opinion, with 80 per cent of men
agreeing to "legalisation" compared to 71 per cent of
women. Street prostitution was thought to be the most offensive,
with 76 per cent of the total opposed to its "legalisation".
The women's magazine Cleo also ran a poll on prostitution recently.
All, or nearly all, of the 1,231 respondents were probably women,
and one question asked them which type of prostitution they thought
should be legal. Only 21 per cent opposed any "legalisation",
while 36 per cent agreed to brothels, 42 per cent agreed to parlours,
64 per cent agreed to escorts, and 6 percent agreed to street soliciting,
being "legalised". Interestingly, women over 25 years
were the most tolerant, with only 10 per cent disagreeing to any
kind of "legalisation", while those under 19 were the
least tolerant, with 30 per cent disagreeing with any "legalisation"
(Cleo May 1989). As you can see, this is far from a majority; in
the past 20 years increasingly more people are inclined towards
Christian logic is deeply imbedded in our common consciousness.
Through state power and moral authority it reaches every individual
in society, and, as we have seen in the example of Sexton and Maddock,
it challenges intellectual logic. It is this persuasive cultural
dynamic which maintains social control over prostitution and makes
The Academic Response
On the one hand, much academic research, particularly in the social
sciences, has provided us with essential insights into the nature
of prostitution. But, on the other hand, some academic research
into the world of the sex worker, particularly the early studies
in criminology and psychoanalysis, seemed to provide a scientific
logic to the moral response.
Many disciplines have contributed to our knowledge of the commercial
sex industry. Vern Bullough et. al. (1977) compiled a comprehensive
list of 5,500 works published between 1539 and 1977 which dealt
with various aspects of prostitution. Since then the total number
of publications may well have risen to around 6,500. The disciplines
most represented in this list are medicine and law, while psychiatry,
which has probably had the most effective impact on the public consciousness,
contributes one of the smallest number of entries among the disciplines.
The social sciences of sociology, psychology and anthropology have
contributed less than the humanities, with history the leading contributor
in all these disciplines (see Table 1.1). The dominance of medicine
and law entries indicates a high interest in these disciplines as
a reflection of the community concern for controlling prostitutes.
Table 1.1a : List of publications by discipline
|* Social Sciences =
+ Humanities = 761 (13.85%)
Source: Bullough et al. 1977
Table 1.1b : List of publications by geographical area
|Australia and Pacific
|Eastern Europe and Greece
|Great Britain and Ireland
|Holland and Belgium
|Spain and Portugal
|United States of America
|Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
|Source: Bullough et al. 1977
Table 1.1c : List of publications by historical period
|Early Modern Times
|Source: Bullough et al. 1977
Academic research of prostitution can be said to have only begun
in the 19th century. One of the earliest of these was the study
carried out by Alexandre Jean Baptiste Parent-Duchatelet in Paris
in the 1830s. A physician, he investigated an incredible 5,200 street
prostitutes. He was not influenced by moral opinion and very little
scientific research on prostitutes had been conducted before him,
so that he was not swayed by any particular school of thought. In
his day, prostitution, though not approved of, was treated more
as a fact of life rather than a criminal phenomenon. It was understood
as an activity mostly engaged in by the desperately poor who suffered
from unemployment or pitifully low wages. Parent-Duchatelet concluded
Of all the causes of prostitution, none is more
important than unemployment and the poverty inevitably resulting
from low wages (Parent-Duchatelet 1857).
In the late 19th century the new morality of the evangelists began
to change the popular view of prostitutes. They were no longer seen
as just poor women struggling to survive. The new laws in Britain,
prompted as we have seen by the social purists, put paid to that
view. Now prostitutes were the women who defied the law and therefore
had criminal status, and since law-breaking and sin were equated,
the social and economic factors in prostitution that were raised
as an issue by such researchers as Parent-Duchatelet were forgotten.
The question being asked was: "Why do some women become immoral?",
instead of "Why do poor women become immoral?". Coinciding
with the popular moral and legal views of prostitution and female
deviance were the early stages of two research traditions that would
have far-reaching impacts on 20th century thought about women involved
in commercial sex.
The first of these traditions was the new science of criminology.
Two of its founders were the Italian social Darwinists, Cesare Lombroso
(sometimes referred to as "the father of criminology")
and Giulgielmo Ferrero. They developed an astonishing new theory
on prostitutes at the turn of the century based on atavism, in which
prostitutes were assumed to be representative of a kind of primeval
female whose sexuality was as virile as male libido (Lombroso &
Ferrero 1895). This view of prostitutes as sub-human women, presumably,
was inspired by a fact that they often initiated sexual contact
with their customers. Lombroso later produced evidence to support
his theory by demonstrating that prostitutes' virility corresponded
with a more masculine appearance, such as larger frames, huskier
voices, and hairier bodies (Lombroso 1898). This fantastic piece
of empiricism became a cornerstone of the new science, and threads
of it remain in present-day police attitudes on prostitutes. It,
of course, delighted the moralists who had a scientific justification
for their attacks on deviant women as it created a circular reinforcement
between the prevailing moral outlook and the new scientific dogmas.
Also the psycho-legal logic of Lombroso's atavism complemented the
growing theories on passive female sexuality vis-a-vis deviant behaviours
in the second of the new research traditions - psychoanalysis.
Sigmund Freud himself had little to say about prostitutes. But
in his discussion on the "polymorphously perverse disposition"
in children's sexuality, he made this comment:
Children behave in the same way as an average
uncultivated woman in whom the same polymorphously perverse disposition
persists. Under ordinary circumstances she may remain normal sexually,
but if she is led on by a clever seducer she will find every sort
of perversion to her taste, and will retain them as part of her
own sexual activities. Prostitutes exploit the same polymorphous,
that is, infantile, disposition for the purpose of their profession;
and, considering the immense number of women who are prostitutes,
or who must be supposed to have an aptitude for prostitution without
becoming engaged in it, it becomes impossible not to recognize
that this same disposition to perversions of every kind is a general
and fundamental human characteristic (Freud 1905/79, p. 109).
Thus, unlike Lombroso, Freud never considered prostitutes' sexuality
strikingly different to most women. But for many of his followers
prostitutes were key figures in a dialectic of deviant female sexuality.
The problem for psychoanalysis as academic research methodology,
though, is the nature of the treatment itself. The very intensity
of the treatment with each patient limits the number of patients
a doctor is able to see. Thus any statistical conclusion made from
one doctor's list of prostitute patients was based on a small sample,
and this then makes it suspect scientific empiricism. This fact
may well account for the extraordinary diverse theories about prostitutes
that the Freudians produced for half a century. A review of just
a few of these will be sufficient to indicate the extent of this
Karl Abraham (1942) in 1920 claimed that prostitutes' acceptance
of a fee indicated a deep hostility towards men. Helene Deutsch
(1929) said they were masochistic. Jeannie Lamplade Groot (1928)
thought their sexual assertiveness was due to a failure to resolve
their Oedipal (that is "Electra") Complex. Maryse Choisy
(1960 & 1961), who worked as a waitress in a Parisian brothel
in order to observe her subjects in 1928, claimed that prostitutes
and their clients resented one another, due, she asserted, to a
hatred of father by prostitutes and a hatred of mother by clients.
The Italian Freudian, Tibor Agoston (1945), argued that prostitutes
and their customers were involved in an immature fantasy and were
unable to develop adult responsibilities of long-term relationships.
He felt that the prostitute achieved a subterfuge of maturity by
submerging her real infantile personality beneath a pseudo-personality,
which was rented out in her transactions.
The situation did not improve among the neo-Freudians. Frank Caprio
(Caprio & Brenner 1961), after a world brothel tour in 1953,
concluded that lesbians were more compelled to become prostitutes
than other women, due to a pseudo-heterosexual defence against their
suppressed homosexual tendencies. Thomas Szasz (1957) thought prostitutes
denied their genitals by allowing male strangers to "possess"
these sex organs. Harold Lichtenstein (1961) argued the other way:
he claimed prostitutes "castrated" their clients in order
to "possess" the phallus and thus win back the love of
mother lost in the Oedipal phase. Marc Hollander (1961) argued that
prostitutes symbolically castrated their clients in an act of revenge
for the way men mistreat women.
Perhaps one of the most amazing studies in the psychoanalytical
tradition was that of Edward Glover (1960), who investigated the
lives of 20 call-girls and arrived at a classic Freudian conclusion.
These women, he asserted, failed to resolve their Oedipal phase,
maintaining hostility towards their mothers, yet being distant from
their fathers. As a result, they were contemptuous towards men,
which explained their apparent frigidity. With sexual pleasure having
a monetary value for them, this indicated a strong anal fixation
due to an association of cash with faeces (filthy lucre?). In addition,
Glover (1960) argued, this masked a submerged homosexuality.
Another neo-Freudian, although not quite so outrageous in his claims,
was Harold Greenwald (1958), who treated a number of call-girls.
They also failed to resolve Oedipus, and entered prostitution in
a hope of finding a father figure to love, whilst maintaining anger
towards their mothers, whom they tormented by an open identification
as whores. Greenwald admitted to his study's shortcomings due to
a small sample, and went to great lengths to point out that his
conclusions were pertinent to his patients only. By then, though,
psychoanalysis as a useful scientific methodology was falling out
of favour. But much of the damage had been done, since its analytical
outcomes had reinforced popularist, moralist and legislators' negative
views of prostitutes.
Sociology was another science that had grown as an important analytical
academic tradition in the early 20th century. Unlike psychoanalysis'
focus on the individual's internalisation of his or her reaction
to inter-personal stimulus, sociology is concerned with the external
agents interacting with the person. The earliest sociological research,
however, was theoretical rather than empirical, and one of the fundamental
schools of the science in the early 20th century was functionalism.
Perhaps the foremost scholar from this school to turn his attention
to prostitution was Kingsley Davis, who was most concerned for the
nature of the relation between "deviant" and "normal"
behaviours. In a milestone work he argued that prostitution has
an important function in society alongside marriage because men
are kept contented with emotionally free sex beyond the nuptial
bed (shades of Aquinas?). Therefore, he contended, prostitution
was more likely to complement marriage than weaken it. Dislocations
in marriage are more likely to occur with men involved in extra-marital
affairs than involved with prostitution, since the mistress is much
more ready to be a substitute for his wife than the prostitute.
Davis (1937) concluded then that prostitution should hardly be termed
"deviant". Later, he argued that in the economy of sex
the exchange of sex for cash by prostitutes was intrinsically no
different to wives trading sexual access to their bodies in marriage
for financial security. He also thought that women in the general
work force might improve their working conditions by taking up prostitution,
since prostitutes "set their own hours, determine their own
vacations, as well as escape income taxes" (Davis 1961). Not
quite so utopian, but, nevertheless, with uncanny insight, Davis
had hit upon some of the reasons for some women throwing in their
"straight" jobs for prostitution.
Davis' functional analysis may be criticised for its assumptions
that the social structures and the relationship between social functions,
like marriage and prostitution, for example, will remain unchanged.
It assumes that women will always be the majority of prostitutes,
and that men will maintain the same form of dominance over women.
Thus, it tends to prop up conservative notions of sex and society,
whereas he intended to challenge them. Already, today over half
a century after Davis' initial work, some of the functions of social
roles have changed, especially in the work force, in sexual permissiveness,
and in the importance of marriage.
But there are some redeeming features of Davis' analysis. He saw
wives and prostitutes together in reciprocal arrangements with men
in a sexual socioeconomic relationship between the sexes. The "collusion"
of wives and prostitutes in this role indicate a clear overlap of
so-called "deviant" and conventional social roles. Davis
found that the exact demarcation point between deviancy and normalcy
was no longer as clear as socially supposed. He therefore concluded
that rather than deviant and orthodox behaviours functioning as
contrasts, they closely interacted and complemented one another.
This is one of functionalism's major assets in sociology: the de-construction
of previous concepts of "deviance".
Another important sociologist with essential contributions to research
into prostitution was William Isaac Thomas. He emerged from a different
school, the so-called Chicago school of sociology, with its role
in promoting the analytical tradition of symbolic interactionism.
The main concern of the symbolic interactionist method of research
is the relationship between the individual and his or her social
environment. This is best analysed through the perspective of the
subject, whose interpretation of norms and values in his or her
sub-culture establish a very different meaning than usually assumed
by society. The social meaning of "deviance" makes little
sense, since the deviants become those who fail to conform to the
norms of the sub-culture. Symbolic interactionism allows the research
a much deeper insight into the subject's world than ever possible
using a functionalist or psychoanalytical approach. Whereas the
functionalist will ask "What is important for society?"
and the psychoanalyst will ask "What is important for the subject?",
the symbolic interactionist will ask "What is important for
the individual (that is subject) in society?" Critics of this
method, however, argue that it is too narrow in scope and fails
to take account of the wider social structures that underpin society.
But, whatever its limitations, symbolic interactionism was utilised
by Thomas early this century to produce one of the outstanding works
on prostitutes to his time, and certainly the most insightful of
these women. Delving into some 90 case histories of young women
and others brought before the juvenile and criminal courts, he found
that many of the women moved into prostitution for survival and
moved out to marry or settle down into conventional lifestyles.
He alerted us to what many researchers today are just beginning
to discover: that prostitutes are ordinary women who cross into
deviant lifestyles and back into social conformity. These women's
lives, however, were affected by their social circumstances which
sent them into prostitution just as much as their social circumstance
after their experiences in prostitution. As Thomas points out: "It
is only when we understand behavior as a whole that we can appreciate
the failure of certain individuals to conform to the usual standards."
(Thomas 1923/67, p. 2). The women were usually very poor, many came
from undesirable family relations, and many were migrants. He referred
to their general social milieu as a "culture of survival",
and recognised the plight of economic sustenance, or what he calls
"the over-determination of economic interests" because
this is both "universal" and "predominant" in
achieving "economic success... a value convertible into new
experience, recognition... security" (Thomas 1923/67, p. 256).
Thomas notes with the bitter irony of his case histories:
We only have to refer to the criminal code to appreciate the variety
of ways in which the wishes [desires] of the individual may conflict
with the wishes of society... There is, therefore, always a rivalry
between the spontaneous definitions of the situation made by a member
of an organised society and the definitions which his society has
provided for him (Thomas 1923/67, p. 42).
Thomas concluded his analysis of his "unadjusted girls"
with some probing questions still the basis for sociological enquiry
75 years later:
How far is abnormality a matter of deficient
social Organisation?... How far is individualism compatible with
social cohesion?... How is the general social efficiency of a
group affected by various systems of relations between man and
woman? (Thomas 1923/67, p. 2)
These were questions which tantalised a group of later sociologists
from the Chicago school of thought who grappled with the relationships
of individuals and society in theories of social deviance. Some
of these social deviance theorists, like Edwin Lemert and Howard
Becker, were of the interactionist school, while others outside
the Chicago school, most particularly Robert King Merton, championed
the structural-functional position in the sociology of deviance.
Becker summed up the position of the interactionists:
[Societies] create deviance by making those rules
whose infractions constitutes deviance... From this point of view,
deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather
a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions
to an "offender" (Becker 1962, p. 9 1).
Lemert (1951) referred to "social pathology" as the situation
in which the individual is seen to be the cause of an infraction
which is due to ills in society itself, such as sexual repression,
social inequality, labelling and social ostracism. As a group the
social deviance theorists say deviance occurs as a result of conflicts
of interest between powerful "in-groups" and powerless
"out-groups". The "in-groups" protect their
interests by constructing laws, which they promote as "natural
laws of justice", while the "out-groups" are defined
as "law abiding" or "law breakers" depending
on the degree of acceptance of these laws. "Deviants"
are those most unable to meet the demands and constraints of these
laws, and are dealt with by the state's oppressive and institutional
apparatus controlled by the "in-groups" such as reform
schools, police, courts, prison, and mental asylums, aimed to control
and rehabilitate them, or in the case of incorrigibles, lock them
out of society forever. Such a situation arose for a group of street
prostitutes in Sydney. They were arrested soon after a law was passed
in 1983 to make street soliciting offensive. Overnight they became
criminal "deviants" ending in gaol sentences. Bearing
a double stigma, of social as well as criminal "deviant",
they were scapegoats of powerful government forces and the victims
of powerful middle-class reactions. I commented on the position
of these unfortunate women at the time:
[The prostitute] mirrors our inadequacies and our distorted sense
of human sexuality, while at the same time tendering to the back-log
in human reality. For her honest raw-boned approach to a part of
ourselves we find ugly in our own denial of self, we vilify her,
deny her rights, and lock her up in an attempt to cast out of our
minds what most of us know she is telling us is true (Perkins 1984).
Merton's structural-functionalism sees deviance occurring when
a person is unable to meet the "ends" (or values) by the
acceptable "means" (or rules), leading to an illegitimate
attempt at acquiring the "ends". Deviance then, "arises
from a dissociation between ends and means" by which mostly
people from the lower classes, rather than the upper or middle classes,
will be in a position to depend on a deviant lifestyle to achieve
what others acquire through conformity (Merton 1957).
His major critic was Lemert (1967) who felt his analysis too simplistic
and failing to confront complex situations. As Becker (1963) pointed
out, white-collar crimes are just as prevalent as blue-collar crimes
but less often solved and brought to public notice. Lemert (1968)
levelled similar criticisms at Davis' narrow focus on the trading
of sex for pecuniary benefit. Not only prostitutes and wives are
involved but women who sleep with their date for providing a generous
outing, mistresses kept by their lovers, waitresses who allow their
bottoms to be pinched for a tip, and secretaries who sleep with
their bosses for a raise.
David Matza (1969, p. 84) sums up nicely for deviance theorists
in his comparison between prostitution and other professionals.
As with any service, he points out, prostitution renders a service
for a fee, it is devoid of emotion, and it does not discriminate
between customers. As he put it: "Prostitution is among the
oldest of professions, and professionals always fear prostituting
Psychologists, especially since the 1940s, have shown an interest
in prostitution. The branch of psychology that has made the most
important inroads into this area of study has been social psychology,
a largely empirical science interested in outcomes as much as origins.
Until the time of the psychologists of the 1950s empirical analysis
of prostitutes was rare, but since then it has become one of the
major methods of research. One of the earliest empiricists to study
prostitutes was British psychologist T.C.N. Gibbens, who was also
inclined towards behaviourism. In the early 1950s he conducted a
survey of 400 "wayward girls" focusing on differences
between those juveniles who had been prostitutes and those who had
not. He was surprised to learn that very little differences existed
between them in their intellectual, emotional and psychological
dispositions (Gibbens 1957, p. 3ff).
Later, Gibbens turned to adult prostitutes by conducting a study
of such women in Holloway Prison. His findings were quite disturbing:
25 per cent of these women had attempted suicide, 25 per cent had
some physical disorder, 25 per cent were alcoholics, 25 per cent
were drug addicts, and 15 per cent suffered acute mental stress.
This is a very different picture to Thomas' "unadjusted girls",
who were self-sufficient and pragmatic, and moved freely from one
lifestyle to another. There were two problems with Gibbens' adult
sample. Firstly, it was not measured against a control group, so
that it is impossible to determine how unusual these findings might
be in a prison population. Secondly, since these were incarcerated
women it would be incorrect to assume that these incarcerated prostitutes
were representative of prostitutes per se, most of whom had never
Gibbens' American counterpart was social psychologist and one-time
colleague of Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy. Once again there is
a bias towards criminalised prostitutes, since Pomeroy's sample
of 175 sex workers included 154 gaol inmates. But his findings were
very different to Gibbens' adult sample. Rather than the depressing
picture seen in the British study, Pomeroy's women seemed lively
and positive. Two-thirds of them had not regretted taking up prostitution.
They saw it as work and entered it to earn more money than they
could otherwise. They found it interesting and easy work that was
enjoyable, and providing them with freedom and sexual pleasure.
For the first time in a major prostitution study here were women
admitting to obtaining orgasmic experiences at work. It helped to
dispel a myth of the cold, unemotional, frigid prostitute promulgated
by the psychoanalysis many years earlier (Pomeroy 1965, pp. 177ff).
These psychological studies were not milestone works in the history
of prostitution research, but they did pave the way for a strong
trend towards empiricism and statistical analysis. With the impact
of feminism on the female consciousness, women researchers showed
a renewed interest (since the early Freudians) in prostitution,
but now applied statistical findings to causal factors. They came
from many disciplines, but the most influential studies were by
American women, like anthropologist Jennifer James, sociologist
Nanette Davis, and social psychologist Mimi Silbert.
James concentrated on a group of street prostitutes in Seattle
and developed a series of studies probing the familial relationships
and early sexual experiences of these women in her search for the
causal factors for women's entrance into prostitution. In one of
her studies she found that a group of juvenile street prostitutes
had attracted the attention of authorities because of their sexual
behaviour well before entering prostitution (James 1972, p. 102ff;
1978). She followed this up with a survey of 200 adult and juvenile
prostitutes, and discovered that 51 per cent had problems with their
parents, 16 per cent were incest victims, 43 per cent had been raped
mostly outside of work, and 21 per cent had been pregnant and/or
had abortions in early adolescence. Most of them had experienced
their initial coital intercourse at least a year before a comparative
sample of non-prostitute women (James 1979). Finally, she took her
sample of street workers and compared them to findings on women's
sexuality in other studies. She concluded that her prostitutes had:
• Learned less about sex from their parents and more from personal
• As children, experienced more sexual advances from adult men.
• Were more involved in incestuous relations with their fathers
• Generally initiated sexual activity at a younger age.
• More often had no further relations with their first coital partner.
• Experienced a higher incidence of rape (James & Meyerding
1977a, p. 138ff; 1977b, p.3 1ff).
Davis used a symbolic interactionist approach to her sample of
30 street prostitutes contacted in a prison in Minneapolis. She
provided a scenario in which these women passed through three stages
in what she terms as a "process of drift into prostitution".
Features in the first stage are an early coital experience, promiscuity
in early adolescence, and familial instability. By mid to late adolescence
most of these women had experienced their first act of prostitution
as a relatively easy "slide" from promiscuity to actually
accepting cash. The second stage is a "transitional" step
from initial prostitution to professional adoption of commercial
sex. It was undertaken by 21 of the women for an average period
of six months. During this stage each woman "normalises the
deviant status" and first acquires a label as prostitute from
others. In the final stage "behavior becomes regularised, and
the self-conception revolves around sex as a vocation. Deviance
is no longer viewed as a segmental part of self". From the
"bad girl" label it has been a series of gradual or "drifting"
sequences to the final acquisition of the permanent label of prostitute,
known, by then, to authorities as a "common prostitute".
"Such an approach," says Davis, "stresses the significant
ways in which deviance comes to be shaped by the attitudes and actions
of others." (Davis 1971)
Silbert based her study (Silbert & Pines 1982a, p. 477ff; 1982b,
p. 395ff) on 200 adult and juvenile San Francisco street prostitutes.
Unlike the James and Davis' studies, half of Silbert's juveniles
came from families with above average incomes. On this basis Silbert
hypothesises that these women were not motivated by economic factors.
It may, of course, have been independence from oppressive family
lives. Findings for the study included: 60 per cent of the women
were raised by one parent or divided parents; alcohol was a major
problem in most families; mothers were beaten in over half the families;
two-thirds of the subjects were physically abused as children; 60
per cent were victims of child sexual abuse and nearly a third of
these were incest cases; a third of the women experienced early
pregnancies and/or abortions; and nearly three-quarters of them
were raped at some time in their lives. Finally, 60 per cent of
the sample said they were considered promiscuous in adolescence
and the average age of initial coital intercourse was 13.5 years.
Collectively, but most especially Silbert's study, these studies
paint a grim, bleak picture of prostitute women's lives, both prior
to entrance into prostitution, and after it. They do support a popular
feminist notion about prostitution as an abusive scenario, in which
the women are victims who lack control over their environment. Unfortunately,
they also bolster the arguments used by the extreme moralists, such
as fundamentalist Christian organisations, in their bids to introduce
tougher laws and stiffer penalties to deal with prostitutes (and
further victimise these women). However, each of the studies in
this research group depended on street prostitutes for their samples.
Furthermore, Davis obtained her sample from the prison system, and
Silbert sought her sample from among drug rehabilitating women.
Also, there was a heavy bias in James' and Silbert's samples towards
juveniles. None of these are truly representative of prostitutes
per se, since street soliciting is carried out by a small minority
of prostitutes; incarcerated and drug-using prostitutes are a small
section of the prostitute subculture; and juveniles are also a small
minority of sex workers.
In the past decade there has been an increase in the number of
works on prostitution that are heavily reliant on prostitutes' own
interpretations of their situations. The prostitutes are not simply
subjects for the benefit of the researcher's analysis, but their
comments and views are often the very core and essence of the work,
frequently supplying a self-evident analysis. There is usually no
attempt, or little effort, on the part of the writer to structure
or generically assemble the material, but it is left for the reader
to contemplate the raw data. Some have feminist orientations, others
have other political intentions, but all make an appeal for human
rights based on a non-deviant argument for prostitutes. They have
been inspired by the prostitutes' movement since 1975, and are more
concerned for circumstances affecting prostitutes in their work
than for causal factors, such as found in the studies of James,
Davis and Silbert. Among the more prominent of these works are:
McLeod (1982), Jaget (1980), Perkins and Bennett (1985), Pheterson
(1989) and Delacoste and Alexander (1987).
Eileen McLeod's (1982) study is an outstanding work in this field.
Unlike most of the researchers mentioned throughout this Section,
who have had only fleeting, mostly non-participatory, contact with
their subjects, she has spent many years in the criminal justice
system as a parole officer, coming in intimate contact with prostitutes
on an almost daily basis. In addition she is a sociologist. Her
work is both a narrative and scientific treatise of prostitution
in Britain, with a high dependence on the first-hand material of
30 prostitutes in all areas of the industry. There is no search
for family upheavals, sexual abnormalities, nor pathologies in her
analysis, but it is a direct and descriptive account of the working
lives of prostitutes, with solutions offered for improving the day-to-day
conditions of the sex industry and reforming laws. Her descriptive
analysis expands on the prostitutes' viewpoint that their work offers
good pay and flexible hours, but is far too dominated by men, with
far too little protection offered them against violence. She also
expands on data from clients, showing that they more often view
the prostitute as their "other girlfriend" rather than
as a mere sex object. McLeod's discourse on the current laws in
Britain is in effect a lobby to legislators. In describing her objectives
for undertaking the study McLeod probably sums up the attitude of
most researchers and other writers in this genre:
Two convictions lay at the core of this book. First, that people
should be regarded as equal, and secondly, deriving from this, that
the most constructive working relations are co-operative rather
than competitive and hierarchical (McLeod 1982, p. 147).
In this Section we have encountered some of the research carried
out on prostitution over the past two centuries. Small, though select
this may be, it nevertheless indicates the enormous diversity of
opinions that have emerged in the course of the history of this
research. Some, like Lombroso and the Freudians, seem bizarre in
the light of knowledge today, while others obviously push a moral,
political or careerist intention. Even within disciplines, such
as psychoanalysis or sociology, there is a great diversity of opinion.
Taken together, all of these studies and opinions with their contrasting,
as well as complementary, findings, provide the material for a lively
dialectical argument either way. It is an impressive literature
on the subject of prostitution (grand even, if you consider the
quantity on Table 1.1). But so much has been written, yet so little
learned. The myths and misconceptions that surround prostitution
continue to reinforce the notions on the subject in the public consciousness.
It is the intention of this book to make an inroad into this void
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