Research supporting opposition to commercial sex industry


The sex industry is exploitative, violent and unequal. It disproportionately targeted women, particularly women from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Moreover, the industry is unlike any-other, as many prostitutes suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, as well as dissociative disorder.

Abrahams Foundation wants you to recognise the industry for its exploitation and ensure that prostitution is no longer considered a legitimate career choice. There is a strong correlation between acceptance of prostitution as normal and an increase in the purchase of women for sex.

This issue doesn’t just affect women domestically; it affects prostitutes around the globe. Not only can it increase the instances of trafficked people into the country, it can also promote demand for sexual services overseas.


The entire industry is built on inequality in society. Women are overly represented relative to men, the industry is mostly comprised of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds as opposed to wealthy backgrounds, as well as an overrepresentation of prostitutes from minority backgrounds. Statistically, of the 40 million estimated prostitutes worldwide, 80% are women, while the majority of pimps, and brothel owners are men (The Conversation, 2012). Poverty or poor economic conditions generally drive women into the industry, with men affected to a lesser extent (due to their higher levels of economic freedom). McNaughton and Sanders (2007) state that (in the UK) welfare benefits are not high enough to prevent poverty (disproportionately affecting women) and this contributes to the inequality women face. In an Australian study, conducted by Project Respect (2011), 75% of the women in the industry are were single mothers, and of those women, 73% had experienced some form of sexual or physical abuse.

In third-world nations, the inequality is magnified and the exploitation is far worse. In Cambodia, for example, while the average age of entry is unknown, one in three prostitutes is under 18 (UN Children’s Rights Committee). In Thailand, about one-third entered before the age of 18 (Farley, 2003). In both of these nations, many of these children are sold from impoverished areas, with 72% being female (Asian Correspondent, 2015). In Thailand, about 90% of prostitutes originated from rural areas, and had only completed seven years of schooling. Due to stigmatisation from society, many of these prostituted persons are perceived by society as outcasts or lesser-beings and as a result are commonly the victims of violent crimes (such as gang rape and physical assault).

Minority groups are overly represented in Australia, with a significant portion of prostituted women originating from Thailand, South Korea and China. One study found that over 45% of prostituted women had poor to fair English-speaking skills. While English-speaking skills reveal little about the individual’s intelligence they do increase the risks especially when dealing with English speaking buyers. A survey on Chinese sex workers in Australia (2006) found that 44% had been sexually assaulted at work, and only 49% would call the police, demonstrating how poor English skills can lead to exploitation. In other developed nations such as Canada, the United States and New Zealand, minority groups are overly represented relative to their portion of the population.

Many government representatives and world leaders have recognised prostitution as violence against women and girls, and are seeking to be more progressive in delivering equality for all members of society. French leaders decreed that prostitution is a “form of violence against women and girls”, as they worked towards introducing the Nordic Model (BBC NEWS, 7 April 2016), which was successfully passed in early 2016. Former president Jimmy Carter, as part of his Carter Foundation, has dedicated significant time and energy fighting prostitution, which he described as “inherently violent towards women and girls”.

Exploitation in street-based prostitution:

In terms of street-based prostitution, even the staunchest opposition to Abrahams Foundations’ goals will agree that street based prostitution is indefensible in its exploitation. Street-based prostitution is one of the most dangerous and harmful forms of prostitution, with many women subjected to violence. For many women in street-based prostitution, they entered due due to a need to survive, and a significant amount entered before the age of eighteen. Furthermore, minority groups are overrepresented in street-based prostitution.


While many proponents will have the general public believe prostitution is a job like any others, the statistics suggest that it’s a job unlike any other. Many prostitutes use drugs and alcohol to cope with the physical and mental trauma they suffer. On top of the coping mechanism from the brutality of the position they’re put into, many develop post-traumatic stress disorder in response to the extreme stressors (such as threats of physical or sexual assault to them or others).

It’s important to note, that not only is the role extremely taxing on the mental health of prostituted men and women, but that these rates are significantly higher than the general population.


General public 2.9%
Prostituted persons 21.2%

Depression =

General public 10.1%
Prostituted persons 36.3%

All disorders =

General public 25.7%
Prostituted persons 63.2%

(Rossler et al, 2010) Conducted in Switzerland, on women ‘working’ within indoor and outdoor setting. *Average rate for females in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands (Source: Alonso et al., 2004)

An Australian study on licensed brothel workers found that 45% had reported some form of childhood abuse. (Queensland University of Technology, 2009).

As mentioned in Part 1, street-based prostitution is considered to most dangerous and harmful. The rates of mental health disorders are significantly higher for street-based prostitution. A study conducted in Bristol, UK, on prostituted women on the street found the following:

Prostituted persons
Childhood abuse
All disorders
(Source: Jeal and Salisbury, 2004)

An Australian study on prostituted women in St Kilda (street-based), Victoria found the following:

Prostituted persons
Childhood abuse
All disorders
(Source: Sacred Heart Mission, 2001)


In 2000, the Netherlands legalised prostitution. Germany followed in 2002. Both nations have reported increased incidences of trafficking, alongside significant growth in the prostitution industry (Cho, Dreher et al. 2012). Part of the increased incidences of trafficked individuals is due to the expansion of the market due to legalisation. In contrast, countries that have adopted the Nordic model have seen prostitution industry decrease, as well as incidence of trafficking for the purposes of sexual servitude (Waltman 2011). The Nordic Model has been fully implemented in Sweden, Norway and Iceland. More recently, Bulgaria, France and have implemented the model.

Interestingly, the mayor of Amsterdam, Netherlands, admitted that legalisation hadn’t brought about what they had expected. He went on to say, “we want to reverse the exploitation of women in the sex industry”, and that legalisation hadn’t reduced the impact criminal figures had on the industry (USA Today, 2007). Since then, Amsterdam has significantly cut down the number of brothels.

[What is the Nordic Model? The Nordic Model (originally the Swedish Model) refers to legislation that aims to reduce demand for sexual services by prosecuting the buyers of sex. In this case, prostitutes are seen as the victims of crime, while the buyers are seen as the perpetrators of the aggression. The Nordic Model aims to help minimise the risk to prostituted persons in the industry by ensuring their ‘job’ is not criminalised so they can access help, e.g. police or medical. Furthermore, it helps to provide exit opportunities as prostituted persons are not convicted of any crime.]


Over the past few years, state and federal governments have worked to reduce the national issue of domestic violence. A report released by the Victorian government following a Royal Commission into domestic violence, as well as the 2015 Senate Committee report have helped put domestic violence in the national spotlight. These reports have uncovered the widespread prevalence of domestic violence within our society.

As part of our fight against the scourge, many experts have found a correlation between how women are viewed in society and the propensity to be victims of domestic violence, i.e. gender inequality is a major cause of domestic violence. “Boys who learn that women are not valued or respected and who see violence directed against women are more likely to abuse women when they grow up” (Goldsmith, Psych Central). Prostitution contributes to this mindset. Many studies confirm that the attitudes that men hold towards prostituted women are largely negative.

In order to eradicate domestic violence, we need to start with treating women with greater respect by improving their standing in society. Importantly, this means rejecting the notion that buying women for sexual services is acceptable behaviour.

Gender inequality is one of the underlying causes of domestic violence. A 2009 research paper by the World Health Organisation (Promoting gender quality to prevent violence against women, 2009) discusses how equality is essential in reducing violence against women.

With 80% of the prostitution industry comprises of women, the first step to reduce gender inequality and consequentially, domestic violence is to eradicate the normalisation of paying for sexual services. Furthermore, “cultures that encourage the objectification of women, thus making them appear inferior to men, are expected to have higher rates of sexual violence (Kalra and Bhugra, 2013). In other words, the existence of the prostitution industry is further contributing to domestic violence within Australia.

Online pornography also displayed similar effects, where social attitudes towards women were negatively affected as a result.

• Research by Hald et al. (2009) found a significant relationship between pornography usage and attitudes towards violence against women; furthermore, those who’d viewed sexually violent pornography had much higher associations.

• Research by Wright and Funk (Psychology of Women Quarterly, 2013) found that viewing pornography changes societal attitudes towards women. The depictions of women in pornography were often misogynistic, that they were sexual objects designed for degradation and aggression.

Overall, it is easy to see how pervasive gender inequality in our society, and how prostitution and pornography aid the inequality, and therefore domestic violence. The industry disproportionately affects women, it objectifies them, it normalises the behaviour and changes social attitudes. In order for our society to effectively combat domestic violence, we need to start by promoting gender equality, starting with the rejection of the sex industry as acceptable.


Part 1 discussed how inequality disproportionately affects women in developed nations resulting in a lack of choice and thus, increased likelihood to enter the exploitative sex industry. Part 1 also discussed how these effects are far more pronounced in third-world countries with weaker legal systems, and welfare programs. Part 3 discussed the normalisation of the behaviour, how buying sexual services enforces the idea that people (mostly women) are objects that can be bought and sold for sexual gratification. Therefore, the acceptance of prostitution in Australian society as legitimate has dire consequences when the buyers of these services go abroad to nations where women and children are far more likely to be victims of exploitation. In other words, unless Australia as a nation rejects the normalisation of purchasing sex services, the effects on prostituted persons abroad is far more damaging than domestically.

Prostitution is a significant issue in countries in close proximity to Australia such as: Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. In these countries, child prostitution is also a significant issue. In 2014, The Age reported that Indonesia had overtaken Thailand, and the Philippines to become Australia’s number one destination for child sex tourism.

It is difficult to get an exact estimate on the numbers of Australian men visiting these countries for the purposes of buying sex. However, using Australian international departure data (ABS) with sex tourist number estimates (World Outreach, 2002) an estimate can be made. Approximately 210,000 men (or 38% of Australian visitors to Thailand) will have bought sexual services in Thailand in 2014-15. That means, that 210,000 men apathetically exploited women (who, compared with Australia have far less economic freedom and opportunity), with whom a significant portion entered the industry before the age of 18.

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