Prostitutes Speak Out
Produced and directed by Phyllis Jane Rose
Reviewed by Penny Saunders
Attending the May Day presentation of "Prostitutes Speak Out" at the Lion Arts Centre in Adelaide allowed me to catch up with long-time acquaintance Dr T.Y. (Trust Your) Lust.
Dr Lust and I first met at a party at my house in which she encouraged the guests to experiment with latex gloves and lubricant. It was a safe sex message none of those guests will ever forget.
In Prostitutes Speak Out, Dr Lust, along with Dr Lillian Starmouth, professor of sexual etiquette and business studies, and six other career prostitutes tackle the issue of the decriminalisation of prostitution.
This is a much-needed artistic contribution to the debate around progressive law reform in South Australia. For the fourth time in 16 years, South Australia is grappling with legislation to decriminalise sex work, this time in the form of the Brindall bill, presently before parliament.
If Mark Brindall's bill, which is very similar to legislation already in place in the ACT, were to be implemented, the lives of sex workers in SA would be substantially improved. Sex workers would no longer be breaking the law when they provided their services and would no longer be subject to police harassment, fining, imprisonment and marginalisation.
Brindall opened the night with a surprisingly engaging explanation of his perspectives on decriminalisation. It was the first time I have ever heard a Liberal Party politician describe himself as a "wanker" in front of an audience which included lawyers, activists, sex workers and members of the general public. Brindall reminded the audience that masturbation was once considered to be a sin causing blindness, but now most of the Australian public would not subscribe to such views nor try to enforce them on others.
He argued that other ideas about sexuality have changed dramatically over time, and public attitudes about prostitution are changing. 57% of Adelaide voters now support decriminalisation, and most South Australians would agree that it is not appropriate for the government to intervene in sexual matters between two consenting adults, whether money changes hands or not.
In the first half of the evening Dr Lillian Starmouth, played by Helan Vicqua, presented an entertaining historical analysis of prostitution linking the development of laws and belief systems which criminalise prostitution to the systematic devaluation of all women's worth.
Women's work is always underpaid and undervalued. On both economic and ideological levels prostitutes challenge patriarchy by charging a fair price for women's (sexual) services. Sex workers charge about the same per hour as psychiatrists! Laws which criminalise sex work are hypocritical, Dr Starmouth argues: "The law does not stop prostitution. It merely gets the money back."
Then seven career prostitutes told their stories and argued for decriminalisation. This was the most successful part of the evening, but also the most difficult to present. It is easy either to "glamorise" what prostitution is about or to disempower sex workers by casting them in the "victim" role.
The cast and director struck just the right note and presented a balanced, yet lively and humorous, look at the industry. Each story, told in a straightforward style, built on the others.
When one woman told of her rape by a group of men who had called her out on escort, I think there could have been no stronger argument for decriminalisation of prostitution. Not only did she have to face that violent and brutal assault, but she also had to endure the humiliation of the police and court telling her that she had to expect that kind of thing to happen because she was a prostitute.
Decriminalisation won't change those kinds of attitudes overnight, but it is the first step to recognising prostitution as work, and through this ensuring that all sex workers have the same rights as other workers.