"The Great Divide: Views on Sex Work" Mark Pendleton and Elena Jeffreys Overland Journal, 190, 2008, pg 94
Call Girls: Private Sex Workers in Australia, by Roberta Perkins & Frances Lovejoy. University of Western Australia Press, April 2007.
THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE DOUGH BUSINESS - review by Fiona Bucknall, published in The Australian Womens Book Review, 2007 link
Australian private sex workers rarely fit the popular stereotype of the "high-class hooker:" an exceptionally beautiful young woman from a wealthy, upper-class background who, for some unknown psycho-sexual reason, freely chooses to enter sex work at the salubrious top end of the sex trade.|
As in their previous studies, Perkins and Lovejoy aim to debunk the myths and stereotypes surrounding the sex industry and demonstrate that those who work in it are ordinary people with ordinary lives beyond sex work.
The term "call girl" is an American colloquialism for prostitutes who use the telephone as a means to solicit clients; although in Australia, the term commonly used is "private worker" and refers to one who works independently.
Private workers have been overlooked in Australian and overseas studies of sex work. They comprise a hidden, distinctive social and subcultural group with which society continues to be fascinated. The stereotype of the elusive, clandestine, high-class courtesan is well documented in popular culture: but what is the reality?
"Call Girls" provides fascinating and frank accounts from these women: how they became sex workers and run their businesses; what frustrates and frightens them; how they maintain their health; who their customers are; and how their work affects their relationships with partners, lovers and families. "Call Girls" places the world of the call girl within social, political and legal contexts which will surprise and change the preconceived notions of many readers.
The findings indicate that becoming a private sex worker has less to do with one’s class culture than it does with individual aspirations and initiative. The research indicates that the majority of private sex workers in Australia are mature women in their late 20s and 30s who have often made significant financial investments in what they, unlike brothel-based sex workers, view as their career. The data revealed a group of women who were highly educated, who had previously worked in occupations attracting high salaries (or better than average wages), and who were determined to lead independently social, economic and sexual lives.
Private workers are not a special breed, nor are they all middle class; but they are those sex workers with the enterprise to start their own businesses. It is this enterprising trait that leads the private worker to perceive her job as a career and develop a long-term commitment to the industry.
This study examines the services of the private worker and the workplace from which she operates. She is expected to provide more emotional labour in her work than other sex workers and is generally more flexible in the services she provides compared to brothel workers. She is more likely to provide kissing, for example, because a show of affection to the client is often intrinsic to the "relationship". She will typically work from an apartment in the inner city area where one of the bedrooms will be designated a work room and decorated as a "love nest", so as to make the client feel as little like a client as possible.
As well as providing information about the typical private sex worker, this study debunks a number of myths about sex workers with respect to STDs, violence and drug use. The findings were that sex workers are a lot healthier than people imagine because of condom use at work, that only two of the sample of 95 private sex workers entered sex work to support a drug habit and that violence was not common. Private sex workers are usually experienced sex workers and confident of defusing potentially dangerous situations.
The study found that stress was caused by client behaviour (obsessive clients, battles over condom use or anxiety about broken condoms) as well as day-to-day experiences like the strain of living a double life, dealing with the stigma associated with the work and sometimes, police harassment. Physical isolation and loneliness were common and compounded that stress.
The question of whether sex workers can maintain personal intimate relationships has been a source of interest to many and there are those who have implied that they cannot maintain such relationships because they are degenerate. The study found that the majority of private workers (and brothel workers) are married or have a regular lover.
The first two-thirds of the book is devoted to providing the reader with a realistic insight into the lives of private sex workers and their work. It demonstrates that despite the fact that their occupation challenges the social mores and values that promote romantic love, monogamy and compliancy in women, sex work really is just another day in "the office".
Chapter 6 provides data about the clients of private sex workers. This study found that the clients of private sex workers tended to be better educated than the average Australian male and that they sought the services of private worker for a range of reasons. Clients are often ignored in the research, yet they are important in developing an understanding of the dynamics of the power relationship between prostitutes and their customers. I would like to have seen this issue developed further. While the services offered by private workers were discussed with reference to the fact that they are ones in which the call girl has control (bondage and cross-dressing for example), Monto’s study of 700 clients in 2000, went further: it found that 42% of the clients agreed that they visited sex workers because they were shy and awkward about meeting women.
Ch 7 "Society, Morality and the Law" by Sue Metzenrath, a well known sex worker activist and former president of Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, argues that sex industry laws reflect a historical prejudice towards what is simply a work-based occupation and that the main focus of legislation is appeasement of the community. She advocates a rights-based model of regulation where sex work is viewed as work, rather than criminal and health models which view it as a health or moral problem.
Metzenrath cites problems for sex workers in complying with laws which often do not distinguish between large scale brothels and sole operators working from home. There is clearly a need for a distinction between large scale operations (brothels) and small home-based (call girl) businesses. She questions why sex workers in some states have to have a permit to work at home, while other home-based workers are not required to.
The summary of legislative provisions in different states demonstrates the differing, sometimes ambiguous – and even contradictory approaches – to the regulation of sex work.
This book has already created controversy. Reviewers for The Australian have seized upon one issue raised in the book: that underage sex is not always viewed as negative. The review, in my opinion, blew this issue out of proportion and discussed it out of context. The review focused on this one issue and failed to discuss the myriad of other issues raised in this valuable piece of research.
Having said that, the way in which you view this book may well be influenced by your views on prostitution and feminism. My view is that sex work is work, should be treated as such and that to do otherwise is to define that work as a prostitute’s identity – which is something that we do not do with other workers.
Like workers in other industries, sex workers have good and bad experiences with customers and colleagues. As Danielle, one of the women interviewed for this book says "I don’t think about work after I leave it, plus I work with other women, so I have someone to talk to about it. I’ve done worse jobs than this…"
These women clearly have agency and have made conscious choices. They control the kinds of services they will and won’t provide. They set their own prices, decide on the venue, market their services, and filter out the clients they don’t want to meet, over the phone.
Unfortunately, the delay in finding a publisher for this book means that the work, while rightly referring to the use of the telephone as defining feature of a private sex workers’ employment, has not captured the sharp increase in the number of private sex workers using the Internet to promote their businesses, exchange information, reduce the tyranny of isolation and discuss contemporary issues in forums.
Australia’s premier private sex worker website (in terms of the number of private workers paying to advertise as well as their participation in forums) www.Australian-Babe.com, has advertisements placed from around Australia and a healthy forum in which call girls and clients debate issues. Sex workers have used this site to share information aimed at minimising time and money lost from men masturbating on the telephone or not showing up for appointments, for example. This is one area where sex workers, previously lacking information (and hence a measure of control), have developed strategies to manage some of the problem clients they encounter in their day-to-day work.
I would like to have seen more comment on issues such as agency, power, control, gender constructs, client dynamics and the role of telecommunications in increasing the number of call girls as a percentage of prostitutes in the industry. The emphasis on legal issues, while important, obscured some of these other important issues.
The unstructured interviews published in the book reveal a rich vein of data, some of which could have been explored further. In some ways, the book could not do justice to the huge amount of information obtained.
This work demonstrates that segmentation exists in the sex industry and that different types of workers have different characteristics. This makes this book stand out from so many others in this field. The literature on sex work has to a large extent been motivated by a biased anti-sex work agenda, or, been based on street workers (a small, non-representative sample of those working in the industry).
To conclude, this book is a valuable contribution to the literature on prostitution and it helps us understand, despite our personal views perhaps, how to deconstruct sex work so that we can expand feminist discourse on a controversial subject which is continuing to gain momentum in the eyes of the public and is clearly not going to go away.
Review by Fiona Bucknall - WEP student, (legal) brothel manager, former Board member of SQWISI (Self-Health for Queensland Workers in the Sex Industry) and founding member of SSPAN.