"The Great Divide: Views on Sex Work" Mark Pendleton and Elena Jeffreys Overland Journal, 190, 2008, pg 94
Roberta responds to "REVIEW OF CALL GIRLS: PRIVATE SEX WORKERS IN AUSTRALIA" Antonella Gambotto-Burke, The Australian 12th May 2007
This is not a legitimate book review but an excuse to air Gambotto-Burke’s (G-B) own agenda of hate for sex workers, which sounds more like the views of an ultra-moralist with a Christian far right agenda. If G-B is reciting a feminist ideology, then she should be aware that her naïve approach to prostitution went out of the women’s movement 30 years ago when a rational appreciation of sex work was realised following more stringent research into the subject. To continue in this frame of mind is simply a demonstration of the kind of closed-minded attitude one has come to expect from the most rabid of moralists and extreme rightwing conservatives.
There are two major flaws in G-B’s review that I take issue with. One is her persistent focus on trafficking when the subject is not even mentioned in our book simply because none of the women Frances and I interviewed and surveyed were involved or were victims of trafficking. Or does G-B mean to imply that all sex work is a form of trafficking and all sex workers are nothing more than sex slaves? For the record, I should point out that I have never denied the existence of trafficking. I have just denied its presence among migrant sex workers in Australia, who come to this country of their own free will, yet are often labelled "sex slaves". In my visits to every brothel in NSW, ACT and southern Q’ld I have come across a number of so-called "Asian" parlours where migrant sex workers earn their living. None of them have ever admitted to being forced into prostitution. In fact, in all my years of coordinating the Australian Prostitutes Collective I only ever came across one situation where women were clearly forced into sexual slavery in Sydney, and that involved two women from Singapore who were locked in a hotel room by a nasty character who made a business kidnapping women for the sex trade. We got them out of that situation and paid for their plane fare back home.
With regard to the second flaw with which I take issue, this concerns G-B’s obvious personal sniping attacks upon me, whom she obviously holds up as some kind of champion of trafficking and sexploitation. Maybe she considers me a pimp or a pander, or even a paedophile peddling child prostitution. As a matter of fact, it is her dishonest approach to the review by linking child sex exploitation and trafficking with sex work per se, which I find particularly disturbing and distasteful, since it incites the ultra-moralists and the ignorant to continue pursuing their insensitive course of prostitution bashing. Too much emphasis on children is already inappropriately used in accusations of sex workers somehow contaminating pure, innocent, young minds, which provides the moral purist brigade with the opportunity to lobby for the criminalisation of sex work. If they want to see the reality of child sexploitation, pimps on the streets, criminal organisations running brothels, corrupt cops and women literally "chained to the bed" then they are going the right way about it. G-B’s falsified arguments are not only unsubstantiated, but are plainly dishonest. It seems obvious that by disparaging me, G-B hopes to convince people that the book is disreputable.
Who is this Gambotto-Burke anyway? Nobody I’ve spoken to has heard of her. The question is, then, what qualifications does she have to enable her to criticise a scholarly work? Her ranting certainly doesn’t sound like she possesses the scholarly qualities required to critique a serious and well-researched document in social science. Unlike her ravings on trafficking, which subject, as I have said, is not discussed in the book, our research is purely based upon objective analysis and not on conjecture. Our book relies solely on factual information supplied to us by our subjects for both qualitative and quantitative evidence. Call Girls is a fact-finding analysis of the sex industry from the sex worker’s perspective, unless, of course, G-B thinks all of the 236 women who participated were lying.
Let us now consider G-B’s comments in detail. In the first paragraph G-B claims I said that anti-trafficking lobbyists mislead people into believing that child prostitution and sex tourism are enormous problems. I can’t remember when I said that or in what context, for G-B doesn’t back it up with references, but if I did I bet it was in defence of migrant sex workers and young people on the street, both of whom freely chose what they do and are not trafficked nor are they sex slaves. To cite David Batstone’s figures on cost and numbers in human trafficking may be true but that doesn’t mean that it refers only to sex slavery, and it is certainly not linked to migrant sex workers in Australia. In any case, all of this is irrelevant to our book that doesn’t even broach the subject of trafficking. To suggest that I “ridicule their plight” is a blatant lie or a fantasy in G-B’s mind that I consider slanderous.
In para 4 G-B refers to me as a “transsexual”. Whether I am or not has nothing to do with our book and for all intents and purposes I might be a pink elephant, but this should not be held up for ridicule or labelling, which is G-B’s further attempt at discrediting the book. She talks about child porn worldwide and claims I am “uninterested”, which is more slander. If, by not mentioning pornography in a book about call girls, it makes me “uninterested” then so be it. It is a subject for another serious study and not to be dragged out in a deliberate attempt at confusing it with the concerns of call girls. G-B’s blatant linking of child brutality in Russia with call girls in Australia is a crude attempt at convincing the public and our political leaders that the two are one and the same. Unfortunately, naïve people already swayed by years of anti-prostitution propaganda might be prepared to believe her, but let’s hope our legislators are astute enough to see through her charade.
In paras 5 & 6 G-B grossly distorts our description of terminology by dismissing the original Latin meaning of the word "prostitution" by calling on latter-day dictionary meanings of the word, which has been re-interpreted in a climate of anti-prostitution moral puritanism. She goes on to cite a blatantly bigoted remark that “prostitution is not a profession but a subjugating verb” as evidence for her argument, and suggests that sex workers who refer to themselves as ‘prostitutes’ are normalising “unacceptable abuse”. Only a bigot with complete ignorance about the realities of the sex industry and the motivations of women who work in it could make such a remark. The problem with this way of thinking is that these bigots and rabid moralists have never spoken to a sex worker on equal terms, and yet they past judgement based on their own distorted assumptions. G-B should come out with me visiting brothels and street workers for one night and it might open her eyes to reality.
In para 9 G-B stoops even lower in her so-called book review by recalling comments in another book of mine written 20 years ago about a different cohort of people in a different setting and at a different time, for the transsexual street workers mentioned in that book were faced with many more problems than the call girls in the book G-B was supposed to be reviewing. The transsexuals at that time were confronting hostility from residents with bigoted views who unleashed their bigotry upon these most vulnerable of sex workers. Once again G-B tries to bamboozle people by mixing unrelated situations as though they are one and the same, no doubt in a further effort to disparage the book.
Further on in her tirade against sex workers G-B resorts to language to degrade me and by extension to discredit the book. She refers to my line of thought as “toxic ideology”. And, by once more returning to the inappropriate subject of child sexploitation, G-B sinks to her lowest level of slanderous commentary when in the midst of her tiresome harping on child sexuality she makes the remark that I am “a father of two”, which, of course is completely irrelevant, unless it is intended to imply that I might be a paedophile who cares nothing for the plight of children. Because her discussion then reverts to incestuous relations, it seems obvious that the implication is intended to extend to the possibility that I might also be likely to have committed incest with my own children.
In her second to last para G-B attempts to use the words of our interviewees as evidence for her distorted impression of sex work. She mentions Olivia, a call girl in our book, as saying “I just put up a mental block and take it”. Obviously, this is meant for people who are not likely to read the book and will confirm in their own minds what they and many others already think about prostitution. In fact, Olivia, like any working person, speaks of being tired from working hard and her comment refers only to clients who “don’t do anything for me”. It certainly does not refer to abuse or enslavement or any other negative fantasy that fills our reviewer’s brain. Once more G-B has distorted our evidence to satisfy her “toxic ideology”. Why, one might ask, doesn’t she use any of the many more positive comments made by Olivia about her work, or select positive commentaries made by the other 16 interviewees?
In her final para, G-B goes overboard with her twisted moral views by calling me a champion of prostitution, which she refers to as the “industrialisation of sex” and “modern slavery’s foundation” about which she says I have a “sadistic disregard of suffering”. She also makes the point that “few organisations help the prostituted”. No doubt she does not regard Scarlet Alliance, which continues to do so much good work for sex workers in a climate of fear and negativity, as a legitimate organization. Nor would she have regarded as legitimate the Australian Prostitutes Collective, which spent years handing out free condoms to sex workers and convincing brothel managers to promote their premises as “safe houses”, which undoubtedly contributed to sex workers being constantly reported by the sexual health clinics as having the lowest rates of STDs in the general population.
To summarize, I find many of G-B’s remarks personally insulting and her manner of wavering from the subject matter in the book she was supposed to review to pander her own hobbyhorse both unscholarly and analytically crude, to say the least. Given all of this, I can’t understand why any book-reviewing publisher would want to stoop so low as to print such drivel.
Roberta Perkins 26 May 2007
Call Girls: Private Sex Workers in AustraliaLink to more information here