This essay first appeared in Cliterati on July 7th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.
As I recently pointed out, people rarely recognize that allowing the rights of one group to be violated opens the door for everyone’s to be; they are wholly oblivious to the power of legal precedents, refuse to recognize that slippery slopes exist, and happily support any abrogation of the rights of people they don’t like, blissfully unaware that the noose they’re gleefully tying will fit their own necks as well as anyone else’s. Individuals of this type are unable to recognize any danger residing comfortably in the Neverland of tomorrow; however, the danger posed to non-sex-working women by anti-prostitution laws is not in the future, but in the present.
The more common and less severe form of the danger lies in the simple fact that there is no such thing as an identifiable “hooker type”; women who will take money for sex are indistinguishable from those who won’t up until the moment the deal is made. So it’s inevitable that aggressive campaigns of persecution against the former will ensnare some of the latter. When prostitution is criminalized to any degree, women who carry condoms, answer personal ads, wear sexy lingerie, go without lingerie, fail forced “virginity tests”, ask a cop if he’s a cop, “act sexy”, go out after dark without a male chaperone, or even just “look like a prostitute” are regularly arrested and charged with having sex for a reason some people don’t like.
The husband of murdered rape victim Jill Meagher has hit out at the sentence handed down to her killer Adrian Bayley, saying his wife would still be alive if the justice system had taken the serial sex offender off the streets…The 41-year-old, who has a long history of violent attacks on women, was sentenced to life for the murder, and 15 years for what the judge described as “a savage, violent rape of the worst kind”…Tom Meagher [said]…”Given what this man has done in the past, I think that 15 years is a disgrace, considering the maximum penalty for rape is 25…I don’t know what the maximum penalty is for if it’s not for that man?”…In September 2000 he was jailed for…eight years for the rape of five prostitutes over a six-month period. Mr. Meagher says he is concerned the justice system treated the attacks on the sex workers differently than the attack on his wife. “I’m aware his previous victims in previous cases before Jill were sex workers, and I’ll never be convinced that doesn’t have something to do with the lenience of his sentence,” he said. “Put it like this: if he’d raped five people like Jill that many times in that brutal a fashion, I don’t think he would have served eight years in prison…What it says to women is if we don’t like what you do, you won’t get justice…And what it says to people like Bayley is not ‘don’t rape’, but ‘be careful who you rape'”…
All too often, the “justice” system minimizes, ignores or excuses the rape or even murder of sex workers, who are classed as somehow less than other women because some people don’t like the reasons we choose to have sex. Defining some women as “unrapeable” endangers and demeans all women, not merely because it helps to enable the crimes of men like Adrian Bayley, but also because it sets a precedent that a woman’s value as a human being is entirely dependent upon how she chooses to use her genitalia.