QotD: “Why Do Australian Feminists Care So Little About the Most Vulnerable?”

What shocked me most, however, was the realisation that on issues related to poverty and sexual exploitation, there is no solidarity from Australian feminists.

In my naive optimism, I imaged that our many feminist writers would point out how exploitation flowed seamlessly across our borders. I had wrongly assumed that those leading the charge against sexism would examine how ethnocentrism and economic disparity have created and maintained conditions, policies and norms under which exploitation of women is inevitable.

What I found in the mainstream discourse – that is, liberal feminism – was quite the opposite: rather than any solidarity, I found outright denial that sexual exploitation or trafficking is a major issue at all. Indeed, the status quo among liberal feminists is to argue that trafficking is overstated or that it just simply doesn’t happen in Australia. Apparently migrant and poor women enter the sex industry on the basis of free choice rather than the lack of it. Testimonies and reports that refute such theory are all but ignored.

According to the recent feminist conference organised by Anne Summers, pointing out exploitation surrounding the sex industry is apparently now the problem. The two day event featured many survivors of male violence, yet notably did not invite any survivors of sexual exploitation or trafficking, arguing instead that it is somehow racist to assume that exploitation occurs.

My surprise over the state of affairs was echoed by Nimko Ali, a British-Somalian Female Genital Mutilation activist, who reflected on how Australia is stuck in the dark ages when it comes to women’s rights. On ABC News24, Ali said the fact that “the sex industry is seen as a form of empowerment is quite shocking.” Ironically, women like Ali who criticise the industry are tainted as racist, Puritan or somehow looking to create anti-sex “poverty porn.”

Every time I hear such arguments, I find myself face-to-face with the young girls who I know will never have any other choice than to live with the inevitable exploitation that is going to greet them every day of their lives. The dire consequences of such a situation cannot be overstated. I think back to Manila where the hunger of street kids was palpable. When around 40% of the Asian industry is estimated to be children and 80% of the red light zone is owned or managed by Australians, and frequented by Western sex tourists and paedophiles who pay a premium for children and indulge in dangerous unprotected sex acts. These men leave behind in their wakes hundreds of Filipino-Australian children who will grow up in poverty in the backstreet brothels.

Liberal feminists and leading human rights advocates alike claim that women in poverty can somehow better themselves in the sex trade. Yet an expanding sex trade only results in more women trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence. Rather than opening up new opportunities, women in the sex trade are far less likely to live to see 40 years of age due to the violence, illness and disease to which the johns expose them. Yet, according to first-world armchair philosophers, this situation constitutes “better off.”

Laura McNally


2 responses

  1. There is a longer version of the article up here:


    Australia’s main feminist outfits all but refuse to publish on sexual exploitation or trafficking across Asia, as I recently argued. The work of ending trafficking is left to piecemeal legislation and underfunded not-for-profits. Vulnerable women’s voices are blocked out of feminist media in order to preference a few wealthy women in the Australian industry. Meanwhile, men travelling for sexual exploitation number in their hundreds of thousands – estimated to be around 70% of single males travelling to Asia – supported not only by lax laws and social norms, but also by a so-called feminist movement that is hell-bent on re-branding exploitation as choice.

    My heart breaks for every one of these girls, not only because of the misogyny and economic disparity that will keep them in these circumstances, but also because their Australian sisters are scoffing at their exploitation over bottles of Merlot and Wagyu steaks in chic inner-city bars, all while congratulating themselves for being staunch advocates of women’s rights.

    What I’ve learnt is that Australian feminism is not so much a sisterhood as it is a mean girls’ clique. The mainstay of liberal feminism moves around circles where it’s suave to discuss “high class escorting,” where porn is merely an element of women’s freedom, where it’s acceptable to publicly malign campaigns and joke about women as “c–ts,” and yet it’s somehow unacceptable to make the most vulnerable women and girls a priority.

    While many people may be uninformed or unaware of the modus operandi of the sex trade, liberal feminists claim to be better informed and yet they use this information to undermine women in poverty. I’ve come to realise that if anyone couldn’t care less about the countless Asian girls being exploited at home and abroad, it is Australian feminists.

  2. From the comments at ABC:

    I’m glad people are starting the to lift the lid on Australian feminism. It was a tragedy to see Anne Summers “feminist” conference taken over by the sex industry lobby–from Amnesty, Jenna Price and Scarlet Alliance, whose LAST concern is vulnerable women in prostitution. I felt embarrassed for Nimko Ali, having to sit through Scarlet’s diatribes.

    I’m tired of hearing Clementine Ford and Jenna Price tell us we should be listening to sex workers, when they don’t. They listen to the $4,000 a day twitter activist escorts who are at the top of the ladder and distinguish themselves from street walkers or brothel workers. They listen to Scarlet Alliance, who do absolutely no outreach work; neither do they represent the majority of the marginalised and vulnerable women in sex work.

    Scarlet Alliance is a political lobby group for the pimp industry. That’s it; that’s what they do. Scarlet took a million dollars from the Australian government to fight sex trafficking whilst at the same time claiming that sex trafficking doesn’t exist–instead labelling trafficked women “migrant sex workers”. It belittles and harangues survivors and attacks anyone who dares to question their lie of “stop policing our sexuality”, when the last thing prostitution is about is the women’s sexuality; it’s all about the men’s!

    Australian has a history of supporting the underdog. Liberal feminists do the opposite; they pretend that Aboriginal, the Indian, the Korean, the Thai, the Vietnamese prostitutes don’t exist. They pretend that all is perfect in sex worker land, where punters are all lovely men who buy them gifts. Why the whitewashing? Why the attempts to discredit the survivors and deny their reality? I just don’t get it. Perhaps in the inner suburbs of Melbourne or Sydney, the edgy feminists think it’s cool to “intersect” with sex workers. The problem is this: they’re only intersecting with the extremely fortunate, privileged, white ones.

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