Presenter: Sen Lam
Sheila Jeffreys, founder of the Australian branch of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, CATWA and co-author of the report on the strip club industry in Victoria
LAM: Sheila Jeffreys some people might say it's just women dancing, removing articles of clothing, why are strip clubs so bad?
JEFFREYS: Strip clubs are part of the sex industry which started in slavery a couple of thousand years ago, and of course exotic dancing so-called throughout Asia is very much connected with prostitution. So stripping is a part of the industry of prostitution and it comes from women in a very subordinate situation being sexualised for men's pleasure. So stripping is not a form of entertainment, and it's unfortunate that it's been normalised and represented as entertainment in a country like Australia which is extremely masculinist and has an extremely masculine and anti-woman culture in many organisations.
LAM: Have you been in a strip club?
JEFFREYS: Yes I've been in a gentleman's club so-called in Australia. Interestingly enough they were once clubs that excluded women in which so-called businessmen and gentlemen conducted their business. Well now the business is constructed through the naked bodies of women. So it's become much more explicit in the degredation of women.
LAM: And Sheila Jeffreys is it a question of venue as well, would stripping be just as harmful if it's held in a theatre for instance?
JEFFREYS: Stripping has many harms attached to it. One of the harms is of course the harm that it does to the women who are actually in the clubs and you can see websites in which they're advised as to how to behave in order not to be harassed, in order not to be followed out of the club, in order not to receive violence against them. In the clubs the sorts of activities that take place are where objects are stuck into them, they are grabbed and molested, the lap dancing they have to writhe on the laps of men and masturbate them through their clothes, and prostitution often takes place in private rooms so-called of the club, which is well documented around the world.
LAM: Do the conditions vary from club to club do you think, or do you think generally the industry is just bad?
JEFFREYS: There may be some small adjustments, but in Australia generally there are private rooms allowed for lap dancers and various activities, including in some cases rapes, and that's been documented in Australia happen in those private rooms. But apart from what happens to the women in the clubs, which is harmful, the general status of women is affected by the existence of strip clubs, because not only do they promote women as possibly simply objects for men's sexual pleasure, but they provide a venue in which, which is increasingly used by businesses, professions, law, finance industry and so on, for negotiating with clients and making deals, for not just end of year parties but also product launches and so on. And when they're seen as just entertainment this is possible. Now the women can't have equal opportunities in those companies, the sex industry is a huge obstacle in the way of the possibility of women's equality.
LAM: I understand that strip clubs are banned in some European countries. Some people in Australia here might find that a little bit heavy-handed. Do you think it'll work here?
JEFFREYS: The situation in Australia is that proper prostitution is legalised, and of course strip clubs are. Now the legalisation of proper prostitution's extremely unusual, very few countries in the world have done that. In the Nordic countries there's the Nordic model in operation, in Norway, Iceland and in Sweden, where brothel prostitution is banned in a violence against women sense, because it's recognised to be for the degradation of women and affects the status of all women. Iceland interestingly has this year not only banned brothel prostitution and penalised the male clients, because all of these countries penalise the men who can potentially end up in prison as a result. But in Iceland they have banned strip clubs too on the same grounds that it's about violence against women and degrades women and degrades the equality of women. I think that in Australia this is hard to understand, it's a very masculinist culture, and I think that prostitution and the sex industry generally and the privileges men have to abuse women in this way is so accepted that people are outraged to think that they're actually might be other values, but believe me there are, and in fact Australia is quite low, very low in the index of oeCD nations on gender equality, and it's because there's a very masculinised culture.
LAM: What do you say to the argument that by banning strip clubs, there's the risk of driving it underground and therefore opening the industry to criminal elements?
JEFFREYS: Criminal elements are absolutely dominant in the strip club industry as they are in prostitution more generally. The strip club industry is very much controlled by organised crime, very often Italian-American organised crime, and the chains of strip clubs, and we have many of these in Australia are actually organised by them. Also bikie organised crime is involved in doing the protection industry for these clubs. So organised crime is promoted and given a platform by these clubs, so there's no question that anything can be brought above ground. I mean strip clubs are completely legal right now, the majority of brothel prostitution is illegal and other forms of prostitution are illegal. So there's no way that legalising stops illegal industries, it actually encourages the organised crime that's involved.