By Claire Poyser, Safe World Student Writer. May 2012.
Earlier this year, a Sydney-based escort company advertised the virginity of one of their teenage workers to potential buyers. The young woman is a Chinese born 18-year-old international student living in Melbourne.
Her virginity is valued at $AUD12,000.
In many cultures, virginity is a desirable trait in a woman, as it symbolises purity, youthfulness, and innocence.
Dean of Arts at Monash University, Professor Rae Frances, suggests that apart from the thrill of being the first to have intercourse with the young woman, men often find the proposal of having intercourse with a virgin attractive.
This is because she of the (erroneous) perception that a virgin is guaranteed to be free of disease.
Furthermore, in many cultures, it is believed that having intercourse with a virgin may act to protect men or cure them of certain diseases.
In the Australian context of virginity being ‘up for sale’, this is not the only case that has been documented.
Last year another Chinese-Australian teenager living in Sydney had her virginity bought for $AUD15,000. However, when considering Australian law regarding the advertisement of virgin sex workers, it is highly surprising that there have not been more cases.
Laws regarding the advertisement of sex work vary throughout the different states and territories of Australia.
It is very important to remember that this girl is from Melbourne, the state of Victoria, and yet she would be working for the escort agency in Sydney, which is in New South Wales.
The other case also took place in the state of New South Wales.
The most comprehensive law preventing advertising of virgins in the sex industry is the Tasmanian law. The law states that any advertisement that implies that the sex worker is under 18 years of age, or is a virgin, is prohibited.
In Victoria, it is prohibited to mention the ethnicity of a sex worker in advertising for privacy reasons. However, in photographic advertising in newspapers, the ethnicity of the sex worker is often evident.
Many Australian sex workers are of Asian heritage.
In New South Wales, where the escort company is based, there are no laws surrounding the advertising of sexual services. Under current New South Wales law, the company is not doing anything illegal by advertising this young woman’s virginity.
Most forms of Australian print media will not publish advertisements that imply virginity or the underage status of a sex worker. However, it is incredibly difficult to police the advertising of virginity for sale in cyberspace.
The backlash against this case in Australia has rightly been against the company. And those who would pay for this young woman’s virginity, and not the young woman herself.
The company, ‘Sweet Girls Premium Escort,’ suggests to potential workers that they can make ‘good’ money to pay for tuition or buy luxury goods. There are both English and Chinese versions of the site.
A prominent Australian advocate against the sexualisation of women, Melinda Tankard Reist, believes that the company is preying upon the desperate financial situations of young women. She questions the ethics of the escort agency, wondering whether they have put the girls best interests first. She suggests that there may be other ways for this girl to access financial help for tuition, such as through scholarships or loans.
She also questions the character of the man that was attracted to such a proposal.
Eva Cox, a leading Australian feminist, states that she is worried about the escort companies that are encouraging this trend, the focus on the financial transaction, and not the sexual act. She said that she believes sex work itself is a perfectly legitimate occupation, but does not believe that it is a ‘good way’ to start one's sex life.
More than Uniform Laws are Needed
To ensure the protection of the virginity and safety of young Australians of any cultural heritage, it will be important to work towards uniform laws regarding the advertising and regulation of the sex industry, and the place of virginity within this context.
In Victoria, the Department of Justice provides a ‘Pathways to Exit’ program for sex workers wishing to access financial and psychological support, education, and training, or wishing to reduce their hours of work.
- Regulation of the Sex Industry in Tasmania
- The Sydney Morning Herald
- The Daily Telegraph
- Professor Rae Frances, Dean of Arts, Monash University
Claire Poyser is a Safeworld Student Writer. She is studying Humanities at university in Melbourne, Australia, majoring in international relations and politics, and focusing on women’s rights, injustices towards women, and the experiences of women in peace and conflict situations.
"In 2011, I was the Australian delegate to the G(irls)20 Summit, which bought together girls from the G20 countries and a representative from the African Union to discuss the injustices faced by women and girls, and solutions to these problems.
Since then, I have been working hard to share what I learnt at the summit and further highlight the injustices faced by women and girls.
I believe that the Safe World for Women Student Writers Project is the perfect way to do this!"
Resourcing Health & Education (RhED) is a service for the sex industry in Victoria. The service operates from 10 Inkerman Street, St Kilda and provides site based and outreach services in collaboration with relevant programs and agencies. RhED is committed to respecting and reflecting the needs of the sex industry, and actively promoting the rights of sex workers.
As a program of ISCHS, RhED uses a social model of health, using harm minimisation; health promotion, social inclusion; and community participation approaches to promote physical, emotional and social health and wellbeing for its client groups.
Challenges of exiting sex work
How hard is it to get out of working in the sex industry? Trying to explain significant gaps in one's employment history is just one challenge, and most sex workers don't want to disclose their previous profession in job interviews for fear of being judged. But a Melbourne-based program called Pathways to Exit is Australia's first exit program for sex workers.