The working lives of prostitutes Working girls: Descriptions of workplaces and problems that arise, the nature of sex work, and the men in the business are offered for analysis, and the reasons why prostitutes enter the business are examined. The more positive features of the work are compared with the negative features. Introduction In the last Chapter the study was concerned with the social backgrounds of prostitutes.
In this Chapter we will concentrate on the other part of prostitutes' lives: In spite of the great amount of media "exposure" and common perceptions of prostitutes at work, very little is known publicly about this side of their lives. Even customers rarely manage a realistic appraisal because their perceptions are too often screened through a bias of sexual fantasies.
Few researchers have been able to study this aspect thoroughly because of the sex industry's closed ranks against outsiders. Most researchers, though, have shown greater interest in causal factors leading to a woman's entrance into prostitution than in the actual working conditions.
In recent years, however, a number of symbolic interactionist studies have been "breaking the silence", especially where there has been a heavy dependence on in-depth interviews, enabling prostitutes to speak out and express their work in their terms. Thus, a profile of their working conditions is becoming more widely known.
Thus, William Isaac Thomas , the renowned "father of symbolic interactionism", in emphasised the adaptability of his subjects, who could move easily from their sexual working life to a socially conventional life. Claude Jaget , a French journalist writing about the "prostitutes strike" in , selected interview subjects for their anger and frustration in the face of political and social insensitivity.
Kate Millet , the feminist literary scholar, used her interview material to stress the psychological effects of sex work and criminalisation on her subjects. Eileen McLeod's subjects were selected to highlight occupational normality in sex work. Perkins and Bennett utilised their material as a way of stressing the extent of assertion and control prostitutes have over their working lives.
From these examples it can be appreciated that there exist many sides to a prostitute's working life, and its interpretation for public audiences depends as much on the medium the writer as the author the prostitute. What is attempted throughout this Chapter is an observer's account of prostitution, supported by statistical responses from the prostitutes surveyed and enlivened with some comments from the interview material obtained in the course of the present study.
But the intention here is to present a view of prostitutes' working conditions from its positive and negative perspectives. Since the subjects are Sydney prostitutes it will be particularly pertinent to sex work in this city.
But my knowledge of prostitution in other parts of the world would suggest that the sex industry in Sydney is essentially no different to that in most western cities of an equivalent size. For instance, in some bars and hotels of Sydney women sit and drink with the express purpose of meeting men and offering sex for a fee.
About fifteen years ago the author became aware of a hotel in the centre of the produce markets in the inner city area of the Haymarket where mostly Aboriginal and Islander women hung around to service the produce workers sexually when they finished work.
The hotel manager was well aware of the situation and, in fact, supported it by offering rooms to customers at an inflated tariff. The place received a great deal of attention by police, partly because of the frequent brawls that occurred, but also because of a particular racial bias of many policemen at that time. The hotel was never closed nor the licensee arrested, perhaps due to an "arrangement" with the local police.
This was a lively area of prostitution in its "heyday" but it came to and end when the produce markets shifted to Flemington in the late seventies. Although this was the women's only livelihood, most bar prostitution today is casual and clandestine. Another form of prostitution once flourishing among a small group of women was that catering to merchant seamen. The women involved were given the derogatory term of "ship molls" and they operated in certain hotels of the city and Pyrmont an inner city wharf area frequented by seamen on leave.
Occasionally these women were invited on board the ships for "parties" and "orgies" but mostly their work was conducted on shore. Today, they are rare as speciality prostitutes in Sydney, while, a small handful of such women still work as "ship molls" in the southern New South Wales industrial port city of Port Kembla.
In Sydney, seamen on leave now visit the established and well publicised inner city brothels, although sometimes escorts are hired for "orgies" on board visiting ships. However, it is often difficult to identify them clearly as their true intentions remain closeted and even their besotted beaus, lovers, and spouses are usually convinced their relationship is based on love or desire and not mercenary premeditation.
It is quite unlikely that any of these women would admit to being prostitutes, but the only real thing that separates them from the much maligned streetwalker is that they do their hawking in exclusive society instead of under a street lamp.
Juvenile prostitution often receives a great deal of media attention, usually following an unqualified comment by a politician, a visiting dignitary or leading churchman. Then comes the usual police blitz of rounding up any likely looking youngster on the streets of Kings Cross after dark. These "kids of the Cross", as they are often dubbed, quite often turn out to be young adults dressed as teenagers to attract the paedophilic subconsciousness of many street clients.
In spite of the large number of teenage prostitutes stated by outraged officials, the fact is there are very much fewer "under-aged" prostitutes than often supposed. In three consecutive nights in October the author counted no more than 30 street boys and girls in known areas of street soliciting in Kings Cross.
Their ages ranged between 12 and 15, and they usually roamed about in pairs or groups from pinball parlours, Fitzroy Gardens in the heart of the Cross and Green Park in Darlinghurst, regular areas for client pick-ups. Their young ages prevent them from working in the established areas of street prostitution because the women resist their presence there.
In mixed-sex groups they spend the night in casual prostitution as they require money, "hanging about" and "scoring dope", and when they retire to bed it is often half-a-dozen or so to a rented room, in squats or in a youth refuge. There are an infinite number of prostitution operations, and these are but a few of them. They are referred to here as casual, clandestine and minority forms of prostitution.
The rest of this Section concentrates on the "professional" forms of prostitution; that is where there is no doubt about the commercial nature of the exchange and the women involved very much identify as prostitutes at work, even if there is a strong denial in their social lives.
Often, there will be an attempt to avoid the reality of their situation through a pretence that they are working only for a brief period, or by a preference for the term "working girls" as their social designation rather than "prostitute" or "whore". The term "whore" is particularly abhorred by Sydney prostitutes, unlike many of their European and American counterparts, who use the term in reference to themselves frequently. On a politically motivated level it serves to "defuse" the stigma of whore used as a derogatory term by society at large.
However, the resistance to it by prostitutes in Australia is probably because of a belief that the word is more a label for social identification and psychological propensity, whereas "prostitute" is more closely linked with the occupation of commercial sex, and is an occupational designation, like "plumber", "bus conductor" or "engineer".
In any case, most Sydney prostitutes prefer to be called "working girls". These women work on the streets, in brothels parlours, bordellos, or "traps" as "straight" prostitutes, bondage mistresses and escorts, and about a quarter work in private as "call girls" or agency escorts. Female street prostitution in Sydney occurs regularly in three areas: Each of these areas has a slightly different mode of operation, and these will be described in turn. Kings Cross streetwalkers stand against walls and shopfronts on the footpaths of the well-lit "red light" streets within close proximity to private hotels or rooms rented for the purpose of taking clients.
The usual method of operation is for a prostitute to initiate contact with a male pedestrian by asking him if he wants a "girl".
But a male strolling the area with prostitution in mind might initiate contact by asking a prostitute how much "she is". Most of the clients are tourists, country visitors, young men from the outer suburbs having a "night out" in the Cross, and sailors from the nearby naval base. Very few married men in Sydney risk chatting to a street prostitute under the area's bright lights with its milling crowds in case someone known to them spots them.
Kings Cross street working attire is quite mixed, from jeans and little make-up to sexy dresses and heavy make-up. The women who choose tight-fitting garments that show off their figures to advantage usually do the most business. The women claim that red and black most especially , either together or alone, seem to have the best effect, and spiked-heel shoes attract most clients. In such a confined area competition is strong and each woman has a well-defined working space "her spot" , which she guards jealously.
Vigorous objection follows any encroachment on this space, occasionally leading to violence between contending parties. Sometimes an innocent female visitor to the Cross finds herself at the receiving end of a prostitute's verbal abuse when she unwittingly stands on a claim. Arrangements are often made between women so that each is aware on which particular days or nights she has a right to work on a particular location. The professional pimp has gone nowadays, and is replaced by the "sitter" as protector against male violence.
These are usually lovers of the women or hired off-duty club bouncers, and they pass the time sitting in nearby coffee shops or lounging on cars where they can keep an eye on their girlfriends or charges. Since most of the streetwalkers are addicts, a high customer turnover is preferred as this brings the most money in the shortest space of time.
The absolute minimum is fellatio or coitus removing only the woman's panties and taking only five to fifteen minutes. An efficient worker will be back on the street soliciting within half-an-hour. Street working on William Street is quite different to Kings Cross. Rather than take their clients to hotels or flatettes, most women on William Street pay for the use of rooms in nearby houses leased by enterprising entrepreneurs.
Instead of individual spaces, they stand on the street in clusters, according to the proximity of these houses. Thus, these women are found to cluster about street comers about I 00 metres from the house of their choice. Each house has a hired "sitter" whose job it is to organise rooms as the prostitutes arrive with their clients, and to deter violence from aggressive customers. This does not imply a cooperative effort in business.
In fact competition is even fiercer on William Street, where potential clientele come from passing male motorists. The object then is to catch the eye of the cruising motorists, rather than attract men with conversation as in Kings Cross. The dress of William Street workers is scantier and more revealing than in Kings Cross, with short skirts, leotards and fish-net stockings bringing attention to the legs, or wearing eye-catching colours and dazzling outfits.
Also unlike Kings Cross, the men driving along William Street are more likely to be married Sydney residents, preferring the anonymity of traffic lines to the bright lights of Kings Cross. When a car pulls up at the William Street kerbside, the driver will beckon to the woman of his choice.
She will approach the vehicle from the passenger side and speak to the man through the open window, careful not to place her head inside the car and thus avoid the possibility of being seized by the hair and dragged in. The bargaining of services and prices is conducted between the man and the woman through this open window, he attempting to obtain a maximum service for a minimum fee, she trying to get agreement on the minimum service for the maximum fee, until eventually a compromise is arrived at.
Then the woman will point to the house where the service will take place and agree to meet him outside. Most of these women have learned through experience not to enter the client's car, but to see him on their terms, in a house well protected by a "sitter" and the presence of other people.
Nearly all of the William Street women are addicts. They are strictly forbidden to take drugs on the house premises by the "sitter" and shooting-up inside will result in instant dismissal. Operations on Canterbury Road are similar to William Street in that potential clientele are motorists cruising along the kerbside. But there are no houses to which the women might take their clients and they are forced to use the men's cars for servicing.
Consequently the women are strung out along a four and a half kilometre stretch of road. Some of the women claim that the lack of Organisation means less competition and greater business. But, of the three areas of street prostitution, in the opinion of most streetwalkers interviewed Canterbury Road is the least desirable.
Having to resort to "car jobs" increases the risk of injury and being robbed considerably. Furthermore, the relative isolation of the Canterbury Road worker compared to say, William Street, is a potential risk from misogynist men with no intention of paying for sex. Because of the proximity of dwellings, schools, churches and a hospital on this road, it means few locations are "legal", unlike Kings Cross and William Street, and the Canterbury Road worker is at constant risk of arrest.
The quieter area attracts more drug dealers in cars and also increases the risk of arrest for the women caught in possession of recently purchased quantities of drugs. The public exposure is one disadvantage that deters most prostitutes from choosing to work on the streets. Violence is also more prevalent here than in any other form of prostitution.