Elevate Difference

Making Sex Work: A Failed Experiment with Legalised Prostitution

Mary Lucille Sullivan attempts to tackle the world's oldest profession, but provides more questions than answers. When the State of Victoria in Australia became one of the first governments in the world to legalize prostitution in 1984, both residents and the rest of the world wondered how this radical law would affect women's role in this underground, but very active workforce. Making Sex Work: A Failed Experiment with Legalised Prostitution investigates whether the ladies of the night in Victoria are expanding or diminishing the sex industry. With politics and morals to divide and conquer, Sullivan leaves her readers more confused than enlightened.

Sullivan, who holds a PhD in political science from the University of Melbourne, has previously explored this forbidden topic in What Happens When Prostitution Becomes Work: an update on legalised prostitution and contributed to Not for Sale: Feminist Resisting Prostitution and Pornography. Sullivan's clear, direct and well-polished language offers no flowery, hidden messages for her audience to interpret. Like a true professional, she lays down the facts as she sees them, in most cases anyway.

The main downfall of Sullivan's lengthy text is the lack of supporting data, which is a must for any researcher. In "Setting the Framework," she begins to explain her purpose for studying prostitution in Victoria. She states, "'Sexual services ranks highest of all personal service industries in terms of revenue (reaching as high as 80 per cent) and drives the overall growth of this economic sector in general." There was no explanation of where this information came from, whether it only affects Victoria, how recent is the research or what kind of "sexual services" was she referring to. Did I also mention that this is all in the first chapter? Yes, she does raises questions about legalized prostitution, but also leaves readers wondering in places where they shouldn't be.

A more shocking example that begged for facts was her perspective on "sadomasochism as torture." Sullivan studies Susan Hawthorne's own research in S&M/B&D for lesbians. She explains, "Throughout her work, Hawthorne has documented the horrific treatment of lesbians who are tortured in families, in prisons and in mental asylums, explaining how in many countries being lesbian still carries an immediate jail sentence." Where was the evidence that either the author or Hawthorne backs up to prove that bondage play is indeed a danger to lesbians? Which women claimed to be tortured? How does S&M affects Victoria and most importantly, what does sadomasochism have to do with legalized prostitution? The list of questions keep growing, but there are no answers.

Sullivan's determination to explore prostitution laws in Australia should be applauded. However, her lack of necessary data makes her come off as a prude, amateur researcher publishing a first draft that others will mistake as a scholarly text. If she would have just backed up her theories like anyone else in her field, Sullivan's book wouldn't have fallen short from its true potential.

Written by: Stephanie Nolasco, May 10th 2007

But it can be found!

??? A more factual book than Sullvan's is hard to find.

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