If we didn't know what women are for, a letter from a woman commenting on a recent DomPost news story made it crystal clear.
The story featured Mount Victoria residents' complaints about a brothel in their street. The letter defended the brothel as a necessary service, because it gave men "sexual relief".
If it wasn't there, said the writer, men would go looking for drunk young women to provide them with this kind of "relief" instead. She implied that the brothel's existence stopped men doing this.
I remember reading a description of Western men feeling up the Thai women they'd bought for the evening. It said the men were treating these women like "sexual toilets".
That's exactly the picture conjured up by the phrase "sexual relief". When a guy's gotta go, he's gotta find someone to go in. Paying for it was never illegal - it was only illegal to be the payee. But has there since been any sudden drop in men using drunk young women, or even sober ones, for "relief"? I don't know, but I'd be very surprised if there had.
The recent report on prostitution since legalisation doesn't consider this issue at all. Well, it wouldn't, would it.
What it does say is that unlike sex workers, who've been repeatedly researched, little is known about clients, "which in itself reflects their invisibility".
What is known suggests that "purchasing sexual services is the practice of many ‘normal’, successful, socially competent and often married men". They go to sex workers for "sex without complications", company, fun, "alleviating boredom and providing variety". All perfectly normal, right?
Where illegal under age sex workers are involved, it's a different story. A bit more is known about these men because they sometimes get arrested, and "some of the people arrested for seeking contact with under age people during an operation in Auckland in early 2008 had previous convictions for serious assault, rape and other sexual offences." They probably saw all that as just another kind of relief.
After all its investigations, the Committee comes to a very telling conclusion: "While demand to buy sex persists, ways need to be found to reduce the vulnerability of workers and increase perceptions of them as human beings with rights that need safeguarding."
And of course that's what the law change set out to do. It seems to have worked to some extent, although "Many sex workers are still vulnerable to exploitative employment conditions, and there are still reports of sex workers being forced to take clients against their will." Oh well, at least they got paid, eh.
Now all we need is some way of reducing the vulnerability of women who are not offering themselves for sale (which is most of us) and increasing perceptions of them as "human beings with rights that need safeguarding". Judging by rape and abuse statistics, that's proving a lot more difficult.
*Oamaru: New Zealand’s living Victorian town| 26 September 2014 | $55.00 | Penguin* *In Oamaru: New Zealand’s living Victorian town, writer Paul Sorrell ...
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