Remembering Shirley Finn
My elementary school tutor used to teach us that prostitution, either legalized or underground, has long been a reality and is big business in great cities like Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Gold Coast. I vividly recall her talking about the dangers such women faced and notably spoke about the murder of Perth brothel madam Shirley Finn which to this day has remained one of Australia’s most sickening cases.As a teenager, I remember a stroll along Melbourne’s bustling downtown area at night and in other parts of the city clearly showed how robust the sex trade was and I guess to this day.Shirley Finn’s body was found in June 1975 slumped in the front seat of her Dodge with four bullet holes to the back of the head.Since the beginning, innuendos of police and political involvement around the case have remained constant, many to this day believe Shirley Finn was eliminated to stop her revealing the secrets of powerful figures in Western Australia. Of cause most commercial sex workers face the same challenges every now and then.Since a sex worker Shirley Finn was killed, allegedly by one of her clients, the city’s residents have been embroiled in a debate over the possibility of regulating the practice. More recently, there has been cases where authorities have arrested members of an online prostitution ring consisting of a pimp and six sex workers, one of whom was underage at apartments in Perth.No doubt media reports of covert prostitution only describe the tip of the iceberg, as evident in the rampant advertisements for sex services on the Internet or through text messages and by the power of the word of mouth. But the 42-year-old unsolved murder of Shirley Finn which took place when no such technology existed, has seen a witness claim that he saw a police officer at the crime scene on the night the Perth brothel madam was killed, but police ignored his evidence for decades. Could this be the turning point in identifying who actually killed Shirley Finn, who my elementary teacher used to talk about? Only time will tell but the inquest seems to be gathering some momentum.For a woman who was cruelly killed 72 hours before a tax hearing where she was expected to release names of prominent politicians, businessmen and police, light at the end of tunnel is more than welcome. I wonder what my elementary teacher would say about this latest developments. Just like in 1975 when Shirley Finn was murdered, with the practice going unchecked, certainly due to rising demand, its impacts have given cause for deep concern to many. Women from impoverished regions in Australia and children have become more vulnerable to forced prostitution.
Also, fears about a spread of sexually transmitted diseases are looming large as prostitution remains unfettered especially in outback regions. Residents of any city do not want prostitution near their neighborhoods but the reality is, just like when Shirley Finn was killed, the business is here to stay.I have to salute her daughter Bridget Shewring who together with Juliet Wills have for more than a decade fought so hard to have the ongoing inquest which included discovering significant new evidence last year and hopefully people with further information will continue to come forward.The case simply proves how difficult it is for the city administration to deal with prostitutes murders. On the one hand, it bears the responsibility of addressing prostitution so as to keep it under control and reduce its harmful impacts, which means it has to enforce a set of regulations. On the other hand, regulating prostitution easily fuels controversy because the administration will always be accused of facilitating the sex industry but that will never happen, its a sector that can only end when human race is over.Given the unimaginable impacts of clandestine prostitution in Australia in 1970s, the inquest has to take action on Shirley Finn, although it may stir controversy to those believe otherwise. Inquest inaction will not only leave the problem unsolved but will also exacerbate it.Me think that red-light district in Perth although with very strict regulations has helped a lot, such as declaring the area off limits to minors and requiring sex workers to undergo regular health checks.Sex for money, is conflated with notions of individualism and sexual identity becomes a signifier to other people about who a person is, and in the case of Shirley Finn, who we are in death. To this day, media refers to Shirley Finn as a prostitute in their headlines and highly so. But in my view its also good to speak about the inherent danger of her work, including her understanding of this danger and also her preference not to work in sex work. Identifying victims of violent crime as prostitutes has a distancing effect and makes non prostitues women feel safe. Sadly, when women like Shirley Finn are murdered by men, this creates a threat to all women and a woman’s place and space of work or how outside of normalized sexual activities she steps is no longer relevant.Describing Shirley Finn as a prostitute is a sobering reminder of how pervasive negative understandings of sex work and sex workers are. The perspectives through which sex workers are positioned as sinful, dirty, diseased, deviant and victims doesn’t apply in Shirley Finn case. She was executed for other reasons that will hopefully become clear with the current inquest.