Home » A brief history of CATWA

A brief history of CATWA

In 1988 the watershed ‘Trafficking in Women’ conference was held in New York. This conference attracted over 400 particiapnts, including leading feminists of the day such as Mary Daly, Andrea Dworkin, Catherine McKinnon, Kathleen Barry and Janice Raymond. There is little available information about the conference, but a report of it can be found in the Jan 1989 edition of the feminist journal Off Our Backs. One outcome of the conference was the founding of the International Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. The Australian branch formed 6 years later.

In the beginning

The 6th International Feminist Book Fair was held in Melbourne in 1994. During this event, Sheila Jeffreys met with Janice Raymond to discuss the creation of an Australian branch of  CATW. The Australian branch was formed soon after. This branch has always been based in Melbourne where there is a strong feminist community.

CATWA became an Incorporated Association according to Victorian comsumer affairs legislation. This has given it important legal protections as well as its own constitution. Sheila became the first Public Officer of the group and remained in this role until 2014.

In the early years CATWA set about building its membership and educating members about the reality of prostitution and pornography. Visits were organised to strip clubs to see first hand what went on and the first ever protest at Sexpo was in 1999.

The 2000’s

In 2002, CATWA organised a major event for the first ever International Day of No Prostitution.

CATWA 2002 'day of no prostitution' conference program
IDNP information from old CATWA website

More than 100 women attended the full day conference. One of speakers was Linda Watson who ran the first refuge in Australia for women exiting prostitution. Linda’s House of Hope is still operating in Perth to this day. Other speakers included Renate Klein and Sheila Jeffreys who explained the Nordic Model.

In 2007, CATWA ran another major conference, this time on pornography. One of the sessions was the screening of the slide show ‘So you want to be a porn star’ by Gail Dines, Robert Jensen and Rebecca Whisnant. There were several workshops that enabled participants to speak openly about the impact of pornography and develop strategies to challenge pornography. Then in 2009, CATWA organised the first screening in Australia of the documentary ‘The Price of Pleasure‘ – a shocking exposé of the pornography industry.

The important booklet ‘Not Just Harmless Fun: The strip club industry in Victoria‘ was published by CATWA in 2010.

The current decade

Much of the work of CATWA in this decade has involved writing submissions to various government inquiries and giving evidence at hearings.

As the Nordic Model was adopted by more countries, CATWA put together, in 2013, the first comprehensive guide to this very important legislative model. The publication, ‘Demand Change: Understanding the Nordic approach to prostitution’ was updated in 2017 and is still one of the key references on the Nordic Model.

To develop feminist community and education, CATWA has for many years run Feminist Forums in Melbourne. These happen several times a year and bring together feminists for a talk followed by some lively discussion.  In January 2018 CATWA organised the first Feminist Summer School. This ran for four days and was attended by more than 80 women from across Australia and New Zealand.