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The other day someone said to me that the disabled have a right to sex. In fact, legally, this is not correct. There is no across-the-board right to sex. But I have noticed more and more people using this as a way of saying prostitution is a wonderful boon to the disabled and therefore, by extension, prostitutes are wonderful caring people. Many prostitutes are undoubtedly wonderful caring people but this claim is fast becoming the Trojan Horse of the sex industry.

Though it must be pointed out that sexual services to the disabled are on offer only to a miniscule number of disabled men. It is not being offered to disabled women, mentally ill people, the elderly.

And it is on offer only so long as it is paid for. If disabled men decide to put that money into buying a model railway or taking swimming lessons then we hear no more about the right of the disabled to sex. It is not being volunteered by groups of women with a long term commitment to the disabled in the way that volunteers who go in regularly to help in institutions are sharing respect, affection, and commitment.

In fact prostitutes’ groups like the Scarlet Alliance and various Prostitutes’ Collectives are not progressive social groups like WEL or Amnesty. They didn’t speak out on the horrific abuse of women in East Timor during the Indonesian Occupation. They didn’t speak up when 12 year-old-girls were prostituted to hundreds of men in NSW and Tasmania.

They act as unions and therefore their job is to promote better pay and conditions, focus on questions of health and safety, and to promote the reputation and profile of their members. Some unions, the BLF with its Green Bans, come to mind as working for the wider good of the community.

But in general unions exist for their members and no one else. This is what members’ dues pay for and what they can expect to receive. How well these groups represent and support their members is up to their members to decide.

Down through the ages work practices have changed. Hundreds of thousands of men working with horse-drawn vehicles lost their jobs as motorised vehicles came in. Some were able to retrain as drivers and mechanics.

Others descended into poverty and destitution. Hundreds of thousands of women lost their jobs as computers took over from typing pools.

Watchmakers and clockmakers lost work as digital clocks and watches came in. We can go back to the handloom weavers losing out to machines in factories. We can go forward to the changes and decline coming to the tobacco industry. Printers and reporters and journalists are facing a difficult future. In general unions have tried to keep jobs for their members for as long as possible but in the end work changes and people need support and help to retrain, to get out of one industry and into another, or to take state-funded retirement.

Because the Nordic Model has brought about a sharp decline in the numbers of prostitutes in the countries where it now exists (Sweden, Norway, Iceland, South Korea) and will have a big impact in those countries where it is likely to be introduced such as Ireland and Israel, it is important to look at this question of changing work-patterns. The Nordic Model does not prevent people who love sex from having all the sex they want. But it criminalises the demand for paid sex and therefore the demand has dropped.

The countries which have instituted this model have found that it decreases trafficking, reduces violence, and decreases the involvement of organised crime in the sex industry.

Australia does provide a small amount of support, financial, medical, counselling, to women found to have been trafficked. But if Australia were to introduce this progressive model of legislation then we would need to make sure that an industry-wide program of support and help was in place to help large numbers of prostitutes to exit the industry. Currently, prostitution is the only job that Centrelink can’t require anyone to take up. Equally people leaving the industry have an automatic right to the dole while they seek other work. They can’t be forced to continue as prostitutes. But I believe this needs to be done not on an ad hoc basis but as a properly planned strategy which includes health support, counselling, income support and retraining. After all most prostitutes work in other areas later in life, or live on Centrelink benefits.

Men are not notable for demanding sixty-year-old prostitutes. But a clear exit strategy needs to be planned for now. And then we will see an orderly and dignified decline of an industry which had no place in Australia before 1788 and should not have a multi-billion place in 21st century Australia.