Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Learning lessons from legalising prostitution in Victoria

“Old Man Beguiled by Courtesans,” by Lucas Cranach, oil on panel.

It was reported on the ABC 20/01/12 that Tasmania’s Attorney-General Brian Wightman wants a public reconsideration of brothel legalisation including setting up a statutory body to license sex workers and brothel owners.

The State Government has released a discussion paper on reforming the sex industry which can be viewed on the Justice Department website; it explores both options of legalisation and criminalisation.

The paper broadly explores examples of legalisation in Australia but fails to discuss the well documented negative impacts resulting from these legislative changes. While avoiding the problems resulting from legalisation in Australia, the discussion paper highlights criticisms of the criminalisation model in Sweden.

It is no coincidence that the review of brothel legislation is being considered while the Tasmanian Government is desperately looking for ways to raise revenue from new charges, taxes and fines.

It should be of grave concerning that a government criticised for its failures to protect children from abuse is now looking at reaping financial benefit from sex workers, many of whom were victims of child sex abuse.

By legitimising brothels and sex work, there is an inflation of employment figures as well as a boom in sex traders investing in the state with the government making money from sex tourism, licensing and taxing the industry. It has to be questioned whether legalisation will become state sanctioned exploitation.

Jade Barker from the Scarlet Alliance was quoted as saying ‘The basis for any law reform within the sex industry is to legitimise sex work as an occupation and to end discrimination for sex workers for consenting adults who choose to work within the sex industry to be given the same rights as all other Tasmanians.’ Ms Barker has taken a ‘rights based approach’ as opposed to a ‘responsibility based approach’.

There is no question that Ms Baker’s opinion is aimed at protecting sex workers, but is she really trying to protect sex workers and legitimise their occupation or is she more interested in advocating for brothel owners’ right to exploit them? Perhaps she is trying to legitimise consumers who demand sexual services, the commodification of sex and the sex industry.

Many opponents of legalisation have raised concerns that by continuing to entrench prostitution as a healthy component of our social fabric then it becomes a state sanctioned option for women in poverty. Currently sex workers and sex slaves are not adequately protected from human rights abuses and exploitation but legalisation will only lead to increasing problems especially during a time economic downturn where people are being made retrenched.

Project Respect, an advocacy and support service for sex workers in Victoria, references statistics stating that most women enter the sex industry because they need money and that 64% of these women wanted to leave the sex industry.

Other facts listed by Project Respect show that 75% of sex workers are single mothers, 73% have experienced sexual abuse; 60% have experienced violent relationships and 47% were financially supporting a partner. 38% were studying and 33% of women were homeless.

A study in 1996 called Off Our Backs showed that over 80% of street prostitutes were heavy drug users. Another study by Sacred Heart Mission in 2001 backed many of these statistics; 35 female prostitutes were surveyed in the St Kilda area. All workers had experienced sexual abuse as children, all had experienced past or present domestic violence and all were homeless. Of 15 who responded regarding their mental health, 13 were diagnosed as mentally ill and 22 of the women described themselves as current or former heroin users.

It should also be noted that legalisation of brothels rarely minimises street sex work. Statistics show that many street workers have substance dependencies and mental health issues, these factors often mean that street workers are unable to compose themselves in a brothel environment; aside from this, many brothels are unwilling to employee street workers.

Ms Baker’s claims do not take into account the fact that it is a minority of workers within the sex industry who choose to be there; the majority are forced into sex work due to financial desperation. If 64% of women in the sex industry in Victoria would like to leave the industry, we can only assume that Tasmanian figures would be closely correlated and thus we must question who is really benefiting from legalisation of the industry.

Interestingly there is no discussion in the Tasmanian Government’s discussion paper of the need to fund and fully resource an organisation such as Project Respect to support Tasmanian sex workers.

In Janice Raymond’s article ‘Prostitution on Demand’ she states; ‘Legislators often advance legalisation proposals because they think nothing else is successful in legally addressing prostitution. However, there is a legal alternative. Rather than sanctioning prostitution, states could address the demand by penalising the men who buy women for the sex of prostitution. Sweden has drafted legislation recognising that without male demand, there would be a much-decreased female supply. Thinking outside the repressive box of legalisation, Sweden has acknowledged that prostitution is a form of male violence against women and children, and the purchase of sexual services is criminalised.’

The laws on prostitution in Sweden are primarily focused on protecting the sex worker by decriminalising the sale of sex but criminalising the act of procuring sexual services. This legislation was first enacted in 1999 but it should be noted that in 1009 Norway and Iceland adopted legislation based on the Swedish model.

Decriminalisation in the form currently seen in Australia should be viewed as a free market approach to the sex industry; it is the belief that legalisation means better regulation of the industry and decreases violence against workers. There is also a belief that this approach offers workers more control regarding choosing clients and increases the profits they are able to make.

The free market approach can be debunked as a fraud and statistics back the fact that there is little freedom for most people working in the sex industry.

The Victorian experience has demonstrated that legalisation has caused all segments of the industry to flourish, specifically the illegal sector, added to this is the factors that legitimate brothels have not been adequately monitored, regulated and policed.

In 2011 Victoria Police launched an investigation into council officials who had been incriminated in taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to turn their backs on illegal brothels operating in their districts. Because of the increase in illegal brothels more women and children are being trafficked for sexual slavery.

2011 saw an expose of sexual slavery on ABC’s Four Corners, this highlighted the increase of human trafficking and sex slavery of Korean, Chinese and Thai women brought into Australia on student visas and working up to 80 hours a week as prostitutes in brothels across Melbourne.

Legal brothels and escort agencies called on the state government to cap the number of brothels allowed in Victoria, claiming that Melbourne’s booming illegal sex trade no longer provides a level playing field for legitimate operators.

Of course many of these so-called legitimate operators have also have been incriminated in illegal practices, It has become clear that despite the laws regarding use of condoms in licensed brothels, there are sex premises that offer a full-service without condoms. This was reported in the Melbourne Leader, but such claims have also been backed up in Kate Holden’s book ‘In My Skin’ in which she candidly discusses her life as a sex worker in Melbourne

In 2011 the Age published an article Brothel safety a dangerous myth; the article raised an example of a woman suing a brothel where she was employed after she was threatened by a client with a gun for refusing to have unprotected sex. Citing interviews conducted by academics in New South Wales; findings also showed many women in legal brothels had safety concerns specifically relating to male clients becoming violent and demanding for unprotected sex.

The article went on to directly state that in Victoria, safety and protection in legal brothels was a bureaucratic fantasy. Even Resourcing Health & Education in the Sex Industry ‘RhED’ a government funded organisation has questioned safety in brothels and advises workers to check brothels have accessible duress alarms.

Illegal practices in registered brothels were also revealed in Working in Victorian Brothels, a report commissioned by Consumer Affairs Victoria. The report found that there were significant disparities between brothels in terms of worker treatment. In some licensed brothels, workers were able to refuse client and leave as they wish. In others, workers did not have autonomy around refusing clients and were forced to work full shifts before receiving payment. Another issue raised was the drug-friendly culture in some licensed brothels; Kate Holden’s personal account also reveals a brothel which provided drugs for workers.

The Victorian example has shown that legalisation has failed to protect workers; in fact it has lead to a massive increase in illegal brothels and has also lead to an expansion of street sex work and made Melbourne a focal point of sexual trafficking in Australia.

It is also worth considering whether it is appropriate for the Government to create a new form of funding revenue which is based on the exploitation of sex workers with an aim to keep them in the industry by legitimising the practice; this will not empower people, specifically vulnerable women to build lives outside the sex industry.

A progressive response to the sex industry must go beyond prostitution on demand and any moves towards this model are regressive in nature and move society towards a sexuality based on exploitation and the commodification of the individual. Sexual freedom is about real choices, not ones that are determined by economic imperatives.

Download this article for full links to other articles: LEARNING_LESSONS_FROM_LEGALISATION_IN_VICTORIA.doc

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  1. Holly Annonymous

    February 2, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Contrary to popular belief, and the bogus statistics cited in this equally bogus article, most sex workers do not work for drugs, do not feel forced into the industry, choose to stay in the industry because they want to, feel satisfied with their job, their income and their lives, are not victims, have not been trafficked, are intelligent, and are everyday people just like you. Infact, how would you know your local bank manger, your high school teacher, the nurse at the local clinic, your brother, your sister, or even you own mother, have not ever been a sex worker? Here’s the funny part: you just can’t tell! That’s because sex workers are everyday people, just like you can’t tell who is a police officer or a bank manager or a nurse or a teacher when they are not at work and are instead, at home with their families
    I am a parent, with deep, ingrained family values. I want my children to grow up happy and free in a world without oppression and exploitation of women, as I am also a feminist. I go to work and I feed my kids and pay my mortgage with the money I make having safe consentual sex with people, who are polite, gracious, and appreciative of my service. I pay taxes, I consider myself a legitimate citizen with as much right to RIGHTS as everyone else. To look at me you would never ever guess what I do. Sex workers are real people, and we are sick of this moral debate about sex work, we are sick of hearing about all the victims and the trafficking and the oppressive exploitation of women. The church exploits women and abuses children and has done for centuries. The church is responsible for more rapes and child sexual slavery than any other “industry” I can think of. And as for the feminists: How are you protecting the women you claim to love, when you want to prevent us from having financial freedom to put food on the table and pay a mortgage without being “partnered” and reliant on the marital system, or social welfare to make ends meet? Get real Ladies, you’re not protecting women, you’re depriving them of their freedom to chose their occupation, depriving them of workplace safety and human rights and undermining their self respect by claiming you know what is best for them. The real issue here is sex. Everyone wants it; some people want to pay for it. And others want to get payed for it. And so what if they do?
    The best way to protect sex workers is to decriminalise the sex industry and end the stigma and discrimination against sex work and sex workers. It’s a job. Just like yours. We go to work for the same reasons. Because we live in a society where we need money. Until you’ve been a sex worker I really don’t think you have any scope to talk authoritavely about it.

  2. Cam Cox

    January 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    The only thing that I can agree with in this article is that the Victorian attempt to place sex work within a framework of special legislation has not been particularly successful. This is not because of all the erroneous reasons cited by this article or all the unsubstantiated facts, figures and newspaper articles quoted but because the best and most effective framework for government to adopt for sex work is decriminalisation.

    In the decriminalised model all legislation specific to sex work is removed from the penal code and sex work is treated the same as other occupations allowing sex workers to have the same rights and protections as other workers.

    This doesn’t mean open slather for the sex industry. It simply means that sex workers and sex work premises are subject to the same laws, rules and regulations to which other workers and workplaces are subject and also have the same work place rights.

    This approach has worked well in New Zealand  “ Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Law Reform Act 2003. May 2008” and there is no reason it should not also work in Tasmania.

  3. Jenny Mathews

    January 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    The lesson to be learnt from legalising sex work in Victoria is that the legalisation and regulation model doesn’t work that well.
    The place to look is New Zealand which has embraced a decriminlisation model and after 10 plus years of operation has produced none of the “bad” results alluded to in this article.
    New Zealand has not experienced any type of sex trade boom and the government, police and sex workers are all pretty happy with the outcomes. One of the most important outcomes of decriminalisation as it doesn’t create a two tier system as has happened in Victoria and is much criticised in this article.
    Also, just for the record Project Respect is not an advocacy and support service for sex workers. Project Respect is an organisation dedicated to “rescuing prostituted woman”. It is abolitionist in its approach and most sex workers refuse to have anything to do with it. Most of its research has been discredited by sex worker organisations themselves.

  4. Simon Warriner

    January 30, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I hope all those opposing the legalisation and sensible regulation of the sex industry in this state took the time to listen to Richard Fiedlers interview on our local ABC this morning. His subject provides a view of the industry quite at odds with their own. A balanced view requires listening to both sides of the argument.

  5. Bronwyn Williams

    January 29, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Review of the laws in respect to sex workers is undoubtedly necessary, and the discussion paper ‘looks’ like a good start, but it’s also a very large, obvious red herring.

    The Government tells us it is determined to protect children from sexual exploitation, and Mr Wightman expresses his horror at the 2010 case of the 12 year-old girl who was prostituted to around 100 men, but all we get in response to this issue is an assurance that the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute is ‘on the job’, considering whether reform of the Criminal Code is necessary.

    The Criminal Code does need reform – to make the illegality of underage sex, and the associated penalties far more explicit – but the fact remains that the existing law was adequate to inform the prosecution of seven men who admitted to sex with a 12 year-old child. And yet the DPP’s office decided not to proceed against them.

    A change in the law, if it ever happens, will be useless unless there is a change in the commitment to enforce it.

  6. Matilda Divine

    January 29, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I am a Tasmanian sex worker, self-employed in the decriminalised framework in Sydney, NSW. I choose and determine my days, shifts, clients, fees and services. If I wish to leave the brothel or not see a particular client that’s my call. I have the back-up and call-screening of a receptionist, along with safety alarms, safe work procedures and plenty of safe sex equipment and information.

    The brothel owner is a former sex worker, now in her early 60s, who values our human and industrial rights as her own. Our workplace is regulated by existing laws and regulations: WorkCover, taxation, local council,Immigration- they can visit like any other workplace. The place is able to be clear about what we are offering, so there are no disputes or mix-ups – not pretending to be something else, and is a well set up, established workplace. I could work from home during the day, but I enjoy the support and companionship of my co-workers.

    By the way, most people go to work becase they need the money, and lots of working women are single mothers across all types of work.

    Tassie needs to listen to Jade Barker, because the laws affect us, more than anyone else involved, and our rights and responsibilities should come first (no pun intended).

    As for responsibilities I pay tax, practice safe sex, educate my clients about sexual health and sexuality, visit the clinic for check-ups, and use my earnings to support my child as a sole parent.

  7. Kane

    January 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    This is another conservative, anti-sex campaigner who obviously doesn’t understand what its like to do sex work.

    A ‘free market’ for sex work, means access to industrial rights, to report crimes to the police wihtout fear, to work safely and access OH&S, to prevent extortion and crime that comes when good meaning people try to criminalise us, or our clients. There is no ‘free market’ sex industry, and we don’t want one. We just want to be able to work, be safe, be self determining people free from harrassment.

    I am a sex worker, I do not need “saving”, my clients are decent people and I just want to be able to do my thing without the nasty, over-reactionary crap from, usually, good intentioned people.

  8. Jim Collins

    January 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    An excellent article. Surely in this day and age the abundant evidence of exploitation, drug dependency, human trafficking – and the other harmful horrors that always follow in the wake of prostitution’s cruel course – are enough for a responsible society to want to say “no”.

    No to legal prostitution. No to legalising brothels. No to “state sanctioned exploitation” being an available and legal ‘career’ option for our young women. And a resounding “yes” to criminalising the purchase of prostitutes.

    It’s not about fanaticism. It’s not about spoiling people’s “choices”. It’s common sense, for the common good. It is about protecting the vulnerable in our community. It is about fostering a society that honours women’s dignity – and valuing them as human beings, not just a “price tag purchase”.

  9. Megan Tatham

    January 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Re 4# Simon, No matter what myself or many other progressive people in Tasmania think about Pat Gartlan, the fact remains that she is a spokesperson of many conservative people in this state.

    In this case what Pat & the conservatives want happens to line up with what many progressives and feminists in this state want, that is legislation which reflects the Swedish (and now Icelandic and Norse) approach to prostitution.

    Also might i mention, all these nations have generally been considered progressive, in the case of Iceland it is a nation that is leading the way in creating a model of participatory democracy.

    Let’s get over our left and right battles and lets work together to make sure we don’t let the sex industry lobby get a grasp on Tasmania’s government and force upon us repressive and exploitative prostitution legislation as we have seen in the rest of Australia.

  10. Simon D

    January 29, 2012 at 11:51 am

    A change in the law is not a fix in itself and must be accompanied by monitoring and safeguards to protect against the issues of legalised brothels raised in this article. It is a change in legislation that must happen if we are to protect those exploited in the sex industry. The article points out that in order to do so we need all the data and cherry picking facts based on ideology will not achieve this aim. True, however like any form of prohibition, history has repeatedly shown us that while there is demand there will always be supply. That is a truism that cannot be ignored no matter how ugly the details may be.

    The main lobby group in Tasmania against legalising brothels pretends to care for exploited sex workers but is nothing more than a front for fanatical religious zealots led by Pat ‘no skeletons in my closet’ Gartlan who want society to regress to fit in with their superstitious delusions. This debate must move beyond those sacred cow’s protestations and focus on evidence based solutions that will effectively regulate a business that is not going to go away no matter how hard we pray.

    #3, Sex is many things depending on who is taking part in it. You mind find sexual love to be a sacred space, most of us just find it to be the most fun one can have without laughing.

  11. Maria

    January 29, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Sexual love is a sacred space that should not be bought for a dime from anyone regardless of their circumstances. The true repression is by men who do not take enough responsibility for their sexuality to embed it in a relationship. Bring on criminalisation of men!

  12. Isla MacGregor

    January 29, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Premier Lara Giddings failure to properly and address the child protection crisis in Tasmania puts the issue of legalisation into a broader context.

    As you so clearly point out Matt this debate is not simply about ‘rights’, ‘protection’ or ‘supply and demand, it is far more complex.

    It’s about responsibility for consequences. And, contrary to the pro sex ‘industry’ lobby there are always consequences that the ‘industry’ wash their hands of.

    Equally governments won’t provide support for the health, legal and social impacts for sex workers and their families.

    At the end of the day the for and against lobbies will never agree about how you define/confine this debate.

    I am constantly reminded of the many other global ‘industries’ which claim to be doing things ‘sustainably’ or with due respect for ‘social responsibility’,’consumer protection’ – and all it is is spin to keep the dollars coming in and critics at bay. Doublespeak in denial of contexts.

    Thank you Matt for a reality check about the real issues and statistics that underpin the problems for many sex workers.

    What we need is a whole of community debate about this issue of legalisation in a broad context but unlike in Victoria, we need all the data on the table.

  13. Stephan

    January 29, 2012 at 9:32 am

    “Sexual freedom is about real choices”

    Hmmmm, I’m continually amused, confused and irritated by the rhetoric in this field of argument.

    Is it all about “choice” or is it all about “repression”. Never mind the economic imperative. That’s a major furphy. When a woman can live with a man (and vice versa I suppose?) for six months and come away with half of what took decades to accumulate talk to ME about “economic Imperative”.

    The problem here is that particular types of human will ALWAYS take advantage of a supply and demand situation. Some take great joy in perverting it while others try to trade honestly. Sex shouldn’t be a shady area of our lives but for some perverse reason it is.

    As a teenager I would always wonder about the oohs and aahs and whispered gossip about someone living with another “in sin” and yet be confused about the delighted cries welcoming the news of a pregnancy.

    What? No sex?

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