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A reply to an article by Mathew Holloway 30 January 2012-02-01“Learning the Lessons from legalising prostitution in Victoria”

Mr Holloway makes a large number of assertions in his article HERE: Learning lessons from legalising prostitution in Victoria and I will deal with most of them one by one as follows.

“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”

I would strongly suggest that the Tasmanian government look at either Victoria or Queensland(1) where licensing regimes are in place with fees charged and they will see instantly that the fees and fines in no way cover the cost of running the licensing regimes. Licensing brothels is not a money-spinner for governments; they cost governments heavily and have a high social price as well.

“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”.

This is an old furphy and long discredited. Sex workers are no more likely to be the victims of child hood sexual abuse than those who do not offer commercial sexual services(2). Further the protection of children from abuse should not be conflated with sex work in this context.

“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”

Neither decriminalisation nor legalisation (and the two are vastly different) leads to an explosion in the sex industry. This is well documented in the New Zealand(3) and also in the LASH reports from the Kirby Institute(4), which looked in detail at NSW prior to, and after decriminalisation, and Victoria before and after legalisation.

“But is she (Ms Barker from Scarlet Alliance) really trying to protect sex workers and legitimise their occupation or is she more interested in advocating for brothel owners’ right to exploit them?”

This is an outrageous statement given that for over 20 years Scarlet Alliance has been advocating for sex worker rights. Scarlet Alliance does not allow owners or managers to be part of their organisation at all and the organisation advocates for the rights of workers only.

“Perhaps she is trying to legitimise consumers who demand sexual services, the commodification of sex and the sex industry.”

I can’t speak for Ms Barker but I would point out that there is no reason that consumers should not be legitimised and sex sold in the same way as any other service is sold. The argument that “demand” causes women to be commodified, lose their agency and “forced” in to sex work is the sort of argument used by organisations like Project Respect and is the entire basis of the punitive Swedish model. This argument is often then followed by a statement conflating sex work with trafficking and sexual slavery, (see later).

“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”

And what is the authors point here? If sex work is decriminalised or legalised it will become state sanctioned for everyone (and by the way at least ten precent of all sex workers are men). The author is making both a moral judgement that sex work is bad and somehow it is worse for women in poverty to earn money by sex work than it is for woman not in poverty to be sex workers.

“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”

See I told you it would be only a matter of time before sex workers and sex slaves were conflated in the same sentence. I will agree that sex workers need more human rights protections and better access to OH&S and labour rights and this best framework to do this in is a fully decriminalised environment where sex workers have access to all the rights and protections to which all other workers have access.

As to sex slaves, the Commonwealth of Australia has very harsh and detailed laws in this area and a whole well-funded branch of the Australian Federal Police to police this matter(5). However I do agree with the author that legalisation may increase problems in this area. All the research shows that legalisation tends to create a two tiered industry with a small part of the industry being compliant and a larger part still being underground, non-compliant and difficult to access as the author asserts re Victoria later in the article. A fully decriminalised environment (which I would urge the Tasmanian government to adopt) will not have this problem.

“Project Respect, an advocacy and support service for sex workers”.

By no stretch of the imagination is Project Respect an advocacy and support service for sex workers. Project Respect is a “rescue” organisation. It is about rescuing women from prostitution if you don’t want to be rescued and exit you don’t get much support from Project Respect until you do. Statistics used by Project Respect are rejected by most experts working in this field such as the Kirby Institute and Scarlet Alliance as being based on small and biased samples. For example if you are a rescue or “exit enabling” organisation and you poll your clients it is not at all surprising to find that the majority if not all people who come to you would want to exit the industry.

“It should also be noted that legalisation of brothels rarely minimises street sex work”. First it is “street based work”. Sex workers contact their clients on the street or in a public place but mostly the actual work takes place elsewhere. And yes, the legalisation of brothels won’t minimise street work. Prohibition doesn’t minimise street work either, it just makes it more dangerous.

“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.”

This statement is insulting and demeaning to street based workers and relies on common misconceptions and stereotypes. Statistics show that many members of the general public have substance dependencies and mental health issues but we don’t try to legislate their work and work places out of existence.

“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”. Most people are forced to work due to financial pressures; in fact unless you are born rich you will probably be forced into some form of work sooner or later out of “financial desperation”. Lots of people also are unhappy in their jobs but may remain in them due to financial reasons but we don’t make their jobs or workplaces illegal because of this.

“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.”

Well this would be great and I would highly recommend that the Tasmanian Government pursue this but that it be a proper sex worker peer based support service and not a grandstanding “look at me” rescue organisation such as Project Respect. Wonderful peer based support organisations such as Respect in Queensland, Vixen in Victoria and Scarlet Alliance do exist and do great work in peer education and support. Scarlet Alliance already operates in Tasmania and I am sure would be happy to be fully resourced by the Tasmanian government.

“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.”

The laws in Sweden are primarily focussed on attacking sex work and sex workers by criminalising their clients and cutting off the income of sex workers so that sex workers are forced out of business. It is an unashamedly abolitionist approach surrounded by a lot of fluffy feel good propaganda masquerading as feminist rights. And it doesn’t work(6) .

“Decriminalisation in the form currently seen in Australia should be viewed as a free market approach…. 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.”

This is a very sweeping statement to make without producing any evidence at all. NSW is the only state where decriminalisation exists and as a sex worker who has worked almost 30 years in NSW I can tell you that this statement is just plain wrong and NSW has the best regulatory framework in Australia which is a decriminalised one .

I won’t discuss the rest of the article here as it deals with the legislative regulatory model used in Victoria and as I have said above legislation is not the ideal framework for sex work and should not be considered by Tasmania

Decriminalisation is by far the best framework for Tasmania to adopt. 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 all other workers and workplaces are subject .

Cameron Cox
Sex Worker

References:

1 http://www.pla.qld.gov.au/Resources/PLA/reportsPublications/annualReport/2011/documents/Financial%20statements.pdf p41
2 Studies this area they invariably contradict tis assertion and they do it by taking a small sample, usually of only street based workers (2% of the industry) and usually of particularly marginalised community members. So if you are going to quote studies that disprove what I have said be sure that they have good methodology, excellent sample size, no inbuilt biases and that they study all workers in all the diverse parts of the sex industry; brothel workers, private workers, out call workers and international workers, male, female, and trans.
3 http://www.otago.ac.nz/christchurch/otago018607.pdf p39
4 http://hiv.cms.med.unsw.edu.au/
5 A good starting point to research this is http://www.afp.gov.au/policing/human-trafficking.aspx
6 A good backgrounder on this has been written by the Queensland Prostitution Licensing Authority http://www.pla.qld.gov.au/Resources/PLA/reportsPublications/documents/THE%20BAN%20ON%20PURCHASING%20SEX%20IN%20SWEDEN%20-%20THE%20SWEDISH%20MODEL.pdf