Tasmanian Labor’s agenda for its conference in Queenstown this weekend has promised an opportunity for ‘robust and spirited debate’.

While the decriminalisation of brothels and the legalisation of some illicit drugs are being proposed by two separate branches of the party, the coupling of both proposals is difficult to avoid.

A more cynical person would thank members of the Labor party for at least acknowledging that ‘working’ in brothels requires chemical support in order to dissociate to survive the reality of the sex-trade.

I challenge Young Labor to cite research behind their claim that decriminalising brothels results in further autonomy and protections for ‘sex workers’, and could give them the power to ‘unionise’ and ‘collectively organise’.

If Young Labor had done their homework, they would know that brothels are the means of keeping violence against ‘sex workers’ behind closed doors. Those selling sex in brothels have less negotiating power, are forced to adhere to conditions imposed by the brothel-keeper and any bargaining power becomes increasingly hypothetical, with the sex-buyer dictating with his wallet, which sex acts a woman must perform.

Young Labor’s naive assumption that ‘sex workers’ will unionise independently of third party profiteers, male and female pimps now ‘managers’, drivers and landlords, under the obfuscating title of the ‘operational aspects of sex work’ is staggering.

While it is already legal to buy and sell sex under Tasmanian law, extending this decriminalisation to pimping and other forms of third party profiteering leave those selling sex at high risk of imposed control, including fines for lack of adherence to clothing policy, fines for tardiness, and, most obviously, having a large percentage of their income taken from them. As for other ‘protections’, in a decriminalised brothel in NZ recently, a woman who over-dosed on ‘illicit drugs’ was removed unconscious from the premises in order for the brothel not to come under scrutiny. In fact, in-house knowledge of violent assaults, theft of personal items and money from ‘sex workers’ in decriminalised brothels are rife, but hidden, both by the prostituted who fear losing their livelihoods and scoring a black mark against their name, and the brothel owners themselves.

States with decriminalised legislature are target destinations for sex-traffickers, whereas countries in which buying, pimping and procuring sex is illegal, and those selling sex are completely decriminalised themselves, such as in Sweden, are a turn-off for these same traffickers (*intercepted call via Swedish police). Increased sex-trafficking is evidenced with the international and domestic trafficking of women and girls in both decriminalised New Zealand and NSW.

Putting aside the innate horror of sex-trafficking, an influx of brothel ‘workers’ increases survival competition and women’s livelihoods are substantially reduced. Women are more vulnerable, not less, to endure added sexual violations they otherwise would not.

While it is appreciated that this proposal comes from the ‘rank and file’ of party members, is it also understood that any advice from so called ‘sex worker organisations’ such as Scarlet Alliance, comes not from the ‘rank and file’ of the majority in the sex-trade? These are a minority of those in the sex-trade, often in positions of ‘management’ and/or wholly independent of brothel ‘work’ themselves!

Why take advice from government funded groups in these positions who also minimise the need for exiting strategies for those who want to leave prostitution?

And what ‘union’ worth it’s salt argues for a model of legislation which empowers pimps over ‘workers’?

Perhaps it is understandable that Young Labor has produced an ill conceived policy based on old notions about the politics of prohibition. After all, if high profile human rights organisations such as Amnesty International can be infiltrated by pimps, drafting it’s policy on ‘sex work’ on the basis of brothel-owner Douglas Fox in the UK, brothel owners Escort Ireland, and convicted sex-traffickers such as Alejandra Gil, Mexico, why wouldn’t others?

I encourage a dialogue with Young Labor as it is likely their motivation comes from an ethos of ‘worker’s rights’, but it has been misled by those with a vested interest in opening up opportunities for profiteering from brothel owners and keeping the status quo of pimps over the prostituted. As we know decriminalisation leads to an expansion of the sex-trade from which the majority simply want to get out.

One hopes in the predicted ‘spirited debate’ fiction does not obscure fact, although it seems unlikely. Meanwhile, hundreds of women are trafficked into decriminalised NSW, and a ‘sex worker’ bound and raped in legalised Victoria is remunerated with a phone and money that was stolen from her wallet (rape as theft?)- cases which the Scarlet Alliance vehemently ignore . One wonders which ‘sex workers’ are considered, by them, to be worth fighting for.

Young Labor’s challenge should be to fight the global humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, not cater to the mutli-billion dollar sex-trade and further cement in to the GDP money taxed off the sexually exploited.

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*Simone Watson is an Indigenous woman living in Western Australia, and the Director of NorMAC (Nordic Model in Australia Coalition). She is a prostitution survivor and a contributor to the book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade edited by Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist

Andrew Minney in Comments HERE: … The correct approach to male violence is obvious. To identify it and to repudiate it. The commercialization of exploitation is absolutely the antithesis of Labor principles. Please lead the way forward for a better, safer, respectful future for women and girls by condemning the men who harm them.

NorMAC: Labor to open the door for violence to women by johns, pimps and traffickers