Yes, you read that right and whether you are comfortable with it or not, it exists – and it’s not going away. In Australia, there are thousands of sex workers and many more around the world.
In many of those countries, including Australia, we are discriminated against and criminalised simply for making our own choices about our own lives.
The legislation regime in Australia is complex. In New South Wales, along with New Zealand, sex work is under full decriminalisation. NSW and New Zealand are the only two places on earth where, for the last 20 years, sex work has been fully decriminalised. This should not to be confused with the rest of Australia, where Federal and State laws either legalised or criminalised sex work.
So what IS the difference?
In July 2015, Amnesty International released their draft policy calling for the global decriminalisation of sex work. Since its release, the document has received a wave of criticism from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) who wrote an open letter in retaliation. The CATW sought support from some human rights groups and signed on big name celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Lena Dunham and Angela Bassett to further their cause.
Sex workers loudly denounced the CATW letter, and regarded the high profile support by these Hollywood celebrities as yet another ploy to give credence to the underlying aim of this “anti” stance. That aim is not to protect sex workers, but to garner money and power in order to bully Amnesty International into rejecting the draft policy on decriminalisation.
Sex workers and their allies strongly support Amnesty’s draft policy proposal because it has arisen from years of studies conducted by human rights organisations such as UNAIDS, the Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Council and United Nation Convention Against Transitional Organised Crime.
Listen to Mia interviewing sex worker Madison Missina on the No Filter podcast here:
In its draft policy, Amnesty admits that that full decriminalisation offers sex workers better legal protections, safer working environments and makes sex workers less vulnerable to exploitation. These studies also found that when sex workers do work under criminalisation, we are subject to discrimination, increased stigma, police brutality and a higher risk of violence. Even when sex workers themselves are not criminalised but the legislation takes the form of criminalisation of purchase of sex (ie the Swedish/Nordic Model), there is a direct effect of making work places significantly more dangerous.
Studies in some countries have shown that police extort money from or rape sex workers without recourse. Police immunity against violence against sex workers makes sex workers suspicious of law enforcement and far less likely to seek police assistance when they are in danger. This also leaves workers vulnerable to clients who choose to take advantage of the fact that workers have little access to recourse. When police are regulators of the sex work industry it often leads to corruption and abuse by those in power. It is important to remember that sex workers are not criminals by any definition so it is inappropriate to have police regulate them. – In fact, decriminalisation in NSW was originally introduced to stamp out police corruption.