Models for Sex Work Regulation

Sex work is referred to as the “world’s oldest profession” and it will always exist but it is up to us to determine and guarantee the conditions and safety of those involved. Research conduct globally has found that decriminalisation is the best model to safeguard the rights of sex workers and is in the best interest of the broader community. A 2015 Select Committee of the South Australian Parliament summarised the three basic legal models available and reported that “the evidence heard and submitted to this inquiry supported the proposed amendments to the Bill” (which was a decriminalisation bill introduced by Liberal Michelle Lensink MP).As we look around the country, many Labor-led governments have decriminalised sex work but SA is falling behind!

Decriminalised Sex Work
NSW 100%
NT 100%
VIC 100%
QLD 60%

Decriminalisation simply removes all mentions of consensual adult sex work from the criminal code by amending the Summary Offences Act 1953 and the Criminal Consolidation Act 1935. Decriminalisation does not remove laws that legitimately target criminal behaviour. For example, sexual exploitation of a minor will remain a serious crime and the decriminalisation bill strengthens these protections. The premise of decriminalisation is that an adult person of any gender has the right to choose to provide a sexual service on a commerical basis if they choose. Decriminalisation would mean that normal business regulation like taxation law, health and safety requirements, local planning considerations and business control legislation would apply to the sex industry. Decriminalisation does not mean deregulation. It is the criminalisation of sex work that keeps the industry from being regulated as any other industry would because it forces workplaces underground.

Criminalisation prohibits sex work, or aspects of sex work so that those engaging in these activities can be prosecuted for criminal offences. South Australia has a criminalised model with sex work offences included in the Summary Offences Act and the Criminal Law Consolidation Act. The most common charges laid against sex workers are soliciting, procurement, keeping a brothel and living off the earnings of sex work. SAPOL are currently empowered to enter any premise they suspect sex work could be taking place based purely on 1 officers ‘suspicion’. The criminalisation of sex work completely removes sex workers’ human rights to autonomy and agency as well as workers’ rights to unionise and be safe at work. The World Health Organisation (WHO) found that under any form of criminalisation, including the Nordic Criminal Model, sex workers face three times the risk of experiencing violence. Sex worker living and working within a criminalised environment struggling to access healthcare, housing and justice.

Legalising and decriminalising sex work are two very different things! Costly and intrusive legalisation systems are sometimes proposed by governments to manage sex work. These are highly regulated arrangements that see many aspects of the sex industry still criminalised. Restrictions are often imposed on the size, location and promotion of business. Sometimes, as the case is in Victoria, sex workers must register which violates their rights to privacy. Legalisation creates a two-tiered system and often the non-legal sector outnumbers the legal sex work. This two-tiered system within the industry is regulated heavily by police which, as a wealth of evidence shows, is detrimental to the rights and well-being of sex workers. Having police regulate the sex industry has led to extremely high levels of police corruption as the New South Wales Woods Commission and the Queensland Fitzgerald Inquiry found. The legalisation model in Queensland has cost over 10 million dollars to maintain and 80% of the industry still operates outside of the legal sector. Respect Inc in Queensland reports that police resources are wasted by tricking workers into illegal services, policing the wording of advertisements and confiscating safer sex products.

The Nordic Criminal model (NCM) also known as the “swedish” or more recently the “equality” model criminalises sex work by criminalising the clients of sex workers. By prohibiting sex work or aspects of sex work those that engage in these activities are at risk. It is not possible to criminalise one side of a commercial sexual service without harming all parties involved. By criminalising clients, sex workers are forced into more dangerous work situation. The NCM has led to a rise in levels of violence against sex workers, continued barriers for sex workers accessing justice, housing and healthcare and, in some cases, increased demand. Although NCM supporters claim that sex workers are not at risk under this criminalisation model, sex workers in France, Norway, Canada and Ireland all state they are. By the end of 2018 after a year under the NCM, 55 people had been arrested in Ireland for “prostitution charges” but only 2 were clients. In March 2019, approximately two years after the NCM law came into effect in Ireland,  violence against sex workers increased by 92%. You can read more about the Nordic Criminal model here.

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