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Decriminalisation: It's All About Workers' Rights

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The world’s oldest industry isn’t going away, ever. Yet in Australia NSW still remains the only state to have totally decriminalised prostitution. Elsewhere, laws vary according to state. In WA, SA, Tasmania and the NT, most areas of sex work are criminalised.

Let’s get real.

The argument shouldn’t be about restricting, policing, and controlling an occupation which has existed for millennia. The argument should focus instead upon how to offer workers the same rights that exist in other occupations. Here’s a bombshell. New Zealand which decriminalised prostitution way back in 2003—offers worker safeguards far in advance of Australia.

In 2014, a worker who had been sexually harassed by her boss took him to the Human Rights Tribunal. She won the case. Nothing out of the ordinary about that you might think? Except the woman was a sex worker and the boss, a brothel operator.

Decriminalisation is about transparency, and providing all workers equal legal rights. Doesn’t matter if they balance balance sheets, fix roads or perform sex work. Crazy idea in the free world, huh?

Decriminalization: It's All About Workers' Rights

Can states like WA move in a similar enlightened direction?

Well, decriminalisation is the #1 recommendation of a recent Law and Sex Worker Health (LASH) study, which surveyed 354 WA sex workers. The study found current law has a negative impact on the health, safety and well-being of workers.

The survey further stated that over 1 in 5 sex workers had been victims of assault in the preceding 12 months, and many of these crimes went unreported. Roughly 50% of sex workers felt unable to report crimes to police. Add into the mix clients who take advantage of this reluctance to behave abusively and you’re delivered a less than safe working environment.

While current WA law doesn’t prohibit private sex work entirely, it makes it illegal to benefit financially from the earnings of a sex worker.

"That makes it more difficult to work together or employ a driver or employ a security worker or gather together because those are ways that people can enhance their own safety and make their work more satisfying to work in teams," said Professor Linda Selvey, LASH report co-author and Associate Professor from Curtin’s School of Public Health.

The old-fashioned argument is that decriminalisation expands the industry. It’s an opinion that gets rattled around the corridors of power and bastions of religious conservatism as fact.

Fact check time:

Sure, in New Zealand this was also a concern, and so they build a 5-year review into the legislation. You know what the review committee found?

“The sex industry has not increased in size, and many of the social evils predicted by some who opposed the decriminalization of the sex industry have not been experienced.”

Decriminalisation equaling expansion of the sex industry is a myth. It’s time to switch the argument to something real, something that matters: guaranteed rights under employment and human rights legislation for all.

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