I am writing this submission in support of my sex worker colleagues in New South Wales (NSW) who may soon have their human rights undermined and replaced with new laws re-instating registration and legislation. I am addressing my concerns directly to the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC, via the Better Regulation Office) and to the inter-agency working party being asked to develop options to improve the regulation of brothels in NSW.
As a sex worker and a stakeholder, I do not support the 3 Options being reviewed. It would appear as if decriminalisation is being replaced by licensing and registration and this does not protect my human rights and flies in the face of United Nations, Human Rights and Evidenced-based Research recommendations.
-Option 1: Improve the current regulatory system, including improving decision-making in planning for sex services premises and improving the sharing of information between NSW regulators. This option might equally be relevant for adoption as part of registration and licensing options.
-Option 2: Introduce a registration system for owners and operators of commercial sex services premises. The register could be maintained by a community-based peer outreach body or by a Government agency.
-Option 3: Introduce a licensing system for owners and operators of commercial sex services premises. The licensing authority, in determining suitability for a licence, would consider: whether the applicant is a fit and proper person; whether it is in the public interest for the licence to be granted; and whether appropriate arrangements have been made to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of sex workers and clients.
The current regulatory system in NSW is a system of Decriminalisation. This means there are no special laws or criminal offences in relation to sex industry premises. The registration or licensing options mentioned, are two completely different regulatory systems and in the context of Option 1, do not appear to improve the current regulatory system.
Decriminalisation means that my business is already regulated like other businesses, and subject to existing regulatory mechanisms such as local council planning and zoning regulations, WorkCover and the Australian Taxation Office. If anything, I would like to see improvements made so that these regulations are applied fairly and sex workers are treated like any other business. I think that if existing laws are already in place for businesses but are not being applied in the same way as other industries, then this amounts to discrimination. The main cause of ‘illegal’ or ‘unauthorised’ premises are overly-restrictive council regulations.
I would like to see the Anti-Discrimination Act (NSW) include protection for sex workers on the basis of ‘lawful sexual activity’ or at least an acknowledgement that sex work is work and as such cannot be discriminated against as our legal occupation, vocation, calling or ‘trade’. Councils often regulate on moral grounds and treat sex services premises differently to other businesses with similar amenity impacts. This is unjustified and discriminatory. More than 30% of brothels that have approval had to fight their way through costly Land and Environment cases for it (Donovan, Harcourt, Egger, Fairley, 2010).
I would like to see the appointment of an experienced sex worker liaison officer within the Department of Planning. They could help Councils to understand the justification and rationale of decriminalisation and apply the principles in good faith. Then perhaps we may begin to see an improvement in the impact of planning on the public health prevention front and on the Occupational Health and Safety of sex workers and their clients. Perhaps they will discover the reality of amenity issues?
This issue paper states the need for the review is due to concerns about a large number of unapproved (‘illegal’) brothels in NSW and to reduce and/or prevent crime and corruption. Please don’t forget that decriminalisation was introduced because of corruption by NSW police and by removing police as regulators has successfully addressed corruption (Royal Commission, 1987). Police are inappropriate regulators of the sex industry and I am glad they’re out! Decriminalisation means sex workers can access support in the event of a crime. There does not appear to be a need to reform a system that is already working. I need Decriminalisation to continue to protect me from all forms of corruption, discrimination and violence.
Sex services premises present minimal amenity impacts to the community. There is no evidence to suggest trafficking is a facet in NSW. Sex workers travel for work – just like other workers. What did push sex workers to have to pay for contracts and engage third parties to facilitate travel was being refused visas or being discriminated against by embassies when their sex work status was known (Scarlet Alliance, 2012).
What we do have evidence for is that there are very low numbers of trafficking cases in Australian sex industry (Anti-People Trafficking Inter-departmental Committee (IDC) 2011). However when sex industry is decriminalised and sex work is recognised as work, we have choices around where and how we work, choices to change workplaces if we want to and to seek support if we need it. Again, there is no evidence of widespread trafficking in the NSW sex industry.
This is no excuse to replace an already established and effective model such as Decriminalisation in NSW. Any attempt to bastardise the existing model will only serve to pander to the whims of a few who base their decisions on moral grounds rather than fact. Re-instating registration and legislation will force sex workers back 20 years and into the hands of the criminal underbelly we struggled to get out from under! Do we really want to go there again?
There is no evidence of a large number of “illegal” brothels in NSW but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that licensing has created a large number of “illegal” brothels in Vic and Qld (Donovan et al, 2010). Licensing creates a two tiered industry – the minority who can comply and the majority that cannot and are therefore considered “illegal”. It is in sex workers best interests (and our clients) to be discreet and minimise any impacts on neighbours. I have been living and working in my apartment for the past 18 months with no issues. It is mostly the case that people are unaware that sex services premises exist in their suburb.
A recently published study also looked into safe sex compliance among sex workers in NSW and found that safe sex compliance among all sex workers exceeds 99%. New South Wales is being heralded as taking a positive stand with its current decriminalisation recording these unprecedented new statistics of compliance by sex workers using condoms. This is directly reducing the rates of sexually transmitted infections including HIV and AIDS amongst sex workers compared to other groups in the community (Donovan Harcourt Egger Fairley, 2010).
I take full responsibility for providing safer sex practices and as a result I have less risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease than the general public! Sex workers have been in the forefront of the STI best practice for at least the last thirty years and safe sex is the industry standard. Similarly in New Zealand, sex workers are taking “all reasonable steps to ensure a prophylactic sheath (condom) or other appropriate barrier is used” (Prostitution Reform Act 2003 cited in NZPC website).
In conclusion, Decriminalisation of the sex industry is the only way to move forward on the issue of human trafficking, sex slavery and violent crime against sex workers in Australia. It is the only accepted course of action that the United Nations advocates globally because it recognises the overall positive impact on human rights, health and safety and addresses issues of harm minimisation in the area of disease prevention, violence and illegal activity (UNAIDS, 2009).
In an article written on her blog, titled ‘Brothel Licensing Not The Answer’, dated November 1st, 2011, Cate Faehrmann, MP for the Green Party, reminds lawmakers not to get caught up in the current frenzy and make knee-jerk decisions that do not take into account that the majority of legal sex workers are not caught up in this illegal activity. The majority of sex workers perform their work safely and legitimately. Faehrmann cites evidential based research that shows decriminalisation is recognised as the world’s best practice standards for sex workers and their clients.
Faehrmann also talks about how the current licensing scheme regulating brothels in Queensland, namely the Prostitution Licensing Authority (PLA), does not address 90% of the sex industry, which is “…unregulated and illegal” (1). While it is true that licensing does not address 90% of the industry, we can not be sure what percentage of that is ‘illegal’. Sole traders in Queensland are also heavily regulated.
The problem in Queensland is that most of the strategies that sex workers use to maintain their safety and sanity like working in co-operatives, having a driver, debriefing with another sex worker in your workplace for example, becomes ‘illegal’ because of bad, poorly processed laws. But even in a place like NSW where you have decriminalisation, people still revert back to the legal vs illegal dichotomy – so brothel owners who hate the competition argue that brothels that don’t have proper council planning permits are ‘illegal’.
Please focus your attention to improving the inconsistent implementation of existing sex industry guidelines across local government and other areas. Sex workers have human rights too and it is therefore inappropriate to change or create new laws during a media frenzy! Sex workers are not criminals either. Earlier in the year, the Attorney-General, Honourable Nicola Roxon, released a media statement on the 4th of January, 2012, reminding us that the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 is now in effect. Human Rights will be “…bought into sharper focus in Parliament this year with all new laws to be checked to see if they stack up against human rights obligations”. New laws must consider “… protection and promotion of human rights”.
The principles of freedom, respect, equality, dignity and a fair go, apply to everyone including sex workers. Harcourt et al (2005) suggested that decriminalization seemed to provide the best outcomes for sex workers health and welfare and that this is a desirable outcome that affects the community as a whole. I am not ashamed to be a sex worker. I provide an outstanding service delivery in the face of huge stigma and discrimination.
I am an expert in my field and therefore I am informed about what the actual issues are. I don’t want to see politically motivated lynch parties at government level take precedence over globally recognised, evidence-based research and best practice. This would mean corruption at the highest level and symptomatic of a government that is incapable of caring for its people. Please don’t take away my rights and revert to unsafe legislation and criminalisation.
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