I am referring to an article in the Sunday Herald Sun titled Police sting nabs kerb-crawlers written by Jon Kaila, dated December 18th, 2011. In this article Senior Detective Daly of the Victoria Police warns our clients that they will be arrested and charged for talking to undercover policewomen, posing as sex workers on the streets of Victoria.
The sad thing about this latest ploy to isolate our most vulnerable sex workers, is that Police are now making criminals out of the “…average everyday bloke…”. While it is not illegal in every other state in Australia to practice lawful sex work, there will always be a minority of sex workers, who through circumstances beyond their control, will find themselves in situations where sex working on the street is their only reliable source of income. But this is not all street workers.
Consider that street sex workers only account for about 7-10% of the entire estimated sex worker population (Hubbard, 2004; Scrambler, 1997; Weitzer, 2005). By charging normal everyday people who choose to see them, in an attempt to drive these sex workers away, is nothing short of stupidity and an abuse of power by Police. Sex workers are not homogeneous either, therefore there are no issues that are more important to certain sectors than others (O’Connor et al., 1996: Plumridge and Abel, 2001). By moving them on to less visible locations, actually increases the risk of violence being perpetrated against them and forces them into the arms of street criminals (Hubbard, 2004).
While Victoria Police have admitted it is pointless targeting sex workers, they are in fact continuing to do so by targeting their clients in this way. Here we see the average Joe Blogs being directly harmed with no regard for the impact on their families and friends, let alone the ongoing victimisation toward sex workers in general. It is simply not good enough to make criminals out of otherwise law abiding citizens. Compound this with other inappropriate, heavily regulated sex industry laws that do not recognise the specific needs of sex workers generally, so they can continue to practice their work safely and with dignity, and we have a recipe for disaster. Bad Police decisions like this one, whom despite “…studying [other reputable] methods from around the world…”, still choose to fly in the face of recognised best practice models. Developing and implementing a completely hostile strategy like ‘operation sting’, for want of a better description, is designed to burn bridges, not build them.
We are witnessing the corruption of recognised ‘best practices’ in favour of poorly researched, social experiments where everyday people and those who have the least amount of resources and ability to defend themselves, are being used as human guinea pigs, deemed worthless of consultation by the establishment. These sex workers and their clients have not had their Human Rights considered. Everyone has the right to choose whether or not to sell or pay for sex and live in peace, without harassment and vilification. If society chooses to ignore the research and deny the real issues, then sex workers also have the right to provide for themselves as best they can. Only they can determine what their immediate needs are. Take away their only source of income and what do you think will happen?
Proven harm-minimisation models are being applied by sex worker organisations and healthcare providers throughout Australia and the world with a great deal of success, all-be-it limited considering current legal constraints for sex workers in Australia and those assisting them. These same service providers are also funded by the Australian Government! The overall objective is to reduce the impact of the harm caused to self or other by educating those directly affected in order to raise their awareness of the alternatives that may (or may not) be available to them. Harm-minimisation stems from the belief that people are at various stages of development and as such need to be approached and met at their level of awareness, while being given the tools, support and resources to facilitate a process whereby individuals feel empowered to make better choices for themselves and ultimately the community.
Some of these sex workers may not want a way out of the sex work industry. Sex work might be all they have known but they will know the industry inside out and back to front. They are well aware of the risks they are taking under current criminalised/heavily regulated legislation, continuing to provide a service to the community and do everything in their power to reduce the risks associated with providing a sex service. However our attempts are also futile when inappropriate policies like this, leave us with little or no room to move and even less legal standing in society to fight these and other types of injustices. Look at what is happening in the mining towns in outback Queensland at the moment.
Sex workers are being evicted and thrown out onto the street by hotelier’s who undoubtedly think that the street is where they belong. Laws need to be made that are consistent. It is no good to say that legal sex workers are able to practice ‘lawful sexual activity’ from their accommodation by the Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland (ADCQ) and then have the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) find any weak excuse to undermine this, such as what happened in the recent QCAT decision against the legal sex worker GK, about to be appealed. Blatant inconsistencies like this, highlight just how difficult it is for sex workers to work within these heavily regulated and meaningless laws. Sex workers need their basic human rights protected – on and off the streets.
In conclusion, as a legal and lawful sex worker in almost every state in Australia, I need decriminalisation to occur nationally in order to improve the health and safety of sex workers, their clients and the public. I need laws that recognise, reflect and support the nature and scope of the work we do. I need laws that are consistent and designed to back other area’s of legislation in support of lawful sex work. I need laws that allow sex workers to work together and support each other in order to debrief and reduce the likelihood of violent crimes being committed against them. I need laws that do not allow sex workers to be evicted from anywhere at the whim of Police and groups of renegade hoteliers, real estate agents and landlords. I need my human rights to be on an equal par with the rest of my community as recommended by the United Nations and demonstrated by New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act 2003.
When laws and policies are made without consultation with sex workers and sex worker organisations, decisions will be made, like this one, that compromise all the good work health and sex worker organisations are currently doing across the board. Why are we continuing to ignore the issues? How can we make effective policies and develop strategies without all the relevant information? We can’t. How can we continue to practice a service delivery when we are up against conflicting government policies designed to pit one against the other? We can’t. Australia is failing our sex workers, our clients and our community by not legislating in support of decriminalisation of the sex industry. It is about time we did something intelligent about it. Jx
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Davis, S. and Shaffer, M. (1994), Prostitution in Canada: the invisible menace or the menace of invisibility?, Vancouver, Commercial Sex Information Service, http://www.walnet.org/csis/papers/sdavis.html.
Hubbard, P. (2004), ‘Cleansing the metropolis: sex work and the politics of zero tolerance’, Urban Studies, 41: 9, 1687–702
O’Connor, C., Berry, G., Rohrsheim, R. and Donovan, B. (1996), ‘Sexual health and use of condoms among local and international sex workers in Sydney’, Genitourinary Medicine, 72: 1, 47–51.
Plumridge, L. and Abel, G. (2001), ‘A “segmented” sex industry in New Zealand: sexual and personal safety of female sex workers’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 25: 1, 78–83.