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SWOP Supports Decriminalisation in South Australia

 

SWOP Supports Decriminalisation in South Australia

SWOP strongly supports the passage of the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2015 and has written to every member of the South Australian House of Assembly urging them to vote to pass the bill without amendment.

 


 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

 

re; Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2015

Dear Parliamentarian,

Sex Workers Outreach Project (NSW) was established over 30 years ago and is Australia’s largest and longest established community-based sex worker organisation focused on HIV, STI and Hepatitis C prevention, education and health promotion for sex workers in NSW.

The majority of our funding is provided by the NSW Ministry of Health, Local Area Health Districts in NSW, a number of local councils and from donations provided by NSW sex workers. Every year our organisation visits over 500 sex service premises in NSW, has significant interactions with over 5,000 NSW sex workers as well as liaising with government, health services and research bodies to ensure optimum health, safety and human rights for NSW sex workers. 

We strongly support the passage of the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2015 and we would urge you to vote to pass the bill without amendment. As the leading sex worker health organisation in NSW, where decriminalisation has been in place for more than two decades, we feel uniquely placed to assist you should you have any questions as to how this system improves the health, safety and human rights of sex workers. 

During the Upper House debate of the bill, we noticed the proposed last minute amendments by MP Tung Ngo raised some concerns that your constituents may share. We therefore have provided additional information drawn from our extensive organisational experience working as and with sex workers in a decriminalised legislative framework and we would address the following

  1. That decriminalisation improves the health of sex workers
  2. All criminality historically associated with the sex industry was eliminated by decriminalisation
  3. Decriminalisation means whole-of-government regulation, not ‘no regulation’
  4. Decriminalisation did not lead to any increase in size of the sex industry
  5. Explicit signs will not appear on the exterior face of sex services premises
  6. That decriminalisation is the best practise model for sex work legislation, involves no extra administrative or compliance costs and has positive benefits for all sections of the community

Thank you for your attention

Kind regards,

Cameron Cox

Chief Executive Officer, Sex Workers Outreach Project (NSW)



Our Submission;

1) Decriminalisation improves the health of sex workers

SWOP supports the proposed bill, our evidence base here in NSW proves that the decriminalisation of sex work in 1995 has served the interests of sex workers, and the wider NSW population, well. Decriminalisation has resulted in the virtual elimination of HIV and lower STI prevalence and incidence than exist in the non-sex working population. Decriminalisation has also resulted in higher rates of access to health promotion and support services by sex workers, and increased capacity of sex workers to look after their health and welfare, including those from Asian and other non-English speaking backgrounds. The decriminalisation of sex work in NSW is an example of world’s best practice. This framework for regulation is evidence based and backed by the World Health Organisation, the United Nations AIDS Programme (UNAIDS), the literature cited in the leading medical journal The Lancet, and Amnesty International. 

A key contributor to this outcome is safe sex practice, access to appropriate, peer-led health promotion and outreach services and professional clinical services. A study comparing the decriminalised framework in NSW with the licensing framework in Victoria and the criminalised framework in Western Australia showed that the NSW decriminalised framework enabled the widest reach of health services targeting sex workers.[i] 

A 2012 study by the Kirby institute[ii] declared the NSW sex industry “the healthiest sex industry ever documented” and advised the government to scrap the few remaining laws around the industry, stating: “reforms that decriminalised adult sex work have improved human rights, removed police corruption [and] netted savings for the criminal justice system… International authorities regard the NSW regulatory framework as best practice.” 

Condoms are utilised in over 99% of anal and vaginal sex undertaken in the NSW sex industry,[iii] with equivalent rates of use amongst the general population and workers with an Asian background. The rates of STI’s amongst female sex workers in NSW are lower than that of other sexually active females in NSW. Demand and pressure to perform unsafe sex has also fallen.[iv]

Local research shows us that in NSW female workers of Asian background, generally perceived as most vulnerable to a range of health and safety concerns, have since 1992 seen an increase in their English language skills, testing rates and service engagement, and a concomitant decline in STI prevalence rates such that it equals those of non-Asian workers.[v] 

For detailed information about the sex worker health outcomes we have achieved under decriminalisation in New South Wales, please see The Sex Industry in NSW (2012): A report to the NSW Ministry of Health: https://kirby.unsw.edu.au/publications/sex-industry-nsw-2012

 

2) All criminality historically associated with the sex industry was eliminated by decriminalisation

The implementation of the decriminalised framework in 1995 here was, in part, driven by the desire to remove police as the regulators of the sex industry. This was to reduce the corruption that came to light during the Woods Royal Commission. The process of decriminalisation has succeeded in addressing the issue of police corruption and helped to reduce criminality associated with the industry. Decriminalisation also allowed sex workers to go to the police with complaints or allegations without fear of being punished for being a sex worker.

 

3) Decriminalisation means whole-of-government regulation, not ‘no regulation’

It is also SWOP’s view that health and safety of sex workers is best served by a system of regulation which minimises the potential for de facto ‘criminalisation’ through the imposition of unnecessary restrictions and requirements with which workers and operators will struggle to comply.  An ‘open’ system in which there is a high level of access to sex premises by our outreach programs and by regulators and in which sex workers are empowered to insist on their rights to health and safety, is one most likely to produce high levels of compliance with occupational health and safety requirements.

Further, the easier it is for services and workers to comply with regulations, and the more ‘open’ the system, the less opportunity arises for corrupt conduct or criminal involvement and activities, such as extortion or trafficking. This has been demonstrated through 20+ years of decriminalisation here in NSW, which has seen the gradual but steady improvement of sex workers health, capacity and working conditions.

Beyond better health and safety outcomes, the other main advantage of treating sex work as work, through its complete decriminalisation, is that it is regulated by the ‘whole of government’. When sex work is treated like other forms of work, a range of existing government agencies become responsible for regulating different components of the workforce and industry. Here in NSW sex work is covered by existing commercial law, advertising standards, taxation and GST laws, immigration laws, industrial relations, workplace health and safety laws and the other forms of regulation that oversee all other sorts of businesses. Using existing systems is a zero cost model, because no new infrastructure is required to ensure compliance.

 

4) Decriminalisation did not lead to any increase in size of the sex industry

In the two jurisdictions that have decriminalised sex work – NSW and New Zealand – there was no increase in the size of the sex industry. Five years after the introduction of decriminalisation in New Zealand, the Prostitution Law Review Committee found: “The sex industry has not increased in size, and many of the social evils predicted by some who opposed the decriminalisation of the sex industry have not been experienced. On the whole, the PRA has been effective in achieving its purpose, and the Committee is confident that the vast majority of people involved in the sex industry are better off under the PRA than they were previously.”[vi]

 

5) Explicit signs will not appear on the exterior face of sex services premises

The Upper House debate included considerable apprehension as to inappropriate signage offering lists of services on the exterior face of sex service premises, particularly those in residential areas.

Let us reassure you, since the decriminalisation of sex work in NSW back in 1995, across the course of close to 5000 occasions of service to sex workers across this state per annum, SWOP has NEVER seen an exterior sign that indicated the services provided within. 

Not only does business signage fall under the jurisdiction of local government planning regulations, but it is important to note that sex services premises offer discretion to their clients as part of their service. The market itself would quickly take care of any business who stepped outside of discrete signposting like a name or a tiny red porch light. The Advertising Standards Board is also available to take care of any other form of public-facing advertising that might offend, including banning billboards advertising ‘longer lasting sex’ by the Advanced Medical Institute.

 

6) In summary

In summary the decriminalisation of sex work is recognised around the world as the best practice model for sex work legislation and is supported by a range of respected international bodies, including the United Nations, UNFPA, UNAIDS, Amnesty International, the World Health Organisation, the International Labour Organisation, Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, The Lancet, Global Network of Sex Work Projects, and dedicated sex worker organisations the world over.

  1. Decriminalisation ensures a safer working environment for sex workers, by allowing them access to industrial rights mechanisms like workplace health and safety legislation, and IR legislation.
  2. Decriminalisation ensures that sex workers can report to the police without fear of being arrested.
  3. Decriminalisation reduces police corruption and increases transparency of the sex industry7.
  4. Decriminalisation has not increased the size of the sex industry2, street-based sex work3 or trafficking4.
  5. Decriminalised sex industry environments have minimal to nil amenity impact5
  6. Legalisation through ‘licensing’ models promote the development of a two-tiered industry whereby many are excluded from operating legally, often because meeting the requirements of licensing is excessive or unreasonable6, reducing the capacity of law enforcement to investigate crime.
  7. Criminalisation and criminal records create barriers for those sex workers who may wish to find alternate employment.
  8. Criminalisation undermines health promotion work of agencies such as SIN, a health promotion project aimed at supporting the current high standards of sexual health amongst sex workers1.
  9. Criminalising clients (also known as the Swedish or Nordic Model) adversely affects sex workers and criminalises friends, family and other sex worker support structures.8
  10. Decriminalisation involves no extra administrative or compliance costs as sex work in a decriminalised framework is regulated by the already existing regulators of work at state and national levels and definitely involves less administrative or compliance costs than are encountered in criminalised or legalised/regulated frameworks.

At Sex Workers Outreach Project we know from 30 years of experience that the full decriminalisation of sex work is the only framework under which the rights, health and safety of all sex workers can exist. For this reason, we strongly urge you to vote in support of The Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2015 in the lower house.

We hope these answers assist you to make a decision to vote in favour of the bill decriminalisation of sex work in South Australia. We believe it will support the best health and safety outcomes not just for South Australian sex workers, but also for the general public. It will also put South Australia on the map of sex industry best practice jurisdictions worldwide. 

Should you require more information on the benefits of decriminalisation of sex work here in NSW, I can be contacted on +61 2 9206 2166 or by email: ceo@swop.org.au

 

Kind regards,

 

Cameron Cox

SWOP Chief Executive Officer


References

[i] C Harcourt, J O’Connor, S Egger, et. al., ‘The decriminalisation of prostitution is associated with better coverage of health promotion programs for sex workers’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, vol 35 (5), (2010).

[ii] Donovan B, Harcourt C, Egger S, Watchirs Smith L, Schneider K, Kaldor JM, Chen MY, Fairley CK, Tabrizi S (2012). The Sex Industry in New South Wales: a Report to the NSW Ministry of Health.

[iii] Donovan, B et al Improving the health of sex workers in NSW: Maintaining Success NSW Public Health Bulletin Vol. 21, 2010.

[iv] Pell, C et al Demographic, migration status, and work related changes in Asian female sex workers surveyed in Sydney 1993 and 2003 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Vol 30 No 2, 2006.

[v] Pell, C et al Demographic, migration status, and work related changes in Asian female sex workers surveyed in Sydney 1993 and 2003 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Vol 30 No 2, 2006.

[vi] Crichton, Fraser, Decriminalising sex work in New Zealand: its history and impact, Open Democracy, 20 August, 2015 accessed 24/07/17 at https://www.opendemocracy.net/beyondslavery/fraser-crichton/decriminalising-sex-work-in-new-zealand-its-history-and-impact.