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The Peters and the Pauls: The fight for sex work decriminalisation in Queensland

By Jezabel  

Decriminalisation is being fought for in Queensland right now, with a symposium in Parliament today, the 21st August. Respect Inc, Queensland’s sex worker organisation, is challenging government to replace existing sex work legislation, with complete decriminalisation of the sex industry as we know it in Queensland. I am absolutely ecstatic about this! As a sex worker who has worked in Queensland on and off over the past eight years, decriminalisation will impact me and my colleagues in an extremely positive way.

The current regulation of sex workers in Queensland is fraught with problems and dangers. Queensland can learn from New Zealand and New South Wales history of decriminalisation, and improve on the legislation in those places. Northern Territory and South Australia governments are also considering decriminalisation of sex work. The lives of sex workers will not only be safer, we will have legal rights and recourse to address violence in the workplace, discrimination at the borders, discrimination in the real estate rental industry, health, banking and insurance industries and in the employment sector, in the same way that every other citizen enjoys.

Firstly, at the moment we are heavily regulated by police. This makes it extremely unlikely that sex workers will contact the police if they are abused, stalked, harrassed or threatened in the context of their work. We run the risk of being arrested ourselves, our immigration status potentially affected, our identity exposed and our choice of employment permanently placed in police and health records like a keloid scar that never heals. In the meantime, real criminals go unpunished and continue to target vulnerable sex workers in society. Police and government organisations can not adequately serve to protect us and then dob us in and prosecute us with their next breathe. This is a travesty of justice.

Early in the life of the current Queensland laws, Queensland police sought and had passed, an Amendment Bill (2011) to insert Clause 101 into the current legislation, which allowed police to continue to practice entrapment and ask sex workers for Natural (without a condom) sex services, in a supposed attempt to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). A wholly dubious practice that has been largely shunned by almost all democratic countries in the developed world! Entrapment deliberately sets a person up to break the law where they would not normally do so. Police actually have the power to pretend to be clients, go through with services and then charge a sex worker. How inappropriate is that! Conditions can be manipulated in order to justify an arrest.

Entrapment laws tend to only target our young people, street workers and migrant sex workers the most. Our most vulnerable. Sex workers who may be naive, mentally challenged, itinerant or not so great at speaking or understanding English and whom are unfamiliar with the current laws. I consider myself an educated woman and even I have difficulty complying with the current laws around sex work.

It is not sex workers who are the cause of Australia’s burgeoning sexually transmitted infection (STI) statistics either. It is the general public, people who hold antiquated beliefs about wearing or carrying condoms and our young people who enter into the world of nightclubs and bars, become intoxicated and go on to have impromptu unprotected sex. I take full responsibility for providing safer sex practices as do my colleagues and as a result we have less risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease than the general public. Sex workers have been at the forefront of STD 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). Perhaps a humourous state-wide advertising programme could be implemented to educate people on the risks of unsafe sex, targeting youth in order to reduce the stigma of using condoms and increase awareness? Perhaps government funded, free condom vending machines in every bar would be more cost effective? After all, 99% of sex workers comply with safe sex practices (Donovan, Harcourt, Egger, Fairley, 2010).

Under the current regulatory framework, it is illegal for me to work or associate with another sex worker. This means that I am not able to let a colleague know where I am if I’m doing an outcall, what time and for how long the booking is or when I will be expected back home. I can be arrested for attempting to keep myself safe. I am not allowed to share accommodation with another sex worker to minimise costs or have anyone else on the premises while I work. This is considered to be running a brothel. I am not allowed to ask a colleague to work with me when a client requests two sex workers during the booking. This is considered to be procurement. Clients have to source additional sex workers themselves. How ridiculous!

Presently, different Australian states have different degrees of decriminalisation and regulation and it is an absolute nightmare for touring sex workers who frequently travel interstate. New South Wales is the the only state where decriminalisation exists in Australia. Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia are all expected to follow suit. In Queensland, sex workers do not need to be registered if they are working as independents, however are required to undergo mandatory testing if they are working from a brothel. Brothel’s are completely illegal in Tasmania with no sign of decriminalisation on the horizon, although local law enforcement and the media continue to turn a blind eye to the numerous advertisements that are in the local papers and online. The double standards are very real. Private sex workers working alone or in pairs is decriminalised in Tasmania.

Secondly, we are monitored by the Prostitution Licensing Authority (PLA) whom serve as a kind of watchdog for anything to do with our advertising platforms. We are heavily regulated in what we can say about our services and what sort of images we promote. For example, we are unable to show our nipples or genitals or any images of ourselves. They only recently started to let us depict BDSM practices such as whips, canes and paddles. The problem of regulating, is that you only have to type in ‘sex’ on the internet and your browser will show a million different sites and services showing naked, pornographic images and acts. It is an impossible task. I am reminded of the days of the Truth, where the page three girls were often depicted semi naked, bearing their breasts for all those readers to see. We still have public titty bars in operation in Queensland which provides some free eye candy for our hardworking tradies.

Obviously, there are many double standards with monitoring these sorts of things and in my mind, the PLA is nothing more than a paper-shuffling organisation set up to appease right wing christian lobbyists influencing government, like the Australian Christian Lobby. Religion has no place in government! There are too many Peter’s and Paul’s and I am the wrong kind of Mary. I don’t want to see any more public and political attacks on sex workers just because we are an affront to their conflated moral’s and beliefs! Remember GK and her eviction from Ma and Pa Kettle’s motel in Moranbah? The then Queensland Attorney-General Mr Jarrod Bleijie, began a successful smear campaign to change the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 to allow legal discrimination to occur in Queensland. Sex workers across Australia have had enough! We don’t want any more exploitation for political gain (often accompanied with dodgy donations) to keep the dangerous status quo! More atheists exist in Australia than God fearing citizens and so the time has come for the rights and lives of sex workers to be respected.

Thirdly, I want to be able to enjoy the freedom of being able to work safely in the sex industry in Queensland without fear of persecution. As with any marginalised group, I live with stigma and discrimination on a daily basis. Lyon asserts that health outcomes of sex workers are directly affected by stigmatisation and marginalisation and that “It is described as the single biggest issue facing sex workers – even those who operate legally” (Lyon, 2011: 2.3.1, 45). I am at risk of being blackmailed, harassed, stalked, threatened and outed by police, real estate agents, employers, disgruntled ex partners/husbands, friends, family and even from my own colleagues, whom for a variety of reasons choose to act or react with ignorance and a sense of entitlement that justifies their violence. Violence comes in many different guises.

My own personal story involves an ex husband who rang my landlord and outed me, just because I was leaving him and his abuse, only for him to attack my only source of income and ruin my career. I was left penniless, unable to access Centrelink because I am a Kiwi who came to Australia post 911 and when significant political changes to immigration laws occurred in 2001 (New Zealanders are now considered Permanent Temporary Residents), which meant I had no access to financial support when I fell on hard times. I am not alone in wanting to create the life I choose in the sex industry. I have hopes, dreams and aspirations and I hope to one day become a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand. Sex workers are everywhere in society, and most of the time you don’t even know we’re there because we are so discreet.

Lastly to recap, licensing slash regulation of the sex industry in Queensland, has not worked. Licensing, as opposed to decriminalisation, makes illegal operations more attractive because the legal sector is often kept smaller than the number of sex workers available to work (Lyon, 2011:10). This kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it? Current licensing has created an impossible framework for sex workers to work within and one that often sets us up to fail by having to break laws in order to survive and work safely. Research by Respect Inc found that the mental health issues were rife in licensed brothels due to bad working conditions. Decriminalisation is a vital part of addressing the stress, bad work conditions, rights and welfare of all sex workers in Queensland.

It has been 30 years since the 1989 Fitzgerald Inquiry exposed the heinous corruption, extortion and exploitation of sex workers by Police that was occurring during the Joe Bjelke-Peterson days. In response, the Prostitution Act 1999 (Qld) introduced a brothel licensing system, but left the 1899 Criminal Code unchanged. Sadly, 80% of sex workers continue to be subject to police regulation and monitoring as a result. Essentially, we are seen as second class citizens in the state of Queensland, deemed unworthy of receiving even the most basic human rights and protections that our friends, family and communities are afforded. It is about time that numerous evidence-based research in favour of decriminalisation, is taken seriously and fully implemented by our Queensland government representatives.

Decriminalisation of the sex industry is the only way forward and is championed by many international human rights groups including the United Nations. Since the UN made a press release advocating for complete decriminalisation of the sex industry worldwide, we have witnessed several countries, their sex workers and supporters, collectively rise up in the hope that they will see history in the making. We are watching activists and governments work side by side to raise awareness for others and pave the way for the removal of harmful Draconian laws. Activists and governments are working tirelessly to navigate their way down this path to freedom not only for sex workers but for the community as a whole. Decriminalisation will bring about so many positive changes for sex workers, that our voices will finally have been heard and included in a modern society.

The benefits of decriminalisation far outweigh anything that we have seen to date. Police will finally be able to focus on real crime and stop wasting taxpayer money chasing after ghosts. 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).

There is nothing wrong with offering or paying for sex services by consenting adults. I think there has been a general taboo about talking about or doing anything sexual for far too long. Slut shaming is a very real thing and begins from an early age. There is still time to make a difference and jump on the second wave of the sexual revolution bandwagon and advocate for complete decriminalisation for sex workers in Queensland. Lobby your local MP’s, write emails and letters in support even if you aren’t a provider, just because it’s the right thing to do. Let your friends and family know that you are in support of sex worker rights and tell them why. All we want is a safer work place, the ability to ask for help and to receive support when it is needed. A win/win for everyone in my book!

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2 comments

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  1. Pingback: The Peters & the Pauls: The Fight for Sex Work Decriminalisation in Queensland - Jezabel

  2. wam

    The conservative’s concept of non-exceptional women is the usual trinity:
    a warm hole for making a deposit
    Theirs
    looking after children
    Sex workers can and do provide the first for conservatives but the sex and the hole don’t count in society more than just an inconvenient gene drop.
    You are necessary but you are expendable. This allows us not to care.
    Such attitudes of not seeing, not caring by conservatives are acceptable by modern society through the media.
    In their efforts to control the few welfare recipients from avoiding their obligations the conservative is able to impose hardship on everyone. So collateral damage holds no fears for them.
    A beaten, raped and robbed prostitute is pigeonholed as ‘self-inflicted’ she deserves it and gets ‘paid for it’.
    It is trite but many of the condemning conservative Queenslanders hypocritically give and take sex for profit.
    I suppose the police would be reluctant to give up the promotion positions but is there any dialogue between you and the police union?

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