Queensland Government turns attention to decriminalising sex work
PHOTO The many actions that sex workers take to keep themselves safe are actually illegal under current laws.
Hot on the heels of successfully decriminalising abortion, the Queensland Government is now turning its attention to the sex work industry.
A spokesperson from the Attorney General’s office confirmed the possible decriminalisation of sex work was currently under discussion between the Attorney-General and the Police Minister.
This is a turnaround from six months ago when Police Minister Mark Ryan told the ABC there were no plans to decriminalise sex work.
It was, however, on the agenda at the Queensland Labor Party’s state conference last month.
“The Government has begun a process to refer the question of the decriminalisation of the sex worker industry and the establishment of a new regulatory framework to the Queensland Law Reform Commission,” Mr Ryan said.
He said it would be up to the Attorney-General to refer the question to the commission.
Sex worker advocacy group Respect has renewed its calls for decriminalisation after a court case earlier this month highlighted just how vulnerable sex workers were to crime.
Man charged with fraud
In a Queensland first, a man was convicted of fraud in a Brisbane magistrates court after two sex workers reported him to police for not paying for services.
Respect’s Elena Jeffreys said the laws in Queensland were not conducive to sex workers coming forward to report crimes, and it put them in a difficult position.
“The two women who brought forward this complaint were absolutely determined this man was not going to get away with ripping off any more workers,” Ms Jeffreys said.
“We know that he ripped off at least five workers in Queensland over the same period.”
The two women who took the case to court were mature, experienced in dealing with the police and knew the risks of taking action, Ms Jeffreys said.
“Sex workers who come forward to report crimes have had terrible experiences in Queensland from just being told to leave right through to being arrested themselves.”
Although the fraud case was a win, and saw the women treated with respect by the police and the courts, it highlighted the need to decriminalise the sex work industry, Ms Jeffreys said.
She said during the time of the court case, at least half a dozen sex workers who were victims of crime tried to make reports but where turned away or threatened with arrest.
Law impacts on safety
While it is not illegal to work in a licensed brothel or be a sole operator, there are provisions in the law that impact on how a person operates.
Ms Jeffreys said many of the strategies sex workers used to stay safe were illegal and attracted penalties.
“Texting another worker when a client leaves, or when your booking starts or texting another worker your location on an out-call booking, using a driver another worker uses or recommends, sharing overheads — these are all illegal.”
PHOTO Sex work is not illegal in Queensland but it is covered by several layers of regulation. ABC TV: ABC TV
Ms Jeffreys said in NSW and New Zealand where the industry was decriminalised, relations had improved between sex workers, the police and the judicial system.
“The outcomes for sex workers in New Zealand, for example, 80 per cent said they feel more confident and more likely to report a crime to police after decriminalisation than before decriminalisation,” she said.
“The evidence from New Zealand shows that decriminalisation delivers health and safety outcomes for sex workers and improves access to justice if sex workers are victims of crime.”
Ms Jeffreys said decriminalisation would remove these criminal penalties and rather than being regulated by police, it would be regulated by other legislation such as the Fair Work Act and the Industrial Relations Act.
“Sex workers lives are on the line.
We’ve been putting up with unfinished business since the Fitzgerald Inquiry, now is the time to get it right.”
Ms Jeffreys said best practice policy development would be working out the best regulatory model of decriminalisation in collaboration with sex workers.
Cairns resident Transanna, who is now retired after working more than 25 years in the sex industry across the country, welcomed the news two sex workers had secured justice in the end.
But she was cynical that many sex workers would come forward because of the stigma involved and the privacy issues.
“A lot of sex workers are mothers and quite often their friends and relatives don’t know they are sex workers,” Transanna said.
The laws surrounding sex work did make people vulnerable, and many who entered the industry were already vulnerable, she added.
“But it depends on whether they are sharp and aware of their surroundings, like I was.
“I was fortunate because I didn’t get into sex work until I was almost 40.”
Transanna said she had seen a change in policing over the years.
“I do believe we have a police officer who is specifically in charge of matters regarding sex workers.
“If one is being abused, you go to the station and this police officer will handle the whole situation and has a very sympathetic ear.
“It creates trust for sex workers and I suppose is they don’t want their names to be revealed, that is done these days.”
PHOTO Now retired and living in Cairns, Transanna was a sex worker for more than 25 years. SUPPLED:
The Queensland law as it is
Mark Platt from Central Queensland Community Legal Service said there were two layers of regulation when it came to sex work in Queensland.
The first is that although a person might be a sole operator and it is not illegal to perform sex work, there are basic provisions in the law that can impact on how one operates.
“That includes things like how you can advertise your services, when you can have someone else on your premises and things like that,” Mr Platt said.
When two or more sex workers carry out a business together, there is another layer of regulation under the Prostitution Licencing Authority.
Mr Platt said these laws made sex workers more vulnerable to being victims of crime.
Posted earlier today at 7:38am