Amnesty International: Decriminalising Sex Work – What Are The Issues?

Presented at Amnesty International, National Human Rights Forum, Melbourne, 5th July 2014

Zahra Stardust & Jane Green

toronto_realwork

We would like to acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation, and pay respect to their Elders both past and present.

We would also like to recognise the sex workers, past and present, in the room today, including those who cannot be out.

Scarlet Alliance is the Australian Sex Workers’ Association. We are the national peak body representing individual sex workers, sex worker networks, groups, community-based organisations and projects around Australia, and we were formed in 1989. Scarlet Alliance is 25 years old.

We are a peer organisation, meaning that all our staff, volunteers, Executive and members are past or present sex workers. We have a policy to exclude owners and operators of sex industry businesses from our membership. This means we only represent sex workers. We do not represent any industry or business interests.

Each year we hold a National Forum and Annual General Meeting, and sex workers from all over the country attend. There we develop key policies, hold workshops and elect an Executive Committee, trans and gender diverse representatives, a male representative and an international spokesperson. Scarlet Alliance has the highest level of contact with sex workers in Australia of any agency, government or non-government. We have multicultural and culturally linguistically diverse project workers and a migration project. Our extensive consultation processes mean that our policies are evidence-based and reflect the core issues affecting sex workers in Australia. Decriminalisation is a policy supported by our membership.

There is a strong history in Australia of others speaking on behalf of marginalised people, particularly sex workers, and purporting to know what’s best for us. Academics refer to this as the ‘rescue industry.’ On the surface this may appear well-intentioned. But this has resulted in misguided policies that injure and endanger sex workers. Many of these organisations quote studies contaminated by ideology, with flawed methodology, by authors who have systemically vilified sex workers and trans and gender diverse people. Exit programs are funded at the expense of health promotion and service delivery. Criminalisation is prioritised instead of anti-discrimination law. Our clients are stigmatised while police harassment is celebrated. Moral agendas seek to invisibilise us and abolish our work. Non-sex workers are given speaking space to promote laws that will hurt us, while sex workers are forced to defend ourselves. This is not an environment that is safe for sex workers. It does not assist sex workers. We do not need rescue. We need rights. (You can follow the international sex worker hash tag #rightsnotrescue on Twitter).

In Australia, every state or territory has a different model of sex work regulation. There are 3 main types: criminalisation, licensing, and decriminalisation. This means that in Australia we are well placed to measure the success and failures of these models, and our assessment is that decriminalisation is best. As one sex worker said about NSW, ‘During the criminalised period, workers had to pay police officers money to make sure they didn’t get arrested. Decriminalisation meant an end to corruption.’

There is a concerted push in Australia to adopt what is referred to as the Swedish/Nordic model. Although it purports to criminalise the purchase but not the selling of sexual services, the Swedish Model effectively acts as backdoor criminalisation of sex work. It shifts focus away from rights-based approaches that actually assist current sex workers. It does not help sex workers, and it does not stop sex work.

The Swedish/Nordic model reflects the inaccurate assumption that clients are male perpetrators and that sex workers are female victims. This is untrue of the demographic of sex workers worldwide, and marginalises male, trans and gender diverse sex workers. Sex work is not inherently violent. Across the world, sex workers consistently report that the violence we face is overwhelmingly at the hands of police and governments, rather than clients.

The Swedish model criminalising the purchase of sex was introduced in 1999 in Sweden. It criminalises everyone around sex workers. In Sweden, it is illegal to rent a room to a sex worker, reducing sex workers ability to work independently. Adult children of sex workers living at home with their parents have been charged with living off the earnings of prostitution. Sex workers cannot work together or they risk being charged with pimping each other. Sex workers cannot advertise or hire drivers, receptionists or security. The model has driven sex work underground, increased harassment and displacement of street-based sex workers, forced people into more isolated areas, and reduced sex workers control over their working environments.

The Swedish Model has been completely ineffective in reducing the size of the sex industry. In 2007 the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare said there was no clear trend of development as to whether sex work had increased or decreased.The Swedish Government’s 2010 Official Evaluation notes that they have only limited information about indoor sex work. In 2001 the Malmo police reported that there was no evidence that the law had reduced violence, rather there was evidence it had increased.

It is impossible to criminalise clients and decriminalise sex workers. When you criminalise our clients, you criminalise us. Under the Swedish Model, police detection and surveillance is on both the client and the sex worker, but sex workers experience the brunt of corruption.

The wilful blindness towards evidence in Australia has led to four politicians recently taking a 3-week tax-payer-funded tour of up to $70,000 to France, Sweden and South Korea to study models that have consistently failed. They did not meet any sex workers on their tour and instead met with police and criminal prosecutors. They refused an invitation by Scarlet Alliance and SWOP to tour NSW and experience the decriminalised model.

Instead they have looked toward South Korea, who enacted anti-sex work laws in 2004 resulting in increased law and order crackdowns targeting sex workers, including police forcibly and violently shutting down workplaces. The Korean Government recently sent its special ambassador to Canberra with view to obtaining support from the Australian Government in tracking down Korean sex workers in order to prosecute them. Korean sex workers have reported being too afraid to go to work for fear of identification and prosecution. These models do not support the rights, health or safety of sex workers.

In comparison, sex work is decriminalised in NSW. Decriminalisation involves: Removing police as regulators of the sex industry; Repealing criminal laws specific to the sex industry; Regulating sex industry businesses through standard business, planning and industrial codes; and not singling out sex workers for specific regulation. Decriminalisation is a whole-of-government approach to regulation.

One of the catalysts for decriminalisation was the findings of the Wood Royal Commission that there was systemic police corruption when police were regulators of brothels. Sex work has been decriminalised since 1995 – nearly 20 years – and NSW is world-renowned as having a best practice model. The outcomes of decriminalisation in NSW are:

–          Extremely low rates of STIs and HIV (recognised by Australia’s National Strategies and the Kirby Institute Annual Surveillance Report);

–          Better access to health promotion (finding of the Law and Sex Worker Health Study, which compared the health impacts of legal frameworks across Victoria, NSW and WA);

–          Little to no amenity impacts (recognised by Crofts and Prior);

–          No evidence of organised crime (recognised by the Land and Environment Court);

–          Better access to Occupational Health and Safety (WorkCover and NSW Health worked with sex workers to create Health and Safety Guidelines for Brothels, which have been translated to Thai, Chinese and Korean); and

–          No increase in the size of the sex industry (Kirby Institute report to Ministry of Health).

Around the world, sex workers are advocating for decriminalisation. In 2013 experts from a dozen countries met in Sydney for a decriminalisation conference, including nearly 50 sex workers, community leaders, human rights activists, advocates and politicians from Africa, Asia Pacific, North America and Europe.

United Nations bodies recognise decriminalisation as best practice:

  • Australia, as a signatory to the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, has committed to protect and promote human rights and the elimination of stigma and discrimination for sex workers as a critical element in combating the global HIV epidemic.
  • The UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work 2009 recognises that criminalisation poses substantial obstacles in accessing HIV prevention, treatment and support.
  • The United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Development Fund and UNAIDS support the decriminalisation of sex work and note that legal empowerment of sex worker communities underpins effective HIV Responses.
  • United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calls for change in countries where discrimination remains legal against sex workers.
  • Former Australian High Court judge the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG insists upon rights for sex workers as a matter of public morality.
  • Australia’s National HIV Strategy recognises the protection of human rights to be ‘essential’ to the effective protection of public health.

Decriminalisation is not controversial. It is not even new. It makes sense – from a policy perspective, health perspective and human rights perspective.

Sex worker human rights are intrinsically linked to sex workers’ ability to negotiate with clients, and to access essential services and satisfactory workplace conditions.

Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work. The International Labour Organisation’s Employment Policy Convention 122 provides that there is freedom of choice of employment and the fullest opportunity for workers to use their skills in jobs for which they are well suited.

Sex worker law reform should not be pitched as a polarised debate. There are not 2 sides to this issue. Sex workers are the key stakeholders. We are the ones who have most to lose. No situation is made worse by greater access to human rights.

Decriminalisation of sex work is compatible with and necessary to Amnesty’s campaigns to promote human rights and end violence. Violence against sex workers is enabled by criminalisation. It is enabled by the Swedish Model. It enabled by a lack of human rights and labour rights.

If we experience violence at work, we should be able to go to the police and access justice, without fear of arrest or deportation. If we experience unfair working conditions, we should be able to go to Fair Work Australia, and know that they will take our concerns seriously. We deserve to have Occupational Health and Safety protections in our workplaces. Decriminalisation is the only model to afford us human rights and labour rights as other citizens – we deserve nothing less.

ID2EVASW – Jane’s Speech

SPEAKER 2 – JANE/Rally at State Library – Melbourne

I am Jane Green, I am a sex worker.
I am a survivor of both sexual assault and physical violence.
I am speaking today as an individual sex worker, not as the representative of any organisation.

I do not speak for all sex workers, because no one can.
I speak from my own personal experience of sex work.
International day to end violence against sex workers can often seem to centre around either:
– talking about the violence sex workers can face, or
– talking about the fact that we don’t always or actually face as much violence as “people might think…”

TALKING ABOUT IT

Let me say this.
I should no more be pressured to talk about the violence I have faced in my work,

than to not talk about it.
I do not want to perform the details of past rapes, to get you to pay attention to my human rights.
I should not have to.

I am human, therefore I should get human rights, which as a sex worker I am denied.
I engage in labour, therefore I should get labour rights, which as a sex worker I am denied.
I should not have to make a case.

(No one should)

I should not have to win your sympathy.
And I should not have to act out a one person play of my past trauma to get it.
But neither should I be prevented from discussing violence I have faced because I feel I can only win my rights by presenting a perfect ‘happy hooker’ facade.

‘VIOLENCE’

The violence we face as sex workers is not only what it is commonly perceived to be,

by the public, or as portrayed in the media.

Beyond sexual and physical violence – we are subject to:
State violence, laws that fail to defend our human rights, or extend to us labour rights in our work.
Police violence, both directly (as an instrument of the state in enforcing discriminatory laws, and actual harassment/violence), and in failing to take seriously crimes committed against us.
Lack of ‘justice’ when crimes against us are not pursued in the criminal justice system, because we are seen as “less sympathetic” or “less likely to be believed” as victims.
Saviour groups, who claim sex workers require rescue rather than rights.
Abolitionists, conservative & radical feminist alike, believing their views on what I get to do with my body should have greater relevance than mine.
The media, who find a story in crimes again us, even in ‘rescue’ groups that want to save us, in abolitionists who want to speak on our behalf, but not when sex workers are speaking for themselves.

Well sex workers are able to speak for ourselves, & speaking for myself as a sex worker:
These are all forms of violence, but,
violence is NOT AN INHERENT PART OF OUR WORK
violence should never be an inherent part of any work.
In cases where rape & physical violence are committed against sex workers it should always be a sex workers personal choice what to do about that violence & sex workers should always have a range of choices:
– to access peer support
– to access outreach services
– to access police assistance
– to access & receive, justice
– to do so in privacy, be treated with respect & to have their CHOICE respected

Here in Victoria the very idea of accessing police when we are victims of violent crime is confronting enough,
But if sex workers are working outside of the licensing system, in the non compliant part of the industry,  then any rape or act of physical violence committed against them is doubly punitive,
Because if a sex worker in the non compliant part of the industry reaches out to the police for help:

The Victorian police will give no assurance to sex workers who are victims of rape or violent crime that they may not be charged, when reporting a crime of violence, simply because they are working outside of the regulatory system that already fails us.

No system that punishes you for reporting rape encourages you to do so.
This is simply another part of the licencing system, what is in effect – systemic violence – against sex workers by the Victorian government.

STOPPING VIOLENCE

So what can we actually do to stop violence against sex workers?

We must first understand that sex work does not exist in isolation. We live in a society that is permeated by rape culture. A culture that tolerates sexual violence and blames it’s victims.

Until and unless wider rape culture is addressed efforts to address such violence against sex workers cannot succeed.

Removing police as regulators so that that the people we go to for help are not the people who target and raid our industry, that would be a start.

Full DECRIMINALISATION of sex work, the understanding that sex workers require human rights and labour rights just as other citizens, that would be a start.

Working towards breaking down stigma and discrimination against sex workers, calling it out if and when it happens, that would be a start.

And when all of that is done?  What should the next step be?

ASK A SEX WORKER.

(because sex workers will be ready to tell you)