Why we should all get to choose when/if we get an HIV test, yes even me.

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So this week I went to hospital.  Let’s be clear – I hate hospital.  I don’t like being stuck in one place, following often pointless (no smoking) rules, or answering to people who treat me like an object rather than a person.  If I’m really sick I’ll go.  But I have to be really sick.

So this week I get a migraine.  Not unusual.  I have had migraines regularly since I was a teenager.  Never been hospitalised for one.  But this one just kept getting worse, beyond anything I have ever had.  Until I am lying on the floor unable to move and a friend called an ambulance.  So I go to hospital.  The hospital pumps me full of medication (including largactil) that while it did not eliminate, helped the pain.  The medication also rendered me inarticulate, easily confused and clumsy – basically it made me ‘high’.  This will become important later.  Because it means I lost the ability to conceal certain facts about myself.

I am a sex worker.  Often I cannot conceal this fact in medical settings.  As a Victorian sex worker I am subject to mandatory sexual health testing once every three months – regardless of the fact that over twenty years of medical research in Australia (click here to download latest research findings) shows that sex workers have lower rates of STI’s than the general public and higher compliance in prophylaxis use (condoms!).  Because I have had interactions with police (no kidding my job used to be illegal) and medical staff, it is written into some of my medical records that I am a sex worker.  If I am in a setting where these records are accessed then I have no choice about my status as a sex worker being part of any conversation.  It is usually a big part of the conversation.

But I did not expect my status as a sex worker to be part of the conversation when I was in hospital this week.  No prior hospital records or medical records had been accessed.  No other doctors had been called.  I was simply a patient presenting with a migraine.

Then the hospital got me ‘high’, legally high of course, and one of the neurology staff asked “so what do you do?”.  And that was it.  All my usual answers went unused; that I work for a NGO (also true), that I am self employed (just leaving out the “as a sex worker” part), that I work as a lobbyist (I talk to enough politicians that it feels like it).

Because if someone asks “what do you do?” when you’re high the natural reply is to tell the truth.  So I said – “I’m a sex worker” and proceeded to chat about it with them for 15 minutes.  Including when they asked “are people prejudice about it?”, I said “hell yes, all the time”.  But I probably wasn’t expecting them to give me a specific example of prejudice right then.  Which they did.

After our little chat the doctor wandered off for a few minutes then came back to say – “so now we’ve realised that we need to do an HIV test on you” and I asked “this is because I told you I’m a sex worker isn’t it?” and they replied (looking embarrassed) “uh, yeah”.  I then stated “well I suppose what I want doesn’t really matter at this point?” and at that the doctor looked away.

Problems with this:

1) I was not in a state to make or be able to give informed consent to being STI/HIV tested

2) That (1) being the case this constitutes a forced STI/HIV test

3) Given that there is HIV criminalisation for sex workers in Victoria this puts me or any other sex worker treated in this manner in a position of potential instant criminalisation.

This is yet another example of the stigma and discrimination that sex workers live with daily.  But it is not just another example.  Medical professionals have power in society generally – over individual patients lives, through professional associations, through their status as a doctor – but in Victoria the State gives immense power to medical professionals over the lives of sex workers.  Power to test sex workers for STI’s/HIV – despite knowing we have demonstrably lower rates than the general population.  Power to prevent sex workers from working if we test positive – despite knowing condom compliance rates in the sex industry exceed 99% and that not all sex work involves “sex”.  Finally, power to cause sex workers to be jailed for testing positive to HIV as a sex worker (a strategy which demonstrably discourages STI/HIV testing).

This is not okay.

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Want to join me in telling the Victorian Government it’s not okay?

Email the Victorian Health Minister – David Davis – david.davis@parliament.vic.gov.au

Feel free to include a link to this Blog (or not) and make sure to note that sex workers should have the same rights, human rights, labour rights and access to health care and right to refuse health care and testing as other members of the community.

Sex Workers speak out despite exclusion at Festival of Dangerous Ideas

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The Festival of Dangerous Ideas’ scheduled line up of anti sex work speakers at the ‘Women for Sale’ panel yesterday was upstaged when a sex worker took the the place of one of the panelists, making it known that sex workers will not be silenced or excluded from discussions about their lives and work.

Panelist Elizabeth Pisani gave up her seat on the panel so that Jules Kim, sex worker and Acting CEO of Scarlet Allliance (Australian Sex Workers Association) could take to the stage and confront the whorephobic and abolitionist agenda of the discussion taking place.

Festival of Dangerous Ideas has this year provided a platform for anti sex work speakers (refer Sex Worker rights an idea too dangerous for Festival of Dangerous Ideas), people whose personal politics, desire to sell books and increase their social capital have lead to them promoting the Nordic or Swedish Model, a form of sex work abolition that would see sex workers right to work safely, access assistance in cases of violence & access justice greatly diminished.

Sex workers around the world call for Decriminalisation as the best practice regulatory model for sex workers health and safety, in June 2014 in Melbourne at the International Conference AIDS 2014, sex workers joined medical researchers and policy experts in calling for decriminalisation to combat both HIV and violence against sex workersLancet report: Support sex workers to prevent HIV.

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Zahra Stardust, sex worker, (pictured above), who came to protest had the following to say about #FODI (Festival of Dangerous Ideas) and their treatment of sex workers:

“The most disturbing aspect about the Women for Sale panel was the presentation of ideas that have been globally and scientifically proven as putting sex workers at real risk (indeed, danger) being positioned as polite, reasonable and interesting debate. The Festival of Dangerous Ideas exemplifies the total failure of ‘human rights’ and ‘progressive’ organisations to recognise oppression at its most obvious, and instead to engage in it frivolously and without accountability as something that is fashionable and will earn them ‘feminist’ credibility. This Festival of Dangerous Ideology uses sex work to sell out a session, then promotes the criminalisation of the people it seeks to protect.”

(Quoted with permission, Zahra Stardust, www.zahrastardust.com@ZahraStardust)

#FODI when approached back in June, had made their attitude of exclusion clear, refusing to allow sex workers access to speak about their own human rights, about their own lives.  This attitude of silencing a marginalised group became even worse on the day.

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Co-Founder and Co-Curator of the Festival Simon Longstaff remarked to the Guardian that “In my opinion what needed to be represented was a broad spectrum of opinion, which included the opinions of sex workers in Elizabeth Pisani who was able to articulate the opinions that sex workers hold..”.

#FODI defines a “broad spectrum” of opinion as not including any members of the marginalised group being spoken about, satisfied with selecting a non sex worker to “articulate” sex workers opinions.  #FODI were then upset when that person, Elizabeth Pisani, turned out to have better ethics than St James Ethics centre and #FODI, and gave their seat to a sex worker to speak out about sex workers own lives.

In the Guardian story Three sex workers stage protest at Festival of Dangerous Ideas Longstaff also goes on to say that “One of the conscious designs of the festival is that … there is opportunity for people to contribute in the Q&A..”, but although half an hour of Q&A had been advertised it was cut to approximately five minutes , two questions asked, a sex worker present being told she was not permitted to contribute a question because she knew a panelist.

As Zahra Stardust remarks:

“Guess what? Sex workers actually have expertise on these issues. We live them every day. But we are not being paid to speak at the Opera House. We are here because what is entertainment for you actually affects our lives. A seat at your table is the bare minimum sex workers deserve. If you came and sat on our table, you might recognise that police and NGOs are not our protectors. You might realise that no-one is standing up for our rights except us. At least this was not lost on the security guard who came up to me smiling after the panel to say my question was fantastic and he wished sex workers had more time to talk.

(Quoted with permission, Zahra Stardust, www.zahrastardust.com, @ZahraStardust)

The use of sex workers lives as a titillating topic to draw crowds and attention isn’t new – we see this frequently in media and the arts – what must always be challenged is any attempt to exclude sex workers from discussions about their own lives and human rights.  Discussions of sex workers as having “false consciousness” are simply another method of excluding the voices of marginalised people.  Attempts to identify sex workers as responsible for violence against all women as well as violence within sex work are simply methods of ‘victim blaming’.  Violence in sex work, like violence in society at large, will only be ended by addressing the perpetrators and systemic causes of that violence – such as criminalisation of sex work, stigma and discrimination against sex workers – not by eliminating sex workers right to work.

Sex work is work.  Most importantly, as always, listen to sex workers – sex workers are the experts on our lives.

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Still to come?  Panelists from ‘Women for Sale’ Lydia Cacho (author of ‘Slavery Inc’), Kajsa Ekis Ekman (author of ‘Being Bought and Being Sold’) and Alissa Nutting (author of ‘Unclean Jobs for Woman and Girls’) are on Q&A on the ABC tonight…

Guess what?  No sex worker has been asked or allowed to participate in the Q&A program.

Want to ask why Q&A doesn’t consider it relevant to have sex workers included, speaking about their own lives and rights, on a panel which includes speakers promoting an agenda that risks sex workers health and safety?  Submit a question here: Q&A ‘Ask A Question’

Hold @QandA accountable for not having a sex worker on their panel tonight:  Use twitter #QandA

Q&A are also promoting tonight’s show on Facebook at: Q&A on Facebook

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Sex workers protesting at #FODI – Jules Kim (Acting CEO of Scarlet Alliance), Zahra Stardust & Cam Cox

Sex worker rights – an idea too dangerous for Festival of Dangerous Ideas

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The annual ‘Festival of Dangerous Ideas’ presented this year by Sydney Opera House and St James Ethics Centre opens on Saturday the 30th of August.  FODI (Festival of Dangerous Ideas) is billed as:

“..leading thinkers and culture creators from around the world will take to the stage to bring contentious ideas to the fore and challenge mainstream thought and opinion..”

The St James Ethics Centre, which heavily promotes FODI on its website, identifies itself as an:

“.. independent not-for-profit organisation that provides an open forum for the promotion and exploration of ethical questions..”

So lets look at the coverage of sex workers in FODI and see how challenging and open it really is?

 

We’ll start with ‘Women for Sale’ a FODI panel on 31st August:

Women, and their bodies, are for sale… Throughout the world, women and children are trafficked and traded as workers in the multi-billion-dollar sex industry, and their bodies are bought by ‘consumers’ everywhere. .. Pornography, IVF, surrogacy and prostitution are very different things, but all put women and their bodies on the market.”  (quoted from ‘Women for Sale’, FODI website).

As a sex worker I sell my services and not my body – yes, just checked, it’s still here with me – so language like this is actually incredibly offensive.

The panelists for this include Lydia Cacho (author of ‘Slavery Inc’), Kajsa Ekis Ekman (author of ‘Being Bought and Being Sold’), Alissa Nutting (author of ‘Unclean Jobs for Woman and Girls) and Elizabeth Pisani (author of ‘Indonesia Etc’ and another book perhaps relevant but not listed on the website – ‘The Wisdom of Whores’).

The panel itself begins from a mainstream premise – that of sex worker as a victim without agency – the position that is carried prevalently by the media, that impacts heavily on the stigma and discrimination that sex workers live with daily.  This is then being argued by people in a position of privilege – by academics and journalists – who make their living recycling and promoting this agenda, on the backs of sex workers, without allowing sex workers access to the discussion.

No sex workers are included on this panel, despite local organisations being available and the national sex worker organisation Scarlet Alliance having its base in Sydney.

 

But wait there’s more – ‘Slavery Is Big Business’ is a talk by Lydia Cacho (one of the panelists from FODI’s ‘Women for Sale’) on Sunday the 31st of August:

“..slavery is often seen as a dark part of the colonial past .. it remains alive and well—and is growing dramatically. Impervious to recession, it forms a thriving part of the globalised sex industry run by organised crime. International trafficking of women and children for sex is a multi-billion dollar business that won’t be anywhere near ‘abolition’ until those who make money from its operations and buy its services think again about what being complicit in slavery means..”

Conflating sex work and trafficking is a significant part of the abolitionist agenda.  This is done as a way to silence sex workers and prevent them from leading discussions about our own lives and human rights – and sex workers should be leading these discussions – not in the back of the room watching while non sex workers discuss whether or not we should access our human rights, or whether sex workers should have a right to health and safety in their work.

 

But still there’s more – ‘Surrogacy is Child Trafficking’ a talk by Kajsa Ekis Ekman (another one of the panelists from FODI’s ‘Women for Sale’) on Saturday 30th August:

“..Surrogacy—or contract pregnancy—has become a global industry, growing at unprecedented speed.. Whereas the sex industry is increasingly targeted by legislators as exploitation, the surrogacy industry retains a rosy image. Helping an infertile couple to have a baby of their own is seen as a generous and compassionate gesture from a woman who can help: a sign of female empowerment and free will.. But is it? At a closer glance, the surrogacy industry has more to do with prostitution than we might think. Not only is it exploitation of women’s bodies—in fact surrogacy is nothing but baby trade..”

While there are parts of the world where “the sex industry is increasingly targeted by legislators as exploitation”, specifically countries enacting the Swedish or Nordic Model – this has had terrible outcomes for sex workers, as we see here by listening to Swedish sex worker, Pye Jacobson:

 

Sex workers regularly state that “sex work is work”, sex workers call for sex workers human rights and labour rights to be recognised.  At AIDS 2014 sex workers and allies released many important statements calling on legislators to recognise decriminalisation as the key strategy for sex workers health and safety, and as an essential part of “eventual control of the pandemic”.

Lancet report: Support sex workers to prevent HIV

 

 

MPs commit to rights-based reform to tackle AIDS – AFPPD

 

And yet there is still more FODI has to throw at us:

Pussy Riot/Zona Prava in Conversation In Conversation With Masha Gessen

So what’s up with Pussy Riot?  Aren’t they those cool punks with colourful balaclavas that held a concert in a church and pissed off Putin?  Well yes.  They’re also members of FEMEN and here’s FEMENs policy on sex work:

“..to ideologically undermine the fundamental institutes of patriarchy – dictatorship, sex-industry, and church – by putting these institutes through subversive trolling to force them to strategic surrender.. to promote new revolutionary female sexuality as opposed to the patriarchal erotic and pornography..” (quoted from FEMEN website, femen.org/about)

 

So this is what FODI has come up with in a festival that purports to challenge mainstream ideas and that is co-sponsored by St James Ethics Centre that prides itself as being an “open forum for the promotion and exploration of ethical questions“: four events run by and – excepting perhaps one* – composed entirely of anti-sex work speakers.

For FODI – Apparently allowing sex workers – the actual marginalised group in question – to speak on sex work, about their own lives and human rights – IS JUST TOO DANGEROUS AN IDEA.

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Want to tell Festival of Dangerous Ideas and St James Ethics Centre what you think?

Festival of Dangerous Ideas is using #FODI on Twitter, include this as well as #rightsnotrescue in your tweets to hold FODI responsible for their actions

FODI are on Twitter at @IdeasattheHouse

FODI are on Facebook as Ideas at the House – Facebook

St James Ethics Centre are on Twitter at @stjamesethics

 

Updates provided when available, as usual…

 

*NB – Elizabeth Pisani’s position isn’t clear in this, although the fact that she’s participating in the panel without having asked why a representative for sex workers isn’t present is a concern.

Sex workers must be the stakeholders in any discussion on sex work…

During an AGM in which sex workers were shouted down and abused after being invited to participate in a discussion about the human rights of sex workers, Amnesty International Australia has passed resolutions (see following) in which sex workers are not included as stakeholders,

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Statement supplied by Amnesty on the resolutions passed at the Amnesty AGM, 6th July, Melbourne:

“At the recent Annual General Meeting of all AIA branches in Melbourne, the AGM (comprehensively) voted against the resolution calling for AIA to endorse and advocate for the Nordic Model.

The other resolutions that were passed (see below) called on the NEC to request the International Secretariat investigate the Nordic AND other sex work legislation models and to request the IS to halt the current consultation process and start again.

All of the feedback received to date will be reviewed by the International Issues Committee, a sub-committee of the AI Australia Board, including the results of the survey. To date, 62% of respondents have endorsed the adoption of a policy advocating decriminalisation.  The AIA Board’s view will be represented in international forums by the Amnesty Australia President and National Director.

Resolutions

The National Annual General Meeting asks the National Executive Committee of Amnesty International Australia to request the International secretariat to:

1. Halt the current consultation process and restart the process from a unbiased perspective, with survivors of trafficking and prostitution being positively included in the policy development process.

2. Completely withdraw and abandon the existing draft policy distributed by the international secretariat. 

The Amnesty International Australia National Annual General Meeting requests that the National Executive Committee of Amnesty International Australia shall advocate to the international secretariat and board for:

  • a new global investigation and consultation on the Nordic Model and alternative models ofprostitution legislation, in partnership with survivors of prostitution and people who have been trafficked into the sex industry.
  • A review of the framework in which any policy on prostitution should sit. Alternative policy frameworks, such as the prevention of torture and trauma or ending violence against women, could be possibilities.”

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Excluding sex workers and including only “survivors of trafficking and prostitution” is essentially silencing current sex workersthe very people whose lives will be affected by any policy on sex work.

When a marginalised group is excluded from any process regarding their rights, their rights are harmed – when sex workers are not included as stakeholders in a process regarding their human rights – sex workers are harmed by that process.

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The Amnesty International Australia, National Human Rights Forum and AGM occurred over two days (the 5th and 6th of July 2014) in Melbourne, Australia.  To read the original presentation to the Forum and the statement to the AGM, see below –

Read presentation to Amnesty National Human Rights Forum (5th July): Amnesty International: Decriminalising Sex Work – What are the issues?

Read statement to Amnesty AGM (6th July): Amnesty (again) – Statement to the AGM

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

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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.