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Summary Offences (Prostitution Law Reform) Amendment Bill

1 May 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (22:25): I also rise to indicate that I will not be supporting this bill. I think this is the first time I have had an opportunity to talk on the issue of sex work during my nearly three years in this parliament, and so I wanted to take this opportunity to make my support for the decriminalisation of sex work in our state clear, and to put that on the public record.

I am concerned that in criminalising the clients of sex work, as this bill attempts to do, there will be negative consequences that will flow on to these workers. We know that laws that criminalise the clients of sex workers have the potential to result in an increase in violence, in sexually transmitted infections, and exploitation within the sex industry.

Criminalising the clients also keeps the entire sex work industry underground and jeopardises the harm reduction strategies that sex workers can use to keep themselves safe, and leaves them vulnerable to predators and to criminals. I do agree with the comments made by the Hon. Michelle Lensink that sunlight, and indeed regulation, is the best disinfectant in that regard.

Sex workers in countries where sex work laws like the ones being debated here have been implemented are frequently threatened and harassed by law enforcement and, indeed, I understand that criminalising clients has resulted in police raids on brothels in those countries, which are psychologically and physically harmful to those workers. These encounters often result in sex workers experiencing isolation and stigma due to being outed in their community.

Sex work is work, and no-one should assume that sex workers do not have choice or autonomy. I am concerned that the patriarchal view of sex work that has been presented in this place by some in this chamber is a dangerous threat to the bodily autonomy and freedom of choice of women, and also other marginalised groups. I recognise the efforts of SIN and other advocacy groups here in our state in terms of advocating for the rights of sex workers.

I also just want to point out that we should not also assume that the clients of these sex workers are seeking to exploit people either and, indeed, I know from representations that have been made in the past from people in the disability sector, for instance, that access to sex work can be a very important aspect of the lives of some people dealing with disability, and there are a range of other scenarios where people may wish to access that service.

I do want to just reference some research in this regard looking at the Nordic model that was published by May-Len Skilbrei and Charlotta Holmstrom of the University of Oslo. It was in 2013, but an extract was published in The Conversation, under the title 'The "Nordic model" of prostitution law is a myth'. The article references prostitution law. That is not a term I use, but that is the term used in the article. I will quote an extract for you. It talks about the concerns around the way that this law might apply to particularly marginalised groups. It says:

…prostitution laws targeting buyers have complex effects on people far beyond those they are meant to target. In addition to this complicating factor, the Nordic countries also police prostitution using various other laws and by-laws. Some of these regulations do, in fact, assume that the women who sell sex are to be punished and blamed for prostitution. This goes to show that one should be careful in concluding that Nordic prostitution policies are guided by progressive feminist ideals, or that they necessarily seek to protect women involved in prostitution. The most telling example of this is the way Nordic countries treat migrants who sell sex.

In Sweden this is embodied by the Aliens Act, which forbids foreign women from selling sex in Sweden and is used by the police to apprehend non-Swedish or migrant persons suspected of selling sex. This reveals the limits of the rhetoric of female victimisation, with clients framed as perpetrators: if the seller is foreign, she is to blame, and can be punished with deportation.

It goes on to talk about the experience in Norway, where, the article says:

…we see similar gaps between stated ideology, written policies, and practice. Even though it is completely legal to sell sex, women involved in prostitution are victims of increased police, neighbour and border controls which stigmatise them and make them more vulnerable. The increased control the Norwegian police exert on prostitution markets so as to identify clients includes document checks on women involved in prostitution so as to find irregulars among them. Raids performed in the name of rescue often end with vulnerable women who lack residence permits being deported from Norway.

The research concludes that:

Taken together, the Nordic countries' ways of approaching prostitution have been presented nationally and understood internationally as expressions of a shared understanding of prostitution as a gender equality problem, an example of how women's rights can be enshrined in anti-prostitution law. But after looking closely at how the laws have been proposed and implemented, we beg to differ.

So I do question some of the claims that have been made in support of this bill.

Decriminalisation is the preferred legal framework for the majority of sex workers, and indeed sex work lobbyists. It is supported by a range of human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Health Organization, as the best method to protect the rights of these workers, reduce violence, increase their ability to access the justice system and ensure that they have appropriate access to health services.

I want to recognise the work of my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks in this place, who has long championed the decriminalisation model. Indeed, this is consistent with the policy of the Greens and it is a policy that I am proud to support. We believe that decriminalisation decreases the incidence of violence against sex workers, decreases the incidence of sex trafficking, reduces the stigma of workers and their clients, and increases community health and safety. With that, I conclude my remarks and reiterate that I will not be supporting the bill.