A convention held in Sydney earlier this month looking at the gains made in NSW since decriminalisation of sex work was introduced in 1995 saw unanimous agreement by delegates present that the NSW Government is wrong to consider re-introducing a stringent licensing system with strict penalties to govern the sex work industry.
Hosted by the Open Society Foundations, Scarlet Alliance and Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) from November 2-5, the conference attracted nearly 50 sex workers, community leaders, human rights activists, advocates and politicians from a dozen countries across Africa, Asia Pacific, North America and Europe.
Delegates present at the four-day event spoke out against threats to overturn decriminalisation in NSW, with many sharing stories of abuses against sex workers in their home countries which they said was usually the result of discrimination by police.
“It is a great shame that delegates have travelled from 11 countries hoping to learn from the great gains of decriminalisation in the NSW sex industry, and to have to tell them the government are talking about taking decriminalisation away,” SWOP executive director Kylie Tattersall told the international guests.
“It has been disappointing to campaigners who had looked to NSW as a hope for sex work in their own countries.”
Luca Stevenson, founder of Sex Worker Open University, said decriminalisation clearly worked , particularly when compared to other regulatory frameworks.
“As Scotland prepares itself to host the Commonwealth Games 2014, we urge members of Scottish Parliament to consider the benefits and protections associated with decriminalisation,” Stevenson said.
“Legislative frameworks, such as the Swedish model which criminalise our clients, fail to protect us.”
Following the conference Scarlet Alliance CEO, Janelle Fawkes, told SX there had been three major reviews looking at the sex work industry over the past 12 months as the NSW Government considers changes to how it regulates the industry.
“Not only have they had the trafficking inquiry, then the sex industry regulation inquiry but now they are undertaking the I-PART inquiry which is looking at the way in which councils regulate different industries,” she said.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about trafficking and there are some groups and individuals who are using that issue to drive their anti-sex work or abolitionist agenda.
“There is fear that rather than the outcomes of the inquiries being evidence based they will also focus on perception, misinformation and fear.”
Fawkes said it was important for the LGBTI community to stand with sex worker groups because the industry as a whole also counted many gay and bisexual men, as well as queer women and transgender people in its ranks.
”There was a study – it was only a small study – but it looked at female sex workers where 40 per cent of them said they didn’t identify as heterosexual,” she told SX.
Currently the only jurisdictions with decriminalised sex work are New Zealand and NSW, with both localities being praised in the recent Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific report released by UNAIDS, UNFPA and UNDP in October.
Amongst other conclusions, the report advises, “positive public health and human rights outcomes have been achieved in jurisdictions that have decriminalised sex work” and that “licensing and registration models have not been effective”.
Decriminalisation refers to the removal of criminal laws, including police regulation of sex work, meaning that sex work is then regulated like any other business through local councils, planning laws, OH&S guidelines, Workcover NSW and the ATO.
“Decriminalisation means I can own my own home” Cameron Cox, a NSW sex worker, told the recent conference. “Decriminalisation allows me to feel a part of society.”