Collective Shout calls on ACT Gov to adopt Swedish prostitution model

The ACT Government is holding an inquiry into prostitution in the Territory. Collective Shout has made a submission to the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety. Here it is:

Collective Shout submission in response to the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety review of the operation of the Prostitution Act 1992

(1) The form and operation of the Act;

During the 1990s sections of the sex industry were legalised in the Netherlands, Germany, and, in Australia, in the states of Victoria and Queensland. While a model of harm minimisation has been shown to be effective in some fields such as substance dependency, there is sufficient evidence now to demonstrate that a harm minimisation approach is inherently flawed when it comes to regulating the sex industry. This failure has been recognised by both academic studies and reports published by governments.

The inherent nature of sex work runs against the notion of a gender equal society. The idea that human bodies - mostly those of women and children – can be bought, sold, and rented in the flesh trade requires them to be treated as objects, in effect as sexual aids. Many prostituted women report having experienced childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, substance dependency, sexual assault, interrupted education, and/or mental health problems. The harm minimization model – or legalisation of prostitution services – essentially allows for the exploitation of society’s most vulnerable peoples. It is time to recognize that “the world’s oldest profession” is actually “the world’s oldest oppression.”

One of the key goals of the harm minimisation model was to reduce the number of sexually trafficked victims. In fact the reverse has occurred. Former mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, stated in 2007 at a press conference that “the legalization of prostitution did not bring about what many had hoped… we are still faced with distressing situations in which women are being exploited. It is high time for a thorough evaluation of the Prostitution Act… we have seen in the last years that trafficking in women is becoming more, so in this respect the legalizing of prostitution didn’t work out.” Where prostitution has been legalised, crime gangs have proliferated – leading to a significant increase in sexually trafficked victims and illegal brothels.

The failures of legalised prostitution in Victoria have been thoroughly documented by Mary Lucille Sullivan in Making Sex Work: A failed experiment with legalised prostitution (Spinifex Press 2007). All the claims made about how legalisation would solve so many problems connected with prostitution such as drugs, crime and violence against women, failed to materialise. What did materialise was millions of dollars in profits for the state and the Australian sex industry. The social normalisation of prostitution that has occurred through Victoria’s legalisation has benefited the sex industry business people to a great extent. The industry now runs yearly trade shows (‘Sexpo’) in most Australian states, it promotes itself through both outdoor and press advertising, and brothel owners are treated by government as if they were carrying out socially legitimate commerce. Collective Shout questions the social legitimacy of business activities that derive their profit from individual women being used for the sexual gratification of men with money.

The harm minimisation model contravenes international best practice on prostitution. The only sex industry regulatory model that is consistent with international law is the Nordic model. This model has been demonstrated to reduce violence against prostituted women and has been adopted in Sweden, Iceland, South Korea, and Norway. There are three key aspects to this model:

A. Criminalisation of buyers of prostituted people, and people who organise the prostitution of others.

B. Decriminalisation of prostituted people as victims of crime, and the establishment of services and facilities to assist them.

C. Public education as to prostitution as a human rights violation.

We urge the ACT government to re-evaluate its current legislation which legalises parts of the sex industry. The evidence is clear that legalisation and decriminalisation have failed in achieving the key aims they were set out to achieve. The prostitution of women is inherently at odds with a gender equal society. This inquiry presents a great opportunity for the ACT government to become a world leader in regards to best-practice policy on prostitution.

Recommendation 1: that the ACT government adopt the Nordic model of penalising the buyers and decriminalising prostituted women, moving towards a ‘harm elimination’ model.

Read the entire submission here.

Julie prostituted at 17: “I thought I would die”

‘Julie,’ who was prostituted into Canberra’s sex industry as an underage teen, spoke to ABC 7.30 ACT.

In the interview Julie says:

"When you're involved in an industry when there's lots of crime, lots of corruption, it's about money, people don't let you walk away from that.

"There's peer pressure, pressure from owners, pressure from receptionists: 'So and so's coming in, they've requested you, can you just do one job?'

"When you're 17 and earning a couple of thousand a day, it's addictive, and that's why people need genuine help to get out of the industry.

"You can't have sex with 10 to 15 different men every day without it impacting you and how you value yourself, and how you value sex, and how you build intimacy with another human being. It was very difficult to go on and have a normal intimate relationship with one person."

"Being 17 having worked as a prostitute you don't have many skills you can use in the workforce or can put on a CV. It took me about 12 months to then find a job and start to function."

Watch the interview here.

Related articles

Melinda Tankard Reist spoke to 2CC Canberra radio about Collective Shout's submission to the inquiry. You can listen here.

Inside the business of prostitution in Canberra: we need exit programs not more brothels

Documenting the lives of prostituted women: Red Light/Dark Room

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