In the wake of the Victorian government's announcement that the sex trade would be decriminalised in Victoria, the Department of Justice and Community Safety invited members of the community to share their views on the preferred model and how it should be implemented.
We believe that decriminalising the sex industry (including sex buying, pimping and brothel keeping) amounts to the endorsement of men's paid sexual access to the bodies of women and girls in the sex trade.
'Sex work' is not a job like any other - it is a system of male violence against vulnerable women and girls that reduces women to commodities to be bought and sold for men's sexual gratification. It is a human rights violation and cannot be made safer.
Legitimising the sex industry through decriminalisation would lead to worse conditions for women, embolden the men who paid to use them, increasing their sense of entitlement and lead to greater violence against women in prostitution. It would also lead to a greater demand for commercial sex, resulting in an increase in sex trafficking.
In addition to contributing a submission to the initial review, Victoria Review into the Decriminalisation of Sex Work, we wrote a submission for the August review. We wrote:
In our opinion - and that of our colleagues globally - the review process was imbalanced from the outset. The appointment of prominent sex industry lobbyist now Reason Party MP Fiona Patten to lead the inquiry undermined its integrity from the start. We believe this suggests a pre-determined outcome to decriminalise pimping, brothel keeping and sex buying, therefore constituting an abuse of proper parliamentary inquiry. The exclusion of a significant number of groups representing women who had previously exited the sex industry and who were now critics of it, lends weight to this view.
We would like to know why the Victorian Government has refused requests to release the inquiry report for public scrutiny. Failure to make the report available contributes to the lack of transparency in this process.
We also put on record that we are disappointed with the brevity of this consultation process. Given the serious implications of decriminalisation for women and girls, a longer consultation process should have been provided.
In this follow up consultation process, we reiterate previously stated objections and join colleagues in calling for a new independent inquiry to allow equal opportunity to all who wish to participate, including survivor advocate organisations. A new inquiry could properly examine the harm and injury experienced by large numbers of women in the industry. A new inquiry should also consider recommendations for the Equality (Nordic) Model as best practice for tackling issues which disproportionately impact women and make them more vulnerable to entering the industry.
We stand with sex trade survivors in calling for the Nordic/Equality model of prostitution legislation, which recognises prostitution and trafficking as a form of male violence against vulnerable women and children, and decriminalises women in the sex trade while criminalising their exploiters.
The present review ignored the Nordic Model and missed an opportunity to recommend and propose funding for exit programs which are desperately needed by those desiring to leave the industry. As women previously in the industry have told us, there were significant supports offered to help them stay, but not to exit.
We raised concerns about:
- the safety and wellbeing of prostituted women operating from home, a practice linked to higher rates of violence, control and isolation by traffickers, pimps and buyers
- the elimination of criminal penalties for pimps and sex buyers
- the elimination of liquor licensing restrictions at brothels, which will put women at further risk
- the elimination of criminal repercussions for buyers who refuse to wear condoms
- the elimination of restrictions on sex industry related advertisements, which will lead to more vulnerable women being recruited into the sex trade
- the Vic government's failure to meet its obligations under the Palermo Protocol
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia also contributed a submission to the consultation for decriminalising sex work. CATWA, who have expert knowledge on Australia's different models of prostitution legislation, wrote that it was "abundantly clear" that both legalisation and decriminalisation failed to meet many of their aims:
Australia’s sex industry is plagued with charges of sex and drug trafficking, child exploitation, violence, money laundering and organised crime.
They rejected the Vic government's claim the "sex work is work":
Sex work is not the same as other types of work, indeed, no other industry in Australia requires workers to perform sexual intercourse as part of their job. The Victorian Government should consider the unique and particular needs of those in the sex industry. For instance, the sex industry is gendered, the vast majority of people in prostitution are women and those who buy sex are mostly men. ‘Workers’ are often discussed in the abstract, however, this group consists of mostly women and we urge the government to acknowledge this fact. Further, the vast majority of women enter the sex industry out of dire financial need, many are experiencing homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, and are supporting dependents, which all act as barriers to exiting the sex industry. Studies show that the majority of those in prostitution would leave if they could (Moran and Farley 2019). In order to support all women in the sex industry, not only the tiny minority who may have choice over when and how they work, the government should, at a minimum, implement exit strategies and increase social support services to women on low incomes so that they do not have to resort to the sex industry for survival.
Women in prostitution experience extreme forms of violence and suffer immediate and long-term negative effects on their health and wellbeing as a result. Prostitution causes grave physical and psychological harm to women involved who experience repeated sexual and physical violence (Farley et al. 2003). Alarmingly, research on male buyers of prostitution in Australia’s legalised and decriminalised settings shows that men actively seek to violate and enact violence on women in prostitution (Jovanovski and Tyler 2018). It is not clear how the proposed model of decriminalisation aims to address male violence against women in the sex industry.
The discussion paper positions stigma as the leading cause of harms to women in the sex industry. And proposes that decriminalisation, normalisation and the treatment of prostitution as a job like any other is the solution to reducing stigma and in turn making the industry safer. However, this has not happened for women in the sex industry anywhere in the world.