Just a Few Reasons Why the Proposed WA Sex Industry Legislation Is Shit

  As some of you may be aware, I live and do sex work in a state of Australia where sex work is currently decriminalised. That decriminalisation is currently under threat, and I’ll cover that in a later post. What I want to talk about in this post, however, is the legal state of affairs in a different Australian state.

Much like in the US, sex industry legislation is determined on a state-based level, and Australia has vastly different legislative models in each state and territory. We have licensing models in Victoria and Queensland, full criminalisation in South Australia, mostly decriminalisation in New South Wales, and a few states that have weird mash ups of various models. Law reform is currently happening in a number of states and territories, including Western Australia.

The Western Australian government is pushing for a licensing model with some really horrible legislation, which they recently posted for public comment. I listed the problems I had with the proposed legislation here. You can take a moment to read over my list if you like, and I’m happy to answer any questions if anyone doesn’t understand why I’ve objected to some of the points I have, but I’d like to expand on just a couple of them.

The stated aim of this legislation is to “get [sex work] out of the suburbs”. The government is taking a weird semi-abolitionist approach, where they’d like to get rid of sex work completely, but they can’t, so they’ll settle for containing it in industrial areas away from suburban backyards where voters don’t have to deal with it. This overlooks the fact that sex workers are voters and are residents, and ignores issues of sex worker safety. Sex workers in Australia, especially those working in brothels, are predominantly women: women should not have to work in abandoned industrial areas late at night, far from their homes and away from public transport routes. We should not have to make ourselves vulnerable to street crime, especially if we will be carrying large sums of cash. We should be able to work from our homes if we choose, like any other worker. We should not be forced “out of sight and out of mind” because some residents think sex work is icky.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the proposed legislation to me from a civil liberties standpoint is the removal of the presumption of innocence for those accused of being street based sex workers. This is especially dangerous for those who have been convicted of sex work offences in the past, or who are known to police as sex workers. This opens the door to blackmailing of sex workers or ex sex workers, for police corruption, for coercing of sexual favours. It’s worth noting also that some of the proposed legislation is based on legislation already in place in Western Australia, and women have reported being harassed by police on the street on suspicion of street based sex work based on what they are wearing. What happens in situations like that if the presumption of innocence is removed? What happens when people are carrying large sums of money, or literature from sex worker organisations? What happens to people who are not sex workers, but who are congregating with people who are? What happens to people the cops don’t like who are found in a “known sex work area”? Will we have a situation like in certain places in the US where being arrested for street based sex work becomes a matter of being visibly trans* or being a WOC, only the people arrested will then be treated as legally guilty from the moment of arrest and have no recourse to the presumption of innocence?

I might sound a little worked up, but I’m genuinely concerned about what this proposed legislation could mean, for sex workers, ex sex workers and non sex workers who may or may not be associated with us. As a friend of mine said, with the removal of the presumption of innocence, it becomes all too easy to say to an ex worker with a criminal record “Do as I say or I’ll tell the police you’re working from home.” “Give me money or I’ll tell the police you’re working from home.” “Fuck me or I’ll tell the police you’re working from home.” What options do you have?

(And remember, folks: It’s “sex work”. Not the P-word.)


Feministe / By Hexy

Posted at July 18, 2011, 5:25am

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