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All I want for Christmas is the decriminalisation of sex work because it’s the gift that keeps on giving – not just to me. I’m not being selfish, even though it would benefit me as a sex worker in South Australia, where sex work is criminalised.
For me, decriminalisation would mean I have the same workplace rights as every other worker in South Australia. It would mean I could call on police in an emergency rather than put myself in danger trying to avoid them. It would mean I don’t have to find places to hide my condoms in case they are used against me as evidence. It would mean I could be clear with potential clients about my service and my limitations without fearing they are an undercover police officer.
It would mean my criminal record for receiving money in a brothel, from 15 years ago, would be cleared rather than being kept on file forever as a ‘sex crime.’ For me and thousands of criminalised sex workers in Australia, it would mean I could prioritise my own health and safety over police evasion.
But this is not just a gift to me and other sex workers in SA; it is also a gift to our state and our country. South Australia was the second place in the world to give women the vote, and the first place in the world to allow women to stand for parliament.
We were the first place in the country to decriminalise homosexual sex between males, to introduce a public housing scheme, to introduce anti discrimination legislation, to legalise abortion (in some circumstances) and we were the first in the ‘English speaking world’ to make rape in marriage illegal. South Australia has been a leader on social policy in many areas, but our sex work laws are letting the team down.
The laws, which are contained in the Summary Offences Act 1953 and the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, are the oldest in the country. We could be showing some direction to the nation on this issue and reclaiming our place amongst the world leaders on progressive social policy.
Instead we continue to waste public resources by actively policing what, even the police commissioner agrees, are archaic and unworkable laws, while our politicians go through their seventh attempt at law reform. None of this time or money spent is helping otherwise law abiding sex workers, nor is it addressing the concerns of the wider community.
South Australia is in an excellent position to consider the models of sex industry regulation being used around us. Every state and territory in Australia has a different version of criminalisation and regulation, and in the case of NSW, decriminalisation.
New Zealand, (the first place in the world to give women the vote) decriminalised sex work 10 years ago. A multi agency evaluation report shows successful outcomes for sex workers health rights and wellbeing, and no negative outcome for the general public. We have Australian reports that support decriminalisation as best practice, such as those coming out from the Laws and Sexual Health (LASH) research. Scarlet Alliance and all the Scarlet Alliance members, organised sex workers speaking through our projects and organisations networking with sex work projects nationally and internationally, all are asking for decriminalisation.
It would be such an easy wish to grant. Just like in NSW and NZ we already have all the laws in place that can give sex workers access to industrial protections, ensure there are occupational health and safety standards, minimise public amenity issues, ensure environmental and public health and protect workers against exploitation.
Once the laws that criminalise sex workers are removed, all the laws that apply to every other worker, workplace and business will apply to sex workers and the sex industry. All the research, evaluating, experimenting and law making is already done for us – we just need to amend the Acts that criminalise us.
And it wouldn’t just be a Christmas gift to me and the approximately 1000 other sex workers in our state, the many more who have left the industry but still have a lifelong police record, and the many sex workers who will come after me – but it would be a gift to the South Australian community as a whole.
New Zealand has shown us that decriminalisation does not result in a brothel on every corner. In fact, the sex industry did not grow at all in NZ after decriminalisation. Removing the laws that criminalise sex workers and giving us access to the same rights and responsibilities as other workers and citizens, means that existing laws can address many of the concerns of our neighbours and communities effectively. Surely it is easier to address a parking issue with current laws that deal with parking, rather than 1930’s brothel laws.
Decriminalisation also sends a message to the community that everyone deserves to be safe. December 17 was international day to end violence against sex workers. Decriminalisation supports sex workers’ safety by removing the barriers sex workers face when accessing police, allowing sex workers to work in ways that are safe and by reducing stigma against sex workers – all of which impact on sex workers safety. Anything that reduces violence against a particular group of people is a gift to the whole community.
So this year my Christmas wish is for South Australia to continue its proud tradition of leading the way in progressive and non discriminatory social policy by decriminalising sex work, and once again show the world that giving people basic rights will not result in the sky falling in.
Ari Reid is the Vice-President of Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association.
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