What is the Review?
The Victorian government has asked Reason Party leader, Member of Parliament and former sex work activist Fiona Patten to lead a review into decriminalisation of sex work in Victoria. It will consider the following:
- All forms of sex work (as defined by law), including sex work in commercial brothels and escort agencies, sexual services provided in massage parlours and similar businesses, sex work by small owner-operated businesses and street-based sex work.
- Workplace safety including health and safety issues and stigma and discrimination against sex workers.
- Regulatory requirements for operators of commercial sex work businesses.
- Enforcement powers required to address criminal activity in the sex work industry, including coercion, exploitation, debt bondage and slavery.
- Local amenity and location of premises providing sexual services and street-based sex work.
- The promotion of public health and appropriate regulation of sex work advertising.
- The safety and wellbeing of sex workers, including the experience of violence that arises in the course of sex work and as a consequence of it.
- Sex worker advocacy for safety and wellbeing.
You may read more here:
What is Decriminalisation?
Decriminalising sex work means removing the criminal laws against all consenting adults buying or selling sexual services and managing sex businesses. It symbolises the law recognising sex work as work rather than as a crime.
Removing criminal law does not mean sex work will be totally unregulated. In fact, decriminalisation makes way for sex workers to benefit from the same regulations that make other service providers and other businesses safe. What matters is making sure that regulations about things like town planning, occupational health and safety and work conditions are appropriate for sex workers and are applied fairly.
Decriminalisation limits the role of the police to only enforcing laws against violence, abuse, and child exploitation in the sex industry. It reduces barriers sex workers face when they want to report crimes or family abuse to police. It means all sex workers will be better able to exert civil, economic and human rights because they will be protected by anti-discrimination law and other laws that apply only to those engaged in lawful activities.
Decriminalisation reduces barriers to sex workers claiming welfare benefits or moving to roles outside the sex industry, particularly when it includes expungement (removal) of any past criminal convictions relating to sex work.
Decriminalisation does not, however, automatically remove all stigma and discrimination or eliminate the problems they create. For decriminalisation to be effective, the government must ensure that sex workers’ particular need for privacy is protected. Additional measures must also support education, anti-violence, advocacy and social support programmes that make sex workers’ lives better and safer.
How can sex workers tell the Review what they think?
Your voice and experience in the sex industry counts, whether you share these in a formal submission format or join a group that is preparing one. Do not hesitate to have your say. There are are several ways you can do this:
Various organisations will be focusing on the areas they engage with most — e.g. sexual health, male sex work or violence prevention. They are all very open to hearing your personal experiences, which can’t be captured unless they hear from you. You may also want to write a submission with your sex working friends to make it easier. You can also write directly to the Review by July 17. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can do this without identifying yourself. If you want any help writing a submission, plenty is available, either from Sex Workers’ Voices Victoria, Vixen Collective, Scarlet Alliance or Sex Work Law Reform Victoria.
What is Sex Workers’ Voices Victoria doing?
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic we are creating a number of online mechanisms and tools for sex workers to contribute to the Review. Engaging in the law reform process is complicated and can be intimidating, so we have tried to distill the background information and legal steps into language accessible to all sex workers including those who do not use English as their preferred language. These are the things we are doing. You are very welcome to join any of them through the links on our website.
- Background information
A brief outline of the law in Victoria and some of the ways sex workers and researchers have said it should change with decriminalisation.
- Video of Fiona Patten speaking to sex workers.
A 13 min video of the chair of the Review, Fiona Patten speaking to sex workers about the Review and how sex workers can contribute.
You can make comments and ask questions below the video that Fiona will answer for our online community meeting.
- Online community meeting.
Also known as a webinar, this will be a meeting for sex workers to hear Fiona’s answers to sex workers questions and to discuss decriminalisation.
- Online workshops
Smaller online conversations will be held among specific groups of sex workers and on specific issues. So far we have one planned for male workers and one for Chinese speakers. Let us know if you have a topic for an online workshop.
An anonymous online survey provides a quick and easy way to get your views across. It will be translatable to several languages. Information collected will be collated by the Kirby Centre into a final report to the Review.
Watch this space for announcements of dates, times and topics?
What if you only want to comment on one or two issues and not the whole lot?
That’s fine. If you have a view based on your experience about, say, street-based sex work, or whether alcohol should be allowed in brothels, or what can be done to prevent violence against sew workers, we encourage you to speak up about it.
What if you want to comment in a different language?
Comments by sex workers in a preferred language are extremely important to the Review because bad law particularly affects migrant sex workers. The Sex Workers’ Voices Victoria project materials are on a translated platform. Other agencies that are developing submissions are also likely to arrange for translation.
Is it worth the effort?
Sex workers know that is very difficult to get governments to do the right thing. There is a history in Victoria of sex workers speaking and not being listened to. This happened when sex work was legalised in the 1980’s. However, for the following reasons the environment in Victoria is now particularly favourable for a bill that fully decriminalises sex work:
- Decriminalisation is in the Labour Party platform.
- The Review’s terms of reference are about HOW to decriminalise sex work, not whether it should be decriminalised.
- The Review is led by an out former sex worker with a strong record of record on socially progressive law reform
- Decriminalisation has happened in the Northern Territory, New South Wales, and New Zealand.
- Fears around AIDS, sex slavery and the heroin epidemic that influenced policy in the 1990s have subsided.
- The recommendations of the Review will go to a Labor government that is in a strong position in the parliament. This means they are not very vulnerable to negative reactions from those who oppose equal rights for sex workers.
When is this all happening?
Now for the bad news...The deadline for written submissions is July 17th. The consultation period is far too short. However there should be a longer consultation process with sex workers throughout the law reform process.
Why do we need a discussion about decriminalisation? Why don’t we follow the example of NSW or New Zealand?
Decriminalisation means removing the criminal law against adult sex work and managing the sex industry through the ordinary regulations that cover all legal businesses and service providers. However those regulations are a complex maze of rules to follow and permits to obtain. Often called ‘red tape’, business regulations cover occupational health and safety, work conditions, financial procedures, building, advertising, planning and much, much more. When the government removes the criminal laws on sex work it must decide how regulations will apply to the sex industry. It doesn’t happen automatically.
Unfortunately, law reform isn’t transferable. Because business regulations vary from state to state, and certainly between countries, each jurisdiction has to work out for itself exactly how to fit the fully decriminalised sex industry into their specific regulatory framework.
What is the difference between legalising and decriminalising sex work in Victoria and what does this mean for me?
Broadly legalisation describes what we have now in Victoria. Some sex work is legal and some is not. The criminal laws against sex work apply except for an identified set of permitted sex businesses. Legalisation always means a two tier sex industry – a highly regulated legal sector and an unregulated illegal sector.
Decriminalisation means taking away all of the criminal law and regulating the sex industry with the same regulations that apply to similar businesses and service providers.
The difference in sex workers’ lives is enormous. With decriminalisation sex workers will no longer have to decide which sector to work in. Brothel operators will no longer have the advantage of providing legal work on their terms. Private workers will no longer have to register or fear prosecution. Street based workers will have one less layer of counterproductive policing to contend with
I want to work privately without giving my name to any register. I am worried that isn’t going to be possible.
It’s a valid worry. Sex workers first began talking about applying ‘normal business regulations’ to sex work as an alternative to criminal law in the 1970s. Back then there were far fewer business regulations and data collection methods were crude by today’s standards. Now every legal commercial activity is regulated and the regulations frequently require the trader or business to provide their names. The government expects people to trust data protection laws to stop their information being disclosed or misused.
One way sex workers can address this by arguing that, in recognition of sex workers particular safety and privacy needs, small brothels and sole traders should be exempt from all regulation. Another way is to find regulations that pose the least possible threat to privacy. For example minimal regulations apply to hairdressers or make-up artists who work at home or are mobile. They only have to tell the local council they are operating rather than apply for permission to operate. Another way is to argue that any regulations applied to private sex workers must recognise both ‘natural persons’, which are human bodies with names, and non natural persons which are organisations like companies. That way, sex workers could protect their privacy by forming a company or other organisation.
The key point to be made to the Review – over and over by as many sex workers as possible – is that sex workers will not comply with any regulatory system which involves naming themselves and their occupation on either a special register of sex workers or other registers of businesses. If the government ignores this, sex work law reform will fail because the unregulated sector will continue to attract sex workers.