If you want to talk about the sex industry with any authority you need to know some basics…

Sex work” is the consensual exchange of sexual services of some sort for money or gifts.

Criminalisation” refers to making illegal the sale, or purchase of sex under threat of some sort of punishment (fines, jail etc)

Legalisation” refers to the control of sex work through such measures as registration, or licensing of workers and/or premises. Failure to comply invites punishment (fines, goal etc)

Decriminalisation” refers to the removal of all rules specifically pertaining to sex workers and sex work, allowing sex work to happen like any other unlicensed business like an accountant, computer programmer etc. Sex work and workers are subject to the same laws and rights as other businesses and can operate without the threat of fines and goal.

The only places in the world where sex work is fully decriminalised are New Zealand and New South Wales in Australia. Every other jurisdiction has some form of legalisation, or criminalisation.

The majority of sex workers support full decriminalisation as it is the regulatory model that gives the most rights and protection to sex workers.

The NSW sex industry was decriminalised in 1995 in response to a Royal Commission into police corruption. It was found that regulation of the industry by police lead to serious corruption in the NSW police force.

The United Nations supports decriminalisation.

Amnesty International supports decriminalisation.

Under decriminalisation in NSW:

  • The sex industry has seen condom usage by sex workers approach 100%
    Sex workers have lower levels of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) than the general population
  • Police corruption around sex work has fallen to effectively zero
  • Sex workers now feel able to contact police and ask for help when assaulted, threatened, or robbed

While the state laws decriminalising sex work have been a huge success, with significant benefits, local councils have done their best to stifle the decriminalisation of sex work. Councils in their LEP (Local Environment Plan) can specify which areas (zoning) “in call” sex work can happen in (meaning premises that customers can visit). They have forced sex work to be confined mostly to industrial or mixed use areas. As a result there is a significant problem in some areas with sex work premises operating without approved development applications, because councils (by failing to allow sex work premises in convenient places) have created a huge vacuum. People willing to risk a fine have moved in and now operate services that are very hard to shut down via the Land and Environment Court.

NSW recently had an enquiry into the operation of brothels. It looks likely that this inquiry will lead to the implementation of a licensing scheme of some sort, like that run in Queensland and Victoria. Licensing exposes sex workers and brothel operators to many problems, including difficulty complying, risk of exposure of private information (like name and address), cost of complying (especially for brothels), and stigma.

All that licensing achieves is to drive legitimate operators out of the industry and encourage the very people that councils and government want to exclude.

Elsewhere in the world there is a wave of organisations lobbying for and getting laws changed (in countries like France, Ireland, and Norway) that criminalise the purchase of sex. It is a particularly insidious approach as it claims a moral high ground of “protecting workers”. It does nothing of the sort, but plays on the public and politicians’ inherent prejudice against workers to drive through an agenda who’s aim is invariably abolition of sex work.

This movement has now reached Australia with the first organisation dedicated to criminalisation of buying sex forming recently.

These movements use people who were, or claim to have been sex workers to promote their cause. Women like Rachel Moran who claims to have been an under age street sex worker in Ireland in the early nineties. The organisations and the people they term ‘survivors’ of sex work use highly emotive language to illicit emotional responses like disgust for sex work and clients of sex workers. They also regularly conflate human trafficking for sex with concentual sex work.