Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2018

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Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2018

12 November 2019


I rise tonight to speak regarding a matter of concern in my home state of South Australia. I speak in relation to a bill which seeks to decriminalise prostitution, that being the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2018. And I will refer to this as ‘prostitution’ rather than ‘sex work’, as the bill refers to it, as in truth the term ‘work’ is gravely misleading, as it is not really work in the traditional sense. In truth, it’s a form of control, a form of abuse. As opined by Dr Caroline Norma of RMIT Melbourne, a co-editor of Prostitution Narratives, it is more accurately described as a human rights violation. I will also refer, in the main, to its impact upon women, because those prostituted are more often than not women.

As a senator for South Australia, I feel that I cannot let this process pass by without registering my deep concern at that which is being proposed. I fear that the bill will not keep our citizens safe. In fact, if passed, it will do the opposite: it will make South Australia a less safe place.

The sex trade has a unique level of complexity. In the words of a woman who had previously been a prostitute and was quoted during the debate in the South Australian Legislative Council, ‘We are told of women who love working in the sex industry, but in all my time I have never met such a woman.’ Whether or not you support the decriminalisation of prostitution, implicit in either argument is the concept of choice. Those who support decriminalisation believe that entering this line of work is the choice of the person. However, those who do not support it understand that those involved rarely choose this lifestyle; it chooses them. To say that every woman enters the sex industry by choice is therefore a lie. To make a choice, you need to have facts about that which you are choosing. Sadly, it is all too common for prostitutes to be held captive not just physically, as in the case of trafficked persons, but also by the lies of the sex industry. The industry knows, once you are lured in, it’s hard to get out.

It’s all too easy for politicians who are looking from the outside in to push an agenda under the misguided illusion that somehow this is for the betterment of women. I acknowledge that those who seek to prosecute an argument for the decriminalisation of prostitution do so with the misguided but nonetheless hopeful aspiration of attempting to make safer the lives of those who are prostituted, yet somehow they have failed to listen to those who have a history in the industry and the courage to speak up. They have failed to understand that those who exploit women will be the beneficiaries of this so-called reform. Make no mistake, the benefit of this bill will be to the pimps and the brothel owners alone.

As part of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia’s submission in relation to the 2015 incarnation of this bill in South Australia, they noted that the New Zealand experience in decriminalisation found that the majority of prostituted persons felt the law could do very little about the violence that occurred, and that very few reported the incidents of violence against them. In Germany, the experience of decriminalisation has shown that this approach increases demand, promotes infidelity, promotes the breakdown of the family unit, turns criminals into legitimate businesspeople, inflicts post-traumatic stress disorder upon those involved, spreads disease, promotes human trafficking and encourages violence against women. In a report on prostitution in nine countries, the Journal of Trauma Practice, focusing on violence and post-traumatic stress disorder, found that prostitution was multi-traumatic. The statistics regarding the experiences of prostitutes are damning: 71 per cent had been physically assaulted, 63 per cent had been raped, 89 per cent of the respondents wanted to escape prostitution but didn’t have any other options for survival, a total of 75 per cent had been homeless at some point in their lives, and 68 per cent suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

South Australia Police commissioner Grant Stevens has already warned that police ‘are very concerned the absence of regulation would create a significant opening for organised crime to enter the industry and to exploit the industry for the purposes of money laundering, sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and drug trafficking’.

Many of those who have already spoken against the bill in the South Australian parliament have shared stories from those who worked in the industry, stories which show the manipulation and grooming which occurs in this loathsome trade. In one such passage, a woman explains how she became trapped in the sex trade following the global financial crisis. She moved to Queensland. She couldn’t get a job. Her student payment barely covered her rent. She got behind in her payments and was worried about eviction. She was lured into bikini-waitressing, then stripping and then, finally, having become trapped in this insidious, sexualised world, she became so desperate and so lacking in self-esteem that she agreed to have sex with a strip club patron for $200, following a shift in which she hadn’t made any money. Having almost bottomed out, she attempted a pill overdose and tried to cut her wrists with a razor blade in the client’s bathroom. Such was his contempt for her that he proceeded with the encounter, regardless of her bloodied wrists; paid her $100, half the agreed amount; and left her to her own devices. Fortunately, she survived to tell this awful story.

This is the reality of the sex trade.

I cannot and I will not accept that members of parliament, who have an obligation to protect people, would seek to make it easier to buy, exploit and abuse women. And it is beyond incongruous that, in a state where grid girls in the Clipsal 500 car race have recently been outlawed because they send the wrong message regarding the sexualisation of women, the decriminalisation of prostitution is proffered on the grounds of improving women’s rights! Many of those who have campaigned against the objectification of women, who have rightly told the community that the value of women should not be based on their physical appearance, now seek to promote an industry which reaches the very summit of exploitation. It is staggering that anyone would seek to promote an industry which exploits women—an industry that is associated with human trafficking, substance abuse and the influence of outlaw motorcycle gangs.

You can understand my concern regarding a bill which undermines the struggle for equality, which turns a blind eye to the violence against women and which serves only the pimps and brothel owners. Not only would this bill send a message that prostitution is a viable career option for young people but it also provides for spent convictions, enabling convictions to no longer appear when a police check is conducted for employment.

This is madness.

Let us not kid ourselves: the decriminalisation of prostitution does not mean the removal of an illegal industry.

Instead, South Australians would be faced with an industry which operates next to their local bakery, their local cinema and their local supermarket. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to realise that the decriminalisation of prostitution will mean an increase in its prevalence and an increase in demand. I refuse to believe that this so-called reform, which allows young men and women to be purchased, should ever receive support from our elected representatives, regardless of their political allegiances. This bill will not achieve its primary objective of protecting women from harm; rather, it will place them in greater harm. I hope that the House of Assembly in my state considers these matters when voting on this bill, ensuring that the safety of our community is paramount in their concern, and votes this bill down.

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