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News Article

Decriminalisation leaves sex workers worse off: professor
Thursday, November 1, 2012

“The SA women MPs who are promoting decriminalisation of prostitution genuinely want to help women,”  Professor Sheila Jeffreys told some MPs and others in Adelaide’s Parliament House yesterday.

“They think that by treating prostitution as a normal profession like any other, the women can access occupational health and safety measures and be a little better off.

“That’s what motivated MPs in NSW when they decriminalised the sex industry in 1995 – but the effect has been the opposite of that which they apparently intended.

“They argued that decriminalisation/legalisation would limit the growth of the sex industry and end organised crime involvement; it would reduce opportunities for police corruption; it would promote public health by enabling better control of sexually transmitted infections; it would lead to a decline in street prostitution; it would reduce violence against the women and girls in the industry.  In all these respects they have been wrong and these harms have been exacerbated,” Professor Jeffreys said.  
Professor Sheila Jeffreys , a professor of social and political sciences at Melbourne University, was commenting on the SA Sex Work Reform Bill  which is based on the decriminalisation model of prostitution law.  The bill is currently under debate in both houses of the SA parliament, sponsored by Hon Steph Key and Hon Gail Gago.  

“The decriminalisation/legalisation prostitution experiment in Australian states has failed,” Professor Jeffreys said.  “It has made it easier for traffickers to use trafficked women and blend in with a purportedly regulated sex sector, making it more difficult for prosecutors to identify and punish traffickers.  In Germany, which has legalised prostitution, they estimate there are 62 times more trafficked women in prostitution than in Sweden where male buyers have been criminalised.”

Sheila Jeffreys is the author of several books on prostitution – most recently The Industrial Vagina, which examines the industrialisation and globalisation of the sex industry.  She is the public officer of the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women Australia (CATWA) and a board member of CATW International, which  has Category II consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Some MPs were taken aback when Professor Jeffreys read out official OHS “safety tips” for legal escorts in Melbourne – such as being careful about using local anaesthetic to dull vaginal pain because it might mask serious injuries.  Many people do not realise the internal damage suffered by many sex workers during the normal course of “business” – injuries which would never be acceptable in any other business.  The pain and injury, including mental injury, suffered by women in prostitution leads many of them to try to block out the pain with legal and illegal drugs.  

Professor Jeffreys advocates the Swedish or Nordic model of prostitution law, which has deterred traffickers, eliminated street prostitution and helped many women quit prostitution via effective exit programs.


  • Human life and dignity

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