A bill to decriminalise the SA sex trade may come to a second reading vote in the House of Assembly soon.
Media reports are often misleading, claiming that the bill would decriminalise “sex work” or prostitution. This is a common misconception, since there is not and never has been a law against the act of prostitution (or sex for money) between two consenting adults on the SA statute books.
Therefore, since prostitution per se has never been criminalised, it cannot be “decriminalised”. Steph Key’s latest bill, the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2013, should be more correctly titled the “Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work Exploitation) Bill 2013.
That is because our current SA laws, which Steph Key’s bill would repeal, prohibit exploitation in prostitution – where a third party (pimp, madam, brothel owner or procurer) profits from the prostitution of others. This is in line with one of the very first United Nations conventions, the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.
This Convention requires nations to punish anyone who “procures, entices or leads away, for the purposes of prostitution, another person”, or “exploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person”.
The Convention also requires punishment for anyone who “keeps or manages or knowingly finances or takes part in the financing of a brothel, or knowingly lets or rents a building or other place or part thereof for the purpose of the prostitution of others”.
The Convention passed the UN General Assembly in 1949 after research showed a huge increase in sex trafficking, including child prostitution, in those countries with legal brothels. The new laws allowed police to crack down on this type of exploitation without infringing on the freedom of individuals to participate in private, discreet prostitution where no coercion, pimping, procuring or public nuisance was involved. But once a third party was involved – as in organised brothels – the prostitution was a punishable offence. Procuring carried the biggest penalty, but running a brothel was also a serious offence. Prostitutes working in brothels could be charged with the minor offence of being in a brothel without reasonable excuse – as they were effectively accessories to a crime.
These laws worked in suppressing sex trafficking, but in more recent times a number of Western nations have forgotten the reasons the laws were passed. Some jurisdictions, including NSW, Victoria, Queensland and several European countries, have repealed their prostitution laws. They have decriminalised or legalised the sex trade. Other jurisdictions such as WA and SA often fail to actively police their prostitution laws.
The result has been a huge increase in sex trafficking in those places where the sex trade (brothels or escort agencies) are legal. Until recently, the only country in Europe to cut its rate of sex trafficking was Sweden, which strengthened its laws against brothels and procuring by adding a new law against the buying or attempting to buy sexual services. Swedish authorities actively policed the law – which did not penalise prostitutes, only their clients and pimps – and set up an effective “exit program” providing practical support and retraining for prostitutes, many of whom greatly appreciated this service. Most prostitutes have a drug habit – acquired before or because of their prostitution, which can be physically and mentally painful – and are grateful for the successful drug rehabilitation program that Sweden has developed. Australia would do well to copy this program.
Sweden’s success in minimising sex trafficking has led other countries – Norway, Iceland and South Korea – to follow suit in recent years. France, Israel and Scotland are also considering this move. This year Dutch officials have admitted that Holland’s 2000 law to legalise and regulate brothels has been a failure, with many of Amsterdam’s prostitutes and child prostitutes brought there by pimps from eastern European, African and Asian countries.
Anyone following the “adult services” pages in The Advertiser in recent years would have noticed a huge increase in advertisements which talk about “Asian ladies”. A recent informal survey found that about 90 of the 120 brothels known to be operating in Adelaide were staffed by Asian women – out of all proportion to the percentage of Asians in our population. It is likely that many of these women have been recruited by Asian pimps. Most do not speak English, and are afraid for the safety of their families back home if they complain to police about their exploitation. On 10 October 2011, the ABC TV “Four Corners” program revealed that Asian pimps were trafficking women for prostitution in legal NSW and Victorian brothels.
When NSW and Victoria repealed their prostitution laws late last century, they said the law change would make prostitutes safer because they could access workplace safety laws and other protections. But prostitutes in these states are not safer.
This article sums up what has happened following repeal of prostitution laws in The Netherlands: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8835071/flesh-for-sale/
SA prostitution laws need updating to make penalties realistic (and thus worth police time to investigate) and to cover modern forms of organised prostitution such as escort agencies. The Nordic approach of penalising sex buyers should be included, and effective exit programs for sellers developed.
South Australian MPs should learn from the mistakes of other countries who have decriminalised prostitution exploiters, and reject legislation such as the Decriminalisation of Sex Work Bill that follows a similar disastrous path.
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