Criminalisation harms sex workers

From The Drum:

Elena Jeffreys
8 April 2011

Sex work abolitionists claim that sex work is inherently harmful and argue that the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients is a way to reduce this alleged harm.

The Canadian Courts recently heard these arguments from Janice Raymond and Melissa Farley (both American academics who have never done sex work) and dismissed their ‘evidence’ on the basis that they couldn’t substantiate their claims. The court found that the harms related to sex work were caused by criminalisation – not by sex work in and of itself. Sex work is not inherently harmful. Criminalisation is.

In Canada, the act of brothel-keeping, living off the earnings, soliciting and purchasing sex is criminalised. Their sex work laws (like many Commonwealth jurisdictions) were exported from late Victorian England and implemented at the turn of the last century. Similar laws exist in Western Australia and South Australia. The clients, brothel owners, accountants, cleaners, advertisers and landlords are particularly criminalised in Sweden. These are the same criminalisations that the Canadian Court found to be inherently damaging to sex workers. Criminalising the activities associated with sex work, or sex work itself, is neither contemporary nor modern, nor is it based on any reliable evidence. The Swedish laws simply reproduce the same criminalisation, social exclusion and discrimination that sex workers face in criminalised sectors of the industry everywhere, including in some states and territories in Australia.

Decriminalisation and human rights will protect sex workers health

Decriminalisation and human rights strategies have resulted in improved health for sex workers in Australia. Sex workers have consistently low rates of HIV (less than 1 per cent) and low rates of sexually transmissible infections*. Sex workers have consistently proven that health self-regulation is not only possible but successful; 30 years of research by Basil Donovan, Roberta Perkins, Frances Lovejoy, all Australian Epidemiology Reports and all evaluations of the National HIV and STI strategies show that decriminalisation improves and maintains good sex worker health.

Trafficking laws have been a hinder to decriminalisation, as argued by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women: “Decriminalisation and legalisation of the sex industry reduces exploitation… repressive anti-trafficking measures negate the positive impacts of decriminalisation.”

If feminists want to support sex workers in Australia they can stand up for our rights in the face of harsh anti-trafficking laws and the criminalisation we already face. Arguing for increased criminalisation such as the Swedish model is to ignore 30 years of evidence promoting the success of decriminalisation.

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One Response to “Criminalisation harms sex workers”

  1. Andrea B. Says:

    It is good to see Janice Raymond’s testimony dismissed.

    It is also good to see that a judge has realised that Sweden’s prostitution laws make things worse for prostitutes.

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