Unions throw support behind sex work decriminalisation

Sex worker advocates, allied unions, and other supporters yesterday came together to call for sex work decriminalisation in Queensland.

On 3 March, the twentieth annual International Sex Worker Rights Day, advocates rallied in Fortitude Valley to draw attention to the many harms caused by criminalisation of the industry, from perpetuation of stigma to violence against workers.

Led by activist group #DecrimQLD and sex worker peer organisation Respect Inc, the workers were joined by representatives from the Queensland Council of Unions, Queensland Council for LGBTI Health, Anti-Poverty Network, Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, Queensland Positive People, and Basic Rights Queensland.

Sex work is criminalised in Queensland under decades-old legislation that allows entrapment by police, with minority workers such as migrants and trans women disproportionately targeted.

Basic safety measures, such as hiring a receptionist, working from the same hotel, or even contacting another worker to let them know when a booking has safely finished, remain illegal.

“Police have immunity to coerce sex workers into agreeing to illegal services,” said Lulu from Respect Inc.

“The Fitzgerald Report, released 32 years ago, found excessive levels of police corruption when the sex industry is under police control.

“Yet here we are in 2021 with the Prostitution Engagement Task Force, whose dedicated work is posing as clients to arrest and charge sex workers for victimless crimes like employing basic strategies to keep ourselves and each other safe.”

Several speakers discussed the fear that sex workers feel about reporting to police when they are victims of serious crimes.

Robert from Respect Inc noted that police activity against male sex workers is especially problematic in the context of homophobia.

“Decriminalisation is essential for all sex workers, including male workers,” Robert told Pink Advocate.

“If they are doing outcalls, they can’t tell anyone where they’re going, who they’re going to see, or how many people – because that’s illegal.

“They turn up to an address and there might be six or seven guys ready to bash them up, which has happened before.

“They might end up in hospital, unable to work, and because of the law, they can’t tell anyone where they were going.

“That’s part of why decriminalisation is essential.”

Melissa Fox, Vice President of the Queensland Council for LGBTI Health, welcomed the news that the issue of decriminalisation is to be referred to the Queensland Law Reform Commission in June.

“The subsequent legislative process [must] be timely and effective,” said Fox. 

“In the meantime, there must be a moratorium on police entrapment and charges against sex workers for strategies that you take to ensure your basic safety, such as communicating with other workers, working together, and hiring receptionists and drivers.”

Fox called last year’s 15-fold increase in publicly funded police activity against sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic “unacceptable”.

Respect Inc and #DecrimQLD are calling for full decriminalisation of sex work in Queensland, which would see the industry regulated like any other.

The groups are also demanding an end to police entrapment of sex workers and charges against workers for using basic safety strategies.

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