‘The start of the fight’: Sex workers push for decriminalisation

Sex workers from the queer community used a discussion panel at the weekend’s Brisbane Pride Festival Fair Day to explain the need for decriminalisation of the industry.

The #DecrimQLD group members addressed how Queensland’s laws hurt sex workers and how decriminalisation would make them safer, especially those from intersecting marginalised groups.

Harassment and entrapment

Janelle Fawkes from #DecrimQLD told Pink Advocate that the current laws criminalise sex worker safety strategies, such as informing another worker about their whereabouts.

“The licensing laws in the Prostitution Act also criminalise most sex work workplaces, including escort agencies and working in co-ops or small groups,” said Janelle.

“Laws that single out sex workers are completely unworkable and really limit sex workers’ ability to control our work and our workplaces.

“Also, if you’ve experienced a crime, you’re unlikely to report it to police because you’re more susceptible to future police interactions if you do.

“That’s why we’re calling for decriminalisation of sex work in Queensland.”

She said that many members of the public were “shocked” about the existing laws and that sex work is not already decriminalised.

Queer worker Dr Elena Jeffreys told the panel audience that police commonly pose as clients to coerce workers into agreeing to services deemed illegal, such as threesomes or condomless oral sex – then raiding premises and seizing money and possessions. 

“Without decriminalisation, we are susceptible to police harassment, bullying, and arrest,” said Elena.  

Janelle noted that some workers may agree to services without realising that they are against the law, and whether this constitutes “undue inducement” has been examined.

“Would you have offered that service if the police hadn’t harassed you into it?” she said. 

Diverse experiences

Trans worker Elle said that being a sex worker had drawn police attention for her, leading to being charged with offenses under Queensland law.

“Thankfully, today, the LGBTIQA+ community are very supportive,” said Elle.

“However, under Queensland laws, we cannot work with another sex worker.

“The punitive nature of the current laws means our friends can also be charged.”

The panellists discussed their histories with sex work and why they had chosen the industry.

Migrant worker Zoe, also trans, said that sex work had been “greatly beneficial” and part of her transition journey.

“Putting aside the financial security and the pleasure I gained along the way, it was a space where I could comfortably express and be who I really was by dealing with one member of society at a time,” said Zoe. 

“Over time, my confidence accumulated, and I eventually felt comfortable enough to start venturing out and living my life as a happier person.”

Gay sex worker Ricky said that decriminalisation will “definitely aid in the deconstructing the heavy weight that workers have to carry”. 

“Decriminalisation will make it less taboo, will make it more human to talk about the many different facets of sex work, and how much more empowered the worker can come to be,” he said.

Public input needed

The Queensland Law Reform Commission is currently reviewing the state’s laws around sex work.

The Queensland Human Rights Commission’s review of the Anti-Discrimination Act is also underway.

“This is a great opportunity for the Act to be changed to make it illegal to discriminate against sex workers,” said worker and panel moderator Lulu.

An information sheet from sex worker peer organisation Respect Inc is assisting sex workers and supporters to complete a brief online survey to ensure all voices are heard.

“#DecrimQLD has made some great progress and had a breakthrough this year, but this is just the start of the fight,” said Lulu.

The Queensland Law Reform Commission aims to publish a discussion paper by the end of this year and will then call for public submissions.

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