Sex work activists fight for Queensland decriminalisation

DecrimQld Respect Inc queensland sex workers sex work decriminalisation
Photo: Jesse Jones

Activists calling for Queensland to decriminalise sex work, say that current laws place workers in danger. Queensland sex worker organisation Respect Inc is leading the DecrimQLD campaign.

Sex workers want their work treated like any other industry, rather than managed under a criminal framework by police.

Current laws do not allow independent workers to work together from the same premises. Also, they cannot describe their services in advertising.

Even worse, the law stops one sex worker contacting another to let them know their whereabouts for safety.

Only a handful of legal brothels operate in Queensland.

As a result, an estimated 80 per cent of sex workers operate outside the law.

Fitzgerald Inquiry Reforms

Activist Elyse Coles from DecrimQld said that the current legislation came about after the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption in Queensland.

“In early 1991 after gay law reform and the recommendations of the Fitzgerald Inquiry there was a moment of optimism that the persecution and stigma of being an LGBTIQ sex worker would soon be in the past,” she said.

“It was a fleeting moment as the new laws and regulations created more stigma and isolation than we could have ever imagined.”

Sex work is common in the LGBTIQ community.

Many trans people choose sex work due to difficulty gaining other employment.

Additionally, one in five queer men perform sex work at some stage in their life.

DecrimQLD campaign leader Janelle Fawkes said that police disproportionately target groups including LGBTIQ sex workers and migrant workers.

“Is that good use of police resources—we don’t think it is,” she said.

Janelle said Respect Inc wants to know why no action resulted from Fitzgerald Inquiry findings surrounding rampant police corruption in relation to sex work.

“We’re now at a point where we can have community-level discussions about it,” she said.

Janelle said that a large body of evidence supports decriminalising sex work. Also, groups including the World Health Organization and Amnesty International support reform.

“We know that a lot of the evidence is very compelling,” she said.

“We think most people are just not aware of what’s happening.”

Sex work laws throughout Australia

Each state has its own laws around sex work, ranging from a decriminalisation-like framework in New South Wales, to South Australia where all sex work is illegal.

Jules Kim, CEO of national sex worker association Scarlet Alliance, said that Australia is “on the cusp of major legislative change”.

A bill to decriminalise sex work recently passed South Australia’s lower house.

Further, Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory are all progressing toward decriminalisation.

“Partly, this is because governments can no longer justify the impact of police regulating sex work and the insurmountable evidence on the value of decriminalising sex work cannot be ignored,” said Jules.

“When you consider the impact of different models of regulation, it is clear licensing is an absolute failure and leaves most of the industry operating outside of the legal sector without workplace health and safety protections.”

Fixing Fitzgerald

Queensland University of Technology is hosting a free discussion event to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Fitzgerald Inquiry Report.

On Wednesday July 3, speakers from academia and the sex work community will discuss the relationship between sex workers and police.

Further, they will delve into the need for decriminalisation, and how sex workers’ safety can be improved.

Tickets for ‘Fixing Fitzgerald’ have now sold out.

For more information check out the DecrimQld page at Respect Inc.

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Jesse Jones

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