Australian Sex Party Lord Mayor candidate for the City of Sydney, Zahra Stardust, has claimed that the Liberal Government’s plans to introduce a licensing system to regulate sex work in NSW would be ‘catastrophic for the health, safety and human rights of sex workers’. She states that ‘Evidence from Queensland and Victoria shows that licensing has proven to be an expensive, ineffective and unworkable model to regulate the sex industry.’ In comparison, she says:
‘The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon supports decriminalisation as a human rights approach to ending discrimination against sex workers. UNAIDS supports decriminalisation as part of a best practice approach to HIV Prevention. The UN Population Fund insists upon universal rights for sex workers. Current epidemiology shows that decriminalisation provides sex workers with better access to OHS, industrial rights and peer education.’
Stardust notes that while licensing is sometimes misleadingly referred to as ‘legalisation’, it is more accurately described as ‘over-regulation’: ‘The excessive legislative requirements involved in licensing mean that large segments of the industry are often forced underground, presenting obstacles to sex worker access to health, safety, outreach, peer education and justice.’ Ms Stardust explains:
- Licensing may ban sex workers from working in residential or commercial areas and require them to work in isolated industrial areas, posing a threat to their safety.
- Licensing may require sex workers to disclose their legal names to clients or the public, increasing their risk of harassment.
- Licensing may require sex workers to register their legal name and address on a permanent police or government record, interfering with their privacy, limiting their ability to travel, and affecting their access to justice in court.
- Licensing may prevent sex workers from working together, reducing their access to support and peer education.
- Licensing may require sex workers to have forced medical testing, despite sex workers having far lower rates of STIs than the general population. There is no case of HIV transmission between a sex worker and client in Australia.
- Licensing means that acts which are lawful for non-sex workers (such as consensual sex between adults without a condom) become unlawful – and punishable – for sex workers.
- A history of police regulation, corruption and entrapment practices mean that sex workers in a licensing model are less likely to seek police assistance in the event of a crime.
- Licensing inevitably creates a two-tiered sex industry, because sex workers are forced to work illegally to protect their health, safety, rights and privacy.
In comparison, Stardust says that ‘NSW has enjoyed nearly 17 years of decriminalisation and is held up as a role model around the world in terms of best-practice sex industry regulation.’ Stardust says that decriminalisation does not mean no regulation: ‘Decriminalisation means whole-of-government regulation.’
Under a decriminalised model, sex industry businesses are treated like any other business. They are subject to existing regulatory mechanisms, such as: local council planning; zoning and location controls; workers compensation requirements; occupational health and safety standards; and industrial rights obligations. Police are not involved as regulators at any level unless there is a breach of law.
The LASH (Law and Sexual Health) project recommends that the licensing of sex work should not be regarded as a viable legislative response. In their comparative study of 3 different regulatory models in Australia (criminalisation in Perth, licensing in Victoria and decriminalisation in Sydney), researchers found that under a decriminalised model, sex workers have better access to occupational health and safety and outreach services.
‘The New South Wales and New Zealand experiences show that decriminalisation does not increase the size of the sex industry. Instead, it brings better access to justice, health and safety for sex workers,’ says Ms Stardust.