A new sex-work model would attack the men who buy sex but protect the women who sell it in a move to push one state away from its legacy of full criminalisation.
The Bill, introduced by South Australian Upper House Liberal leader Nicola Centofanti, would make the purchase of sex illegal but decriminalise the women who sell it, offering a halfway house between full criminalisation or legalisation.
Ms Centofanti, speaking in parliament this week, said attacking the demand side of the sex industry would promote equality for women and help reduce abuse and sex trafficking.
“I bring this Bill to the (Legislative) Council as a pathway to protect those in prostitution,” she said.
“Too often, the sex industry is not a choice. It is by far the case, and not the exception to the rule, that many women who find themselves in the sex trade do not do so by choice and are often vulnerable as a result of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, coercion, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction.”
Sex work, either its sale or solicitation, is illegal in South Australia.
Multiple bills have been proposed to alter the state’s sex-work laws but none have been enacted into law.
Ally-Marie Diamond, founder of the Wahine Toa Rising advocacy group that battles exploitation in New Zealand’s sex industry, called on parliamentarians to back the Bill.
“We know that blanket decriminalisation models do not work but rather leave women exploited and vulnerable and they open a door to human trafficking,” she said.
“I believe that the way elected representatives choose to legislate the sex trade sends out a powerful message about how seriously we take the issue of sexual exploitation, violence against women and gender equality more generally.”
But Sex Industry Network general manager Kat Morrison said she “wholeheartedly opposed” the Bill and warned that it would harm women in the sex industry.
“Regardless of whether you have a criminalised service provider or a criminalised service receiver, any kind of criminalisation within that context creates barriers and creates harm for the people involved in that transaction,” she said.
“I think calling it partial decriminalisation is a smokescreen.”
Ms Morrison supports the full decriminalisation of sex work.
“It’s what sex workers want, it is what has been recommended by the United Nations, by Amnesty International, the World Health Organisation.”
Ms Morrison also said the “Nordic” partial decriminalisation model had failed in Europe.
“It does nothing to decrease or minimise instances of violence, aggression, trafficking, coercion, slavery, all of those horrible things that we oppose,” she said
“The best way to tackle all of those issues is through decriminalisation.”
Greens member Tammy Franks backs full decriminalisation and said the Bill was a “political strategy” to end sex work.
“This Bill says basically a sex worker can do their work but not be paid for it,” she said.
“In what other jurisdiction or area or work would a worker be expected to do their work but not get paid for it?”
Ms Centofanti’s Bill will be put up for a conscience vote and Ms Franks said it was “possible” it could get up.
“The numbers game I think is very tight on these issues,” she said.