Forum on Regulating Sex Work in Western Australia

**Please note: this post contains language that may be triggering/offensive, including whorephobic speech, as it reports on comments made by anti sex work groups and their members**


Speech By Jane Green

My name is Jane Green and I am a current sex worker.

I am speaking today, as a sex worker and also on behalf of Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association. We are a peer organisation, this means at every level – staff, volunteers, members and executive committee – we are all current or former sex workers. We do not allow owners or operators of sex industry businesses to hold membership in our organisation.
We are a sex worker organisation – and like other sex worker organisations we represent and are accountable to our community.

I do not speak for all sex workers, because no one can.
I speak from my own personal experience of sex work.

That may seem an unusual thing to say when I have just said that I am speaking on behalf of an organisation that represents sex workers across Australia, but let me explain – I am here to speak about facts. Because I believe in facts. I am here to speak about the evidence that sex worker organisations like the Scarlet Alliance here in Australia, but also sex worker organisations across the world have on sex work, on sex workers experiences – and that evidence reflects my own personal experience of sex work.

Scarlet Alliance, through its member organisations in Australia has the highest level of contact with sex workers of any organisation in Australia.

Sex worker organisations exist throughout the world. In some countries it is illegal to openly admit to being a sex worker or to have membership of a sex worker organisation.

Anti sex work groups regularly portray sex worker organisations as run by those in positions of privilege, or as “industry lobby groups”. This is a blatant lie designed to silence sex workers and their representative organisations. Instead of a standard power-point display I have chosen to run a display of images of sex workers and sex worker organisations from around the world protesting for the full decriminalisation of sex work – you will be able to see clearly that our community is diverse, yet united, in calling for sex workers’ rights to be recognised.

You may have noticed during this event that there are some differences in language being used, by the people to my LEFT.

As Rebecca has explained sex workers, generally prefer to be called sex workers. When our community, the representative organisations for our community – across the country and across the world, as well as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations all ask people to use the term sex worker you might not think that would be a lot to ask.

But it’s a different story when the people you are asking are specifically using language as a tactic to oppress you.
Sex work is work.
My work is real work.
& I have never had anyone adequately explain how having less rights would somehow “save me” or improve my situation.

So what do we actually mean when we say that – that the Swedish (sometimes called the Nordic) Model would give us less rights?
When anti sex work groups talk about the Swedish Model “only criminalising clients ” what does that mean?
For a start it doesn’t just criminalise clients, it also criminalises all of the surrounding activities around sex work – Rebecca has outlined this.
But also, about “criminalising clients” under the Swedish Model, in reality exactly how does that work?

Do we imagine the police are just following random people around waiting for them to maybe decide to visit a sex worker?
Are there special psychic police that just know when someone might want to pay for sex?
New advanced technology like the Tom Cruise movie ‘Minority Report’ where police can anticipate what you are going to do in the future before you get there?

Surprisingly no.

Under the Swedish Model police actually target sex workers – the police follow, harass and stake out sex workers while trying to arrest clients.
This is what the “criminalisation of clients” looks like in reality.
This pushes sex workers underground, creates barriers to sex workers accessing peer support networks and health services, limits options when choosing clients and negotiating boundaries, increases risk, and makes it almost impossible to go to police if a sex worker is subjected to violence.

Also, so much of the rhetoric put out by anti sex work groups is centred around stigmatising sex workers and encouraging discrimination against my community.
I would like to point out that I am now going to read a quote, made in relation to the attack on Amnesty International’s support of the decriminalisation of sex work, but please clearly understand that these are the words of an anti sex work group (so I apologise for having to read them, and to those that may find them triggering and offensive):

“Shouldn’t Amnesty be focusing more on ensuring women have a real choice – that they have real agency – by addressing the underlying poverty, discrimination and lack of education that lead women into prostitution..”[1]

That was a short quote.
Let me explain why sex workers often seem so angry when dealing with anti sex work groups:

ensuring women have a real choice”

Not all sex workers are women. Sex workers are people. This may mean women, INCLUDING trans women. This may mean men, INCLUDING trans men. But it also means people that identify across the gender spectrum. & I am not sorry that we do not fit into the box in which anti sex work groups seek to put us.

a real choice”

Thanks for deciding for me, that my choice is “not real”, when comparatively I guess everyone else’s is. Anti sex work groups often claim that any one that actually advocates for sex worker community can’t be representative OF sex worker community. I feel compelled to point out:
The individual sex workers and sex worker representatives that have been behind me throughout my speech on the PowerPoint display would like to illustrate that this is a deliberate attempt to mislead you and to silence our community.

ensuring … that they have real agency”

Agency is your ability to act independently and make your own free choices. The structure of society around us (class, religion, gender, all of these things) influence us. They influence ALL of us.
Anti sex work groups sometimes focus on the idea that sex workers don’t have “free choice”.
WAKE UP and smell the capitalism!
We ALL live and work in a world where we all have to LIVE and WORK.
Unless you are part of a select minority born into wealth and privilege, yes, you will have to work.
People across the world experience relative degrees of privilege (for example white privilege) and are also impacted by the social environment in which they live and work.
But no worker is ever helped by having less options.
Attempting to criminalise sex work – any part of our work – is attempting to limit our options and in doing so makes our work unsafe.
To constrain us from making decisions about where, when and how we work – and most fundamentally whether we should be able to work at all is offensive.
Whatever “choices” we have – we have the right to make them. To suggest that we do not is fundamentally offensive.

addressing the underlying poverty”

Poverty is a global, awful, complex issue – caused by rich countries, webs of influence, the IMF, bad government, charities that do not listen to the communities they serve (or even realise they serve those communities), a host of other factors, as well as social and personal indifference to other peoples suffering.
But poverty does not cause sex work – people living in poverty need to work and support themselves and their families – removing another option by which they can do so is not helping them. It is simply makes the lives of those engaging in sex work whilst living in poverty more dangerous.

“..lack of education..”

Okay, thanks for that – it’s nice to know what anti sex work groups think of us.

I’m not sure what level of education they consider appropriate for a particular workforce before intervention and saving is required, but maybe they could tell us? – perhaps a University degree?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures in 2007 indicate that 21% of people aged 25-64[2] in Australia had a Bachelor Degree or above, so by suggesting that “lack of education” (to some standard they have yet to define) is an issue, anti sex work groups may be insulting a larger proportion of the Australian workforce (76%) than they imagine.
& just how educated are Australian sex workers?

In a study conducted by the Queensland Government, also in 2007, 25% of sex workers surveyed had a university degree – so in Australia (or at least in Queensland) we’ve edged out in front slightly[3].

Sex workers are currently discriminated against in a multitude of ways on a daily basis across Australia.
I would like to give you a list of examples that I keep when I advocate for sex work community – but when I timed my speech including the list it put me three minutes over time.
After this event my speech will be posted online and includes the list of discrimination that sex workers face in Australia, that is NOT a complete list, but illustrative – I would encourage you to access this, as often the concept of discrimination is an intangible concept, invisible if you are not a part of our community.

This is a list of examples of the types of discrimination sex workers in Australia face, that had to be omitted from the speech at the W.A. Forum on Regulating Sex Work, Wednesday the 12th of August, due to the length of time it would have taken to include it into the event.
Please be aware this list is not extensive, also:
a) it is illustrative of the discrimination that sex workers in Australia face, used as examples when advocating for sex worker community (& sometimes when doing sex worker advocates only have short windows of time in which to advocate),
b) many sex workers experience intersecting marginalisation (for example: sex workers of colour and trans sex workers)
c) the last point is (in my opinion) the most important point

  • Sex workers experience stigma and discrimination through ‘outing’, being exposed as a sex worker, this can impact on workers but also on families, partner/s and friends
  • It can affect school age and/or older children if a parent or carer is who is a sex worker is ‘outed
  • Sex workers may experience interpersonal and/or interfamilial violence when ‘outed’
  • Being a sex worker may affect the outcome of child custody cases
  • Sex worker status may affect access to housing and accommodation
  • Sex worker status affects employment disputes & future employment opportunities
  • Being out or being ‘outed’ as a sex worker leads to discrimination regarding health insurance
  • The ‘Leaking’ and misuse of personal information on sex workers can lead to stalking, blackmail & extortion
  • There are less opportunities for sex workers to utilise remedies to address discrimination
  • Sex workers are discriminated against regarding goods and services (including banking and online commerce)
  • Sex workers have been barred entry to clubs or hotels
  • There is discrimination in education against sex workers (including the exclusion of sex workers from University Courses on ‘morals clauses’)
  • Sex workers are discriminated against regularly in medical settings (for example refusal and/or exclusion from treatment ‘on conscience’)
  • Sex workers have been discriminated against in membership of trade unions
  • Sex workers experience the implication of ‘criminality’ that is implied by registration under licensing regimes
  • Sex workers have less ability to access police/justice under criminalised and licensing systems.
  • There is reduced access to health/outreach services for sex workers under criminalisation/licensing systems for regulating sex work
  • Sex workers experience increased stigma and discrimination in media
  • Police attitudes to sex workers, including corruption and harassment from criminalisation, or entrenched stigma/discrimination from prior criminalisation – affect sex workers ability to access police and their treatment when sex workers do.
  • Sex workers are subject to stalking and harassment from anti sex work groups and their members, including outing to family and in social media
  • Lastly, sex workers are often NOT HEARD – OUR VOICES, SEX WORKERS VOICES are always the most critical voices in ANY discussion about OUR lives and OUR work.

If there is a discussion on sex work happening in Australia, in government, on policy, in media, on our LIVES – if sex workers are not INCLUDED, if our representative organisations are not there – then be aware a choice has been made to deliberately exclude us.

And if anti sex work groups attempt to remove sex workers from discussions about our lives and work, we are not required to sit down, shut up, behave politely and wait for them to stop trying to ‘rescue us’.

We’ve been ‘rescuing’ ourselves for years. We call it – sex worker activism.

Equality for sex workers is a future that sex workers are creating every day, through the action and voices of our community and our own sex worker organisations.  This future can be achieved more easily with allies by our sides, making space for sex worker voices to be heard and supporting our activism.  It is not aided by anti sex work groups that do not recognise our voices, rarely if ever talk to us, but frequently talk about us – who refer to us as objects: as “bodies”, say that we are “bought” and “sold”, who call us “product”.

I do not “sell my body”.  My body is still here.  I sell a service.

Suggestions from anti sex work groups and the ‘rescue industry’ that sex workers need others to speak on our behalf, that we are not the experts on our own lives and work – that is silencing our community, that IS exploitation of sex workers.

I cannot expect anti sex work groups to stop working against us.

– become a sex worker ALLY
– START speaking up in support of sex workers
– DO NOT BE QUIET when people use hate speech to define us, calling us epithets rather than calling us SEX WORKERS, objectifying us and demeaning us rather than calling our work, just that – SEX WORK
Nothing about us, should ever be without us.

[1] ‘Amnesty International – The Sex Trades New Best Friend’, Tasmanian Times,, Simone Watson, 13-Jul-15.

[2] Refer Australian Bureau of Statistics –

[3] In terms of education, about one-quarter of licensed brothel workers and sole operators reported that they had completed a bachelor degree. This compares favourably with the general community. According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics publication, Education and Work, May 2007, 21% of Australians aged between 15 and 64 years had attained a bachelor degree or above..”, Select Sex Industry Statistics, Prostitution Licensing Authority, Queensland Government.


Speech by Rebecca Davies

My name is Rebecca Davies, I am a Western Australian sex worker and a member of People for Sex Worker Rights in W.A., a peer sex worker group that aims to have our work decriminalized and remove the social stigma sex workers face. Our decision making committee is made up of current sex workers only.

In researching my opponent tonight, I have come to a simple conclusion, Peter Abetz is misguided in his attempts to “help” women. Sticking with his Christian background Peter believes that the government and more importantly men, have a role in regulating women’s bodies. This is evident to me with Peter’s long campaigning for more restrictive abortion laws, saying things such as:

“..the silly thing is if a child is injured in an accident, it can claim damages but if a mother says it’s inconvenient and has the baby killed, the law says that’s perfectly okay..”

in the West Australian, and his persistent attempts to undermine sex workers health and safety by campaigning for the Swedish (sometimes called Nordic) model at every opportunity.

I have been a sex worker for over ten years. I have worked within various legal frameworks in my time, and I have also seen the difference between laws, intentions, and how things are actually implemented on the ground. I have worked with other sex workers doing sex work, and I have also previously worked as a peer educator providing outreach services and health promotion to sex workers across W.A., in sex industry venues, private workplaces and on the street in street based sex work areas.

At this point I would like to give some background on Western Australia. Up until 2000 sex work here was illegal. Keeping a brothel, soliciting etc. way back when, even the police knew this would not work, and the W.A. police, understanding even then, that they could not eradicate the sex industry, implemented what was commonly known as “the containment policy”. This policy, which was not law, but rather police policy, started in Kalgoorlie, in the famous (or infamous) Hay Street area red light district. Under the policy police allowed certain premises to operate only in certain areas of town. The police had to know who was working where. The policy was eventually implemented across the state and certain venues were allowed to operate, workers had to be registered with vice. I began working after the law change, although some workers were not aware of the change, and police continued to collect information. Police have never given clear answers about where this information is kept, for what purpose it is kept and who has access to it.

Often groups advocating the Swedish Model do not seem to understand that just like full criminalization and licencing, it still positions police as the regulators of the industry. The police cannot be of full assistance to sex workers whilst they are continually cast in this regulatory role, which they are not given in any other industry. How can we seek assistance if we experience violence, if we are either subject to penalties ourselves, or under the Swedish model, where we would be lining ourselves up for police surveillance whilst simultaneously cutting off our own income? Somehow I don’t see myself reporting under those circumstances. I think it is also really important to point out research conducted by Elaine Dowd in 2003, titled “Sex workers rights, human rights the impact of Western Australian legislation on street based sex workers. Dowd cites research from SARC, the sexual assault resource center, which found of sex workers reporting sexual assaults in Perth, over 50% were perpetrated by police.

Also problematic is the reference within the Swedish Model to literally almost anyone as a pimp. Landlords can be charged with pimping if they don’t evict sex worker tenants. There was even a case of a sex workers adult child charged with pimping because his mother didn’t charge him rent. Another case that particularly resonated with me is that of Petite Jasmine. Because of her status as a sex worker her children were removed from her custody and given to her violent ex-partner. He subsequently stabbed her to death. I don’t understand how people can say this is a step towards equality, when a women can have her children removed and a violent man is deemed a more suitable parent because someone doesn’t agree with how she makes a living. As a sole parent and a sex worker this is one of my biggest fears, to have my child removed because you don’t like my job.

Often when discussing sex worker rights things can become really heated. For us, this is because it is our lives and livelihoods are on the line and at the end of the day, a simple truth remains, changing the law does not actually affect politicians, or even former sex workers, it affects those of us currently working in the industry today. I think the Swedish Model can be summed up by Ann Martin, Sweden’s trafficking unit head who said:

“..of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect that we want to achieve with the law..”

I am tired of not having full access to my human rights. People don’t seem to want to listen to sex workers, often statistics are thrown around by academic types such as “..95% of women in prostitution don’t want to be there..” and “..most start in the industry at 13..” amongst other hysterical claims. When you do a bit of digging you will find that they are in fact all referencing the same material, research conducted by Melissa Farley, an anti-sex work campaigner. Since people don’t pay much attention to sex workers discrediting Dr Farley, I find it much easier to quote one of those academic types that people take seriously, Justice Susan Himel, who was the presiding judge in Canada’s supreme court during Bedford v Canada, in which Canada’s anti-sex work laws were struck down. Justice Himel said of Dr Farley’s research:

“Although Dr. Farley has conducted a great deal of research on prostitution, her advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions. For example, Dr. Farley’s unqualified assertion in her affidavit that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence. Furthermore, in her affidavit, she failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post- traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely, that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.
Dr. Farley’s choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions. For example, comments such as “prostitution is to the community what incest is to the family” and “just as pedophiles justify sexual assault of children . . . . Men who use prostitutes develop elaborate cognitive schemes to justify purchase and use of women” make her opinions less persuasive.
Dr. Farley stated during cross-examination that some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including “that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her”.

On this basis Judge Himel eliminated Canada’s anti-sex work laws, deeming them unconstitutional.

And furthermore, in the words of Dr Melissa Farley’s own research assistant on her research in New Zealand where she attempts to discredit decriminalization, in 2003 Colleen Winn said the study:

“..was not ethical, and the impact has done harm to those women and men who took part in it. It is for that reason that I am writing to the psychologists’ board of registration in California to lay a formal complaint regarding Melissa. I also believe that Melissa has committed an act of intentional misrepresentation of fact”

I’m not here today to ask you to be pro sex work, and I’m also not asking for anything special, I just want my work to be decriminalized so I can be treated like everyone else. I want to be able concentrate on my safety at work rather than police evasion tactics. My colleagues and I don’t want to be rescued, we just want to live and work in peace.


You can read the live tweeting of the event at: #SexWorkWA

For more information on joining Western Australian sex workers in campaigning for the full decriminalisation of sex work:
Visit the website of People for Sex Worker Rights W.A.
Or join People for Sex Worker Rights W.A. on twitter at – @sexworkrightswa

For more information on joining sex workers nationally in Australia campaigning for their human rights and labour rights:
Visit the website of Scarlet Alliance (Australian Sex Workers Association)
Or join Scarlet Alliance on twitter at – @scarletalliance


Mastercard and Visa Discrimination

Western Australian sex workers have condemned the sudden and unexpected decision of MasterCard and Visa to cut payment facilities to two of the largest sex work advertising sites in Australia, Backpage and Cracker, pointing out that it is not only discriminatory but will have catastrophic impacts in the short term for the livelihoods of Western Australian workers left stranded.

“Both sex work itself and the advertising of sexual services are legal in Western Australia, and yet MasterCard and Visa made a decision that places at risk the livelihoods of Western Australian workers who rely on their services to pay for advertising,” Sarah from peer sex worker group People For Sex Worker Rights in Western Australia said today.

“This decision effectively blocks workers from paying for their advertising on the sites that hold a near-monopoly on the low-to-mid-end rage of the market, leaving them completely stranded. We are concerned that workers may lose homes and go hungry before alternative, affordable replacements for those sites emerge.”

“The decision of MasterCard and Visa appears to be an overreaction to a grandstanding local politician in Chicago in the United States, and yet workers in Western Australia, working in a completely different legal and social environment, face going to the wall and potentially losing everything as a result.”

“MasterCard Australia and Visa Australia should distance themselves from the actions of their US parent company and resume services to Australian sex workers as a matter of urgency before it further marginalises already marginalised workers.”


This is the text of a keynote speech made by a People For Sex Worker Rights member at the NOWSA 2014 conference, Australia’s peak student feminist conference, in July 2014.

My name is [name redacted]. I am a university student and a feminist activist going back a decade or so – and I am a current sex worker.

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to stand here and speak today and address NOWSA as our peak student feminist conference. This is important because non-sex worker feminists have enormous potential to be allies to sex workers in our struggles, to help us get heard rather than to talk over us, and to help us campaign for legislation that protects our rights and keeps us safe at work. I stand here in front of many people I consider allies in that fight, and many more I don’t know but hope will support us along the way. We are an incredibly stigmatized group of (mostly) women, and without help, our voices can sometimes be drowned out by those who would speak for us despite never having done a trick in their lives. And one unfortunate reality sex workers face is that many of those who crusade the hardest for laws that make our work more dangerous, and fight hard to silence our voices in the name of “saving” us also label themselves “feminist”.

I am not the first sex worker to speak at NOWSA conferences over the years, but historically most of those who have gone before me have received receptions ranging from divided to – going back a few more years – hostile to the point of brutality. When I told a prominent member of the community here a few days ago that I was speaking at NOWSA, she told me something to the effect of “you know you’re going to cop it, right?” But I told her that I thought that she was wrong.

I have seen a major shift in our community over the last few years, and I’ve seen a lot more willingness in student and young women’s feminist communities to listen to and stand with their sex worker peers, rather than trying to drown out our voices in the name of ideology. I stand here and I see a new dawn in our communities where feminists do not see the human rights of sex workers as up for debate. All of this said, if you are going to be allies to sex workers, you need information. The complexities of how the law affects sex workers is a difficult topic to understand if you’ve never done sex work, and many people just don’t have many opportunities to learn the things we most need them to understand to support us: what the various legal approaches to sex work are, how they impact upon sex workers, and what approach sex workers prefer. I want to take the time and the platform I’ve been given today to take you through all of these models, and hope that when I’m done you’ll have a better idea of how the law can impact upon sex workers’ lives and safety, and of what you can do to help us.


I want to start off by talking about the worst approach to sex work around: criminalisation or prohibition. This is the case across the entire sex industry in a number of countries (most notably the United States) and in South Australia, but which is also applied to street sex workers in most Australian states.

It is impossible to overstate how bad criminalisation is for sex workers forced to work under that system. Criminalisation forces sex workers to live in constant fear of arrest for simply going about their work. Sex workers’ safety is forced to take a back seat to the need to not be arrested, which can limit workers’ ability to screen their clients and encourage them to work alone, rather than with other workers, lest they attract police attention. Under criminalisation, predators know full well that sex workers cannot go to the police without confessing to a criminal act themselves, and that as such they can almost feel safe in preying on sex workers without consequence.

In many places, condoms can be used as evidence of prostitution, thus encouraging sex workers to have unsafe sex to limit the risk of arrest. There have been many cases in criminalised jurisdictions of police demanding sex from sex workers under threat of arrest, and in some it is even legal for police to procure a service from a sex worker, go through with the service, and then arrest her – to, in effect, legally rape a sex worker. In one recent example, Hawaiian police complained bitterly when their right to do this was removed in March this year. If, at any point, a sex worker is arrested and convicted, they’re tarred with criminal records, severely inhibiting their chances of gaining work outside the sex industry. This has devastating consequences for those workers’ lives. Criminalisation is an unbelievably brutal way of treating sex workers, yet it remains alarmingly common in too many places.

I mentioned before that there were two areas where criminalisation is still a big issue in Australia: in regard to street work, and in South Australia, and I’d like to quickly talk about both of those. The rights of street sex workers are often the first to get left behind when it comes to legal protections against sex work. Residents whingeing about having sex workers in their neighbourhood – sex workers that, in most cases, were there before the residents were – have far more political power than some of the most vulnerable workers in the industry, and it shows – and Perth is a key example. In our red light district in Highgate, police and the local City of Vincent council have spent the last few years cracking down on street sex workers with increasing brutality, forcing workers to become more and more geographically scattered every year, removing their abilities to work together with other workers, and have fewer opportunities to check clients before getting into cars – all at serious cost to their own safety. On occasion, the police and council have even gotten it wrong and targeted local residents: profiling and harassing women that they’ve mistaken for sex workers for being dressed too scantily.

And yet, when it comes to street sex workers, no one seems to give a damn. The then local mayor responsible for initiating this crackdown, now federal Labor MP and long-time darling of the WA Labor Party Alannah MacTiernan, proudly touted this crackdown as one of her major achievements in local office. That the rights of an incredibly vulnerable group of women had been systematically violated over a period of years didn’t rate a mention and still don’t. The same goes on in most cities in Australia, and apart from sex worker organisations, they’re a group of people whose rights few seem to give a damn no matter where on the political spectrum people stand. There is not and can never be any moral basis for arresting street sex workers because of residents buying into and then trying to gentrify a traditional area – and, as politically controversial as that may be in some quarters, criminalisation of street workers needs to end.

South Australia has been the bad egg jurisdiction in Australia for a while now, continuing to criminaliseworkers long after all the other states and territories had ditched this approach. I’ve already mentioned the sorts of things that this has meant for South Australian workers. And yet, the future there looks considerably different, as another senior Labor MP, Steph Key, has campaigned for the full decriminalisation of the industry, and is currently on her third attempt to push an amazing, far-reaching bill through parliament that would take South Australia overnight from having the worst laws on sex work to the best: fully decriminalising the industry, protecting workers from discrimination, and revoking decades worth of prostitution convictions. That fight is far from won, but it shows real promise of finally achieving a change that will benefit the lives of every worker in that state.

This is a great example of how views on sex work frequently don’t cut down regular political lines. There is no more inhumane legal approach to sex work than criminalisation, and yet these two well known, “feminist” Labor MPs took such drastically different paths on the issue. Steph Key holds a knife-edge marginal seat that she held against the odds at the election this year, and yet had the courage to take on this fight, at considerable political risk, because it was the right thing to do; Alannah MacTiernan had a safe seat as mayor and a relatively safe path back into higher office, and chose to initiate a brutal crackdown on vulnerable women because it was politically popular.

Ultimately, criminalization of the sex industry, including street work, is the worst of all worlds, and is a means of approaching this issue that needs to be expunged from this earth.


Quasi-Criminalisation (The Swedish Model)

I now want to move on to quasi-criminalisation, or what its proponents like to call “the Swedish model”. The Swedish model claims to be a “harmless” means of attempting to eradicate the sex industry, technically leaving sex work itself legal for the worker, but criminalising clients. The slogan abolitionists like to use for this approach is “end demand”. This is an easier model for abolitionists to sell than outright criminalisation, but it nonetheless has devastating consequences for sex workers. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a journalist who was particularly ignorant about sex work, and I started explaining the Swedish model to her. Her response summed it up better than I possibly could: she looked at me, confused, and said “but isn’t that effectively starving you?” It should be obvious that if there are less clients, sex workers are going to be more desperate, having to work for less, take more risks, or do things they might not want to do, because that’s what you’re going to do if your rent isn’t going to get paid or your kids aren’t going to get fed because there’s suddenly not enough clients that week.

Moreover, if there is a drop i n clients, it wouldn’t be the few clients who would treat sex workers’ badly who would stop seeing sex workers, but the many decent clients. Now, there is no evidence that the Swedish model has actually succeeded in reducing clients, but these are the should-be-obvious flaws that would hit home even if the laws worked as claimed on the box. The Swedish model interferes with the lives of sex workers in so many damaging ways that there are almost too many to list. It makes it illegal to work indoors, for sex workers to work with other workers, or to advertise. Negotiation with clients becomes more challenging, because workers have to accommodate clients’ fear of arrest instead of their own safety. It is illegal to be a driver or security guard for a sex worker. It actually compels landlords to evict sex workers lest they, too, face charges.

The laws even place family members who are supported by a sex worker at risk of arrest, something which is not hypothetical: in one well-known case, the son of a sex worker was charged because he was not paying rent to his mother. The working conditions of street workers have dropped particularly badly, as while rates of clients have not dropped over all, the visibility of street work has meant that street business has dropped, resulting in increased pressure for sex without condoms, lower prices, and less ability to refuse unpleasant or dangerous clients. Furthermore, trafficking has become extremely difficult to identify in Sweden, because the state refuses to distinguish it from sex work.

It should be becoming apparent by now that any claim that these laws are helping sex workers would be laughable if it wasn’t so abhorrent. But on 9 July 2013, the failure of this law was brought home in the most horrible way, when Petite Jasmine, one of the most prominent sex worker rights in Sweden and a board member of their peer organization the Rose Alliance, was murdered. Jasmine had been in a relationship where she was subject to domestic violence, but upon Social Services discovering that she was a sex worker, they seized her kids, placed them with their abusive father, and told her she was “lacking insight into the damage her sex work caused.” She fought through three trials, won shared custody (though the judge declared that it was a problem that she failed to realize her work was “a form of self harm”, lost it again, and was appealing to the High Court at the time of her death. Social Services eventually agreed to her seeing her children under supervision at an agreed place; at the first such meeting with her son, her partner took the opportunity to stab her to death. Despite Jasmine’s complaints of domestic violence, and the fact that her partner had put one caseworker in a chokehold and spat at another, the state denied protection to her and kept her kids with her abusive husband merely because she was an unashamed sex worker. This is the reality of the Swedish model in practice.

This is a system so obsessed with the fantasy that they might eradicate the world’s oldest profession that women like Jasmine become just collateral damage. Ten days after her death, sex workers in 36 cities across the globe, from Stockholm to as far away as Seoul and Sydney, came out in force and in outrage against Jasmine’s murder and the Swedish model’s complicity in it. The silence from abolitionists was glaring. Yet, in spite of all of this, the abolitionist movement continues to ignore the angry voices of sex workers, and to forcefully push for the introduction of the Swedish model around the world. Only last week, a group of “feminists” attempted to force Amnesty International Australia to back away from Amnesty International’s support for the decriminalization of sex work. Some screamed abuse at the sex workers present, tried to violently shout them down, and tried to prevent them from even speaking at all when they attempted to voice how the Swedish model would impact their lives. The workers I know who attended that day are a tough bunch of women, but most of them were traumatized as hell after a day trying to have their voices heard in front of these women who claimed to be feminists. The abolitionists thankfully failed on that occasion, with a motion in support of the Swedish model voted down at Amnesty’s AGM, but it bears repeating once more: this kind of behaviour is not “saving” women.

It needs to be mentioned at this point that it radical feminists are not working alone in advocating for the Swedish model; rather, sex workers find ourselves fighting a constant battle again an unholy alliance of radical feminists and religious conservatives who find common ground in trying to silence and “save” sex workers. This is a fight that is raging hard around the world. In February, sex workers took a major blow when a report advocating the Swedish model, pushed by UK Labour MEP Mary Honeyball, was backed by a majority of the EU Parliament – 343 MPs, and thus sending a devastating message to other countries who might be so inclined. In better news, only last week, sex workers won an unexpected victory in France when their Senate voted down an attempt at introducing the Swedish model there.

That bill, which had passed the lower house and was widely tipped to become law over the shouts of  French sex workers, unexpectedly went down when the French Senate decided to actually listen to those who would be affected, saving French sex workers an incredible amount of grief. The outcome of this battle is very much still in the balance, and we need the help of non-workers more than ever. The Swedish model is merely dressed-up criminalization, and a human rights abuse in action. Calling for the introduction of the Swedish model is not, and should never be seen as a feminist act, and women who would claim a “feminist” label for it deserve to be fiercely shamed.


Once people grasp the consequences that criminalization – whether of clients or in full – has for sex workers, many people assume that legalization and regulation is an ideal way forward. This is understandable – and I thought so too for a while before I was a worker – but it would be wrong, because in practice, that regulation often plays out very badly for workers. And the best way I can illustrate this is to take a virtual trip around three of the legalized states of Australia.

One state in which I work from time to time is Victoria. There, to legally work outside of a brothel, I had to formally register as a sex worker, so that my name and sex worker status is now on a government database somewhere. The experience of walking into a staid government building in the Melbourne CBD to register as a whore was quite surreal, but also served no legitimate purpose whatsoever. If I want to advertise, I can’t show my body in my photos below my shoulders, and if I don’t show my face to preserve my privacy I have to take a ridiculous photo with my hair over my face or I’m breaking the law. No one knows the reason for that one. Worst of all, it is illegal in Victoria to do incalls – where the client comes to you – no matter where they take place (except in a brothel). If you are a private worker and you want to work legally, you are forced to only do outcalls (where you go to the client).

Many workers – myself included – like to work on our own turf because we feel safer, and hate doing outcalls; in Victoria, we have a choice of doing outcalls anyway, doing incalls illegally, or having to work in a brothel. If a worker is doing illegal incalls, some of the same problems I spoke to before around criminalization re-emerge: I know a worker who was assaulted in Melbourne by a client who knew full well that since she was doing incalls illegally she wouldn’t be able to report him. The Victorian system might be legalization, but it’s a terrible system nonetheless.

Then we get to Queensland. In Queensland, being a sex worker and having oral sex without a condom is illegal, and the Queensland Police regularly try to entrap workers for doing that. Whether a worker has decided that that is something they’re okay with doing with their body, is desperate that particular week, or felt coerced in the situation, they’re all liable to being entrapped into a criminal record. It is also illegal in Queensland to have two workers working from the same premises outside of a brothel, forcing workers to work alone and threatening workers who work together with arrest. Queensland even bans workers from describing – in almost any terms – what they do and don’t do in their services in their advertising. And then we get to the Northern Territory, where brothels are illegal – which makes life much more difficult for workers who like to work in a neutral space with people in earshot, and where they don’t have to find their own clients.

As these situations show, legalization and regulation starts to look a lot messier in practice than it is in theory. There are two other features that frequently pop up in legalization regimes that I also want to address, because they don’t do sex workers any favours. A number of states have brothel licensing systems, where stringent licensing conditions and expensive fees control who is able to run a brothel. This has the effect of creating a two-tiered industry, where the biggest and most profitable brothels can operate legally and with the law on their side, while smaller brothels, which includes most worker-run parlours, become unable to comply and are forced underground. This limits the options for workers to choose from, severely limits the ability for worker- run parlours to operate, and benefits the biggest brothels by inhibiting their competition. The main consequence of brothel licensing that the state winds up unwittingly helping the biggest brothels wipe out their competition, and that is no social service.

The second is mandatory testing of sex workers, which is the case in Victoria and Queensland. Thanks in part to a strong network of peer education services in each state and territory of Australia, sex workers are usually well educated about STIs and have lower rates than the general population. Mandatory testing stigmatizes workers, as it is based on assumptions rather than data, and ultimately wastes both sex worker and medical service time with unnecessary tests. This carries an added problem in Queensland, where Campbell Newman’s cuts to sexual health have made finding affordable and sex  worker-friendly sexual health testing a challenge for some workers.


So, I’ve just talked for a long time about what doesn’t work in terms of laws about sex work. There is one model of regulation which is consistently supported by sex workers and sex worker organizations in Australia and around the world: decriminalization. It currently exists in New South Wales and in New Zealand, but the rest of Australia lags behind. What would this mean? Decriminalisation means that criminal laws relating to sex work are removed, and sex work is regulated just like any other business. Brothels are subject to local planning laws, just like any other business. It removes any special regulatory role for police in the sex industry, removing opportunities for police corruption and enhancing sex workers’ access to justice. It gives sex workers the same legal protections as other workers, and better access to health and government services. It stands against social stigma, and it eliminates the institutional stigma that exists in some of the examples I’ve already mentioned.

In short, decriminalization treats sex workers like workers in any other role. Violence against us is just as illegal, while we have better access to workplace rights, and don’t have to worry about crashing into the criminal law in the sorts of weird and not-so-wonderful cases I’ve talked about above. It allows us to make the right decisions for us, and allows us to prioritise working in the way that we feel is safest and most comfortable for us instead of having to work around whatever other law is in place in thatstate. I’ve worked under three different legal regimes: decriminalization in New South Wales, botched legalization in Victoria, and the Western Australian system, which can perhaps best be described as “it’s complicated” , and I can speak from personal experience that New South Wales was by far the place I felt safest and most comfortable working.


You might notice that I haven’t once mentioned workers’ subjective experience of sex work – or, indeed my subjective experience of sex work, and that I don’t buy into arguments about whether sex work is “empowering” or not – or anything remotely like it.

I say this because it’s not the point. We talk about labor rights in sex work because if you’re a current worker, the consequences of all of the above is going to hit you just as hard regardless of whether you’re enjoying the industry or not. Decriminalisation creates the safest legal regime possible while you’re working, and creates the least stigmatized environment if you want out with the least barriers to doing so, where laws that brutalise current workers brutalise women who want out just as much as the ones who want in.

I say this because sex workers need the help of non-sex working feminists if we’re to move forward. We need to stop any attempt to push for the Swedish model in Australia stone dead, we need to tear down the criminalization of sex workers in South Australia and the criminalization of street workers nationally, and we need to abolish the ridiculous regulations that rule the industry in Queensland and Victoria. These are fights that we need allies to win.

And we need things to change in feminist discourse. The voices of sex workers must be firmly front and centre in any discussion of sex work. The idea that well-paid tenured academics or NGOs can speak with authority on sex work better than sex workers themselves needs to be seen as laughable-if-it-weren’t- so-serious. I look around this room, and I see how much things have changed in even this forum from five or ten years ago, and that gives me hope. We need you to stand with us as we fight to have our voices heard, and fight for decriminalization nationally, because it is and will always be the only system that actually works for us. I really hope you all will.

PFSWRWA at the International Day of Protest Against Violence Against Sex Workers

This is the text of a speech made by a People For Sex Worker Rights member at the Perth section of the snap International Day of Protest Against Violence Against Sex Workers, the local event of which we also organised, in July 2013.

Sex workers and allies in Australia to stand together and protest the recent murders of Jasmine and Dora and the violent attack against Ela and against all sex workers worldwide.

We are here to demand an end to violence against sex workers!

I am a mother. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a sex worker. I’ve been touched by what has happened to Jasmine. It is one of my worst fears.

Jasmine was a mother of three. The Swedish model took away Jasmine’s children because she was a sex worker and gave custody of her children to her violent ex-husband who finally murdered her. Social workers and the Swedish state refused to listen to Jasmine. The Swedish model says that sex work is self-harm. The Swedish model is criminalization. Laws like these do not “help” sex workers, they are detrimental to our health safety and wellbeing. Laws that criminalise our clients and almost anyone associated with us and treat us like we need to be rescued. These are the kinds of laws that Liberal MP Nick Goiran wants to bring to WA – and we say NO! We know about Jasmine’s case because she was a fierce sex workers rights activist. Yet in WA we have parents having children removed because of sex work, violent attacks on street based sex workers because of stigma and criminalization and it must end!

It must end, but how? It ends by recognizing sex work as work, by seeing us as the diverse people that we are – we are human beings doing a job. It ends with the notion that if you choose to sell sex you’re less than human. It ends by police taking crimes against sex workers seriously. It ends by recognizing our human rights by decriminalizing our industry and giving us the same access to healthcare, social wellbeing and justice that every other person has access to.

We have recently had sex workers lack of access to justice highlighted in the Australian media with the case of Jill Meagher. Her rapist and murderer, Adrian Bayley had previously raped 5 sex workers. As Jill Meagher’s husband put it “I’m aware that his previous victims in the previous case before Jill were sex workers and I’ll never be convinced that that had nothing to do with the leniency of his sentence, which as I said, send as very disturbing message. ‘Cause if we say – what it says to women is, you know, “Be careful what you do, ’cause if we don’t like what you do, you won’t get justice.” And then what it says to people like Bayley is not, “Don’t rape”, but, “Be careful who you rape.”” And sadly he is right. The message sent out by all of these cases is that sex workers are in some way less than other people and we must stand up and tell the world that this is not acceptable. Sex workers are human beings just like everyone else and therefore deserve justice, human rights and respect.

The irony of being a sex worker for me is that you get treated like a victim a lot – unless you actually are a victim of violent crime, then the criminal justice system and child protection treat you like a criminal.

PFSWRWA at Slutwalk Perth 2013

This is the text of a speech made by a People For Sex Worker Rights member at the Slutwalk Perth event in November 2013.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Slutwalk for having us here today. It’s not very often that we get the chance to have not, but two sex workers speaking at an event, and it is really kind of the Slutwalk organisers to give us this opportunity. I’d also appreciate if you could bear with me, because I’ve never spoken in public about being a sex worker before I’m nervous as hell.

I could stand here today to talk about how victim-blaming and slut-shaming affect us as sex workers, and trust me,  I could go on for a long time. But, with two of us here, I’d like to take the chance today to talk about you can actually help us make our work as sex workers in Western Australia safer. Today, we as People For Sex Worker Rights in WA are launching our petition to bring in decriminalisation of sex work in this state, and we can certainly use your help.

So what is decriminalisation? Decriminalisation, as defined by Scarlet Alliance, refers to the removal of all criminals laws relating to sex work and the operation of the sex industry, and allowing occupational health and safety and other workplace issues to be addressed through existing industrial laws and regulations that apply to any legal workforce.

This would remove the joint and incompatible role of the police as both the regulators of our industry and the people we’re supposed to have recourse to if violence occurs against us – something which, it shouldn’t be too surprising to say, makes many of us considerably warier towards the police than we might be otherwise. Decriminalisation would allow us to work on our own terms in the conditions we feel safest in, without having to worry about falling foul of laws or regulations which make us less safe in our workplaces.

In campaigning for decriminalisation, we’re also signalling that we’re tired of having to be on the back foot against attempts to make our work even more dangerous. We successfully fought off an attempt at changing sex work laws in 2011 that would have made WA arguably the most dangerous state in Australia to be a sex worker. We know there are numerous MPs in state parliament who want to introduce the so-called “Swedish model”, a model which would criminalise our clients. The Swedish model would force us to take greater risks to protect our clients from arrest, and it openly attempts to decrease the number of sex industry clients – which would force us to be less selective about our clients and put us all at greater risk. This is why we will stand and fight any attempt at regulating our industry that puts us in greater danger, and why will not accept anything short of full decriminalisation of the industry.

Which brings us to what you can do to help us. We’re only just getting started, and we have a long campaign ahead that we can’t do on our own. We’ve got our brand new petition going around today, which we’d love you to sign. We’ve got our Facebook page, which you can like and keep up to date with news on our campaign. Down the line, we’ll be holding rallies and letter righting pushes to MPs, and we’d love it if you could support us.

It’s one thing to talk about victim-blaming and slut-shaming in the context of the sex industry, but when we still have laws on the books that place workers in greater danger, and members of our current parliament pushing for laws that would make things so much worse, we need to be confronting our government on the institutional issues. We will not stop fighting until we win decriminalisation in this state, and with your support we will get there.

PFSWRWA Speaks Out

As a sex worker activist group, People For Sex Worker Rights are determined to ensure that sex worker voices are heard on issues that affect us. To that extent, we’ve either addressed or organised a range of events since our inception, and we’ve catalogued transcripts or video of a few of those speeches below.

If you’d like to hear People For Sex Worker Rights speak at your event or to your organisation, we’d be very interested to hear from you at

We also organised two rallies off our own bat in 2013, a rally for decriminalisation and against any return of the 2011 Prostitution Bill in May that year, and a Perth section of the snap International Day of Protest Against Violence Against Sex Workers following the murders of Turkish sex worker Dora Ozer and Swedish sex worker Petite Jasmine in July 2013.

We will be adding more to this list soon, once we dig through our records!

People For Sex Worker Rights In WA In The Media

People For Sex Worker Rights In WA In The Media

“Sex workers have their say” – Weekend Courier (Rockingham), 19/09/2014

“Spotlight on sex for sale” – Comment News (Armadale and Gosnells), 15/07/2014

“Sex workers want decriminalisation” – Medical Forum WA, 01/04/2014

“Victim narrative a fiction says sex worker lobby” – Geraldton Guardian, 02/03/2014

“Debate continues over sex work legislation continues in Western Australia” – ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt, 28/02/2014

“Anonymity a drawcard for Pilbara sex workers” – North West Telegraph, 08/02/2014

“Sex industry myths refuted” – Comment News (Armadale and Gosnells), 18/06/2013

“Sex workers ‘safe sex experts'” – Southern Gazette, 18/06/2013

“Oldest trade wants new laws” – Western Independent, 05/2013

“Sex workers target WA parliament” – WA Today, 17/05/2013

“WA sex work bill no solution” – Green Left Weekly, 11/05/2013