November 10, 2015
Brisbane Times by Caroline Norma
Even modest changes to sex industry regulation in NSW are opposed by the industry’s advocates.
NSW has been the jurisdictional darling of the pro-prostitution lobby for years.
In international forums and publications, it has proclaimed NSW a stellar model of sex industry governance. The libertarian Open Society Foundations (backed by George Soros) regularly cites the state in favourable support of its long-running campaign to promote sex industry decriminalisation worldwide. And well it might.
In 1995, NSW deregulated its sex industry to an extent unprecedented in global policy-making at the time. After 20 years of no-holds-barred prostitution in the state, its sex industry is in unspeakably rude health. And, as the industry hit pay dirt in NSW, a throng of researchers, advocates and activists came to feed off government funding for “harm minimisation”, “peer education”, condom spruiking and other projects. This throng of people now form a big roadblock to state government efforts to clean up the sex industry in NSW.
The community and individual damage wrought by prostitution in Sydney is now apparent to everyone, even foreign governments (South Korea sent an emissary to the state in 2010, to investigate the trafficking of its female citizens). NSW Police this year publicly admitted outlaw motorcycle gangs had links with at least 40 brothels in the state; a sex worker was set alight a few years ago; groups of women have been found debt-bonded to brothels; and individual women have been found dead in hotels.
The victims are often foreign. In 2012, researchers identified more than 50 per cent of their research sample in approved brothels in metropolitan Sydney as being of Asian or other non-English speaking country background, and nearly 45 per cent of these respondents as speaking only “poor” or “fair” English.
Even the state government now realises there’s a problem. Earlier this year it set up a parliamentary committee to inquire into existing laws on prostitution, and the committee will shortly announce recommendations to strengthen police powers in relation to illegal brothels, and a greater monitoring function for state government (local government is currently burdened with sex industry oversight).
But these modest measures are already being slammed by advocacy groups who resist even the smallest of proposals for strengthened sex industry regulation.
Advocates are up in arms about the committee’s modestly recommended reforms, and are standing firm in their zero-tolerance approach to prostitution regulation, even with mounting evidence of corruption, violence and drugs in the NSW sex industry. This absolutism was foreshadowed in the appearances advocates made before the parliamentary committee back in September. They denied any problems in the NSW sex industry, even sex trafficking. One advocate said they had “been working in the industry for more than 20 years here and in New Zealand, and through all those experiences I have never personally met a person who has been trafficked”.
Sex industry policy-making in NSW has been held hostage for 20 years by advocates like this who whitewash prostitution and deny the harms of the sex trade for women and children. They are frightened that any change to the longstanding “harm minimisation” policy approach to prostitution will mean their funding is diverted to other organisations more proactively assisting women to leave the industry and stay out.
Without the ideological edifice of prostitution as “work” and “a job like any other”, these organisations know they will find themselves flat-footed – they barely acknowledge the crime of trafficking, let alone support exit programs for women to leave the sex industry.
For now, though, advocates needn’t worry – NSW is still a very long way away from doing anything substantial to wind down the state’s sex industry and transition its large sexually exploited population into housing and employment that is more befitting of free people living in Australia. The advocates will still have their jobs for many years to come, even if these jobs come at the expense of women’s lives and wellbeing.
Dr Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University.