The Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2018 was introduced in the South Australian parliament last Wednesday. The effect of the legislative change will mean that sex work would be fully decriminalised in the state; it would allow for the protection of workers, most of whom are women, in the sex industry.
Presidents of both the Law Society of SA and Women Lawyers’ Association of SA (WLASA) said the amendment was a positive change.
The two groups were previously involved in extensive consultation about decriminalisation of sex work. An earlier bill to decriminalise the SA sex industry passed through the Legislative Council in the last parliament, however, it later lapsed.
“After several attempts to decriminalise sex work, it’s high time that existing antiquated laws are overhauled and sex workers are afforded the same rights and protections as any other employee,” Law Society president Tim Mellor said.
“The illegitimacy of sex work serves as a barrier for sex workers to report abuse and other mistreatment,” he said.
“Often workers are too scared to report abuse because their industry is shrouded in criminality.”
WLASA president Leah Marrone said her organisation endorsed the right for women to have full bodily autonomy. She also noted that total decriminalisation of sex work was crucial for the health and safety of workers and that no other model would achieve the fair outcome for sex workers.
“The evidence is clear that decriminalisation increases health and safety conditions for sex workers,” Ms Marrone said.
“We think it is vital that these workers are granted the same rights and protections as other workers in the state.”
The existing laws in SA endangered the safety and wellbeing of sex workers, Mr Mellor suggested, because a perception of illegitimacy led to fewer sex workers reporting abuse and other mistreatment.
Changing this perception would also mean that sex workers would feel more comfortable being forthcoming with reports of activity such as trafficking or sexual servitude.
“Often workers are too scared to report abuse because their industry is shrouded in criminality,” Mr Mellor said.
“We would expect that by decriminalising the industry and granting workers basic protections, workers would be more likely to assist authorities with their investigations.”
Ms Marrone noted that the WLASA had supported, campaigned, and advocated for the full decriminalisation of sex work including providing extensive evidence in relation to a parliamentary committee investigation of the previous bill.
“WLASA hopes that this bill will pass through both houses without delay and offer to speak to any member of parliament with any concerns about the bill or the evidence for it,” Ms Marrone said.