Evidence | Respect QLD


Peer reviewed article

The Case for Decriminalisation in Queensland – QUT Crime and Justice briefing paper, a publication of the Crime, Justice and Social Democracy Research Centre

“For the decades preceding the Fitzgerald Inquiry, sex work in Queensland was known as “the joke” – defined as illegal within the law, yet ubiquitous thanks to police corruption. In the 30 years since, Queensland has not yet managed to break out of this duplicitous mould. The laws and practise of sex work remain deeply at odds, causing problems for safety through costly and harmful policing. In this briefing paper, sex workers Elena Jeffreys and Janelle Fawkes, with academic Erin O’Brien explain the landscape, the evidence, and point towards the benefits of a decriminalised approach to sex work laws in Queensland.” Professor Melissa Bull, Director, Crime, Justice and Social Democracy Research Centre.


Watch our 50 min webinar as sex workers explain the impact of the Queensland laws that criminalise sex worker safety strategies. https://youtu.be/kO1Xjk4RC0k

External Reports

There are countless research reports, inquiry reports, and reviews that identify the failure of licensing frameworks (the regulatory model in Queensland) and many that identify the valuable outcomes of decriminalisation as an effective regulatory model. We’ve compiled a sample here:

Report Conclusion – Licensing

“The public health evidence clearly shows the harms associated with all forms of sex work criminalisation, including regulatory systems, which effectively leave the most marginalised, and typically the majority of, sex workers outside of the law. These legislative models deprioritise sex workers’ safety, health, and rights and hinder access to due process of law. The evidence available suggests that decriminalisation can improve relationships between sex workers and the police, increasing ability to report incidences of violence and facilitate access to services [36,95,96]. Considering these findings within a human rights framework, they highlight the urgency of reforming policies and laws shown to increase health harms and act as barriers to the realisation of health, removing laws and enforcement against sex workers and clients, and building in health and safety protections [134]. It is clear that while legislative change is key, it is not enough on its own. Law reform needs to be accompanied by policies and political commitment to reducing structural inequalities, stigma, and exclusion—including introducing anti-discrimination and hate crime laws that protect sex workers and sexual, gender, racial, and ethnic minorities.”

The Lancet series on HIV and sex workers

“Launched at AIDS 2014, the series examined the enablers and barriers to preventing and treating HIV infection in high, middle and low income countries with varying rates of HIV among sex workers.

The findings were consistent across all settings. Researchers found that the ‘decriminalisation of sex work would have the greatest effect on the course of HIV epidemics across all settings, averting 33–46% of HIV infections in the next decade’.2

The evidence clearly suggests that in order for biomedical prevention approaches to be successful, removal of structural barriers – including law reform and addressing stigma – remain critical.

Without the support of enabling environments, through the full decriminalisation of sex work, barriers will remain far too substantial for biomedical prevention alone to succeed.

The Lancet makes the important distinction between decriminalisation of sex work and what is often referred to as the legalisation (or licensing) of sex work.3

Figure 1: Excerpt from an infographic drawn from The Lancet series on HIV and sex workers.4

Decriminalisation of sex work applies to laws that criminalise consensual sex and related activities, including laws criminalising sex work; buying, soliciting, or procuring; brothel-keeping and management of sex work; and vagrancy, loitering, and public nuisance that are also used to target sex workers or clients.

In some countries it also applies to laws that criminalise same-sex consensual sex and laws that criminalise what is termed as ‘the impersonation of another sex’.5

The objective of legalisation is containment and control (and often surveillance) of sex work/ers, whereas the objective of decriminalisation is to uphold human rights and the occupational health and safety of sex workers.

Under decriminalisation criminal laws still apply to sex work, as they would to any other person or business. However, decriminalisation means that sex work is no longer seen as a crime but as work, and therefore, is subject to industrial regulatory mechanisms.”

Kirby Institute Report to the NSW Health Ministry

Recommendation 2: “Licensing of sex work (‘legalisation’) should not be regarded as a viable legislative response.

For over a century systems that require licensing of sex workers or brothels have consistently failed – most jurisdictions that once had licensing systems have abandoned them. As most sex workers remain unlicensed criminal codes remain in force, leaving the potential for police corruption. Licensing systems are expensive and difficult to administer, and they always generate an unlicensed underclass. That underclass is wary of and avoids surveillance systems and public health services: the current systems in Queensland and Victoria confirm this fact. Thus, licensing is a threat to public health.”

Kirby Institute Report to the NSW Health Ministry

“Recommendation 1 The NSW Government’s legislative reforms of 1979 and 1995 should be endorsed. These reforms that decriminalised adult sex work have improved human rights; removed police corruption; netted savings for the criminal justice system; and enhanced the surveillance, health promotion, and safety of the NSW sex industry. International authorities regard the NSW regulatory framework as best practice. Contrary to early concerns the NSW sex industry has not increased in size or visibility, and sex work remains stigmatised.”

Licensing or registration

“Some countries have put in place systems to regulate certain segments of the sex industry, which are allowed to operate in specific areas subject to monitoring or compliance with official requirements e.g. … licensing or registration systems in states and territories of Australia. …In these countries, the law requires businesses such as entertainment venues or massage parlours to be registered or licensed and to comply with conditions such as the requirement that employees test regularly for STIs. The major flaw of all of these approaches is that the majority of sex workers operate outside of the licensing or registration system. For this reason, these approaches have not proven effective in preventing HIV epidemics among sex workers.”

Conclusion (iii) Licensing and registration models have not been effective

“Licensing or registration of the sex industry has been of limited benefit in terms of public health and human rights outcomes for sex workers. Several jurisdictions have introduced licensing or registration of brothels, businesses where sex work occurs, or individual sex workers (e.g., Indonesia, Taiwan and several states and territories of Australia). Licensing or registration systems are usually accompanied by criminal penalties for sex industry businesses and individual sex workers who operate outside of the legal framework. Licensing or registration models may provide some health benefits to the small part of the sex industry that is regulated, but do not improve health outcomes for the broader population of sex workers. …Typically, in jurisdictions that have introduced licensing or registration systems the vast majority of sex workers operate outside of the system. This approach compounds the marginalization of most sex workers. Human rights violations may result from licensing models that require compulsory testing and registration of sex workers with government authorities.”

Conclusions (ii) Positive public health and human rights outcomes have been achieved in jurisdictions that have decriminalized sex work

“Evidence from the jurisdictions in the region that have decriminalized sex work (New Zealand and New South Wales) indicates that the approach of defining sex work as legitimate labour empowers sex workers, increases their access to HIV and sexual health services and is associated with very high condom use rates. Very low STI prevalence has been maintained among sex workers in New Zealand and New South Wales, and HIV transmission within the context of sex work is understood to be extremely low or nonexistent. In decriminalized contexts, the sex industry can be subject to the same general laws regarding workplace health and safety and anti-discrimination protections as other industries. The legal recognition of sex work as an occupation enables sex workers to claim benefits, to form or join unions and to access work-related banking, insurance, transport and pension schemes.”

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