12 October 2011

Prostitution back on the agenda in South Australia

South Australian Labor Backbencher Steph Key has stated her intention to introduce a private member's bill on the 20th of October to decriminalise prostitution. The bill aims to legalise street walking and the establishment of small brothels in suburban areas. However, under the model, no sex business can be carried out within 200m of any child-related centre such as a school or child-care centre, no people under the age of 18 are to be employed as sex workers and any conviction of a person for an offence relating to prostitution will be immediately "spent" and not retained on a person's record.

This will be the seventh attempt to change the state's prostitution laws in recent years. The latest attempt was defeated in the Legislative Council several years ago, where MLCs voted 12-7 to defeat the proposal. Since then, no one has been keen to tackle what is considered an issue which should be put in the "too hard" basket. All parties will allow a conscience vote on the issue of legalising, or decriminalising prostitution. This makes it hard to gauge what support there will be for Ms Key's Bill. Certainly, in the Lower House, there will be a hard core of Labor MPs from the Right who will oppose it, as there will be from the conservative wing of the Liberal Party.

While there is a chance the Bill could pass through the Lower House, passage in the Upper House - the chamber where it was defeated last time - is very problematical. It will face strong opposition from Family First and MPs from both sides. Family First's Robert Brokenshire says his party cannot support decriminalisation and favours strong powers for the police to combat criminal elements controlling the sex industry. "It's not only prostitution but also the drug dealing that goes with it," Brokenshire says. "In Victoria, where they have licensing of brothels, a lot of backyard brothels have sprung up and there is no protection for the girls who work in them."

Port Adelaide Mayor Gary Johanson, an independent candidate in the forthcoming Port Adelaide by-election, shares Mr Brokenshire's misgivings, especially in relation to streetwalkers. He says the council has had many complaints from young females walking down Hanson Rd or going to the shops at Arndale who had been approached by men seeking sexual favours. He believes legalising street prostitution will only make this situation worse. Other critics of the legislation believe that prostitutes should be provided with support and assistance to leave the harmful and exploitative industry.

The Australian Christian Lobby has issued a statement saying it believes decriminalisation or legalisation of prostitution promotes a culture of acceptance among men as well as in the wider community. Prostitution becomes something which is legally acceptable and therefore socially acceptable; it is just another "job" for the women who "choose" it and provides a necessary "service" to the men who "need" it. It makes it easier for vulnerable women and girls to be drawn into the industry and fosters degrading attitudes among men towards women, including the view that women's bodies are products which can be purchased and used for sexual pleasure.

Decriminalisation and regulation of prostitution are invariably put in place with the objectives of controlling prostitution and creating a safer and more open environment for sex workers. However, these aims are generally not met and in most cases the very opposite outcomes occur. In particular, legalisation of prostitution creates an environment in which human trafficking is more likely to occur. Further, it also creates an environment in which underage prostitution is more likely to occur. Above all else, prostitution is degrading and destructive for women and girls. It is a form of abuse and violence against women by the men who purchase them.

In 1999, Sweden passed the Act Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services. Sweden recognises prostitution as a "serious form of male violence against women and children" and, in keeping with the country's commitment to gender equality, sought ways to protect women from prostitution by focusing on the core cause - the demand for women to provide sexual pleasure, without which prostitution would not be able to flourish and expand. The women's movement played a pivotal role in the country introducing the laws, highlighting the fact that prostitution is at its core an issue of respect for women and gender equality.

Under the Swedish law, prostituted women are not criminally liable; it is the purchaser of sex who is committing the crime. It covers all forms of sexual services purchased in any circumstances. Although the law was initially met with criticism by police and judicial authorities, they are now supportive of the legislation. As can be seen by the situation in Sweden, society can reduce the amount of prostitution by addressing the core cause of prostitution: the demand from men who purchase women for sex. Other Nordic countries are now following Sweden's lead, and South Korea has had a similar system since 2004. Maybe South Australia could follow suit.

Source: Compiled by Australian Prayer Network from information supplied by the media

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