The Conversation reported earlier this week: "The Victorian government has just received a landmark review into the state’s sex work laws. This is the first large-scale review of Victorian sex work laws since 1985 and presents a huge opportunity for change. With the Victorian Labor Party platform in favor of sex work decriminalization, the current review is considering how not if, that can be done. But the path there is not straightforward. The only way to adequately protect the health, safety, and dignity of sex workers is to introduce full decriminalization. This would make Victoria the world’s first jurisdiction to do so".
The article goes on to say, "Announced last year, the review is led by Reason MP and sex worker advocate Fiona Patten.The Andrews government asked Patten to make recommendations "on the preferred options for legislative reform needed to achieve decriminalization of sex work in Victoria, including reform to legislation concerning health, safety, planning and criminal matters" The review was completed last week and has not yet been made public. The Andrews government is not expected to respond with a bill until next year at the earliest"
In February Colombo Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake ruled in court that there are no provisions to charge someone for working as a sex worker. He went on to the only way someone can be charged is for being in the industry is for maintaining a brothel or pimping. Seen as a win for sex worker rights in Sri Lanka - this ruling comes in the light of long made arguments that the harassment of sex workers by law enforcement did not accurately reflect the law. Despite the common misconception, that sex work is illegal in Sri Lanka, as per the law this is not actually the case.
What is the Legal Status of Sex Work in Sri Lanka?
In Sri Lanka – sex work is governed by the Brothels Ordinance and the Vagrancy Ordinance – both relics of the Victorian legal system that continues to form the basis of our laws even today. What is most commonly used is the Vagrancy Ordinance (the punishment of persons who loiter “without good reason”, riotously and disorderly in public streets and is used under the prohibition of “soliciting”. This new judgment however lends the much needed clarity to how the law should be interpreted and is no doubt an important step in the direction of decriminalization as a whole.
Who are Sex Workers?
Sex workers are adults who receive money or other forms of compensation in exchange for consensual sexual services, either regularly or occasionally. A sex worker can be female, male, or trans* person. But even today, in most countries around the world, sex work and activities associated with it are criminal acts. Criminalization of sex workers come in many forms and names. Arrest, prosecution, and harassment are part of the daily life or sex workers because of laws that criminalize the purchase of sexual services. Even non-offensive acts such as loitering, vagrancy, and impeding the flow of traffic can invite severe punishments. In most countries, even those where sex work is legal, sex workers are stigmatized and marginalized, which may prevent them from seeking legal redress for discrimination. All that laws criminalizing sex workers and consumers do is further put sex workers in danger, impeding their ability to seek protection from violence and obtain needed housing, labor, and health services.
Why Use The Term “Sex Worker” Rather Than “Prostitute”?
The term “sex worker” recognizes that sex work is work. Prostitution, on the other hand, has connotations of criminality and immorality. Many people who sell sexual services prefer the term “sex worker” and find “prostitute” demeaning and stigmatizing, which contributes to their exclusion from health, legal, and social services. The term sex worker was coined in 1978 by sex worker activist Carol Leigh and is what sex workers use to identify themselves and the work that they do. Sex work activists also view the word prostitute as "culturally loaded", carrying with it, inherent judgment and bias. It can also lead one to assume that the worker is a female. This leaves male sex workers out of the equation when they are a large part of the workforce. Because of this, many sex workers and sex work activists have begun to consider the word prostitute a slur, using instead full-service sex worker, escort, or simply working girl/boy.
How is Sex Work Criminalized?
Criminalization of sex workers come in many forms and names. Arrest, prosecution, and harassment are part of the daily life or sex workers because of laws that criminalize the purchase of sexual services. Even non-offensive acts such as loitering, vagrancy, and impeding the flow of traffic can invite punishments, like in Sri Lanka. In most countries, even those where sex work is legal, sex workers are stigmatized and marginalized, which may prevent them from seeking legal redress for discrimination. All that laws criminalizing sex workers and consumers do is further put sex workers in danger, impeding their ability to seek protection from violence and obtain needed housing, labour, and health services.
What does Decriminalization mean?
Decriminalization means removing laws that criminalize sex work. As the Network of Sex Work Projects explains, this covers laws that criminalize sex workers, clients, third parties (like business owners, managers and receptionists) as well as families, partners, and friends living off any earnings. Why is it important for decriminalization to happen? Decriminalizing sex work maximizes sex workers’ legal protection and their ability to exercise other key rights, including justice and health care. Legal recognition of sex workers and their occupation maximize their protection, dignity, and equality. This is an important step toward destigmatizing sex work. UNAIDS, public health experts, sex worker organizations, and other human rights organizations have found that criminalization of sex work also has a negative effect on sex workers’ right to health. In one example, Human Rights Watch found in a 2012 report, “Sex Workers at Risk: Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in Four US Cities,” that police and prosecutors used a sex worker’s possession of condoms as evidence to support prostitution charges. The practice left sex workers reluctant to carry condoms for fear of arrest, forcing them to engage in sex without protection and putting them at heightened risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
In a world where sex work is no longer criminalized, sex workers can benefit from the justice system to seek redress for discrimination and abuse and live in humane conditions and with dignity. In times of hate and violence, organizations and individuals that work to end stigmatization, incarceration and social punishment of sex workers not only become the target of attacks and exclusion but also rely on scarce financial and non-financial resources to continue their vital fight to bring social justice to their communities.
(Editors Note: The information in this article was drawn from the following sources. We encourage perusing these links for more information:
Will Victoria be the first place in the world to fully decriminalize sex work? - The Conversation
Ending a Misguided Moral Debate: Why Decriminzalization of Sex Work is our Only Option - Whores of Yore
Why Sex Work Should Be Decriminalized - Human Rights Watch)