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Damned if we do, damned if we donít - the West Australian approach to sex workers

By Elena Jeffreys - posted Monday, 25 October 2010

Last months' decision by Ontario's Superior Court of Justice, with ramifications for all of Canada, ruled that laws criminalising activity associated with sex work were in contravention of the Canadian Bill of Rights. In short, the laws put sex workers' health and lives in danger: compliance meant huge risks for sex workers, non-compliance meant criminalisation.

Thus their sex work laws have been struck down - a huge win for the sex worker community there, clients and those associated with sex work in Canada; drivers, accountants, brothel owners, receptionists, cleaners and sex workers' partners.

In Western Australia, Liberal politicians are determined to make moral judgments about our work, continuing to ignore all evidence supporting the basic human rights of everyone associated with sex work.


In 2008 legislation decriminalising sex work passed through WA parliament in the sunset of the previous Carpenter Labor Government, only to be stymied by a Liberal election win, resulting in the historic laws never being declared. Status quo- toleration of sex work within a grey area of criminality and policing, continues to this day. At least until the current Government gets its way.

A recent letter to a sex industry operator in WA foreshadows law reform. Premier Colin Barnett claims he is committed to "ensure sexual service businesses are contained to a number of areas where they will be tolerated. The Government is currently developing a proposal for a regulatory scheme that will ensure that no form of prostitution is legal in residential areas."

It's a no win situation, with sex workers and our clients being placed at risk. Sex work is a service based industry that prizes privacy, accessibility and anonymity. Not so much when the client is expected to trek to industrial areas out of regular commercial activity, or when private sex workers are criminalised for working from home or a quiet suburban location.

Inner city apartment where a client can drop in for a lunch time quickie? Illegal.

Brothels melding with other commercial businesses on the high street? Illegal.

Working from a hotel room to ensure maximum discretion for worker and client? Illegal.


Operating from home as a private business, like any other business? Illegal.

Accessing the same industrial, civil and human rights as any other worker? Illegal.

Accessing justice when experiencing crime, exploitation, police harassment, corruption or violence? Not illegal but pretty bloody unlikely considering the rest of the laws sex workers would be subjected to.

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About the Author

Elena Jeffreys is an Anglo-Italian Australian based sex worker and PhD candidate at the University of Queensland Department of Political Science and International Studies. Elena is a former President of Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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