Prostitution would be fully decriminalised in South Australia with no explosion in the number of suburban brothels but under a “gig economy” model similar to Uber or Airbnb, and sex workers operating legally as independent contractors without any noticeable impact on the public.  That’s the promise from advocates of sex work decriminalisation in SA. An unlikely political alliance between a Greens MP and senior Liberals including Premier Steven Marshall is building parliamentary support for the change, which is opposed most strongly by Labor leader Peter Malinauskas, and state police commissioner Grant Stevens.

If passed, just Tasmania and Western Australia would be the last states where sex work remains illegal.  The sponsor of the private member’s bill, Greens MLC Tammy Franks, said she was confident it would become law as undecided MPs saw the plan would not result in the kind of “mega brothels” found in the eastern states.  Ms Franks said new technology, cheap transport and new apps to weed out unpleasant clients meant the sex worker of 2019 was usually an independent, self-employed woman who advertised online, and travelled to private residences or hotels to work.

“The critics keep talking about brothels popping up everywhere but what we are looking at here is a model more associated with the disruptive economy where these women will be able to go about their business legally and no one will be any the wiser,” she said.  Her assessment has been backed by members of the sex industry in SA in which between 2000 and 2500 people, almost all female, work each year.  But there are only an estimated 30-35 illegal brothels in SA, with around two-thirds of workers operating independently or in small groups.

They include Anya, in her 30s, who has her own web page and Twitter profile and has been organising work via text message for her three years in the industry.  Anya said the days of the big brothel were over for most women who use the internet and social media to work in private residences or hotels.  She said women were increasingly using a database called Ugly Mugs, invented in the UK but rolled out in Australia by Sydney’s Sex Workers Outreach Project, which lets sex workers share the names, aliases and phone numbers of violent or unpleasant clients, in the same way an Uber driver can reject a passenger with a poor rating.

Anya said there were two men in Adelaide with a reputation for violence who had been dobbed in by sex workers and were being avoided.  But the fact sex work remained illegal in SA was still placing women in unnecessary danger.  “The problem is that even when we are targeted or abused we feel like the criminals.  Ms Franks and Anya said they were mindful of the murder in Sydney this year of sex worker Michaela Dunn, who was not working from a brothel, but argued an incident like that could have occurred just as easily, with less likelihood of police involvement, in a state such as SA where sex work remained criminalised.

“The reality is that a lot of jobs come with danger, there are nurses and paramedics attacked every day at work,” Anya said.  Unfortunately sex workers will always be vulnerable, but they will more vulnerable if they are treated as criminals themselves and reluctant to go to the police when something bad happens.”  Ms Franks’s bill is being co-sponsored by SA Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, who this week flagged amendments to prevent brothels opening within 200m of a church, school or childcare centre. Commissioner Stevens has warned of infiltration by criminal gangs. Mr Malinauskas agrees.  “We have come too far in tackling organised crime to take a backward step”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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