DECRIMINALISATION OF SEX WORK: Hon D Hood


The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD (21:02): It will come as no surprise to members of this chamber that I rise to indicate that I will not be supporting the second reading of this bill. The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Law Consolidation Act, the Summary Offences Act and the Equal Opportunity Act to decriminalise prostitution in South Australia. Given that existing legislation uses the term 'prostitution' I will too, but I mean no disrespect in doing so.

Since my election back in 2006 we have debated several iterations of this bill, or at least those which comprise very similar and indeed, in this case, identical provisions, as some passed, where I have used the opportunity to present a case against decriminalisation. Although my contribution today will be relatively concise, I will direct members to my previous speeches delivered in this place on 18 July 2012 and also on 29 July 2015, wherein I expanded my concerns in greater detail than I intend to tonight. The contributions I made on those occasions outlined, in some detail, why I do not believe decriminalising prostitution is in the interests either of society as a whole or of the women who are involved in prostitution.

I want to start by acknowledging that those who bring these measures to this place do so with the intent to improve the lot of women—and overwhelmingly, of course, it is women—who are involved in the trade of prostitution. It is very important to note that, and it does bring some scope for common ground in this entire debate.

I support the objective of making people involved in prostitution safer and reducing the risk they encounter on a daily basis. Where we disagree is the method of achieving it. To be clear, I do not believe that legalisation, or the decriminalisation of prostitution as this bill proposes, would achieve safer, cleaner or better outcomes for those involved in the trade. There are a number of significant concerns I have with the potential effects of the bill, which I will attempt to address as succinctly as I can tonight. In summary, my concerns with the bill are these:

it fails to place restrictions on where soliciting prostitution can occur, which will result in an increase in public nuisance and, in short, prostitution can happen virtually anywhere under the bill;

it enables brothels to be set up in almost any location by almost any adult, regardless of their character or history, and places regulatory burdens on councils who are ill equipped to deal with it;

it ignores significant evidence suggesting that criminalisation will proliferate the number of people involved;

it will almost certainly dramatically increase the occurrence of street prostitution and so-called streetwalkers;

it could proliferate explicit sexualised advertising, including outdoor advertising in public places and other advertising, including radio and even possibly television;

it effectively legitimises pimping and will likely create a favourable human trafficking destination; and

it will not achieve, in my opinion, its primary objective of protecting women in prostitution from harm, but in fact could place them in greater harm.

I accept that these are obviously not the intentions of the bill, but I do believe they will be the result. As mentioned, my first point of contention with the bill is that there are no serious provisions that restrict where soliciting prostitution can occur.

As I am sure is the case with many other members, I have received hundreds of emails, calls and letters from constituents from across the state with serious concerns about how the passage of the bill will negatively impact their own neighbourhoods, as well as the wider community they live in. Their fears are not unfounded, in my view, and I do not believe they can simply be dismissed, given that in jurisdictions that have decriminalised prostitution, such as New South Wales and New Zealand, albeit with more restrictions in place than are proposed in this bill, that antisocial behaviour, including public sex acts in parks and streets, has been reported.

The New Zealand government itself, by the New Zealand Ministry of Justice report on the operation of the country's Prostitution Reform Act, outlined a large number of complaints pertaining to territorial disputes between sex workers, unwanted propositioning, noise pollution and syringes in some cases, condoms and sexual aids being found in what were, so the report says, once family-friendly spaces.

Not surprisingly, it also detailed how residents voiced concern that the presence of brothels would lead to a decline in property values. Following the New Zealand Ministry of Justice report, I find it especially concerning that the bill before us will enable prostitution to occur right next to our schools, churches, hospitals and, indeed, people's homes—virtually anywhere.

In addition to the high number of individuals who have contacted me, there have been numerous peak bodies and interest groups that have expressed their apprehension about the bill, which leads me to my second concern, that is, that brothels could be established not only in any location but by any adult with the regulatory burdens placed on councils to oversee their operations. Police have no clear role in overseeing brothels under this proposed model and there is no character test applied to individuals who wish to run brothels, allowing them to be run by virtually anyone, including those with extensive criminal histories. This would make it more onerous for someone to acquire a liquor licence than it would be to run a brothel in these circumstances.

The South Australia Police informed our parliamentary select committee, which from 2015 to 2017 conducted an inquiry into an earlier version of the bill, that the removal of the power of police entry into premises where the sale of sex is occurring would prove problematic and there was a need for a system that both protects sex workers and prevents the infiltration of organised crime. In evidence given to the committee, Chief Inspector Gray stated:

I think the minute you remove the police, you make people vulnerable to standover tactics and the criminal element.

The police also raised concerns with the lack of probity checks in relation to those seeking to operate a brothel, which they regard as a necessity, as do I. Likewise, the Local Government Association and a number of individual councils, namely, Tea Tree Gully, Marion, Salisbury and Port Adelaide Enfield councils, expressed a similar view in relation to a lack of police oversight, taking issue with the deference to councils as the sole regulators of brothels and street prostitution.

Councils also cited the ability for prostitution to occur in residential zones, the fact that minors would not be restricted from entering brothels, the absence of limitations on advertising for sexual services and the cost burden of regulating such establishments as significant problems. I am sure that ratepayers would much rather their money went towards beautifying their surroundings and maintaining infrastructure as opposed to mitigating significant challenges that councils themselves say they expect will arise should this bill pass into law.

In New South Wales, where brothels are supposedly regulated by local government authorities, the Daily Telegraph reported in 2009 that for every one legal brothel there are four that are operating illegally. The same year, the Adult Business Association estimated there to be 400 or so illegal establishments within Sydney's metropolitan area alone.

For local governments, it is evidently a laborious and difficult process to close down illegal brothels where thousands of dollars can be spent in an attempt to shut down just one premise. Hornsby Council admits it had invested some $60,000 in one year alone, seeking to close numerous such operations through the court system but was unsuccessful. That was $60,000 of ratepayers' money wasted in legal fees.

Just last year, Fairfax Media investigations revealed that complaints about the spread of illegal brothels increased by 37 per cent after recommendations to improve sex industry regulations in New South Wales were blocked in 2016. The large increase of both legal and illegal sexual service providers post-decriminalisation in New South Wales speaks to my third concern that the proposed provisions will likely lead to the proliferation of the trade.

Indeed, in New South Wales, academic scholars Sullivan and Jeffreys cite in one of their journal papers that the number of brothels in Sydney tripled following decriminalisation. This occurrence is not unique to New South Wales; a similar phenomenon has also been experienced in Victoria under a legalisation model. Since the legalisation of prostitution in that state in the 1980s, Sullivan and Jeffreys note that the number of legal brothels doubled by the end of the 1990s, with unlicensed brothels outnumbering their licensed counterparts by about 3:1.

The fourth concern I outlined at the commencement of my contribution was the likelihood of a rise in the instance of visible street prostitution, or so-called streetwalkers, which other members have also raised tonight. Darlinghurst in New South Wales is just one example of an area where residents have complained of a noticeable increase in streetwalking, with a 460 per cent increase in prostitution-related charges within a 12-month period.

It is likely that our experience would be similar; indeed, it has already happened in pockets on Adelaide streets, with Hanson Road being the most notorious mentioned in this debate. Just last week, The Advertiser wrote of boys as young as 13—I am sure members would have seen the article—being propositioned to buy sex on the streets in that area. Under a decriminalisation model, as the statistics in New South Wales demonstrate, I believe we should expect to see more of this.

My fifth concern is that decriminalisation of the sale of sexual services will inevitably lead to explicit sexualised advertising in public places. As section 25A of the Summary Offences Act will be repealed under this bill, there will be no real controls on advertising in relation to prostitution, other than those dealing with general advertising by the Advertising Standards Bureau. The placement of billboards and posters and the distribution of flyers promoting adult businesses and sexual services could, in theory, occur anywhere, potentially exposing children to age-inappropriate, explicit material and, indeed, adults who do not want to be exposed to such material.

In Queensland, members may be aware that outdoor advertising standards were the subject of an inquiry in response to community concerns about the impact of sexually explicit imagery upon children and their development. Indeed, I had a personal experience in New South Wales a number of years ago now. It was quite a prominent ad on a bus stop, I recall, where it had a very scantily clad, attractive young lady on a sign. The sign had just a few words on it, but it did not take a lot of working out what it meant. It said, 'Hand, $50; mouth, $80; the works, $100.' I do not know if those prices still apply—it was some time ago—but you get the point.

The point is that it was very clear exactly what was being advertised—there was a phone number to ring. I do not see that this bill would prevent that sort of advertising. I am happy to look at members' thoughts if they view it otherwise, but I certainly would not like to see a situation where such explicit advertising can be done in public where it is really hard to avoid seeing those sorts of things. I think that is especially the case for children; that would be my greatest concern.

The next concern I have is that decriminalisation would create an environment that would be attractive for the trafficking of persons into our state for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Sexual servitude, forced drug taking and human trafficking are just some of the abuses deputy police commissioner Nick Kaldas of the New South Wales Police Force has testified were transpiring in Sydney in evidence he presented to a recent parliamentary inquiry into the city's brothel regulations. He also stated that there had been an increase in reports of large-scale trafficking networks using Asian migrant students as sex slaves under a decriminalised model. Those are his words.

Why would we expect the outcome of similar legislation be any different in our state under a similar decriminalised model? Certainly, one of the most significant risks resulting from the potential proliferation of prostitution in our state is the luring of young, local and, indeed, foreign girls into the industry. Although the instance of human trafficking is notoriously challenging to detect, the United Nations estimates there to be some 2.4 million victims worldwide, with 80 per cent trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Many of these travel from developing countries, where there is supply, if you like, of potential prostitutes, to developed countries where there is an existing demand.

A 2012 study published in the journal World Development analysing cross-sectional data from 116 nations—a very large study—found that countries which had legalised or decriminalised prostitution were not surprisingly associated with higher rates of human trafficking inflows. This study suggests that the decriminalisation of prostitution in South Australia will render our jurisdiction at the very least a more attractive trafficking destination.

I now move on to the last major concern I have with this bill and that is, of course, the safety and wellbeing of women. I do accept that proponents of this legislation, based on its current and previous forms, have the best of intentions; that is to protect women in the sex industry from undue harm. I think it is safe to say every member of parliament would support that objective. In fact, I have no doubt that every member of this parliament would wish for all women to be protected from violence in any given situation. It has become increasingly apparent from other jurisdictions with legalised or decriminalised prostitution, however, that these models do not lead to this outcome.

The Netherlands provides a case in point. The Dutch government was confident when it legalised prostitution in year 2000, that its change in laws would clean up its sex industry, resulting in the safety of women and putting an end to sexual servitude and human trafficking through its borders. The records of the parliamentary debate at the time bear this out. Regrettably though, after becoming possibly the most infamous sex tourism destination in the world, quite the opposite has transpired.

Dutch cities including The Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Heerlen and Eindhoven have since closed down their designated legal prostitution zones as they have become infiltrated by organised crime groups with all of the associated social consequences. It appears what was once considered a revolutionary approach to prostitution law has caused some serious unintended consequences that Dutch officials are now seeking to remedy. Indeed, Marijke Shahsavari-Jansen, the female section leader for the left-leaning democrat party on Amsterdam's city council stated recently:

When the law changed to decriminalise brothels, there really was widespread support. Many people naively believe that legalisation and regulation would turn prostitution into a supposedly 'normal' kind of business…however, there's been a shift back towards a broader consensus in the other direction, as we realise that things have gotten worse…It's as if abuse is now carrying on with a legalised varnish.

Another example comes from Sybrand van Haersma Buma, a member of the Dutch House of Representatives, who echoed her sentiments stating:

Hundreds of women are involuntarily in prostitution every day under your own eyes. That is slavery…The numbers do not lie: the percentage that are forced behind those windows (in Amsterdam's red light district, that is) is somewhere between 50 and 80 per cent.

His parliamentary colleague and member of the coalition government, Gert-Jan Segers also stated:

We legalised prostitution in 2000. The idea was it was giving women the freedom and to get rid of the criminality. But we took it away from being linked to freedom and we linked it to human trafficking…For a long time, we just accepted it…the reality is that it's just commercialised rape.

Those are his words, not mine. I understand that the Dutch government is now planning to tighten up its regulations in the sex industry by introducing more thorough screening of those applying for licences to operate commercialised sex businesses and by raising the minimum age for prostitutes from 18 to 21, with a bill providing for these measures actually currently being considered by the Netherlands House of Representatives. They are moving to tighten the industry, not loosen it.

In short, I do not believe decriminalisation with very few controls is the answer. I am convinced that it will exacerbate the problems that the proponents of this bill purport it will diminish. The impact that it will have on our society, prostituted women in particular, will not be positive. I reiterate that I do not believe the passage of this bill is in the best interests of South Australians or those it seeks to protect. I do not think it will work, and I oppose it.

I will finish my contribution tonight by reading an email I received. Like many members, I have received many, many emails. I have not counted them, but I imagine it would be many hundred, if not a thousand or more. However, I thought this one, in particular, was worth including in my contribution tonight. This is from a woman whom I actually ended up meeting and having a discussion with. She is what we would call a former madam. She was heavily involved in the sex industry. She now has a different involvement in the sex industry, and I am only able to read this contribution on the proviso that I do not disclose her identity. So I will not do that. She has written to me, and she says:

Dear Mr Hood

Re: Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2018

As a person who has had an intimate knowledge of the operation of prostitution in this state, I wish to state the following facts which are contrary to the narrative being painted by the proponents of the above bill.

It is in shorthand form, so some of the language is not quite clear, but I will read it as best I can.

Many of the women are forced to do anal sex, whether they want to or not, which leads to health problems, e.g. continuous bleeding from the anus. Some women are drugged to keep them compliant on their shifts. In some massage parlours young women wait naked in a back room, waiting for clients. Many women who are prostitutes experience mental illness, e.g. fear leaving the house during the day. Most street workers are on ice or heroin, ranging from $200 a day to $1,000 a day. Most prostitutes feel quite lonely as they don't tell their families what they are doing. Many move interstate. PTSD is prevalent among the prostitutes and can take many years to recover. Many women drink alcohol to get them through their shift. Please bring these matters to the attention of members of the upper house and ask them to reject the current bill. Unfortunately, for reasons of my own safety, I must ask that you keep my identity private.

These are the words of a woman who has actually been heavily involved in the trade herself. She is only one woman, but there are of course others who hold that view. I accept that there are others on the other side of the debate who would not agree with her and would see it differently, but I think it would be unwise of us to simply dismiss the words of someone who has had personal experience over an extended period of time, someone whom I have met and discussed this with. My discussions with her merely increased my determination to oppose this legislation.