DECRIMINALISATION OF SEX WORK: Hon F Pangallo


The Hon. F. PANGALLO (20:48): I rise to speak on the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill (No. 2). It is quite an emotional and divisive debate we are hearing this evening. I want to commend my Greens colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks, the Hon. Michelle Lensink, and my own colleague the Hon. Connie Bonaros for their strong advocacy and passion on social justice issues, particularly this one. I appreciate their intent, and it is clear they do care about the conditions and risks faced by those who, for various reasons, choose to work in the sex-for-sale industry.

While I am very open to decriminalising prostitution but using an abolitionist model adopted by some European countries, I will not be supporting this bill in its current form because I believe it fails to appropriately address community expectations about how it should be made legal and regulated. There remain so many unanswered questions, variables and legitimate concerns arising from this proposed legislation, as worthy as it may seem. I have yet to see strong, credible evidence that South Australians are ready to:

support the creation of a fully-blown and risky sexploitation industry where the workers in it—and they are mostly female—expect to receive the same entitlements as any other worker under our industrial laws;

where brothels can be set up by unknown individuals in their neighbourhoods that will undoubtedly attract all types of seedy characters and criminal elements in their clientele, and which police will be prevented from entering;

where prostitutes can solicit for business on public roads under the direction of equally shadowy pimps who control their business activity; or

accept wholesale exposure to billboard and other media advertising.

I will point out to the Hon. Mark Parnell that classified ads for escorts have been a pretty good earner for newspapers for decades, so they have a vested interest.

Prostitution is known as the world's oldest profession. Society has been grappling with this subject for millennia, and I suspect it will continue to be debated long after we depart this life. As a journalist, I often came across this topic and I have met many people involved in it. I know people involved in it. They told me that they try to run their operations in an ethical manner but warned that it was an unpredictable exercise both with the sex workers—or escorts, as they called them—and their clients.

Some of the brothels, or massage parlour operators, I encountered were not so pleasant and were quite ruthless, threatening and intimidating. I imagine that some of these unsavoury types who would fail a basic character test will be among the first to either put up their hand for a licence or find a way to get one to operate a legal brothel. As for the pimps, they usually have or had a criminal or drug history, whilst some escorts were quite affable and colourful individuals drawn to it because of their personal circumstances.

Their stories were often quite familiar. Abuse was common. They were cheated and robbed. They faced threats and intimidation if they dared to speak out, so I fail to comprehend that women are still prepared to put their own safety and health constantly at risk by having paid sex with total strangers: they know nothing about them, their backgrounds or their mental state.

We know from their own accounts that sex workers experience vile abuse and violent assaults from clients who tend to consider their worth as being of little value because of what they do to earn a crust, and perhaps because of where they come from. It was disturbing to hear recently in a radio interview on the ABC that sex workers who have been subjected to serious assaults either fear reporting it to police because they may be charged themselves for breaking the law or have the police take no interest in pursuing offenders because of the nature of the offending. That approach from a law enforcement agency, if it does exist, is unacceptable and needs to change.

As a journalist, it was equally disappointing for me to hear the Hon. Clare Scriven say that some media outlets she has dealt with have ignored giving balance to the debate by not giving survivors of the trade an opportunity to tell the stark realities of what they have experienced. It is also an indication of how attitudes to prostitution have been desensitised by the myths perpetuated by celebrated authors, left-leaning newspapers and magazines, radio and TV commentators, the well-meaning activists, feminists and progressives, internet bloggers, rock groups who popularise the craft, Hollywood films and on Broadway. In my former line of work I never met a successful, happy hooker or the Vivian Ward type of character in the romantic comedy—

There being a disturbance in the gallery:

The PRESIDENT: Order in the gallery or you will be removed. Sorry, the Hon. Mr Pangallo. To the members in the gallery, with all due respect you are not participants in this debate and your activities can tend to intimidate members of parliament. If further misbehaviour occurs, I will clear the galleries. The Hon. Mr Pangallo, please go on.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Thank you, Mr President, and I will repeat that because I have experienced it. In my former line of work, I have never met a successful, happy hooker or the Vivian Ward type of character in the romantic comedy Pretty Woman. I have never heard of a warm and fuzzy Chicken Ranch brothel, like the one run by Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. There are not many, if any, happy endings in this sordid business.

Serial killers in the US, such as the Boston Strangler, have targeted prostitutes. Closer to home, you might recall the brutal murder by one of her customers of a young Asian prostitute in a Hindley Street hotel room. A pimp and illegal brothel operator was sent to gaol on sex abuse and drug offences after luring an underage teenage girl on Facebook to become a sex worker. Prostitution is not, nor should it ever be, encouraged as a career path for young women—any women—and men, who make up a smaller proportion of the sex industry.

There is no career advancement in it unless, of course, you are looking for a degree in misery. It is what it is: exploitation of women's bodies, and it is usually controlled by shadowy figures who cultivate and recruit from the more marginalised sections of the community. They are the ones who will get to profit from legalising the practice. There is also a far more sinister side to the sexploitation industry that continues to gain momentum: human trafficking, a heinous form of modern-day slavery that entraps the vulnerable and the naive. Sex work tops the list.

Last year, I met with South Australia Police to discuss this bill. They had serious and justified reservations. Their intelligence gathering indicated the infiltration of well-organised and financed criminal gangs locally, such as the organised motorcycle gangs, and those with origins in Asia that were using or coercing foreign nationals into prostitution as well as using this industry as a conduit for drug trafficking and money laundering. They were also concerned that the bill, if passed, would prevent police from entering brothels to check on any suspected criminal activity. This is plainly absurd.

Last week, I met with a constituent who has taken a citizen's interest in investigating and reporting the still illegal activity to police. He told me of his own intelligence gathering from Asian prostitutes he met who were willing to share their experiences. The account of one of them was quite alarming. She revealed that there are language and vocational training institutions that are fronts for prostitution, rorting the visa system and bringing young women from Asia, predominantly China, to work as prostitutes while ostensibly studying.

The passage of this bill into law would only see that type of criminal activity intensifying regardless of regulatory enforcement. In the past few weeks, I have received hundreds of emails, as have many of my colleagues, opposed to the decriminalisation and just one, which came in this morning from the Northern Territory, urging me to support it. Here is one that I received from Ken Brunjes from Naracoorte:

Prostitution is inherently damaging to women because it brings physical pain and mental anguish.

The fact that prostitution is difficult to eliminate is no excuse to abandon women to the sex trade.

Violence against women especially would increase if the law gives approval to the commercialisation of sex.

If there is to be any change to prostitution law in South Australia, it should be to adopt the successful Nordic model which criminalises buyers of sex rather than the prostitutes.

The Nordic model applies in some Scandinavian countries, including Norway, where police have reported that it has been successful in reducing the level of prostitution. This type of legislation has yet to be presented here.

I was moved to view Alie's story on YouTube, a country girl who moved to the city. She did not have any financial means, had low self-esteem and resorted to prostitution. She spoke of the fear she felt from men who intimidated her. Her friends in the industry had issues with drugs and alcohol, and sex work paid for their illicit addictions. There are countries that have decriminalised and regulated it. In places like Germany and the Netherlands, it has given rise to a seedy tourist industry. However, there is conflicting evidence on its success, particularly since the massive arrival of refugees in Europe, where many women, and perhaps even children, have probably been forced into sex work to survive.

In the US, where it remains largely illegal, a study of violence against women engaged in street prostitution found that 68 per cent reported having been raped and 82 per cent reported having been physically assaulted. Indoor workers experienced less harm compared with outdoor workers, but here is an example of the abuse they endured: 37 per cent were robbed, 27 per cent beaten, 47 per cent slapped, punched or kicked, 22 per cent raped, 20 per cent kidnapped.

It has been legalised in New South Wales, and brothels do operate in Victoria as well. New Zealand also decriminalised it in 2003. However, reports are mixed on whether the lives of sex workers have actually improved in those jurisdictions.

I note that in Europe there are differing legal definitions applying to prostitution. Where there has been decriminalisation, the title used here, there are no criminal penalties. Legalisation, which is the intent of this bill, categorises prostitution as legal and regulated. Abolitionism is where prostitution is legal but organised activities like brothels and pimping are illegal. Prostitution is not regulated; it works as a simple commercial transaction between two consenting adults. This is the system I prefer.

It has been working effectively in England since the 1950s. It is an offence for sex workers to either solicit or loiter while, under the Sexual Offences Act, clients can be charged with kerb crawling, which consists of soliciting a prostitute from a motor vehicle or in a public place. It is also illegal to procure, pimp, operate a brothel, and live off the avails of a person selling sexual services. However, despite the prohibition on brothel keeping in England, an adult selling sexual services alone out of his or her own home is not performing an illegal act.

Neo-abolitionism is where it is illegal to buy sex and for third-party involvement—pimps, for example—but it is legal to sell sex. It is also known as the Nordic model. Prostitution is prohibited in Russia and almost all of Asia, including China, Japan and Thailand, even though it operates under the guise of a type of tourism and under the noses of the law enforcement authorities there. It is also banned in parts of the Middle East.

As a society, we do need to address this issue, and it needs to be done in an effective and safe manner for all of us. It does need to be decriminalised, and perhaps it should be the simpler abolitionism solution that would allow it to occur legally between two consenting adults in a private place; no brothel keepers, no pimps, no street walking. I understand amendments will be made from members should the bill go to the committee stage, and I look forward to them being presented. I support the second reading of this bill.