Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association, opposes the announcement that a licensing body will regulate sex work in New South Wales, saying it is contrary to the best practice recommendations of the United Nations.
Sex workers will protest outside Parliament House in NSW on Friday 7th September at 12 noon to express their concern.
According to media reports last week, the NSW state government plans to regulate sex work by establishing a Brothel Licensing Authority.
As well as vetting and licensing brothels, reports say the new agency will tighten health regulations, limit the location of brothels in residential areas, and close what are deemed to be uncompliant premises.
The scheme has come under fire from both Scarlet Alliance and the NSW Greens, who point to the failure of licensing elsewhere in Australia.
Referring to the The LASH (Law and Sex worker Health) comparative study of three different regulatory models in Australia, Scarlet Alliance representative Elena Jeffreys states 'Comprehensive evidence from Queensland and Victoria demonstrates that licensing approaches fail.'
Ms Jeffreys also cited The Kirby Institute's 2012 report on the Sex Industry in NSW, which 'clearly states that licensing is a threat to public health and recommends that licensing should not be regarded as a viable legislative response.'
Ms Jeffreys explained that 'Licensing puts sex workers' health and safety in danger. Licensing imposes stringent requirements that force large segments of the industry underground, presenting obstacles to sex worker access to health, safety, outreach, peer education and justice.
'Licensing creates a two-tiered sex industry, results in extremely high levels of non-compliance (90% operating outside the system), is inherently expensive for tax payers, and requires a high level of police involvement, maximising corruption risk.
'A history of police corruption, harassment, entrapment practices, fear of prosecution, and use of condoms as evidence of a crime means that sex workers in a licensing model are less likely to seek police assistance in the event of a crime - especially if they are working outside the legal framework', says Ms Jeffreys.
'New South Wales is world-renowned for enjoying 16 years of decriminalisation. Sex workers in Australia, including migrant and CALD sex workers, have some of the lowest rates of STIs and HIV in the world,' she said. The United Nations recognises decriminalisation of sex work as key to protecting the human rights of sex workers and best practice for sex industry regulation.
NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann says a brothel licensing scheme will be a public health disaster for NSW, and could lead to increased rates of HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.
"The evidence against licensing is overwhelming. It will lead to poorer health and public safety outcomes, not just for sex workers but for the entire community," said Ms Faehrmann, who also stated the timing of the announcement - in the lead up to NSW Council elections - was politically motivated.
"No one is suggesting there aren't problems or improvements that could be made. Currently there are very comprehensive planning guidelines for brothel regulation that are not applied consistently by local government. This is where improvements can be made," said Ms Faehrmann.
Ms Jeffreys said the best approach to ensuring sex workers were well protected and address corruption would be 'to introduce anti-discrimination protections for sex workers to better access justice, fund sex worker organisations to improve access to peer education and industrial rights, end criminalisation of street-based sex work, and appoint a sex industry liaison officer in state Government to assist local councils to abide by the NSW Sex Services Premises Planning Guidelines'.