Source: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/time-to-fully-decriminalise-sex-work-20180301-p4z2b4.html (accessed 06/03/2018)
By Lisa Marie
2 March 2018 — 1:39pm
''I don’t like the idea of you selling your body,'' a friend remarked. I’d been a sex worker for over a year by then and mentioned it as an idea by way of sounding her out. Now I knew I couldn’t tell her.
I occasionally work as a private escort, providing an hour or two of affection, conversation and physical intimacy – what you might call a ''holistic'' service. My clients are most often gentle older men, or men with disabilities. As a rule there’s surprisingly little sexual intercourse involved, and my clients are usually focused on giving me pleasure.
Many people I know would disapprove of my having taken up sex work in my mid-fifties, thinking I’ve sold out on my feminist principles or ''put myself in danger''.
On any given night in Australia, women like me will be having sex with strangers: men they’ve just met in a bar, a club, over the internet or via Tinder. Empowered, exercising their agency, their right to autonomous sexuality? Most of us would agree it’s their own business.
The minute money changes hands, however, a different narrative arises. Now, perhaps, people see me as a victim or might question my integrity. And beyond the morality and stereotypes, but led by them of course, I may be committing a crime, via a special set of laws that apply just to sex workers and the work they undertake, in private, between two consenting adults.
There are only two places in the world where sex work is fully decriminalised: New Zealand and New South Wales. Everywhere else in Australia, it is partially criminalised, even though many of the concerns raised about sex work by the general public or by legislators are already addressed by existing legislation: there are laws for disturbing the peace, there are noise curfews, laws regarding indecent exposure.
Despite that, we face additional layers. In Victoria, I am not permitted to service clients in my private residence, in short-term accommodation or anywhere except at the client’s home or accommodation booked in the client’s name. Otherwise I can be charged with running an unlicensed brothel.
Victoria's laws also insist that I register with the Business Licensing Authority (part of Consumer Affairs). Many sex workers don't, perhaps understandably uncomfortable with an official register listing their private details and status as sex workers.
Most sex workers carefully guard their privacy and are cautious about outsiders knowing what they do. People who have done sex work will keep their history secret so as not to be defined by it once they’ve moved on. Sex workers with children can find the fact of their occupation used against them in custody battles.
Faced with those risks, many sex workers resist the regulation and therefore work outside the law. That has important legal, health and safety impacts.
If something goes wrong, if a client assaults you, say, or refuses to pay – will you call the police if there is a chance you might be arrested? Might perpetrators of harm consider sex workers vulnerable targets because they may hesitate to report crimes committed against them?
For any number of reasons, many people have limited options for intimacy in their lives.
Photo: Janie Barrett
With these concerns and contradictions in mind, for the past two years, more than 50 sex workers in Victoria have been coming together at workshops to make art about their work, about the challenges and rewards, and the need for decriminalisation.
It's been liberating, bringing me out of my isolation and into contact with other sex workers and to learn the full diversity of our industry.
Making art about our work has also been a wonderful creative experience. One of my works is a plaster cast bust, my own, covered in pieces of text from a Gideon’s bible, often found in a sex worker’s temporary place of business. I see the prettiness of the cast contrasting with the ugliness of the biblical quotations, many of which are about burning ''harlots'' – so the cast might seem to be singed around the edges. Aren’t we all!
All these works have officially gone on show this weekend in Melbourne. I like that it coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Mardi Gras in Sydney because the stigmatisation and discrimination sex workers endure have parallels to the repression of gay men in the days when homosexual acts were illegal.
Gay men were harassed and persecuted by police, and malicious offenders would actively target the gay community, feeling they could offend with impunity.
That is the experience of many sex workers today, who are among the most marginalised and stigmatised of populations everywhere.
When exploitation occurs in other professions, though, the job itself is not held to blame. When things go wrong with sex work, the entire industry is called to question. Workers in other industries are not expected to assume that abuse is something that comes with their job or that their job shouldn’t exist. Nor are they considered in need of rescuing.
Every sex workers’ rights organisation in the world supports decriminalisation of sex work and there is growing international support by organisations such as Amnesty International, the International Labour Organisation, and the World Health Organisation.
Finally, what about the client – those providing the sex worker’s bread and butter? For any number of reasons, many people have limited options for intimacy in their lives. Sex workers play a crucial role in providing relief of ''skin hunger''. Once society sees the sex worker’s labour for what it is – service work – it will be easier for those without access to physical closeness to openly have their needs met and for sex workers to be professionals in their work, protected by all the laws we expect in every other workplace.
Lisa Marie (not her real name) is one of more than 50 Victorian sex workers using art to challenge stigma and stereotypes about their work at The Sex Worker exhibition, at Gasworks Art Park in Melbourne until 18 March. Entry is free.