17 June 2019

Submission to Northern Territory Reforming the Regulation of Sex Work

Disclaimer: SWOP NT helped the Red Files Inc. board get the wording right for this submission. It was our first submission and we hope it positively impacts the law reform that the Northern Territory is currently experiencing.

Sent date: 15 May 2019


To Anna McGill,

Department of the Attorney-General and Justice,

[email protected]


Thank you to the Northern Territory Government for enabling opportunity for sex workers and organisations to give feedback and recommendations to decriminalise sex work in the NT

I am writing on behalf of the board of Red Files Inc., an ACNC registered charity that provides support services to sex workers nationwide through an online portal (redfiles.com.au). Operational since 2018, our support network reaches over 500 sex workers across Australia. Our primary mission as an organisation is to prevent violence against sex workers. The Red Files Inc. board is comprised of current and former sex workers and our online portal is accessible to sex workers of any state or territory. Although it is against our Privacy Policy to disclose the exact locations of our members, we can confirm that many of our members reside in the Northern Territory and many more fly there to work for short periods of time.

Given the overall mission of Red Files Inc., our board’s experiences as current and former sex workers, and the fact that many of our online members operate their businesses under the current Northern Territory legal framework, we consider ourselves key stakeholders in reforming the regulation of the sex industry in Northern Territory.

We believe that the full decriminalisation of sex work is the best practise model for sex workers. As a national charity, we are able to compare the working experiences of sex workers operating under a legalised framework, a criminalised framework or a decriminalised framework.

Our members operating under a decriminalisation framework in NSW, report having greater access to support networks, to legal recourse such as police or courts, and to health services for themselves and their families. In contrast, our members who do not operate under a decriminalisation model report an inability to make statements about crimes, difficulty accessing legal recourse, limited choice in working methods, and forced to choose between working compliantly or working safely. Therefore, we are confident that greater health and safety outcomes will be achieved for sex workers if the Northern Territory accepts decriminalisation as a first step.

Decriminalisation will also help sex worker organisations, such as ourselves, to better serve our members. One of our greatest challenges in providing practical, real time support to sex workers, is further complicated by the laws governing that sex worker’s business. For example, we cannot wholeheartedly recommend that sex workers operating in a criminalised or legalised framework report any crimes that happen to them to the police.

To illustrate this point, I will use a personal anecdote from a fortnight ago. I went to the police to report a crime committed against me in Victoria, which has a legalised model of sex work with strict licensing laws. When making my statement, the Constable asked for my SWA number, a licensing number not dissimilar to intrusiveness of police registration that is required by Northern Territory’s licensing system. When asked if I would be charged if I had not registered myself, I was given no assurances that I wouldn’t have been, even though the police are not regulators of the Business Licensing Authority and this is not their jurisdiction as enforcers of criminal laws. I was in fact registered and I was able to move on with my statement, albeit uncomfortably. Had I not been a well-informed and a confident sex worker I would not have moved forward with the statement and had this crime occurred in the Northern Territory, I would not have been able to report the crime, as I was working with another sex worker for safety reasons and would have been deemed a criminal offence under the Northern Territory Prostitution Regulation Act

I do not doubt that the person who committed a crime against me will continue to commit similar crimes to sex workers before feeling confident enough to move on to the greater community, if he hasn’t already. Accountability is what dissuades criminal activity and serial offenders know that sex workers are not treated the same as non-sex workers before the police and the law. This is just one situation, among many, that I’ve shared with my peers and now with you. Only under full decriminalisation will more sex workers feel comfortable coming forward to report the crimes committed against them.

As Red Files Inc. is a nation-wide organisation operating in an online space, we have unique data that demonstrates the risks and obstacles sex workers face in their day to day life. Reflecting on these numbers, we hold no measure of doubt that decriminalisation has prevented violence, exploitation, discrimination, harm and risk to sex workers. We believe that if sex work is regulated like any other industry than this creates the potential for sex workers to be treated like any other community member.

The Red Files Inc supports the following submissions in full of the:

  • The Northern Territory Sex Workers Program (SWOP NT) & reference group (SWRG)
  • The Scarlet Alliance Australian Sex Workers Association Inc.
  • Respect Inc. and Decrim QLD

Red Files Inc. understands that the Northern Territory government wishes decriminalise sex work to achieve the best outcomes via reforms for sex workers in an aim to develop work health and safety protections that will also therefore achieve the best public health outcomes for all people who live or fly in for work in the Northern Territory

Our recommendations are as follows;

  • Repeal all laws that criminalise and certify sex workers through licencing that being the current Northern Territory Prostitution Regulation Act;
  • Expunge all private certification information of sex workers and registration currently held with government departments and Commission of Police;
  • Work with NT sex workers and Scarlet Alliance with government departments, Worksafe to implement work health and safety guidelines for NT sex industry workers and business;
  • Ensure that sex workers are supported by adequately resourcing our peer led organisations to continue to engage with workers that are isolated[i];
  • “sex work and sex worker” listed as main attributes in the NT Anti-Discrimination Act[ii];
  • Implement a bill to fully decriminalise sex work in the NT;
  • Follow the lead of international and national bodies recommendations for decriminalisation of sex work that includes; the WHO, UNAIDS, Amnesty International, the Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, Australia’s National STI and BBV Strategies, to achieve the best possible public health outcomes for all Australians


Estelle Lucas, Secretary On behalf of Red Files Inc.



[i]   I Work Remotely! How Can I Connect/Get Support?  https://www.ntahc.org.au/programs/sex-worker-outreach-progam-swopnt/working-remotely

[ii]    Sex Worker Outreach Program (SWOP NT) Sex Worker Reference Group (SWRG) Collective Submission in response to the Northern Territory Government Discussion Paper – release September 2017-Modernisation of the Anti-Discrimination Act  https://www.ntahc.org.au/programs/sex-worker-outreach-program-swop-nt/parliamentary-submissions