Should sex work be decriminalised in South Australia?

By Georgina Akkermans, Dante DeBono, Amelia Nichele and Jonathon Poulson

In South Australia, the act of soliciting a prostitute carries a maximum fine of $750 under the Summary Offences Act 1953.

Those found living off the earning of prostitution could receive a fine of $2500 or a criminal sentence of six months.

But in today’s digital landscape, the world of sex workers is vastly different from what it once was, with many prostitutes abandoning the ‘ladies of the night’ stereotype.

Local sex workers, Zen and Raven, have entered the profession through the South Australian Sex Industry Network and are utilising breakthrough methods of practice to gain clientele.

“We’re not abused young women who are forced to walk into a room and line up for complete strangers. We pick our bookings and set our own boundaries as well,” Raven said.

Their place of work uses a system where workers rent private rooms for a fee and have clients join them after responding directly to their online advertisements.

This method lowers risks like having violent or intoxicated clients put the workers in danger as it is a safe, controlled environment.

But the stigma of their work being classified as illegal can have negative effects on sex workers, regardless of the pride they take in their work.

“You’re already pushed into that headspace of feeling like you’re doing something illegal…there are so many bad sides to this job but that’s because there isn’t regulation,” Zen said.

A bill to decriminalise sex work was presented in the Upper House in 2015 by Liberal MLC Michelle Lensink, but no changes have been made since then.

“Whether people agree with it or not is a separate question, but we are not going to prevent sex work in our community by having it criminalised,” she said.

Law society SA President, Tony Rossi, told ABC that sex work will always exist and having it decriminalised should be supported by the community.

“The statistics overseas indicate that the amount of sex work activity won’t change dramatically. What will change[…]is the health and safety of the women,” he said.

This may be a necessity as there is already increasing demand for the services of sex workers for therapeutic purposes while it remains a criminal act.

Touching Base is an organisation in Sydney that allows people with disabilities to gain access to sex workers and aims to eventually train workers for specialised services catering to the needs of their clients.

This kind of service is known as ‘sex surrogacy’ and is usually obtained through a professional therapist or psychologist.

People with mental illnesses could also benefit from sex surrogates, as physical intimacy triggers releases of brain chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins.

These chemicals can help increase motivation, fight stress and induce feelings of compassion and happiness, which all help alleviate symptoms of mental illnesses.

Ryan Anderson and David Mitchell from the James Cook University published an article outlining the mental health benefits of having sex.

They list improved self-esteem, reduced stress, increased cognitive capacity, and looking younger as proven effects of engaging in regular sex.

Zen and Raven both said they would happily work in conjunction with a therapist as a prescribed sex surrogate.

Both workers have had previous clients with disabilities, with Zen recently providing her service to an individual with cerebral palsy.

“I haven’t had someone who’s in a wheelchair yet but I would love to offer my services to them,” Zen said.

But while decriminalising sex work would have a number of benefits, there are certain aspects which could potentially have negative effects.

Sheila Jeffreys from the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne raises these issues in her article ‘Disability and the male sex right’.

She says sex surrogacy could become a “money spinner” for the prostitution industry and a way of normalising these relationships.

This leaves vulnerable individuals, both those with disabilities and the workers themselves, open to potential harm and situations where they are taken advantage of.

Jeffreys outlines the risks of unwanted or coercive sex which would permeate this industry if decriminalised, as well as the fetishism of disabilities which could have a negative impact on people with disabilities.

She also mentions how sex workers may feel obligated to offer their services to people with disabilities, which they may not be comfortable with.

But it is worth mentioning many sex workers have clients who do not wish to engage in intercourse during their time together.

In the eight months she has been in the industry, Zen said around 70 per cent of her work is non-sexual, with almost all of her clients choosing to instead confide in her about their personal lives.

Dr. Nikki Goldstein, one of Australia’s most sought after sexologists, is an advocate for sex surrogates, telling the Herald Sun the service works well.

“Just because it happens to do with sex we’re so scared to touch it,” she said.

According to a study presented to the World Congress on Sexual Health in 2007, sex surrogacy has a reported 95 per cent success rate in Australia.

However, while it remains a criminal act those wishing to seek the benefits of sex surrogacy cannot legally access these services and the industry remains unregulated.

“How can you protect something if you don’t want to acknowledge it?” Raven said.

“There are so many good people who work hard and it’s not a dishonest job. Yes, one hundred per cent it should be legalised.”


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