Sex workers slam new laws making it illegal to work near schools and churches as ‘unsafe’
Sex workers will be pushed out to dangerous industrial zones or risk retribution from police under a major flaw that has been picked up in new Victorian laws proposed to make the industry safer.
There are fears street-based workers may be placed in dangerous situations and are being opened up to further stigmatisation, despite promises new laws would address those very issues.
The bill, which is before parliament this week, aims to overhaul draconian laws that made sex work outright dangerous.
But one clause within the legislation dictates restrictions on the hours street workers can be near certain places, including schools and places of worship, prompting concern from those within the industry.
“Areas away from churches and schools are usually industrial, dangerous, poorly lit, with no access to public transport,” Melbourne-based Indigenous sex worker Rory said.
“We actually need to work where it’s safer and asking us to work in dangerous and isolated places exposes us to be more vulnerable to violence.”
Financial freedom and flexibility was the main drawcard for Rory when they entered the industry aged 18.
Now 29, they have worked in private and outcall work, porn, camming and stripping, and was based on the streets of St Kilda between 2012 and 2016.
They said working from the streets offered the freedom to work a short amount of time without having to pay fees to websites or brothels.
But the work itself was sometimes dangerous and often brought them into contact with police.
“I would see police every night I worked. They would often pose as clients in undercover cars, parking opposite my and other worker’s corners and watching us, as well as many times doing constant laps in marked police cars to deter clients approaching us,” Rory said.
“Some undercover police would approach and attempt to entrap us while posing as clients - others even posed as workers to entrap potential clients.”
While the new reforms aim to increase safety, reduce stigma and improve access to health and police services, there is concern certain restrictions would open sex workers up to harassment and unnecessary contact with law enforcement.
Rory said there continued to be a major distrust of police within the industry.
“Police tend to have an attitude that crimes against sex workers aren’t real crimes and there really is a huge barrier to trusting police and being able to report crimes,” they said.
“There’s been multiple times that I have been robbed, I’ve had physical harm threatened on myself and people were telling me they were going to imprison me in their cars.”
Rory said sometimes their screening processes of clients would be rushed due to the presence of police, which often brought on dangerous situations.
“I’ve had to use my own skills to get out of those situations and I’ve never felt comfortable reporting to police as I’ve had friends go through the trauma of reporting.”
With the bill currently before parliament, advocates are calling for amendments including destroying a historical sex workers’ register that has made it possible for ex-clients or partners to continue to stalk or harass a worker.
Vixen Collective and Scarlett Alliance are also pushing for changes to industry-specific advertising regulations to make the work safer and have the title of “sex worker” acknowledged as a legitimate profession to counteract discrimination.
Vixen Collective spokesperson Dylan O’Hara said the bill contained many of the demands sex workers had sought for decades but needed strengthening in some areas.
“Vixen Collective welcomes the Vic government’s commitment to decriminalisation of sex work. This is an urgently needed change for sex workers,” they said.
“However, the bill retains criminalisation of part of the sex worker community, which directly undermines decriminalisation.
“Full decriminalisation of all forms of sex work is essential for our rights and our health and safety, and it must extend to all sex workers.”
Originally published as Sex workers slam new laws making it illegal to work near schools and churches as ‘unsafe’
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