wendy-francisI have just returned from a week in Darwin meeting with Northern Territory members of parliament and their advisers to present information relevant to a draft discussion paper examining a proposal to legalise brothels in the Territory. There are no winners when brothels are legalised. Legalising brothels would mean the government approves the ”sale” of young women.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of accompanying a parliamentary delegation to Sweden to observe and speak to their government and community workers regarding the Nordic model of legislation on prostitution. This experience proved extremely relevant in my conversations with NT parliamentarians.

Equality Now has a very good fact sheet on the Nordic model which explains the legislation.

The Nordic model has two main goals: to curb the demand for commercial sex that fuels sex trafficking, and promote equality between men and women. It is based on an approach first adopted in Sweden in 1999, and followed by Norway and Iceland.

...a part of a Violence Against Women bill, Sweden passed a law that criminalized buyers of sex, while decriminalizing the person who sold, or was sold for, sex. Sweden understood that gender inequality and sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, could not be combated effectively as long as it was considered acceptable to purchase access to another – often more vulnerable and disadvantaged – person’s body. Alongside this law, the Swedish government made a significant investment in exit programs for those who wish to leave prostitution and to provide comprehensive social services for victims of exploitation, which is essential for a victim-centred, human rights-based approach to combating trafficking.

While most activists, lawmakers and international and regional organizations agree that the trafficking of women and girls for prostitution is a serious problem and a human rights violation, there is disagreement as to the best way to prevent sex trafficking and exploitation. Again Equality Now’s fact sheet.

Several countries have followed Sweden’s example, and many more are considering this approach. Norway and Iceland passed similar laws in 2008 and 2009, respectively, while in a growing trend sweeping across Europe, Nordic-model style legislation has recently been discussed in the parliaments of France, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales. In early 2014, the parliaments of the European Union and the Council of Europe both adopted non-binding resolutions recommending member states to consider the Nordic Model.

As well as visits to parliamentarians I met church leaders who have real concerns for young women caught up in prostitution. Research and experience show that legalising brothels has an adverse effect in regard to the prevalence of illegal prostitution. It is also a fact that the average age of a girl entering prostitution around the world including Australia is 14. The average age of death for a prostituted woman is 35.

I also contacted mayor’s and aldermen in the area. The concern for them is that under NT legislation, local governments/wards would have no say in whether a brothel would be placed in their suburbs.

The trip to Darwin was very encouraging and I was able to pass on research from the trip to Sweden with each parliamentarian I met in Darwin.

ACL believes the NT parliament has the opportunity to be at the forefront of social reform in Australia by

  • recognising that human trafficking and prostitution are two sides of the same coin

  • taking the position that prostitution, like domestic violence, is unacceptable in a modern society

  • being the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce the Nordic model to addressing the problem of prostitution and the associated human trafficking