On Wednesday, 10 June 2020, ACL participated in the Victorian Government’s 'Review into the Decriminalisation of Sex Work'. This review of prostitution covered commercial brothels and escort agencies, massage parlours and similar businesses, in small owner-operated businesses, and on the streets.

Australian Christian Lobby spokesperson for women and children, Wendy Francis, was joined by Bronwen Healy, founder of the 'Hope Foundation' and 'The Truth Collective', and Lisa Olsson, Perth based lawyer with the Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers.

The recognition of issues around public health and human rights outcomes is a major reason for the Victorian Government’s initiation of this review, and we were assured that, while decriminalisation was their aim, all views would be heard and considered. The review claims to target criminal activity in the sex work industry, particularly mentioning coercion, exploitation, debt bondage, violence, and the scourge of trafficking.

These are implicit acknowledgements of the consequences of Victoria previously legalising prostitution. Global research shows that after full decriminalisation, demand rises, the prostitution industry gets bigger and associated criminal activity - including trafficking - inevitably increases.

This review was unusual as it had a predetermined outcome: decriminalising sex work in Victoria. Identified as a stakeholder in this discussion, ACL took the opportunity to state that most women, given the option, would exit prostitution. Many in are in dangerous situations. Trafficking occurs far more often in Australia than most people realise. ACL agrees that these women should not be criminalised, rather, they need to be assisted to exit prostitution.

The 'Nordic' style of prostitution legislation does just that: it criminalises the purchase of another person for the purpose of prostitution, and it assists the most vulnerable to exit prostitution rather than penalise them. Those in prostitution are more often than not a victim in a cycle of exploitation.

A growing number of countries are seeking to reduce the violence and trafficking associated with prostitution through the introduction of the Nordic legislative model.

First introduced in Sweden in 1999 as part of the Violence Against Women Act, the Nordic legislation came into effect in Norway and Iceland in 2009, in Canada in 2014 as part of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. Northern Ireland followed in 2015, then France in 2016, the Republic of Ireland in 2017 (as part of the Sexual Offences Act) and in Israel in 2018.

Recent trafficking instances in Victoria including cases of a young child and another involving two women highlight the need for urgent action. If the Victorian government is serious about fighting back against trafficking, they must adopt Nordic model of decriminalisation.

Prostitution is not work: it is exploitation and in many cases, trafficking. ACL will continue to advocate on behalf of the vulnerable – mainly women and children – who are caught in its devastating trap.

Find out more on Victoria's 'Review into the Decriminalisation of Sex Work' here.