Time for SA to lead the way on prostitution law reform

On Wednesday 30 August 2023, in an Australian first, the Hon. Nicola Centofanti introduced an Equality Model prostitution law into the South Australian Upper House. In so doing she said:

”The Bill has been drafted with the following core components in mind:

  • To criminalise the act of offering or providing money or other benefit in return for a person performing sexual services.
  • To remove criminal sanctions currently applied to sexual exploitation victims.
  • To criminalise the acts of enabling and profiting from the prostitution of another person, and
  • To provide a comprehensive, resourced network of support and exiting services for victims of sexual exploitation.”
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The SA Parliament has led Australia in enacting laws to protect women. SA was the first state to give women the vote. Our Parliament has steadfastly and courageously rejected laws that would protect pimps and third-party profiteers from the trade in (largely) women’s bodies under the guise of legalisation or, more recently, full decriminalisation of prostitution.   

It is now time that we go further and enact this Bill which is modelled on the Equality, or Nordic, Model of prostitution law reform. The Equality Model most closely aligns with the human rights and duties South Australians enjoy and owe to each other.

Please join us in advocating for this important change in SA law, which will protect vulnerable women, restrain men from thinking women are to be bought for their pleasure, hold profiteers and pimps accountable to the law and provide proper exit strategies for those who would leave the trade.

As Ms Centofanti said: “I seek members’ support on this piece of legislation which at the heart of its core is designed to protect and assist societies’ most vulnerable.”

Decriminalisation is Harmful to Women

There is abundant evidence that full decriminalisation is harmful to women.

On 13 April 2021 the United Kingdom All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation published a report titled “How to stop sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in the UK”. It is the most recent and authoritative report on the issue of prostitution law reform.

The Executive Summary states that sexual exploitation is – “The exchange of money, food, accommodation, employment, services or other goods in return for sex acts is sexual exploitation and abuse. It is never acceptable. Commercial sexual exploitation, which includes prostitution and sex trafficking, is highly gendered and underpinned by historically unequal power relations between women and men. Sexual exploitation is a form of violence against women.”

There is an undeniable link between the legalisation of prostitution and the rate of trafficking of persons. According to the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, traffickers in Australia primarily exploit women and girls in sex trafficking, subjecting them to physical and sexual violence and intimidation, manipulating them through illegal drugs, and forcing them to pay off unexpected or inflated debts. Traffickers evade authorities by frequently moving them to different locations.

Global reports indicate that as many as 60% of prostituted people were sexually assaulted as children and 75% have been homeless at some point in their lives. Studies in 9 countries reveal that 68% of people in prostitution meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress and are deeply traumatised from daily physical and sexual abuse and violence’ with symptoms in the same range as battered women, rape survivors and combat veterans.

The Equality Model is the Appropriate Model for South Australia

In 1999 Sweden amended its Criminal Code to:

  • decriminalise the selling of sex, thereby allowing the victims to seek help;
  • criminalise the buying of sex;
  • criminalise third party profiteering from the selling of sex;
  • create measures to assist prostituted people (largely women) to exit the trade.
This is the Equality Model.

The Model recognises that the majority of people, primarily women, enter prostitution not because of real choice but rather, “Lack of meaningful options to make a decent living, experiences of childhood and adult abuse, coercion and substance misuse are common features in the lives of women in the prostitution system.”

The Equality Model has been adopted across the world:

  • 1999 in Sweden as part of the Violence Against Women Act;
  • 2009 in Norway;
  • 2009 in Iceland;
  • 2014 in Canada as part of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act;
  • 2015 in Northern Ireland;
  • 2016 in France;
  • 2017 in Ireland as part of the Sexual Offences Act;
  • 2018 in Israel. The Prohibition of Consumption of Prostitution Services Act became effective in Israel on 10 July 2020;
  • 2022 Texas (modified);
  • 2023 Maine
  • There is a Bill before the UK Parliament. Other countries continue to explore this pro-woman legislative model.

It is in the best interests of all South Australians for the South Australian Parliament to lead the way in Australia and adopt this model of prostitution legislation that has been proven effective in reducing trafficking and increasing respect and safety for women.

South Australia has long been a leader in laws promoting equality. This State should be the first state in Australia to adopt the Equality Model of Prostitution law reform by enacting the Summary Offences (Prostitution Law Reform) Bill 2023.

When you complete your name and address in the box below, your letter will be directed to your local MP. 

Thank you for standing up for vulnerable women in SA.