ACL's Tasmanian Director Mark Brown had the following opinion piece published in The Examiner on Tuesday, February 1st about the prostitution discussion paper released in Tasmania.

Last week saw the release of the long awaited discussion paper looking into possible legislative options relating to prostitution. It was pleasing to see the government honouring David Bartlett’s pre-election commitment to seriously consider the Swedish model of dealing with prostitution as one of the three options (criminalisation, decriminalisation and legalisation).

In Sweden prostitution is regarded as a “serious form of violence against women and children” and has had legislation in place since 1999 which bans (criminalises) the purchaser of sexual services. This model has been copied in other countries including Norway, Iceland, South Korea and France.

The legislation does not make prostituted women criminally liable but instead seeks to protect women and children by reducing demand. This in turn sends a strong message to society about respect for women. The results in Sweden speak for themselves. Its National Board of Health and Welfare reported significant decreases in the number of women in street prostitution and men purchasing sex. There has also been a measurable decrease in the number of victims of human trafficking, which the Coalition Against Trafficking’s Gunilla Ekberg says is intrinsically linked to prostitution.

One concern about the Swedish model noted by the European Parliament was that of displacement – a spilling over of demand into neighbouring jurisdictions. There may be truth in this argument but it is up to legislators in those regions affected to do their own analysis. But if Norway and Iceland are anything to go by they have clearly thrown support behind its neighbour’s approach.

The Australian context has given plenty of scope for assessment of the other options and the results are not at all good. A discussion paper of Queensland’s licensing of brothels admits that 90 per cent of the sex trade remain outside the boundaries of the law. Legalisation of prostitution in Victoria has likewise been unsuccessful in controlling the industry, with illegal or unregulated prostitution accounting for 50 per cent of prostitution in Victoria.

Brothels, legal or not, also attract criminal elements. Last year The Age newspaper in Melbourne revealed the case of a prostitute in a legal brothel being threatened with a gun by a client for insisting on condom use. The women admitted the brothel allowed workers to charge more for unprotected sex even when the law forbids it.

The Home Office in the United Kingdom examined a wide range of prostitution systems for a 2004 report and found licensing schemes in both Australia and Europe have “failed to deliver the safe working environment that they set out to achieve”.

The option of decriminalisation chosen by some mainland states and New Zealand has also shown worrying trends especially in regards to children being lured into prostitution. In New Zealand, a Maxim Institute study of prostitution showed that decriminalisation has not led to any decrease in the number of street workers or underage workers and had in fact likely led to an increase.

Legitimising prostitution through decriminalisation or licensing only increases demand and makes the likelihood of children getting caught in the web more likely. With the case of the 12-year-old girl being prostituted to over 100 men still fresh in our minds, surely we should take the only real option that decreases demand and makes a strong statement about the way men view and treat women.