It’s been reported this week that South Australian Labor Backbencher Steph Key hopes to introduce a private member’s bill on the 20th of October to decriminalise prostitution.

The bill aims to legalise streetwalking and the establishment of small brothels in suburban areas. However, under the model, no sex business can be carried out within 200m of any child-related centre such as a school or child-care centre, no people under the age of 18 are to be employed as sex workers and any conviction of a person for an offence relating to prostitution will be immediately "spent" and not retained on a person's record.

In a news report South Australian Family First MP Dennis Hood has responded to the news by saying prostitution is the exploitation of women.

The ACL has regularly commented on the issue of legalising prostitution. The ACL has long held the view that prostitution is harmful to those engaged in it and is a form of exploitation and abuse of women. Prostituted women are not to be blamed for the prostitution industry; rather the ACL believes that they should be provided with support and assistance to leave the harmful and exploitative industry.

Decriminalisation or legalisation of prostitution promotes a culture of acceptance among the men who create the demand for paid sex as well as in the wider community. Prostitution becomes something which is legally acceptable and therefore socially acceptable; it is just another "job" for the women who "choose" it and provides a necessary "service" to the men who "need" it. It makes it easier for vulnerable women and girls to be drawn into the industry and fosters degrading attitudes among men towards women, including the view that women's bodies are products which can be purchased and used for sexual pleasure.

Decriminalisation and regulation systems are put in place with the objectives of controlling prostitution and creating a safer and more open environment for sex workers. However, these aims are generally not met and in most cases the very opposite outcomes occur. In particular, legalisation of prostitution creates an environment in which human trafficking is more likely to occur. Further, it also creates an environment in which underage prostitution is more likely to occur. Above all else, prostitution is degrading and destructive for women and girls. It is a form of abuse and violence against women by the men who purchase them. Prostitution is regarded as a problem that society can never be rid of, so attempts are made to control prostitution by decriminalisation and regulation.

In 1999, Sweden passed the Act Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services. Sweden recognises prostitution as a "serious form of male violence against women and children" and, in keeping with the country's commitment to gender equality, sought ways to protect women from prostitution by focusing on the core cause - the demand for women to provide sexual pleasure, without which prostitution would not be able to flourish and expand.  The women's movement played a pivotal role in the country introducing the laws, highlighting the fact that prostitution is at its core an issue of respect for women and gender equality. Under the Swedish law, prostituted women are not criminally liable; it is the purchaser of sex who is committing the crime. It covers all forms of sexual services purchased in any circumstances. Although the law was initially met with criticism by police and judicial authorities, they are now supportive of the legislation.

As can be seen by the situation in Sweden, society can reduce the amount of prostitution by addressing the core cause of prostitution: the demand from men who purchase women for sex. Other Nordic countries are now following Sweden's lead, and South Korea has had a similar system since 2004.

It’s for this reason that ACL supports a Swedish model. It’s important that South Australians write to their local members about this new private members bill expressing their concern. MP’s email addresses can be found on the parliament website.

For more information about prostitution, please see the ACL’s submission into the prostitution inquiry in the ACT earlier this year here.

The ACL’s Nick Jensen was also interviewed for ACT 7.30 program about prostitution here and has written about the issue here.