The Decriminalisation of Sex Work

Guest Blogger: Cameron Cox, Sex Worker and CEO of Sex Workers Outreach Project, New South Wales, Australia

“You can ask expensive escorts in New York City, brothel workers in Cambodia, street workers in South Africa and every girl on the roster at my old job in Soho, and they will all tell you the same thing. You can speak to millions of sex workers and countless sex work-led organizations. We want full decriminalization and labor rights as workers.”

Toni Mac: “The laws that sex workers really want” TedxEastEnd 2016Decriminalisation is now widely recognised as the optimal legal framework for sex work.  Decriminalisation however is often misunderstood and is often thought to be the same as legalisation.

Decriminalisation is not legalisation. Legalisation is a constrictive legislative framework that allows limited forms of sex work activities, locations and surrounding activities legally but also criminalises and/or heavily regulates many sex work activities, locations and surrounding activities.

Variations on legalisation include licensing systems where – while also being heavily regulated by the criminal law -sex workers and sex work premises are also required to be licensed. Both the licenses and regulations are enforced by government, usually by police forces.

Decriminalisation of sex work involves the removal of all sex work specific criminal law and, by default, police as the enforcers of that law. Decriminalisation gives sex workers parity with other workers affirming that sex work is work.

Criminal laws that restrict or prohibit sex work (and the use of police to enforce these laws) form barriers that prevent sex workers from engaging with the standard regulators of work. Criminal laws that restrict or prohibit sex work are also often a source of police and institutional corruption.

Decriminalisation on the other hand allows sex workers to access the entities that regulate industrial relations, occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation, the criminal law (including the police), anti-discrimination and public health.

Decriminalisation in effect allows sex work to operate within standard and already existing regulatory frameworks and is thus in itself a regulatory framework.  Criminalisation and legalisation, along with licensing and regulation,  although designed to strictly control or eliminate sex work, effectively deregulate sex work and push it underground beyond the reach of the law.

About the Author

Cameron Cox

Sex Worker and CEO of Sex Workers Outreach Project, New South Wales, Australia

Cameron Cox has more than thirty years experience in the industry both in Australia and overseas working and in a range of industry settings and under a variety of legal frameworks. Cameron is currently working in peer education in a health based organisation and working for law reform and human rights for all workers in the industry.

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