01 May, 2024

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 27 September 2023.)

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (21:03): I rise today to indicate my support for the Summary Offences (Prostitution Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2023.

I wish to thank the Hon. Nicola Centofanti for bringing this bill to the chamber and allowing us the opportunity to have a robust and respectful debate on the sex industry and prostitution law reform. The fact that we have found ourselves in this place as legislators engaging in intense consultations, debates, research and deliberations on this issue over many years demonstrates that there is a genuine need to reform our current laws.

I believe there are good people on both sides of this debate who care deeply about people, mainly women, and their welfare and safety in the sex industry. Today we are asked to consider the Nordic model in this bill, also called the equality model. It is a system of partial decriminalisation. It exempts people who work in the sex industry, mostly women, but reprimands those who procure sex for others (such as pimps) and third-party profiteers (such as brothel owners), as well as those who pay for sex (mostly men).

The Nordic model also offers assistance or exit programs for those who want to leave the sex industry. I note that the Hon. Dr Centofanti has already spoken extensively on the specific amendments to the Summary Offences Act 1953 and the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 proposed in this bill; therefore, I will not be going into details of those in my contribution.

I wish to speak more broadly to the intention of this bill and the very real and empowering impact that it will have on the vulnerable women who are victimised and exploited in the sex industry.

The Nordic model was first adopted in Sweden in 1999 and has also been implemented in Norway and Iceland. This model has now been enacted in other countries, including Canada, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, France, Israel and South Korea. It is also under consideration in Spain, Latvia and Lithuania, while the European Parliament has shown its support for the model.

While men are also involved in the sex trade, over 95 per cent of people involved are women. Of these women, approximately 80 per cent enter the sex industry due to extreme circumstances, such as financial distress, homelessness, addictions and abuse.

Indigenous women and women of colour are also over-represented in the sex trade.

These are women who continue to be physically and financially exploited or coerced by their mostly male clients and mostly male pimps or brothel managers. Women who are already often victims of sexual abuse, experiencing domestic violence, drug and alcohol addictions or homelessness find themselves making harsh choices to avoid utter destitution.

These women need laws which will protect them, and they need a tangible pathway to exit the sex industry and be free to make their own decisions.

During my consultation with stakeholders on this bill, I have met with Ashlyn Vice, State Director of the Australian Christian Lobby. I have spoken to Hindu and Buddhist community leaders and many multicultural community leaders. They have all expressed views similar to mine and indicated their support for this bill.

Earlier this year, I met with Amanda Brohier, the President of Women Ending Exploitation by Prostitution, known as WEEP, who was also accompanied by a young woman who previously worked as a prostitute and has since left the industry. To protect her identity out of respect, I will not name her in parliament, but the story she told was very confronting and left a deep impression on me.

She came from a dysfunctional and disconnected family. At 18, she became involved in the first of many abusive relationships with men who used her for sex. She would later turn to drugs to ease her pain, but with no money to support her addiction, she felt that she had no choice but to sell her body.

This was the beginning of an even more turbulent and difficult time for her. She was constantly used, abused, threatened and robbed by her clients. She felt she had no choice but to work longer hours, inviting her to further dangers. She became isolated, associating only with other sex workers and drug dealers. She was stuck in a vicious and self-sustaining spiral with seemingly no way out.

While she was eventually able to escape from her horrible life, it came at the cost of her physical health and mental wellbeing. To this day, she continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that is also all too common amongst women because of their tormenting experiences in the sex industry.

I want to thank this young woman for her courage and strength to meet with me and many others so that she can tell her story, share her experience and advocate for meaningful and effective change for women who have become trapped in the sex industry. As she says:

“No one enters this industry simply by choice, there are always underlying issues.

Another case study is from Rose Hunter, who is an author and a sex industry survivor. I would like to quote why she supported the Nordic model. She said:

“I support the Nordic Model because, in my 10 years in the sex industry, I never saw an exit service, or even dreamed that I might deserve such a service—and I so wish I had.

As part of its exit service component, the bill that will be voted on this year in South Australia suggests assistance in education and training, accommodation, employment, and access to health and legal services.

In addition to the immense help this would have been for me, the assistance of programs like this would have sent me a vital compassionate message: that I deserve more than the sex industry—our laws said so.

I support the Nordic Model because, in my experience, the sex industry cannot be made safe for women—either physically or psychologically. It is not, and cannot be made into, acceptable work.

I support the Nordic Model because it describes a society I want to live in—a society in which men's sexual use of disadvantaged and traumatised women is not acceptable and is not tolerated by our laws.

What kind of society do we want? We can decide that we believe our women and girls deserve better than being exploited in the sex industry.

We can legislate to change societal attitudes. Other countries have already done it. I hope South Australia will be the first Australian state to prioritise the welfare of our women and girls and enact the Nordic Model.

I recognise that those who advocate for full decriminalisation are seeking to help and provide the necessary support for women in prostitution. However, by not proactively tackling the inherent inequalities in the sex industry, decriminalisation will never be able to achieve the ultimate goal of empowering and protecting vulnerable women.

The decriminalisation model in other jurisdictions has failed to achieve its goals of increasing safety, improving health and human rights, decreasing stigma and eliminating fear of criminal repercussions.

I now want to point out a case study looking at a jurisdiction that has already decriminalised prostitution, namely, New Zealand. Five years after decriminalisation in New Zealand, a government report found that a majority of sex workers interviewed felt that decriminalisation of prostitution could do little about the violence that occurs in the sex industry, and few reported incidents of violence against them.

According to the report, despite decriminalisation the social stigma surrounding involvement in the sex industry continues. Street prostitution in New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, increased dramatically, with numbers more than doubling just a couple of years after decriminalisation. Child prostitution also became rampant in some cities, with girls as young as 10 years selling sex.

These case studies found that women had no say in setting the price of sexual services, with prices often changed without consultation. Brothel owners would have workers pay a bond or withhold payment as a means to compel women to work. Workers would get fined for refusing to perform particular sexual acts, and it was difficult for workers to make complaints, due to the control exerted by brothel owners.

This is why it is necessary that any reform we consider in this place actively seeks to fix the power imbalance between those who sell themselves for sexual services and those who participate in the buying of sexual services.

This is what this proposed bill seeks to do—to reduce the demand for sexual services, create a platform to restore equality and then provide the necessary help and services that are required for those who may want to exit the industry. It is vital that this bill provides a framework for real support that helps and empowers women to transition away from sex work.

Once again, I would like to thank the Hon. Nicola Centofanti for introducing this bill, and the many women, individuals and organisations who have advocated and campaigned strongly for this bill. With those remarks, I commend the bill.