As the South Australian parliament continues to examine legislation to decriminalise prostitution in the state, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the South Australian Police could not support the current bill even though police do “not object to the decriminalisation of sex work per se”.
“We cannot support a Bill (if passed in its current form) which allows [sex work] to operate in an unregulated environment,” he wrote to the select committee in June.
“We hold the view that the sex industry should be regulated to ensure the safety of the people operating within it, and for the general community as a whole.”
Under the current law any authorised police officer is allowed to enter and search a premises if they have “reasonable grounds” to believe it’s a brothel – a power that would be removed under the proposed bill.
The police commissioner said regulation was needed to enable police to prevent an “insurgence” of organised crime into the industry, which he described as “highly likely” in the absence of any regulation. He also maintained that the regulations in the current bill “would be less than that imposed on many other small businesses”.
“SAPOL asks and recommends that discussion occurs to identify a model which will allow police to maintain community safety and continue to address serious and organised crime risks,” he said.
The police commissioner is right to be concerned.
After prostitution was decriminalised in New South Wales, one police officer investigating legal Sydney brothels linked to sex trafficking and organised crime noted that because of decriminalisation “police were cut out of the equation and crime infiltrated the brothel and massage parlour industry” while “pimps and brothel operators were empowered and enriched”.
Five years after decriminalisation in New Zealand, a government report found that “the majority of sex workers interviewed felt that [decriminalising prostitution] could do little about violence that occurred” in the sex industry.
Similarly, when Amsterdam began shutting down its legal brothels “Mayor Job Cohen acknowledged that the Dutch had been wrong about legal prostitution. It did not make prostitution safer. Instead, he said, legal prostitution increased organised crime. It functioned like a magnet for pimps and punters. Trafficking increased after legal prostitution – 80 per cent of women in Dutch prostitution have been trafficked.”
The unfortunate reality is that decriminalisation has been unable to protect women and girls or make prostitution “safe”, because of the violent, abusive and exploitative nature of prostitution itself.
As South Australian MP Clare Scriven said, “neither decriminalisation nor a licensing system removes the violence which is central to prostitution”.
“Both systems support the view that women are commodities who can be bought and sold, which reduces gender equity for all women and reduces safety for all women.”
Scriven said the bill would give “pimps and brothel keepers” more power and “do nothing to increase safety for the women and girls in the sex trade”.
As we wrote in our submission to the select committee, we agree that law reform is needed in this area, both to protect prostituted persons and to counter the toxic message promoted by the sex industry that the sexual objectification of women and girls is either normal or acceptable.
Like many other organisations and individuals concerned with women’s rights and welfare, as well as countries like Sweden, Iceland, Canada and France, we advocate for the Nordic Model of prostitution legislation, which decriminalises prostituted persons only, works to reduce demand by penalising the buyers and pimps who exploit women and girls, and provides exit strategies for those wishing to leave the industry.
We echo the safety concerns regarding the proposed bill, and urge the South Australian Parliament to adopt an approach that will genuinely prioritise the safety of prostituted persons, the majority of whom are women and girls.