Simple safety measures for sex workers, such as checking in with each other after a booking, are currently illegal in Queensland, and police are given immunity if they illegally entrap and prosecute sex workers.
These are some practices that the #DecrimQLD campaign is striving to change as the decriminalisation of sex work became one step closer on August 28.
The Labor government has referred the state’s sex work laws to the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC), with Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman acknowledging that this will bring Queensland into line with “most other states”.
Janelle Fawkes from Respect Inc, Queensland’s most prominent sex worker rights organisation, told Green Left that they
“look forward to the chance to make sure that sex workers are recognised as the key stakeholders in this discussion because it is sex workers that are most directly impacted by the [existing] laws”.
It has been a long campaign to even get to this point: sex workers discussed the harmful impact of the laws on sex workers at the Respect AGM at the end of 2017. Since then, #DecrimQLD has met monthly to organise protests, social media campaigns and symposiums in parliament, and to lobby politicians.
“We have met with every MP and minister who would meet with us”, Fawkes said.
The group has also collaborated with criminology and health academics to produce joint papers arguing the case for decriminalisation.
As the QLRC does not have to report until November 2022, the laws remain in force until then.
Fawkes said the group is pushing “to get some agreement from government that the targeting and focus on sex workers will stop while we’re waiting for the legislative change that is needed.
“In other states and territories, police targeting of sex workers increased during the process [of law reform].”
Fawkes said that sex workers are hopeful that the QLRC will develop a good model even though the state “doesn’t have a good history of developing legislation with the intention of improving workplace health and safety of sex workers”.
“This inquiry is to look at what a decriminalised model looks like”, Fawkes said, adding, “we are very clear about what that means. We want to make sure that this process stays on focus rather than shifting to a paternalistic or moralistic model.”
Fawkes pointed to the Northern Territory, which decriminalised sex work completely last year, and to the Victorian government, which has announced an intention to. She said that, while the Victorian discussion paper needs some work, “it is a very good starting point. That’s what we’re hoping for in Queensland.”