Sex workers protest for decriminalisation

March 14, 2023
International Working Girls Day protest on March 8. Photo: International Working Girl’s Day/Instagram

More than 100 people rallied at Hyde Park to demand rights for sex workers on March 8, before marching to New South Wales Parliament House.

The protest, on International Women’s Day, was titled International Working Girl’s Day (IWGD) — a humorous nod to the euphemism “working girl(s)”. The date was chosen to assert the importance of sex worker rights in the broader battle for women’s rights.

The collective behind IWGD formed in response to the lack of grassroots organising for industrial and legal rights for sex workers.

Co-host Damien and Sam, Felicity, Wei and Paola spoke in favour of nationwide decriminalisation of sex work, for sex workers and sex work to be covered by the Anti Discrimination Act 1977, for the rights of migrants and international students to work, for work health and safety guidelines to be observed in sex work workplaces and for more funding for community services and less to the police.

Sam outlined why the work restrictions on migrants and international students needed to end: they promote the conditions that exploit an already vulnerable community. They said these same laws drive migrants to turn to sex work as a means of survival and that no one should be economically coerced into sex work.

Felicity reflected on the murder of sex worker and transgender woman Kimberly McRae in January 2020, and the failure of the justice system, which handed her murderer a manslaughter sentence on February 23.

The client claimed he “panicked” on discovering her transgender status. Felicity said “both Kimberly’s status as a sex worker and as a transgender woman lead to the acceptance of the ‘gay/trans panic defence’ of her murderer and light sentencing”.

Felicity noted: “It is both the legal system and the police that protect and enable the bigotry of the far right” and pointed to the police protection religious protestors received while marching down King Street during World Pride.

Wei highlighted how sex workers and sex work is not recognised in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 in a few personal stories about herself and her peers. She outlined how housing providers and bosses can deny essential services on the basis of someone’s choice to be a sex worker.

She condemned the Nursing and Midwifery Council of NSW for its recent warning to nurses working as online sex workers suggesting it was a “potential distraction”. Wei said it is hypocritical for the council to tell nurses not to work as sex workers when their work conditions and stagnant pay are clear motivators to work two jobs.

Wei outlined the importance of gaining full decriminalisation across the country. She called for the police to be defunded after describing the brutalisation of sex workers.

Paola told the inspiring story of how she and other workers banded together to demand an improvement to their working conditions. It highlighted the importance for all workers, especially sex workers, to organise collectively for their rights and for sex workers to represented in the union movement.

Given the turnout and interest, the IWGD collective will continue to campaign for reform.

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