Sex workers and their allies rallied for law reform and an end to stigma in Brisbane on March 8. It was the first public rally held by Respect Inc, a peer-led rights and support organisation for sex workers. Twenty people wearing red, holding signs and displaying red umbrellas gathered in Queens Garden and marched to Parliament House.
Speaking out against Queensland's 17-year-old sex work laws and chanting, “Nothing about us without us,” workers demanded the Labor state government consult with them to ensure legal changes that would decriminalise their work.
Under the current legislation, sex work is only permitted in a licensed brothel or by private workers working alone. Street-based soliciting and working with another sex worker (very broadly defined) are crimes.
One rally speaker, Jenny King, pointed out that because the current laws are so stringent, most sex workers in Queensland work illegally. She said that only 22 brothels are registered at any one time, and because of the tight restrictions, legal brothels go broke. As an example, she explained that despite Queensland Health having told the government that for hand jobs, it's safe to simply ensure that workers wash their hands afterwards, the legislation mandates that a condom or latex glove must be used. It also makes it an offence for private workers to include the word “massage” in their advertisements – with a penalty including gaol time (not to mention the process of facing a magistrate, with the worker's real name and the suburb they live in liable to being published).
Another speaker, Moose, denounced the provisions of the legislation that allow for entrapment – permitting police to pose as clients and have sex with workers to get evidence against them. He also slammed the stigma surrounding sex work, explaining “someone you know, someone you love, someone you fuck is a sex worker.... but you might not know, because the stigma surrounding sex work means we don't know if it's safe to tell you”.
Rally-goers were angry that there is no priority for the laws to be reviewed and currently there is no mechanism to ensure that sex workers' voices are heard. This is despite the Crime and Misconduct Commissioin recommendation in 2011 that a Ministerial Advisory Committee be created to allow this.
But with a buoyant mood, a range of signs and defiant chants, their message was clear: “What do we want? Decriminalisation! When do we want it? Now!”
[More photos from this rally here.]