Australia has different legislations in regards to prostitution in each state. For example New South Wales has almost full decriminalisation and definitely in favour of brothel owners, less so for individual, who can be charged for “living on the earnings of prostitute” or soliciting for prostitution outside dwelling, school, church or hospital. In Victoria street sex work is illegal and brothels and premises based work needs to be licenced. In reality, NSW police reports show that legal operations have connections to organised crime, drug and people trafficking and in Victoria we are seeing surge in premises, both registered and under the cover of massage parlours and unchecked conditions and practices within registered brothels.
While many countries in Europe and recently in the US (US Greens Party voted for change in policy on prostitution and support the Nordic Model) the push to introduce the abolitionist approach has been coming from the left in the name of justice and equality for women, in Australia the left has been supporting the “sex worker” lobby groups and the sex industry itself, contributing to normalisation of sex purchase by men and expansion of the sex trade industry.
It came as a bit as a surprise to see that in April a branch of Victorian Liberal Party proposed a motion in support of the Nordic Model, which aims at addressing the demand for prostitution via penalising the buyer and not targeting those who are in prostitution.
It also came as a surprise to have a very public supporter of the Nordic Model within the Greens Party, Kathleen Maltzahn, state that she won’t support the Vic Liberal Party’s motion for the Nordic Model if and when it goes up for a vote. Maltzahn is known for her grass roots work, Project Respect, an exit program for women in prostitution, which she established after working in Philippines and seeing first-hand the insidious nature of sex trade. She has been going against her own party’s policy, which supports full decriminalisation. She has been widely criticised by those in her own party as well as those in the pro sex lobby groups. Upon the release of her statement, a criticism also came from parts of the abolition movement. I does look like a significant pressure has been placed upon her from the party leaders to make that statement. One thing is clear, we need more radical feminist analysis of prostitution in the Green’s party, more radical feminists being active within the mainstream left to bring about change.
Many activists within the abolishion movement hesitate at working with the Liberal Party or Christian organisations, due to disagreements on details or due to their stand regarding other women’s rights issues.
I have asked Simone Watson, director of Nordic Model Australia Coalition, what she thinks about working with the Liberal Party on this and she said this:
“My concerns around the Victorian Liberal Party endorsement of the Nordic/Abolitionist Model were that their first proposal was not in fact the Nordic/Abolitionist model at all.
“The initial draft was a serious red flag to me as it only focused on criminalising buyers in illegal brothels. It is already illegal to buy sexual access in illegal brothels. Yes, it aimed to decriminalise the prostituted women in those same brothels, but offered no exit programs and no changes to legislation across the board. So my reading of it was that it would be doomed to failure. I do not think my concerns around such a premise are unwarranted. It failed to take in to account the inefficacy of prohibition laws on prostitution; it failed to capture the intrinsic and essential point of the abolitionist approach. Their proposal was still rooted in the dangerous ground of prohibition. And prohibition fails. Some saw this as at least a start, however, the Nordic/Abolitionist Model cannot be undertaken half-baked. To do so would be incredibly dangerous and anathema to the law they claimed to be endorsing. To their credit they have since recognised that their initial proposal was incomplete.
“Do I trust them? Well, I have some trust, especially as they took considerable time to listen to survivor’s and our allies’ concerns on this. They certainly have taken more time than the Greens or Labor, which is why the Green Party USA should be commended for their determination to support the abolition of the sex trade and all major parties here should take note of that.
“For me, working with political parties as a sex-trade abolitionist is fraught because I often do not agree with many of their other policies. For example the Liberal’s alliance with anti-woman organisations, those who are against abortion and so on. But if a party is truly dedicated to abolishing the sex-trade, extinguishing the ongoing commodification of women, and women’s rights to be free from sexual exploitation, then I will support them on that particular policy. Again it is hard to trust any particular party on this issue, but if they are willing to amend their initial proposal and actively endorse the Nordic/Abolitionist model as it is intended in full, I support that unequivocally.”
Simone’s response highlights critical issues in approaching the Nordic Model with wrong motivation, poor understanding of the process involved as well as half-baked financial commitment, all critical to its success.
To summarise, the Nordic Model requires a three pronged approach:
- Establishment of exit and support programs for people in prostitution.
- Education of the public and retraining of the police
- Enforcement of the new laws by providing funding to dedicated police people and social workers.
The laws themselves aim at stoping trafficking and curbing growth of the global sex trade via penalising the buyers and pimps.
Other important news from Australia is the upcoming Australian Summit Against Sexual Exploitation (ASASE) on 27-28 of July in Melbourne. Key speakers of the summit on the subject of prostitution are:
- Julie Bindel (UK)
- Sabrinna Valisce (SPACE International)
- Simone Watson (Normac)
- Sarah M Mah (Asian Women for Equality, Canada)
I’m hoping that the summit will bring more allies to the abolition movement in Australia, who can then plan for the consultation process needed when the Nordic Model gets a motion vote in Victoria.
Joanna Pinkiewicz is a DGR Australia member; environmental activist, women’s right activist artist and mother.