An ally in action - an argument for decriminalisation

Julie Bates, a sex worker rights activism trailblazer and leader, is someone I look up to immeasurably. She was a founding member of the Australian Prostitute's Collective - the organisation that preceeded the Sex Workers Outreach Project NSW (SWOP). She is involved in grassroots representation and advocacy around the sex industry, industry community development, and provides specialist advice to the NSW sex industry and other stakeholders on matters surrounding legislation, local government regulation, health promotion and harm reduction, as well as research. Julie is someone many sex workers around the country admire and work to emulate. Below, I publish Julie's introduction to, and following, a letter to the editor by her friend and mentor, Jan Aitkin, in support of our cause fighting to maintain the world-renowned model of decriminalisation in New South Wales. Jan's letter encapsulates eloquently and succintly the issues surrounding the threat to the wonderful model that we work under here in NSW, and I am proud to publish the words of such a passionate ally here. Thank you, Jan, for your powerful words. Words like this deserve to be published. They deserve to be circulated far and wide. They are wise words, and ones many in this discussion could learn from. JULIE BATES: You all know of the threat we are facing to decriminalisation with the inquiry into the regulation of brothels in NSW and the release of its baseless, racist,whorephobic and discriminatory report tabled in Parliament onTuesday so I thought you might like to read the following positive letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald - not sure whether Jan got published but worth a read. The author, Jan Aitken has been a mentor and support person to me for over 30 years and is a staunch feminist who took on the issue of 'prostitution' as it was called back in the 1970s and reframed it as a labor rights issue in need of legislative protections such as we now have under decrim.

JAN AITKIN, LETTER TO THE EDITOR, SMH "I read with interest the articles by Janelle Fawkes and Caroline Norma entitled ‘Sex Work does not need a licence’ (SMH 11.11.15) . As an original member of the Australian Prostitutes’ Collective back in the 1980s and a researcher/writer on the subject I am horrified to see the issue of licencing systems being raised again. Since the post 80s decriminalisation of most legal restraints on prostitution in NSW has allowed sex workers in general to have a much better chance of working safely, independently and being able to keep a fairer share of the profits. This is a far cry from the old days of corrupt police and women and men working in very unsafe situations. Best of all the actual workers have been able to set up their own support organisations to advise on safe working practices, provide ’ugly mug’ lists of dangerous clients and assist women to manage their finances. The workers no longer need ‘do-gooders’ to speak for them, they do it themselves. This is feminism in action.

Ms Norma told us that NSW is far from doing anything substantial ‘to wind down the state’s sex industry’. Short of putting something in the water supply I can’t see how the NSW government could achieve this. In fact we do not need expensive legislation and dedicated staff to manage the problem areas in the sex industry. Human trafficking is a serious problem which also applies to people on 457 visas. Foreign born workers who are trafficked need much more humane treatment when they are freed. Police already have powers to deal with outlaw bikie gangs.

The call for greater regulation comes from councils who have antiquated ideas about ‘brothels’ – a word which comes with ancient history. Why not have premises labelled ‘Personal Services’ and treated by council like any other business as to signage, parking etc and able to be located in business precincts. It is definitely unsafe for workers to be located in outer business parks, especially at night. Let’s get over the idea that paid sex is any different from unpaid sex and therefore needs to be regulated. The slogan is ‘ Like any other business’. The NSW government does not need to spend millions regulating the sex industry. If they have money to spend give it to the overworked police for the real problems in our community.

Jan Aitkin"