Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 16, 2022



The Hon. S.L. GAME (15:53): Prostitution is violence and humiliation of vulnerable men and women. Statistics suggest that around 80 per cent of prostitutes are women. The call to legalise prostitution is a call to legalise gender-based violence.

British police working in joint operations with South Australia's 2018 Operation Webpage admitted, 'We stopped looking at the sex workers themselves as offenders, but as victims, as pawns.' They said they worked in abysmal conditions, the lowest rung, and were being sold specifically for rape, with clients paying extra for freedom to abuse them.

I will never support the decriminalisation of abusers who degrade, humiliate and mentally torture vulnerable human beings. The idea I have heard that legislating prostitution is about women's rights and freedom is dehumanising and degrading. I will never agree to legislating violence and sexual abuse of women.

I have met with a number of sex workers since taking my role in parliament to better understand the issues that currently face them. Although some women tried to convince me that the role of being a prostitute was a positive one, statements such as, 'The men who pay me for sex treat me better than any boyfriend has,' and, 'Yes, women…from overseas…work off…debt through prostitution, it's better…than the situations they face in their own country, they are grateful for it,' left me distressed at the emotional anguish these women are in. They are mothers, wives, human beings, trying to survive.

We should be doing everything we can to support these women out of these hostage situations, support them out of drug addiction, homelessness, mental health issues and domestic violence. This is not about freedom of choice. There is no choice when the door closes and you are forced into degrading acts. No woman chooses to be a prostitute.

I am absolutely horrified at the current legislation, which further punishes these abused and vulnerable human beings. Instead of abuse victims, they are treated as criminals, given a criminal conviction that further shames them and acts as a barrier to employment, finance and society. Women who are effectively prisoners in motel rooms, held in exploitation as sex slaves, should absolutely not be criminalised. They are victims.

It is everyone making money off these victims who needs to be punished. There needs to be urgent reform to prostitution laws that decriminalises the abuse victim and delivers harsh consequences for the abuser. I have been told by former prostitutes that although they tried to convince themselves they were willing participants they have come out of prostitution physically battered and with post-traumatic stress disorder.

It is extremely difficult to find reliable unbiased data for South Australia on prostitution. An international study across nine countries found 71 per cent of sex workers admitted to being physically assaulted while in prostitution. Eighty-nine per cent of respondents to that same survey clearly indicated they wished to leave prostitution but felt they could not do so safely. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents met the indicators for post-traumatic stress disorder and 75 per cent admitted to being homeless at some point.

Apparently, there seems to be more stigma for the seller of sex than there is for the purchaser, yet we do know that in the United States survey results show the largest support for legalisation of the industry comes from male buyers, not industry workers. The majority of UK sex buyers believed that the majority of the women they purchased for prostitution had been trafficked, lured or tricked, but this did not deter them from the purchase. According to figures shown to the European Parliament, it is estimated that 98 per cent of those purchasing sex are male.

Let me be clear: prostitution is a gendered issue. The overwhelming majority of prostitutes worldwide are women and girls. In New Zealand, where there is full decriminalisation of prostitution, 89 per cent of private and brothel prostitutes are female, 92 per cent of escort prostitutes at agencies are female and 98 per cent of massage parlour based prostitutes are female.

A 2014 Australian CSIRO study of over 20,000 adults found that 17 per cent of Australian men had previously paid for sex and only 0.3 per cent of women surveyed reported paying for sex. Of these men, the majority were married or partnered. This is not an industry driven by male loneliness. It is driven by exploitation, coercion and control. An experience from the legalised sex industry in New Zealand reads:

They literally raped me all the time. Made me do things I didn't want to do.

The New Zealand experience has shown that decriminalisation does not increase safety. It increases the entitlement and expectation of sex buyers. It keeps prostitutes trapped in poverty, substance abuse and violence.

Those who are exploited and abused deserve legislative protection and to find lasting exit pathways. They deserve to have the stigma shifted onto the buyer. You cannot buy the right to rape another human being, and we must never legislate to allow it.