Labor supports men buying women as a human right

Labor to further entrench the trade in women’s bodies through decriminalising all sex work

I was dismayed to see that Labor’s platform for the Victorian election includes a proposal to consider “decriminalisation of all sex work in Victoria”. 

Labor is ready to see and call out “gendered violence” everywhere else – the term is mentioned no less than five times in the platform’s section on “Your rights at work”. The platform, in its section on “Liveable Communities”, even calls for “a gendered analysis of the physical infrastructure in the state”.

Labor seems to be wilfully blind to the reality that prostitution inherently involves violence against women, the exploitation of women and the reduction of women’s bodies to objects for men to desire, purchase and use as they will. So wilfully blind that they put the proposal for the complete “decriminalisation of all sex work in Victoria” in the section on Human Rights!

Decriminalization of all sex work in Victoria means the abolition of laws relating to buying sex, organizing and managing prostitutes, and living off the earnings of prostitution (including as a pimp), would be abolished. In reality, decriminalisation aids in increasing levels of abuse and sex trafficking faced by predominantly women in the sex industry. 

Writing in the Age on 24 October 2018, Dr Caroline Norma from RMIT University observes that Labor’s proposal “is a gift to organised crime, and will be welcomed by pimps, brokers and others making a business out of selling people for sex.

“The bulk of Victoria's sex industry already operates free of regulation. Labor's decriminalisation proposal gives this chaotic situation an official stamp of approval. It allows politicians and public servants to throw up their hands and leave crimes of violence, murder, trafficking and rape in Victoria's sex industry in the laps of ill-resourced local councils.

Labor's proposal awards prostitution entrepreneurs and their sex-buying customers a free pass to inflict harm upon women with impunity. It is incompatible with Labor's own policies against gender-based violence and inequality, and should be discarded along with the misguided notion that anyone has a right to bypass sexual consent with money.”

The international survivors group, Abolish Prostitution Now!, has responded to the campaign by the sex industry for full decriminalization of sex work as a human right by commenting:

“This is unacceptable. It means giving free reign to those in power, that is those with money. Just as decriminalizing all aspects of prostitution basically means giving free reign to pimps, traffickers, brothel owners and punters. The question will no longer be – how  can women and girls (and boys and men) be kept out of prostitution, which we know to be devastating – but: How can we devise ways to make prostitution sound good, and to let those in prostitution keep a fraction of the money that is being passed around among powerful men? This is not Human Rights.”

I am a proud and committed abolitionist. In the address-in-reply speech given when I began serving in Parliament, I said:

“If you will humour me for just a moment, I would like to travel back in time, back to 18th century England, where the economy was supplemented by slaves who were traded, oppressed and mistreated. Travel now into the halls of the parliament of this era, where one man stands against the slave trade and the laws protecting it. Against the tide of pressure, one man stands up for what he believes in, despite opposition and bouts of poor health. William Wilberforce, after 20 years of campaigning, petitioning and lobbying, brings about the abolition of slavery. He battled. He fought. He argued the whole way. Sometimes he had small victories; many times he had setbacks. Wilberforce stood as a non-conformist, not afraid to be a lone voice when necessary.

“Now we come back to the present — today, in this place. I am no William Wilberforce, but he inspires me to value conviction over comfort, tenacity over temporary gain and devotion over indifference. We now look back at slavery and are appalled at the treatment slaves received and horrified at the very idea that one person could own another. In the decades to come, I pray that we will look back at this era, … horrified at the very idea that we would enslave women in prostitution.”

In May 2017, I attended and spoke at the Australian Summit Against Sexual Exploitation. I shared with the Parliament its key resolutions, including one calling “on all state governments, including the Victorian government, to adopt the Nordic model of prostitution legislation, which recognises that prostitution and sex trafficking are harmful to prostituted and trafficked persons.”

Among the policies I am putting forward in my campaign to be an Independent voice for Werribee is one on human trafficking. A key element of that policy is to introduce legislation addressing trafficking for the sex industry. This legislation would give effect to the successful Nordic model, which prohibits the purchase of sex while decriminalising those who sell sexual services, and giving them real assistance  to leave the sex industry through exit programs.

I spoke about exit programs in an adjournment speech in 2016, saying:

“Exit programs are very popular in many places overseas. They feature support tailored specifically to prostituted women. They can include support such as drug and alcohol addiction counselling; the provision of housing; education, training and retraining; employment training and employment opportunities; and counselling and support.”

I offered the Minister for Women “the opportunity to meet with survivors, who would … tell the minister how hard it was to leave the industry, how there is no help for women attempting to exit and how it feels like a cycle of domestic violence that they are trapped in … that women wanting to leave the industry are faced with many obstacles and have little to no support to help them leave and to help them transition safely out of this industry.”

I called on the Minister to recognise the prostitution trade for what it is: violence against women.

Unfortunately, the fact that Labor is coming to this election with a proposal to further entrench the trade in women’s bodies through decriminalising all sex work, shows that they remain blind to this reality.

Labor have now communicated a complete disregard for women by putting the “right” to have access to sex over the rights of prostituted persons.


See my policy on ending Human Trafficking


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Rachel Carling-Jenkins Independent for Werribee