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It was the constant calls late at night, it was coming to the front door, leaving sinister messages and threats Credit: Joe Armao. But it took Evan, a sex-worker in his 30s, about 12 months before he could pluck up the courage to approach the police for help. In Victoria street sex prostitution is illegal, while all other sex workers are required to be licensed. Star Health primary and mental health general manager Alan Murnane said many sex workers like Evan were reluctant to be registered because they feared breaches of privacy.
The Sex Workers Act regulates the industry, including rules about advertising, safe sexual practices and where the sexual services could take place. Industry insiders have long pushed to decriminalise sex work, but New South Wales is the only state in Australia to do so. A spokesman for Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz said sex work in Victoria was legal as long as the business was licensed.
According to Vixen Collective, Victoria's peer-only sex worker organisation, decriminalisation is the removal of all criminal laws relating to the sex industry, allowing sex work to be regulated like any other business. They should have to fit in that system. But those who oppose the reforms say legalising and decriminalisation puts more people, especially vulnerable women, at risk of trafficking.
Coalition Against Trafficking of Women in Australia public officer Dr Meagan Tyler said they supported the Nordic model which criminalised pimps and buyers of sex, rather than those working in prostitution. However, Mr Murnane said there was no evidence to suggest that decriminalisation resulted in more trafficking. Now Star Health's Resourcing, Health and Education in the Sex Industry program, dubbed RhED, has put together an art exhibition by sex workers to challenge stigma and discrimination in the industry and highlight the need for better workplace and legal rights.
A Gasworks exhibition of art by Victorian sex workers highlights calls to decriminalise the sex industry. Artworks by about 50 sex workers include a handpainted bedspread to works incorporating the tools of a sex worker, including condoms and antibacterial hand sanitiser. Lisa Marie, who took up sex work in her 50s for "adventure", created "Cleopatra Bust" for the exhibition.