Submission of Wahine Toa Rising to the Victorian Government’s Review to make recommendations for the decriminalisation of sex work
17 July 2020
Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to the review consultation.
Wahine Toa Rising is a survivor-led organisation, formed in 2020 to be a voice for vulnerable, exploited women and children in the sex trade in Aotearoa/ New Zealand. We do not support full decriminalisation of the sex trade; we are advocates for the Equality Model (Nordic Model). However, our main focus is ensuring that measures are in place to assist women and young people to exit the sex trade safely and to ensure they are supported to find new directions in life, regardless of what legislative model is in place.
The position of Wahine Toa Rising on this review is as follows:
Leaving the sex trade is as difficult as leaving a violent relationship. The majority of women in or exited from the sex trade experience PTSD regardless of whether they have been in the trade for a short time, or years. Just as some sex workers fight for their right to engage in the sex trade, we fight for rights of the women who have been coerced, trafficked, forced, groomed and raised into it.
We speak up as a survivor led organisation because if we do not, only sex trade advocates will be heard. We also need to hear the voices of women who are silenced – voices represented by Wahine Toa Rising, PEACE, SPACE International and other survivor organisations who represent the majority of vulnerable women and young people. Wahine Toa Rising believes it is important and imperative that ALL women’s voices are heard when making changes to this legislation.
We note that the Review Terms of Reference state the following as a matter for consideration:
“The safety and wellbeing of sex workers, including the experience of violence that arises in the course of sex work and as a consequence of it, and worker advocacy for safety and wellbeing.”
It is well known that women find it difficult to leave violent domestic situations, and that leaving is the most dangerous time for women in those circumstances. Leaving a violent commercial situation is no easier, and in fact presents many additional barriers to women wishing to exit the sex trade.
This includes fear of reprisals from multiple people, including violent criminals and organised crime, shame and stigma which can prevent women from accessing government financial support in the usual way, a lack of confidence and trust in dealing with government agencies, potential complications in terms of taxation and other indebtedness arising from the informal nature of many financial arrangements within the sex trade, and social, educational, emotional and mental health issues exacerbated by all of the above problems.
These things can make it difficult or impossible for women to get the support they need, if any is available, to move on from the sex trade.
Just as women have support systems in place to exit violent relationships, so too must exploited women and young people have support systems to exit violence in the sex trade.
In New Zealand, all these issues remain in place despite of the current full decriminalised status of the sex trade.
There is no specific provision for assisting women to exit the sex trade in New Zealand.
Section 18 of the Prostitution Reform Act states that a refusal to work as sex worker does not affect entitlements to social security. However, many women in the sex trade are reluctant to engage with government agencies.
Funding is provided through the Ministry of Health to the New Zealand Prostitute’s Collective (NZPC), the only agency that receives funding targeted to the sex trade. The NZPC’s website states a number of purposes for the organisation, but the only mention of exit services is as follows:
“To provide support to people under the age of 18 who are involved in sex work to ensure that they have a variety of options, are able to make informed decisions about these options, and that these options include the ability to leave sex work.”
It is plainly apparent that the NZPC’s primary purpose is to promote the engagement of women in the sex trade. The term “sex worker” refers to all people engaged in the sex trade, including pimps and brothel owners. There is no organisation in New Zealand apart from Wahine Toa Rising that advocates solely for the women and young people involved in the sex trade. We are a new organisation and entirely unfunded at this stage.
Thus, women over the age of 18 who wish to exit the sex trade are essentially abandoned by Government to find the means to do so themselves.
We at Wahine Toa Rising believe that any Government that is willing to decriminalise and thus give legitimacy to the activity of purchasing sex from women and young people by men, especially while recognising the violence and other disadvantages that women and young people are subject to as a result (as the Victorian Government does in the Terms of Reference of its own review), is also responsible for ensuring that any woman or young person who wishes to exit the sex trade must have free and immediate access to the best quality, fully-funded, wraparound exit services that it is possible to provide.
Sex work advocates say they have a right to choose what they do with their bodies. Therefore, it is only right that you, a Government with the power to make and enforce the law, ensure all women in the sex trade have real choice to begin with. This is why it is so important to provide exit services.
Regardless of the decisions made by the Victoria Government in terms of regulating the sex trade, it is essential that you make provision for exit services to provide vulnerable women and young people who wish to live free of the sex trade the opportunity and choice to do so.
Thank you for considering our submission.
Ally Marie Diamond
Wahine Toa Rising