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April 10, 2020 2 min read

Sex Workers in Australia Face Opposition despite being Legalized

By Elena Ognivtseva

There are small pockets where prostitution is legal on all of the major continents, including Nevada in the United States, Britain, Hungary and Germany in Europe, and Gambia on the African continent. Australia is one of the largest countries in which prostitution is legal, but prostitutes face opposition in rural areas where motel owners are reluctant to have sex workers plying their trade on their premises, according to a recent article.

One sex worker, who was banned from using a motel by its owner after it emerged that the woman was using the establishment to receive clients, subsequently sued the owner and won damages thanks to anti-discrimination laws. This occurred in a mining town, Moranbah, and some say that prostitution helps miners to ‘let off steam’ so that there are fewer eruptions of sexual violence against women. Others maintain that legalized prostitution increases illegal sex trafficking.

In the past, some Australian action groups have called for clients of prostitutes to be criminalized. This is the system in place in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, where prostitutes cannot be charged for being paid for sex but the individual who procures a prostitute can be. Regulation of prostitution where it is legal varies widely - in the UK, for example, it is only illegal to pay for sex with a prostitute if she has been ‘subjected to force’, but paying for sex is legal.

In 2003, documentary-maker Louis Theroux provided a peek inside a Nevada Brothel in a one-hour program for the BBC which was titled ‘Louis and the Brothel’. There are many brothels and motels where the trade in sex (and often, sadly, trafficked people) remains hidden. While there may be some merit to the idea that legalized prostitution helps to reduce incidence of sexual violence, this notion shouldn’t assume that acts of sexual violence are committed by ‘sexually frustrated’ individuals who are deterred by easier access to paid sex.

Prostitution remains a contentious issue, with some people even occupying multiple standpoints simultaneously. For example, the Australian motel owner who banned the prostitute from her premises reportedly told the sex worker society ‘needs the likes of yourself’, but despite this general acceptance of the trade, the owner still objected to sex-for-money occurring in her motel.