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Radical push to help sex workers leave

Escort or paid woman lying on bed in brothel. Man paying money for sex worker at night. Hooker with customer. Sexy lady with sugar daddy. Prostitution concept.
There’s a push to help sex workers leave the trade if they wish to do so. Picture: Supplied

Prostitutes who feel trapped or want to pursue another line of work would be offered education and training services to help them leave the controversial sex work trade under an Australian-first proposal.

The new Bill, authored by South Australian upper house Liberal leader Nicola Centofanti, would force the state government to arrange a series of “exit strategies” for sex workers, including the provision of education and training services, help in finding new accommodation and employment and assistance in accessing services from registered health and legal practitioners.

“On receipt of an application under this section, the minister must, if reasonably satisfied that the applicant genuinely wishes to exit the sex industry, cause such assistance as the minister thinks appropriate to be offered to the applicant to assist the applicant to exit the sex industry,” the Bill states.

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Sex work, either its sale or solicitation, is illegal in South Australia.

Dr Centofanti had earlier pushed for a Nordic model, which would have decriminalised the women who sell sex but criminalise the men who pay for it, to replace the current regimen of full criminalisation, but the Bill was struck down in a knife-edge 10-9 vote in early May.

Liberal leader Nicola Centofanti pushes for the Nordic model in the upper house on May 1, 2024. Picture: Supplied
Liberal leader Nicola Centofanti pushes for the Nordic model in the upper house on May 1, 2024. Picture: Supplied

Her new Bill splits off the “exit” provisions from the original Bill as a stand-alone proposal.

It also grants sex workers immunity from prosecution and expunges their criminal convictions if they choose to leave the industry.

“This Bill seeks to protect and provide for those in the sex industry who want to leave it and need support to do so,” Dr Centofanti said.

“Sadly, I hear too many stories of women who entered the industry through no real choice of their own.

“Women who were victims of childhood abuse, drug addiction, poverty or domestic violence.

“Women whose life circumstances were not as fortunate as ours and are in the truest sense of the word, ‘victims’.

“This Bill means that any person wanting to exit the industry can access practical support to do so, without fear that they will be convicted of an offence and with the added benefit of any record of their past convictions potentially completely erased.

Escort or paid woman lying on bed in brothel. Man paying money for sex worker at night. Hooker with customer. Sexy lady with sugar daddy. Prostitution concept.
Sex work is illegal in South Australia.

“I am wanting to make it as easy as possible for some of the most vulnerable in our society to find a new path, should they wish to.”

Sex Industry Network (SIN) general manager Kat Morrison slammed the Bill as patronising “victim legislation”.

“At this stage, SIN will not be supporting this legislation,” she told NewsWire.

“This legislation speaks to abolishing the sex industry, it doesn’t recognise sex work as legitimate labour.

“It doesn’t speak to any kind of industrial rights or safeguards.”

Ms Morrison also expressed disappointment the Bill would only expunge convictions for those who choose to leave the industry.

“Centofanti is cherry picking which sex workers have the ability to access the valuable spent convictions caveat in the legislation,” she said.

Ms Morrison said sex workers should not be viewed as victims and sex work could offer women pathways to financial freedom.

“The language in this legislation is incredibly stigmatising and discriminatory,” she said.

South Australia has struggled with reform to its sex work laws for years, with multiple proposals brought before parliament.

Dr Centofanti hugs Wahine Toa Rising founder Ally-Marie Diamond after introducing her Nordic model proposal. Picture: Supplied
Dr Centofanti hugs Wahine Toa Rising founder Ally-Marie Diamond after introducing her Nordic model proposal. Picture: Supplied

The May vote on the Nordic model was a conscience vote and it received cross-party support, including from Labor minister Clare Scriven, who said she would vote for the Bill to roll back the commodification of women.

Independent Frank Pangallo, speaking for the Bill, said the sex industry was rife with exploitation.

“You couldn’t find a more misogynistic world than prostitution, where pimps and thieves exploit and harm,” he said.

But Greens member Tammy Franks led the charge against the reform in a furious speech, denouncing the Bill as “slavery” for sex workers because it would have illegalised transactions from the demand side.

“They (sex workers) are not selling themselves, they are selling a service,” she said.

“I hope we might reflect on what the workers want in this debate.

“The contention of this Bill is to eliminate sex work, to cast it as a crime,” she continued.