Whore Laws of Yore: How New South Wales Decriminalised Sex Work 1979-1995

The following timeline is brought to you by Eurydice Aroney. Eurydice is an academic, activist, and award winning audio documentary producer. She has been recording the stories of sex workers since the the 1980's. The B&W professional photos of Sydney sex workers are courtesy of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Melbourne and others from private collections including those of Julie Bates, Erica Red, Victoria Principle, Debbie Homburg and Roberta Perkins. Many thanks to each of you beautiful souls.

Along with the rigorous historical scholarship which is her trademark @WhoresfYore regularly delights her followers with images of sex workers at work and play across the centuries. But sometimes it’s what sex workers do with their clothes on which can make history. That was the case in the state of New South Wales on Australia’s eastern seaboard in the 1980’s and 90’s when sex workers fought for and eventually helped to achieve decriminalisation of sex work in NSW. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Australia is not often singled out for its leadership in the area of human rights. But in 2015 Amnesty International adopted decriminalisation of sex work (as is in the case NSW) as supported policy. In making their announcement, Amnesty joined human rights bodies like UNAIDS, the venerable medical journal The Lancet, the WHO and over 237 sex worker rights organisations across the world who maintain that decriminalisation of sex work best protects workers and their families from violence and discrimination. But despite this consensus, there are only two jurisdictions in the world, New Zealand and New South Wales (Australia) that have successfully implemented and sustained this approach. How and why is that the case? I’m currently researching the role sex workers played in helping to achieve decriminalisation in NSW (forthcoming) but in the meantime whorestorians who want to understand the context for what occurred might be interested in the following. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Some of you would be aware that NSW decriminalised brothels (with regulation by local councils) in 1995, but most might not realise that the process of decriminalising prostitution in NSW began in 1979, with the removal of soliciting laws for street-based sex work. In following years, a series of laws governing sex work were repealed and enacted in response to campaigns by police and residents who resented the consequences of the reforms. Both conservative and Labor state governments played a role as they rode the law and order platform in their election cycles. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Organizing and advocacy by sex workers contained the backlash that accompanied reforms - particularly when HIV/AIDS emerged in the mid 1980s. The partial decriminalisation that had already occurred enabled sex workers to work with government in preventing the virus from spreading into the sex work community. During this period sex workers and their organizations also lobbied government and produced unprecedented research that informed and influenced reform. They also spoke out to expose the police corruption that finally pushed the state government to enact the final plank in the reforms in 1995. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Many would say that the decriminalisation NSW style does not go far enough. Problems persist for sex workers with regulation, mostly caused by councils who refuse to enact the intent of the laws. But this timeline demonstrates some of the key reforms and events that took place in NSW on the road to decriminalisation and is both a celebration of what can be achieved and a cautionary tale for those who are just beginning the journey. ;xNLx;;xNLx;;xNLx;Timeline designed in collaboration with Laura Lister (2016) and Julie Bates (2018) and is a live ongoing project. Please get in touch if you wish to contribute material!

1977-01-01 00:00:00

Seminar on Victimless Crimes

The NSW Labor Government holds a public seminar on victimless crimes. Prostitution laws, especially those that apply to street based workers, are widely criticised.

1979-12-01 00:00:00

Academic References From Eurydice Aroney (2016)

This timeline is the intellectual property of Eurydice Aroney and was produced for educational purpose only. The stunning B&W photos of Sydney's sex industry in the 1980's are the property of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Melbourne and used with their kind permission. Please find source references here....

1979-12-01 00:00:00

NSW Repeals The Summary Offences Act

And effectively becomes the first place in the world to decriminalise street based sex work. The Summary Offences Act is replaced by the Prostitution Act that retains the power to prosecute those ‘living off the earnings’ of prostitution.

1981-07-01 00:00:00

"I've upset the balance"

Sex worker Sallie-Anne Huckstep tells 60 minutes that crooked cops murdered her boyfriend drug dealer Warren Lanfranchie. She also reveals that as a sex worker she's been paying off the cops for 10 years.

1981-12-01 00:00:00

Red-light District Rejected

A group of Inner Sydney residents call for the NSW government to set up a red-light district where sex workers can operate in a legal setting.

1982-11-08 00:00:00

"Sex Work Problem Committee"

Senior NSW Government Ministers set up a committee to consider the ‘problem’ of sex work in East Sydney.

1982-12-01 00:00:00

"Offensive Behaviour Law”

Police unearth previously little used laws to regain control over the sex industry. They charge street based sex workers with 'offensive behaviour' and 'alarm and affront'. These charges are disproportionately applied to trans street based workers such as those in this photo. Old laws are also applied by police in an attempt to close brothels. You can find out more about Sydney's sex workers and their working conditions during the 1980's in Roberta Perkins' book chapter 'The Working Lives of Prostitutes' in "Find out more' link.

1982-12-01 00:00:00

Landlords Evict Sex Workers

The 1979 repeal of the Summary Offences Act means that women who choose to work in 'parlours' as they are called or small collective style 'houses' can no longer be arrested for prostitution. Instead they face eviction from their working premises under the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act. This act enables landlords to evict lessees simply because prostitution is being carried out on the premises. Most working women cannot afford to own their own premises so they are booted out.

1982-12-01 00:00:00

Disorderly Houses Act.

In an effort to claw back control over the sex industry police dig up an old disused law the 'Disorderly House Act' and begin to close brothels. Sydney City Council joins in and brings proceedings against two brothels for contravening planning regulations laws.

1982-12-11 00:00:00

Frustrated Police Up Arrests

40 people are arrested in Kings Cross and Darlinghurst some are sex workers. They are charged with offences ranging from possessing weapons and drugs to disturbances and serious alarm and affront.

Whore Laws of Yore: How New South Wales Decriminalised Sex Work 1979-1995

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