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. Photos provided from the original archive 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 named NSW as one of the safest places in the world to be a sex worker. 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 In following years, a series of laws governing sex work were repealed and enacted in response to campaigns by police and residents who resented the consequences of the reforms.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)

1979-12-01 00:00:00

Academic References From Eurydice Aroney (2016)

This timeline is the intellectual property of Eurydice Aroney. Full academic references provided here:

1979-12-01 00:00:00

NSW Repeals The Summary Offences Act

NSW repeals the Summary Offences Act, effectively decriminalising street-based sex work in NSW.

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

1982-11-08 00:00:00

"Sex Work Problem Committee" Established

The Daily Mirror Newspaper reports that following a meeting between residents and senior NSW Ministers a committee will be established to consider the ‘problem’ of sex work in East Sydney.

1982-12-01 00:00:00

"Offensive Behaviour Law”

Police increase the use of an ‘offensive behaviour’ law to control street-based sex work. Likewise, police look for alternative laws to close brothels whose numbers have also increased

1982-12-01 00:00:00

Landlords Evict Sex Workers

The 1979 repeal of the Summary Offences Act meant that women who chose to work inside could no longer be arrested for ‘habitually using premises for prostitution’ but they now face eviction from rented premises under the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act which enables landlords to evict lessees simply because prostitution is being carried out on the premises.

1982-12-01 00:00:00

Disorderly Houses Act.

Police dig up an old disused law The Disorderly House Act and begin to close down brothels as the Sydney City Council 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.

1983-02-11 00:00:00

NSW Government Cave To Police Pressure

Soliciting in a public street, near a dwelling, school, church or hospital becomes an offence (s. 8A).

1983-03-30 00:00:00

The Select Committee of NSW Legislative Assembly on Prostitution

The NSW Government sets up the Select Committee of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly on Prostitution, chaired by Pat Rogan, to investigate prostitution in NSW.

1983-05-30 00:00:00

Attorney General Meets Sex Worker Reps

Sex worker representatives meet with the Attorney General at Parliament House to discuss the problems of sex workers in East Sydney. They claim that the crackdown on street workers and working parlours is attracting petty criminals and thugs hoping to exploit the women in the name of ‘protection’.

1983-07-13 00:00:00

The NSW Australian Prostitutes Collective and the Select Committee on Prostitution

The Australian Prostitutes Collective NSW - is founded at the Wayside Chapel in Sydney.

1984-12-14 00:00:00

Australian Prostitute Collective NSW funded by government

The Australian Prostitutes Collective NSW is awarded $120,000 to combat HIV/AIDS in the NSW sex work community. They open a drop-in centre in Kings Cross and increase their outreach program.

1985-05-14 00:00:00

2nd World Whores Conference

Geoffrey Fysh, Julie Bates and Roberta Perkins from the Australian Prostitutes Collective NSW travel to Brussels for the second World Whore Conference

1986-05-14 00:00:00

Statistics But No Action

The Select Committee of the NSW Legislative Assembly on Prostitution discloses its findings: Almost none of its recommendations are implemented.

1987-05-14 00:00:00

Australian Prostitutes Collective (NSW) Canned After Internal Battle

Due to disagreements over accountability the Australian Prostitutes Collective (NSW) erupts in an internal dispute. The management committee is dissolved and Roberta Perkins one of its founding members sacked.

1988-02-19 00:00:00

Scarlet Alliance Forms

Scarlet Alliance a national network of Australian sex worker organisations is formed.

1988-05-14 00:00:00

The Labor Government Is Defeated.

Labor is defeated by the Liberal-National coalition led by Nick Greiner. Greiner has campaigned on a law and order platform.

1988-05-14 00:00:00

Conservatives Take Hard-Line

The new Conservative government acts on its election promise to ‘do something’ about street soliciting. They repeal the 1979 Prostitution Act replacing it with the Summary Offences Act 1988.

1988-12-14 00:00:00

Brothels Declared Disorderly By Law.

The Court of Appeal in Sibuse Pty Ltd vs Shaw holds that a brothel is a disorderly house regardless of whether it is disorderly in the usual meaning of the word.

1988-12-19 00:00:00

The Australian Sex Industry & AIDS Debate Conference

The Australian Sex Industry and AIDS Debate Conference is held in Melbourne.

1992-12-01 00:00:00

Attempt to decriminalise brothels blocked

The Attorney General (the Hon P Collins QC MP) introduces the Disorderly Houses (Amendment) Bill 1992.

1994-05-11 00:00:00

Police Corruption Exposed

The Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service otherwise known as the Wood Royal Commission is established.

1995-03-25 00:00:00

Conservatives defeated

NSW State election. The Labor Party defeats the conservative Liberal Party and Bob Carr becomes Premier.

1995-09-20 00:00:00

Sex Work Decriminalized

The Minister for Police, Paul Whelan, introduces into parliament The Disorderly Houses Amendment Bill 1995. Whelan noted that this was in part an attempt to eliminate the potential for police corruption.

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

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