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

The following timeline is brought to you by Eurydice Aroney. Sex worker rights activist, retired academic and award winning audio documentary producer Eurydice has been recording the stories of sex workers since the the 1980's.

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 countries in the world, New Zealand and Australia that have adopted and sustained this approach. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Some would be aware that NSW decriminalised brothels 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 In following years, a series of laws governing sex work were repealed and enacted in response to campaigns by police and residents who resented the consequences of the reforms.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 exposed the police corruption that finally forced the state government to enact the decriminalisation of brothels in 1995. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Many would say that decriminalisation NSW style does not go far enough. Problems persist for sex workers with some councils, who adopt strict regulatory controls that make it difficult for sex workers. So this timeline is both a celebration of what can be achieved and a cautionary tale for those who are just beginning the journey. ;xNLx;;xNLx;The B&W professional photos of Sydney sex workers in this timeline are courtesy of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Melbourne. Other images originate 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. ;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.;xNLx;;xNLx;[Eurydice's articles on sex work can be accessed here](https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Eurydice-Aroney);xNLx;

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

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"

The NSW Government forms a committee to address complaints from police and residents about the increase in street based sex work in inner city 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'.

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 IF they work on the street. But they still 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

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

1983-02-24 23:19:11

The 'Drag Queen' Scene

Roberta Perkins publishes her first book which details the lives of twelve trans women working as club performers and sex workers in Sydney's Kings Cross.

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

Copy this timeline Login to copy this timeline 3d Game mode