Scarlet Alliance written submission on the Modernisation of the Northern Territory (NT) Anti- Discrimination Act 1993 (the Act) on August 22, 2022.
Stigma and discrimination against sex workers is perpetuated in a vast number of interrelated ways. Although some forms of discrimination will require the full decriminalisation of sex work in the NT, providing sex workers with comprehensive anti-discrimination protections will send a clear message that discrimination against sex workers is unlawful and there are practical legal avenues to redress it. While the full decriminalisation of sex work is optimal for the rights, health and safety of all sex workers, the presence of anti discrimination protections remain crucial regardless of legal frameworks. A number of states and territories have introduced anti-discrimination protections with the intention of providing protection for sex workers. However, unforeseen gaps in legislation have left many sex workers unable to utilise existing protections to redress discriminatory conduct.
Scarlet Alliance supports the inclusion of anti discrimination protections for sex workers as a vital step forward in protecting the basic human rights of a community subject to extreme stigma and discrimination in many facets of our daily lives. The proposed introduction of meaningful anti discrimination coverage for sex workers in NT is a significant opportunity to provide protections for sex workers from discrimination, harassment and vilification. Additionally the proposed representative complaints model will support a complaints process that is accessible to a broader range of people and able to address systemic forms of discrimination. However for the anti discrimination protections to be truly accessible to sex workers, “sex work” and “sex worker” must be included as main attributes.
Sex workers experience a range of direct and indirect, personal and systemic discrimination. These include, but are not limited to:
- when advertising sex industry services;
- when purchasing goods and services; – when securing housing and accommodation;
- criminal record discrimination;
- in custody disputes;
- in legal processes;
- in policies and practices;
- discrimination against friends, family and partners of sex workers;
- in employment; and – counterproductive police practices.
In many states sex workers do not have access to anti discrimination protections and there are no consistent federal protections for sex workers under Australian anti-discrimination laws. A few states and territories have implemented anti-discrimination legislation with the intention of covering sex workers. However, unforeseen gaps in anti discrimination legislation have left many sex workers unable to access existing legal mechanisms to redress discrimination. Additionally due to regulatory frameworks around sex work and viewpoints on the legitimacy of sex work as work, the wording of existing anti-discrimination legislations have in practice failed to protect sex workers from discrimination and vilification. For this reason, Scarlet Alliance does not support the inclusion of ‘lawful sexual activity’ in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1993 NT (the Act). While anti discrimination protections for sex workers are crucial, the inclusion of ‘lawful sexual activity’ category in the Act will not fulfil the intended aim of providing much needed coverage for sex workers and will be inaccessible for a large majority of sex workers.
Learning from the practical gaps of other state and territory anti discrimination legislation and to ensure sex workers have access to effective and practical legal avenues to redress discrimination, Scarlet Alliance supports:
- the introduction of ‘profession, trade, occupation or calling’, ‘sex worker’ and ‘sex work’ as main attributes;
- protection coverage to capture past and current sex workers, discrimination on the basis of been presumed or suspected of being a sex worker and associates of sex workers;
- anti vilification laws must explicitly prohibit offensive conduct against sex workers as a protected attribute and extend to those who currently have or have previously held the protected attribute, associate with another person with the protected attribute, or are incorrectly assumed to process the protected attribute; and
- the introduction of a representative complaints model that enables a collective complaints process, for organisations to submit a complaint on behalf of individuals and for sex workers to be able to make anonymous complaints.
We welcome the intention of the NT Attorney Generals Department to provide anti discrimination coverage to protect the human rights of all members of the community from discrimination, harassment and vilification. This modernisation of the Act provides an unparalleled opportunity to capitalise on prior experience in other states and research to inform a world leading example of effective, practical and accessible protections for sex workers that will make a difference for communities experiencing discrimination, harassment, vilification and stigma. If the amendments are carefully considered and appropriately applied, the Northern Territory Government could lead the way in ensuring sex workers’ anti-discrimination rights are protected.