Submission to the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce responding to Discussion Paper 2: Women and girls’ experience of the criminal justice system

Scarlet Alliance submission to the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce responding to Discussion Paper 2: Women and girls’ experience of the criminal justice system on July 30, 2021.

“Sex workers experience a number of systemic barriers to accessing justice. Some of these are shared with other women in Queensland, and others are unique to our experiences as criminalised workers.

Due to the complex legislation that regulates the sex industry in Queensland, sex workers face unique and significant barriers to accessing justice. Queensland’s licensing framework creates a two-tiered industry, where a large proportion of Queensland sex workers are forced to work outside of the legal framework in order to preserve our safety. The criminalisation of sex worker safety strategies compromises our safety and work and directly impacts the experiences of sex workers seeking justice, as police occupy the role of both (alleged) protector and prosecutor.

The culture of police corruption and entrapment in Queensland, empowered by the laws regulating sex work, has long degraded trust between sex workers and the Queensland police. This environment of criminalisation, sex work stigma and predatory police behaviour greatly restricts our ability to report sexual violence, seek legal redress and recieve victims services support. The current legislative framework ensures that the Queensland criminal justice system criminalises sex workers more than it affords their safety and freedom from violence.

In the fight to end sexual violence against women and girls, sex workers must not be invisibilised or excluded. The work of the Taskforce must ensure meaningful and active inclusion of sex workers and the investigation of the criminalisation of sex worker safety as a cross-cutting issue that prevents sex workers from enjoying equitable protection under the law.

Community understandings of sexual violence against sex workers is marred by misinformation, stigma and discrimination, forming a significant barrier to justice for sex workers. Our ‘rapeability’ is often brought into question and assault can be framed as an occupational hazard that we ought to expect. Community understandings also reflect confusion regarding whether we can be ‘victims’ at all, and if we can be, it must only be in relation to the terms of our work contracts, rather than in relation to our sovereignty over our bodies.

The criminalisation of sex workers inherent within the licensing framework furthers this stigma as we are framed as criminals from whom the community must be protected. This understanding sets a cultural tone where sex workers experience significant challenges being believed by friends, family and community, health and social service providers, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system. Understandably, this tone resonates throughout all aspects of sex workers’ experiences seeking justice, including the decision not to do so.

Queensland’s sex work legislation also allows for police to engage in entrapment practices against sex workers with immunity, further breeding mistrust in police. Police can pose as our clients and attempt to incite us into agreeing to or participating in ‘illegal’ sex work. This is an invasive and predatory practice that violates sex workers’ right to safety and privacy. It is the extreme scope of powers granted to police as the ‘regulators’ of the sex industry, that forms the greatest risk to sex workers accessing justice for sexual violence as we face the risk of criminalising ourselves within a discriminatory system that actively targets sex workers. Queensland sex workers also report that police response to their experience of sexual assault can be questioning, dismissive and disbelieving entirely. Clearly, police cannot simultaneously prosecute us as criminals and protect us as victim-survivors.

Sex workers expect to experience stigma when interacting with the legal system. The anticipation of this stigma and the unlikelihood of a fair outcome are deterrents for our community in engaging with the legal and criminal justice processes at all. Substantive change would need to occur to ensure a sex worker victim is able to receive a fair, non-discriminatory, trauma-informed trial that does not jeopardise their future prospects.

The full decriminalisation of sex work is central to removing police as the regulators of the sex industry thus ensuring that sex workers can access justice in a safe and equal way. We also advocate for divestment of resources from the licensing of sex work, which targets Queensland sex workers as criminals and allows our experiences of victimhood to be overshadowed by our constructed criminality.”