Scarlet News:

Sex workers condemn the passage of the Online Safety Bill, fear loss of access to essential harm reduction and workplace health and safety tools

Jun 24, 2021 | Media release, News

The passage of the Online Safety Bill 2021 in the Federal Parliament earlier this week leaves the sex worker community fearing for further loss of essential tools that protect our livelihoods and safety.

Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, along with our members and wider community, mobilised a substantial campaign against those aspects of the Bill that could target sex worker online content and accounts, warning lawmakers that these will likely reduce or cut off our access to platforms, tools and online networks that enable our workplace health and safety. While many of the Bill’s provisions do make substantive steps forward for promoting online safety for Australians, we view the Bill’s framework for harm as part of a trend towards the gentrification of online space, the exclusion of sex workers from accessing the basic rights and expectations of digital citizens, and another method for criminalising our safety strategies, leaving us more vulnerable to both online and real-world harm.

We are incredibly disappointed to see the passage of a bill that was so widely criticised within the Parliament for both its process and its content, and that clearly does not meet the needs of the whole of the Australian community, nor the oversight called for by digital and human rights experts. We are led to question whether, had the community forming over 30% of the open submissions to the bill did not carry the stigma with which sex workers are burdened, opposition resistance to the bill might have actually resulted in change to the legislation.

We extend our gratitude to those MPs who represented sex worker stakeholders’ views and concerns in Parliament throughout the course of the bill, including Senator Janet Rice, Senator Jordon Steele-John, and Senator Nick McKim.

Throughout the Bill’s process, eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant noted that the sex worker community is not the intended target of the work of the eSafety Commission, and we expect to see this reflected in practice in the Bill’s implementation. We look forward to working with the eSafety Commissioner to bridge the gap between the stated intention of the legislation and its actual scope, noting that the Parliament has squarely failed to bridge this gap themselves.

With the passage of the Bill, we call for digital platforms and services to conduct their compliance activities with consideration for the consequences of overcapture for marginalised communities, including sex workers and LGBTIQ+ people, and extend our interest in informing those processes. We call upon the eSafety Commissioner, to work in close collaboration with Scarlet Alliance as community and industry stakeholders of the work of the eSafety Commission; to work to understand the unique use cases that enable sex worker safety online and offline; to bring representatives of marginalised communities, including sex workers, into advisory capacities in the work of the Commission; and to support sex workers to access the protections offered by the Bill.

Scarlet Alliance continues to commit to our advocacy towards an online environment that acknowledges sex work as work, treats sex workers equitably with other citizens, and understands sex workers as being equally deserving of rights and safety.

For further comment contact:

Gala Vanting, National Programs 505 210