Scarlet News:

Unpacking the proposed criminalisation of clients in South Australia

Oct 3, 2023 | Media release, News

The Bill introduced on the 30th of August by Nicola Centofanti, MLC, titled “Summary Offences (Prostitution Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2023”, re-visits a legislative framework first implemented in Sweden in 1999.

The Bill criminalises clients of sex workers and would create the following harms:


  • Police repression of the sex industry; this is also an ongoing waste of police resources.
  • Increased violence and discrimination. against sex workers, erosion of trust with authorities and less reporting of crimes committed against sex workers.
  • Barriers to health and social services for sex workers, insecure housing, irregular income and lower quality of life for sex workers and sex workers’ families.

The criminalisation of clients makes it a ‘buyer’s market’; clients have more to lose than sex workers, and they fear arrest.

Sex workers in countries where this has been implemented say it has negatively changed the power dynamic in commercial sexual transactions.


  • Because of criminalisation, clients are unwilling to share identifying details with sex workers, a common sex worker screening and safety strategy.
  • Sex workers in those countries say it makes it harder for them to screen clients and is a barrier to employing safety strategies.
  • Murders of sex workers in Sweden and Ireland since the criminalisation of clients have been attributed to the changes to the law.

The Centofanti Bill presented to South Australian Legislative Council 30 August 2023 promises to repeal existing criminal penalties for sex workers in South Australia and introduce new penalties:

  • Clients seeking sexual services (not necessarily obtaining) in exchange for payment
  • Clients offering payment for sexual services (not necessarily successfully)

First offence $2,500, subsequent offences $5,000 or 1 year imprisonment

  • Clients obtaining sexual services in exchange for payment

First offence $5,000, subsequent offences $10,000 or 2 years in prison

  • People who organise clients to obtain sexual services in exchange for payment
  • People who encourage, advertise or employ sex workers

Max penalty 2 years imprisonment

  • People who receive payment or other benefit derived from a sex workers earnings

Max penalty 1 year imprisonment, with exemptions for domestic partners and sale of goods and services to sex workers.

Sex workers from Sweden and other countries that have implemented this have consistently reported harmful impacts of these laws, which has been confirmed by reputable research.

The laws are harmful.

  • There has been no observable changes in the number of sex workers or clients of sex workers in Sweden since the introduction of the model. While an initial drop in street-based sex work was observed in 1999, this decline was was also observed across Europe and internationally, and is attributed not to legislative models but to changes in technology, and increased stigma and discrimination.
  • Many sex workers in Sweden say if they ask clients for identifying details they just won’t get a booking, and they have had to stop screening. Perpetrators know this and assault and rape sex workers knowing there is no way the sex worker can identify them to police.
  • The first decade of the Swedish Model is documented to have eroded sex worker access to STI skills and knowledge. 67.8% of sex workers reported they had NEVER received condoms from sex worker STI prevention programs. This is due to the industry being pushed further underground, and peer based services being defunded or under-funded. 
  • The anti-trafficking units in Swedish Police openly accuse STI and HIV prevention programs of ‘promoting’ sex work by distributing condoms. The provision of safer sex products is a well known method of harm reduction in health promotion spaces, however the police deliberately try to disrupt condom distribution.
  • Invisibilisation, physical displacement, political marginalisation and silencing of sex workers in Sweden has been harsh. Research cannot conclude if this is a result of the laws, new surveillance technology, anti-migrant policy or increasing anti-sex work stigma and rhetoric in the public sphere. What is certain is being out about being a sex worker is extremely unsafe and rare now in Sweden. Sex workers do not have a seat at the policy table and are no longer mentioned in Swedish STI or HIV policy.
  • Loss of custody of children, detention for minor crimes, insecure housing, deportation, arrest of adult family members for receiving financial support from parents who are sex workers, police corruption, and barriers to international travel are all outcomes that can be traced directly to the model of laws that criminalise clients, organisers, and dependents of sex workers.
  • This model of legislation harms sex workers and has failed in every jurisdiction in which it has been introduced. Full decriminalisation of the sex industry is the ONLY legislative model evidenced to overwhelmingly improve the health, safety, and wellbeing of sex workers.