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Legalising Prostitution Commodifies Women’s Body, Academic Says

Legalising prostitution risks normalising the idea that women’s bodies are mere commodities, which contradicts national efforts to promote respectful relationships, according to an Australian academic.

The comment comes after the Queensland government committed to decriminalising all aspects of the sex industry, making it on track to become the third jurisdiction in Australia after New South Wales and the Northern Territory to consider prostitution as legitimate work, not as a crime.

Currently, in Queensland, prostitution in a licensed brothel and in private is legal, while other forms of prostitution, including street-based prostitution, prostitution in an unlicensed brothel, and outcalls from a licensed brothel are unlawful.

If the law is passed, it would allow prostitution to be operated more transparently and regulated through standard business codes. It would also remove police as regulators of the sex industry, repeal criminal acts related to the sex industry, and not single out sex workers for specific legislation.

Caroline Norma, a lecturer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, told The Epoch Times that legalising prostitution could reduce sexual activities to “a form of consumer activity” and promote the concept of consent as “a transaction based on money.”

Norma, who is also a member of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia, said that such laws would “send a major signal to Australian citizens that the country… believes men purchasing women for sex acts is an appropriate behaviour in a society that purports to be against rape and sexual harassment of women.”

“Australia pursues a ‘respectful relationships’ policy overall, and prostitution is fundamentally in opposition to this policy.”

The academic argued that going to the hairdresser to have a haircut “is not the same as having your life as a person and your sexuality destroyed by strangers, who use your body for their purposes.”

“It goes right to the heart of their very being,” Norma added.

She argued that rather than workers, these women “should be deemed victims of crime,” and described the deregulation of the sex industry as a “government-supported policy of female commodification and exploitation.”

“Men cannot enter into respectful relationships with women while there are some women for sale.”

The Queensland Law Reform Commission, in a release from April, describes prostitution as “a commercial arrangement under which a person engages, or offers to engage, in providing sexual activities to another person.”

The consultation paper said regulating the sex industry would “support human rights,” “protect the health, safety and economic interests of sex workers,” and “deter illegal activity and exploitation.”

It also pushed for the use of the term “sex work” over “prostitution,” which it criticised as “outdated” language carrying “stigma and prejudice.”

This argument, Norma says, is based on the assumption that “being used for sex acts or being prostituted is not already a huge human rights violation.” The RMIT lecturer further noted that decriminalising prostitution would fuel “exploitative and harmful activities of the commercial sex industry.”

“It means that police, the courts, and the government abandons vulnerable women to the mercy of pimps and sex buyers,” she added.

“There is no possible way to ensure the safety of women in prostitution beyond reducing (or eliminating) the rate at which they must be used for sex acts.”

Norma believes that the industry is driven by men who want to take what they watch from pornography into real life while women under financial duress are paid to “endure the pain and humiliation.”

“Women should have the right to choose not to enter the sex industry, and have sex integrity and dignity in Australian society.”

However, the Scarlett Alliance, also called the Australian Sex Workers Association, argued that “this is not an outcome of legalisation but is the outcome of an over-restrictive licensing model.”

The group also said that “to many, sex work offers greater flexibility of hours and the ability to earn larger amounts of money in a shorter amount of time.”

“As sex workers are not a homogenous group, our motivations for entering the industry are diverse and uniquely individual,” the group said.

But Norma disagrees, saying that even if there are people entering the industry out of their own will, “we wouldn’t want to shape public policy on the basis of their existence.”

“We want a society that caters to a different vision for human relations, including between men and women, and on that vision, we create public policy, but in this case, it’s the complete opposite,” she said.

“It’s really a devastating kind of depressing, awful, horrific vision of what human relations should be.”

The Epoch Times has reached out to Queensland Law Reform Commission for comment on the review but the Chair of the Commission said they are not giving interviews about the review.

The consultation process closes on June 3, while the final report is due on Nov. 27, 2022.

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Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at nina.nguyen@epochtimes.com.au.

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