Life of a sex worker in this city

OPINION

Last weekend, I did a favour for a friend of mine.

She's a sex worker too, an independent escort who had gone to a hotel in the city for a booking with a client.

When she arrived, she texted me the name of the hotel, the room they were in and the time the booking was due to start - and finish. She also texted me the full name of the client and told me that if she hadn't messaged again within fifteen minutes of the time the booking was due to finish, then I should call her immediately and keep calling until she picked up.

If she didn't pick up, my next step was to then call the hotel, and the police.

This might sound like a pretty intense situation to observe from afar on my casual Saturday night, but it's by no means the first time I've kept an eye on a fellow sex worker's booking to make sure that they got in and out safely and had someone to call if they ran in to trouble.

I imagine that on any given night in any city across the world, there are workers doing the same thing: watching the time tick by on their phone screen and waiting for that text to pop up from their friend, letting them know that the booking went well and they're in a taxi, on their way home.

The main difference between what my friend and I did, and what I imagine workers across the globe might have been doing on that same night, is that it was totally legal for her to contact me and let me know that she was working.

In New South Wales, sex work is decriminalised and far from being a lawless, free-for-all state, decriminalisation simply means that police are not the ones in charge of regulating the sex industry.

While sex workers must be over eighteen and forcing anyone to provide sexual services is against the law, sex workers and adult businesses operate like any other professional service. According to Scarlet Alliance, the industry is regulated by local councils (who control planning and licensing), WorkCover NSW (who oversee occupational health and safety) and NSW Health, who look at all matters relating to public health.

New South Wales is the only state in Australia where sex work is fully decriminalised, but the model of decriminalisation is one most sex workers across the world believe creates the best and safest working conditions. It's even been endorsed by Amnesty International, after an extensive amount of research found laws that criminalise sex work not only make workers more vulnerable to exploitation and marginalisation, but make them less likely to approach police for help if they need it.

Put simply, a sex worker who is working in a country where sex work is illegal can't go to the police to report a crime committed against them while working, without also dobbing themselves in as having done something illegal too.

While it's perfectly legal within the state of New South Wales for my friend to ask me to check in on her while she works, that's sadly not the case in every state.

In Queensland, for example, two or more sex workers working together, whether it's seeing a client together for a double booking or even just working out of the same hotel, even unknowingly, is considered an offence and can result in criminal penalties.

One worker checking in with another as they work is also against the law, as is having a receptionist or even a paid driver who drives more than one worker.

If you think this is all beginning to sound a bit ridiculous, you're not alone. After many years of campaigning from sex workers and peer organisations, Queensland is finally beginning to look at decriminalising sex work and removing these restrictive laws: something that feels long overdue.

While there's no doubt that the adult industry should be fairly regulated so it can co-exist peacefully alongside other industries, workers in Queensland have been asking for a long time why they face a choice between working legally and working safely.

If the law prevents sex workers from working in a premises with their peers or even messaging fellow workers for help and assistance, it creates an environment in which people who are already vulnerable and marginalised are at risk of becoming even more so.

It's bizarre to think that if my friend and I lived in Queensland instead of New South Wales, her simple request that I keep an eye on her during her booking could have resulted in criminal penalties for us both. In every other industry across Australia, laws are put in place to protect the safety of workers: so why not ours?

While the majority of sex workers' clients are good and kind people, there is always a small chance that the next booking a worker walks in to could be with a client who chooses to be disrespectful, aggressive, or worse.

Laws that legitimise and support sex workers go a long way in changing people's attitudes towards us and in turn their behaviour; every sex worker deserves to work in a place where they know that the police would treat them like any other citizen if they were to reach out.

As for my friend, she messaged me right on time as she left her booking and then again as she got in to the taxi that took her home. She had a glass of wine, took a shower, and then got in to bed, signing off with a final text before she fell asleep.

We were two ordinary women talking about our jobs, having found one of the rare places in the world where it was totally legal and safe for us to do so.

- Kate Iselin is a writer and sex worker. Continue the conversation @kateiselin


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