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Sex work advocacy groups in Queensland – fresh off a nationwide campaign to decriminalize sex work – are confident they could be the next Australian jurisdiction to decriminalize sex work. But the current framework for doing so would leave one of the industry’s biggest cohorts incredibly vulnerable: strippers.
A crucial stipulation of current state law strictly prohibits dancers from soliciting sex at a licensed strip club or offering “extras” like performative masturbation, oral sex, penetrative sex, or anything to do with anal, even though there technically isn’t any. physical contact between a worker and his client.
Strippers are concerned, however, because “extras” are as much a part of the job as stripping.
“We deserve the same rights to health and safety protections at work, and that our work is not criminalized, like any other sex worker,” said Raven Inferno, a dancer working in Queensland. She told VICE that if she and her colleagues are excluded from the state’s decriminalization framework, as has been proposed, “police attention will turn to us.”
The Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) is expected to deliver a framework for the decriminalization of sex work by November this year. So far, sex work advocacy groups have been largely receptive to the move.
For Janelle Fawkes, campaign manager for sex work advocacy group Queensland Respect Inc. and a member of sex work peer support network Decrim QLD, it is important that the resulting bill meets three major concerns.
The first is that the Criminal Code as it applies to sex workers is repealed. The second is that the Prostitution Act, which puts anyone offering sex work services out of a licensed brothel breaking the law, is also being repealed. The third is that police powers, which would often lead to racial profiling and general overreach across the state, are significantly limited.
“Most sex work places in Queensland are criminalized under current laws,” Fawkes told VICE. “So even security strategies, as we call them, are illegal.”
“The same goes for having a driver transport you between bookings, or even being in the same hotel as another sex worker providing sex work services to a client. So if you’re a touring sex worker — and in many cases, even if you’re a local — you won’t necessarily know how many laws you might be breaking,” she said.
“There are a lot of aspects of the laws that just don’t make sense – the police have extraordinary powers when it comes to sex work.”
But Fawkes, along with a number of his colleagues, hopes this year could be theirs.
With cautious optimism, she said it would be an undeniable victory, but it might as well not happen if she didn’t “go all the way” and repeal all harmful laws. When it comes to strippers, Fawkes sees room to move.
“It feels like it’s sort of locked in a semantic argument with the QLRC now, where they’re saying ‘We don’t cover it, because it’s already covered by adult entertainment licenses,'” said Fawkes.
“But in fact, what we are talking about is not covered by these permits. In fact, it’s specifically excluded,” she said.
If strippers don’t end up being covered by the state’s new decriminalization framework, they and the advocacy groups fighting for them fear the industry will continue to see companies take advantage of the vulnerability that comes with the illegal work.
For example, a stripper who solicits on-site sex work at an approved club, and is then harassed or assaulted, has no way to file a complaint with an organization like Fair Work – let alone the police. – because the crimes committed against them are based on a crime to begin with.
“I had to pick up girls from clubs because they were bitten in the room being held against their will, the ambulance wasn’t called, and I had to get up and take the dancer to the hospital, and then the next day they were fired, for being doped, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Raven said.
“Hospitals often don’t take this complaint seriously either. And they don’t do drug tests and so you can’t really file a complaint or even a police report without a toxicology report,” she said.
“And so the view of the room is, ‘Well, you’re creating waves because you’re the victim of a crime in my room, and that’s going to draw attention to licensing and get me in trouble, so you can go, Bye Bye.'”
Nor are Raven’s experiences isolated events. At the end of April it was reported by the ABC that a dancer at a strip club in Adelaide called ‘The Firm’ has alleged that a colleague of hers was sexually assaulted during a private dance at the club.
Luna, the dancer who spoke to the ABC, said that after raising concerns about the club’s lack of security measures – in an effort to protect her colleagues – she was abruptly dropped by the club. As in Queensland, South Australian laws prohibit any kind of sexual touching in strip clubs, but Luna persisted and took legal action against the club anyway, in an attempt to point out what she claimed was an “exploitative work culture”.
Soon after, the club reached a confidential amicable settlement with Luna, although he denied all allegations against him. Raven said Luna’s experience with The Firm is common practice and should be seen as a case study for stronger protections for strippers both in the workplace and under the law. penal.
“A lot of the time I’ve found that when you talk about something wrong, you suddenly get taken off the list indefinitely,” Raven said.
“I do – there is now only one place in Queensland where I am ‘allowed’ to work because I don’t allow this stuff to slip through the cracks, especially when it’s happen to myself or colleagues I have in the industry,” she said.
Raven hopes the QLRC will be open to coming to the table to reconsider their stance on strippers before handing down a final frame at the end of the year.
After all, she says, she just wants to be able to go to work and have the same protections everyone else has.
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