27 April 2001
CHP DEFENDS THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF PROSTITUTES
Party Leader Graham Capill told the Justice and Electoral Select Committee that the Prostitution Reform Bill was
unlikely to promote the human rights of prostitutes in the way suggested by its proponents.
Mr Capill said, “One of the key rationales for the Bill is to promote sexual health. The Christian Heritage Party
recognises that sexual health issues are a significant problem for society, but decriminalising aspects of prostitution
will aggravate rather than improve this problem.
“Clearly, the promiscuity inherent in prostitution is the major source of health risk, a fact implicitly acknowledged by
the focus of the Bill on health issues.
“If the Bill passes into law, however, the State will effectively be condoning the promiscuity, which is the root cause
of the sexual health issues. Educating prostitutes about sexual health issues, while at the same time condoning the
promiscuity which gives rise to sexual health risks, appears to us to be irrational.
“The other rationale often cited to justify these changes is the unfairness of the current law. Of course the law can
move in one of two ways to address the inequalities: you can liberalise the law as proposed, or you can reform the law
by removing gender specific offences. It is our submission that the law should be clarified so that it holds men just as
culpable as women.
“International law recognises that many women enter this trade when they are faced with few choices. This comes about
from such things as economic necessity, usually connected with the need to support a drug or alcohol habit. Theorists,
often ignore the fact that brothel madams generally take half of the money earned, and drug dealers and pimp-boyfriends
end up with most of the rest. The clients (mostly men), on the other hand, take advantage of their plight and use women
for self-gratification. As a result of such factors, international law rejects the legitimacy of prostitution and it is
our submission that we should do likewise. If even some of those, involved in this industry, have so few choices, it
cannot simply be treated like other businesses.
A significant body of international human rights jurisprudence weighs against the notion that there is a ‘right’ to
prostitute which ought to be protected. Several treaties are listed for you in point two of our submission.
“The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) requires that:
Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic of women and
exploitation of prostitution of women. (Art 6)
“Far from encouraging prostitution, it requires member States to protect women from the exploitation that is more often
than not involved in prostitution. A Bill to decriminalise prostitution hardly “suppress” it in the way the convention
“The CHP submission, focuses on some of the practical ramifications if this becomes law.
“For example, the maximum sentence for the offence of coercion, created by Clause 7, is seven years. Coercion is defined
broadly enough to include situations that would currently be regarded as sexual violation, which carries a maximum
sentence of twenty years. We are concerned that the proposed section will therefore amount to a lesser version of rape
and is therefore contrary to the fundamental principle that all persons should be equal before the law.
“Another practical consideration is that a purpose of the Bill is to ensure that the legislative framework of welfare
and occupational health and safety protections, applies to prostitutes. But there are some glaring examples that suggest
it is impossible to achieve this through this Bill.
“We ask, for example, in the event of a prostitute conceiving a child because of the failure of, or omission to use, a
condom, would it be considered a work-related personal injury? If so, would the prostitute be entitled to compensation
for the costs of procuring an abortion? Or the costs of raising the child? And if such an event is not to be regarded as
a work-related personal injury, how is the prostitute’s continued employment status going to be affected?
“One further practical example: Under the Human Rights Act 1993 the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing
illness is a prohibited ground of discrimination in employment matters. There is an exception to this in s 29(1)(b)
where the nature of the employee’s duties carries a risk of infecting others with an illness, and it is not reasonable
to take this risk. On this basis, one would assume that an employer would be justified in refusing to employ a
prostitute with HIV.
“But the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 requires employers to take all practical steps to ensure the safety of
employees while at work. If it is regarded as reasonable to rely on condoms to protect prostitute workers from
contracting HIV from clients, it must also be reasonable to rely on them to protect clients from contracting HIV from
the prostitute employee. Employers therefore cannot discriminate against prostitute employees on the basis that they are
infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.
“Therefore, despite its avowed intention to create an environment conducive to public health, the Bill places an
obligation on employers of prostitutes to employ people regardless of their sexual health status. Such a result is
unlikely in the extreme to be conducive to public health.
“We note that there is considerable evidence establishing that recent legislative changes altering the legal status of
prostitution in various states of Australia have exacerbated, rather than improved, problems associated with
prostitution. This Bill has been based on the NSW model and rejects the Victorian legislation. What needs to be noted is
that both models in Australia have been disastrous and have failed to deliver what sounded so good in theory. We would
do well to learn from their experience.
“There is a human face to this issue that must not be forgotten. A former madam, Linda Watson, was interviewed on
Adelaide Radio Life FM on 25 February this year.
“She said she has known thousands of prostitutes during her 20 years in the sex trade and that every one of them had
been damaged. She has calculated that over 85% of the girls they employed had a drug habit. She said (and I quote):
“There is a honeymoon period after the girls start, when they think the money and everything is wonderful. But after a
while they begin to hurt – their back, their head, their personal parts – and they turn to alcohol and other drugs to
stop the physical pain, and the great emptiness inside them. After a while they may wisen up to what’s happened, but by
then it’s too late – they have a habit, and they’re trapped.”
That’s the human face of this Bill. Christian Heritage urged the Select Committee to protect these women from such
exploitation and not allow this Bill to proceed. The Party agrees that prostitution law reform is needed, but this Bill
will not deliver what it promises.
Contact: Party Leader Graham Capill, Direct Line: (03) 352 6720 or (021) 661 766