Sex Work review includes many OHS matters

The Victorian Government has announced a review of the regulations pertaining to sex work. It will include several areas related to occupational health and safety (OHS):

  • Workplace safety including health and safety issues and stigma and discrimination against sex workers
  • Regulatory requirements for operators of commercial sex work businesses
  • And the safety and wellbeing of sex workers, including the experience of violence that arises in the course of sex work and as a consequence of it, and worker advocacy for safety and wellbeing

Consumer Affairs has carriage of the Sex Work laws but the breadth of the review would have been better served if the announcement had been a joint one with the Minister for Workplace Safety and Minister for Health.

This review should offer a real challenge to Victoria’s OHS laws, the OHS profession, consultants, advocates and critics.

Continue reading “Sex Work review includes many OHS matters”

What do sex work and truck driving have in common? Non-work-related fatalities

It is widely acknowledged that work-related incidents are under-reported through worker or management choice. But there are institutional practices that mean that incidents in company vehicles are reported as traffic incidents even though the driver may be obliged to follow company safe driving procedures and the car has been purchased exclusively for work activities. But this situation is not just related to transport. Last week, Michaela Dunn, was murdered by a client while at work but her death will not be recorded as a work-related death.

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A narrow view on sex work safety

Dr Caroline Norma had an opinion piece published in The Age newspaper on October 24 2018 that fails to acknowledge the occupational health and safety (OHS) duties of Victorian businesses operating sexual services.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has looked closely at OHS in this industry sector before and has previously communicated with Dr Norma on sex work safety.  Dr Norma’s current article illustrates a common perspective on workplace safety and health issues where one set of legislation dominates the public policy conversation rather than the multidisciplinary approach.

It is necessary to clarify Dr Norma’s opening statement:

“The Victorian Labor Party will consider fully deregulating the state’s sex industry if re-elected to office in November.”

According to the 2018 Platform of the Victorian Australian Labor Party (ALP), in the context of Human Rights and Equal Opportunity, the ALP will:

“recommend that the Victorian Law Reform Commission consider decriminalisation of all sex work in Victoria as per other systems recognised internationally by human rights organisations.” (page 87)

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Academic clarifies objections to sex work

Caroline Norma of RMIT University responded to some questions about sex work and brothel safety put to her by SafetyAtWorkBlog in response to her recently published opinion piece.  This article is a companion piece to an earlier SafetyAtWorkBlog article on sex work and safety.

SAWB: What action do you recommend that brothel owners should take, beyond the current legislative and licensing requirements, to ensure that only safe sex occurs on their premises?

CN: “Brothel owners are currently commissioning violence against women by operating prostitution businesses.  Prostitution is inherently a practice of violence against women, and can’t be made ‘safe’ for women by any action by pimps.  In fact, brothel owners have a financial conflict of interest with regards to ensuring the safety of women in their venues, because clients will pay more for unprotected sex acts, violent sex, body punishing sex acts like anal penetration, sex with younger women, etc.” Continue reading “Academic clarifies objections to sex work”

Brothel safety gains new media attention

The occupational health and safety of sex workers is one of the most difficult areas to write about as the industry is politically and ideologically charged with matters of feminist ideology, human rights and sex trafficking, religious morality and NIMBY lobbying.  In such an environment, it is important that the OHS needs of sex workers not be forgotten.

On 13 July 2011, The Age newspaper reported on the threat of legal action by one sex workers on a Victorian licensed brothel, Butterflys of Blackburn.  The article raised many OHS issues for the brothel industry.  In short, the article reports that a sex worker is suing the brothel because the brothel, allegedly, established an expectation that the sex workers would allow unprotected sex, sexual acts without a condom or other protection, an offence under Victorian law.  This particular sex worker’s experience in Butterflys of Blackburn was that, when refusing unprotected sex to a client, the client assaulted her, attempted to rape her and threatened her with a gun.

The Age reports that the woman “has since been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, whiplash in her neck and a torn muscle in her shoulder.”  The worker is already receiving workers’ compensation and is pursuing compensation for permanent impairment.  Her plans for suing the brothel relate to the accusation that the brothel failed to provide a safe workplace. Continue reading “Brothel safety gains new media attention”

West Australian moves on sex work law neglect OHS

Australia has an enviable occupational health and safety record in its licensed brothels.  A recent sex work symposium in Melbourne restated the fact that sex workers have a lower presentation of sexually transmitted diseases than the public.  One Queensland brothel, Purely Blue, states:

“Safety and Quality are very important to us and we are proud to be one of a small number of businesses in Australia, that have achieved dual certification of their Occupational Health & Safety (AS/NZS 4804:2001) and Quality (AS/NZS ISO 9001:2000) Management Systems.

Purely Blue is believed to be the first boutique brothel in the world to have its Management Systems certified by a national body.

Purely Blue was the proud recipient of a Highly Commended Award in the National Safety Council of Australia/ Telstra National Safety Awards of Excellence in the category of “Best Implementation of an OH&S Management System”. This is believed to be the first time that a boutique brothel has received such recognition anywhere in the world.”

In June 2011, the Western Australian Government again attempted to legalise sex work, or as it continues to call it, prostitution.  But on the issue of workplace safety for sex workers, the Prostitution Bill 2011 seems to be seriously out of date and out of touch.   Continue reading “West Australian moves on sex work law neglect OHS”

Working Alone in the Sex Industry

One of the strongest qualities that a consultant has is to provide a new perspective on an existing process. For over 10 years, I provided OHS advice to the Victorian sex industry. It started in response to a call for first aid advice from a dominatrix in Melbourne. I provided advice on the best treatment for scorch marks on nipples and how to best clean a leather paddle which may have had a small amount of the client’s blood in the seams.

My work culminated in drafting a book on OHS in the adult sex industry for CCH Australia. The company was restructured and my book was dropped. However much of the information in the 40,000 words already written is still valid and I was happy to allow part of it to be reproduced by RhED in the latest issue of their magazine for sex workers.

The strength of any OHS publication and guideline from the government is its applicability to those occupations on the fringes of society.  The sex industry inhabits that fringe but few governments have provided OHS advice for the sector, although I admit that Australia is a leading provider of sex industry safety information.

In Red magazine, I have interpreted the Western Australian OHS guidelines on working alone to the sex industry. The guidelines were surprising useful.

As with many health work sectors or fringe industries, workers and employers don’t often look beyond the advice that is available from their industry association or government department. As such information from OHS regulators doesn’t always get to the industries where it is best needed. More guidelines in the sex industry need to come from a coalition of government departments. For instance, in Victoria, safety in the sex industry overlaps the Department of Human Services, the Department of Justice and the WorkCover Authority.

Safety in the sex industry seems to rely on consultants like myself (and you could count them on one hand) or organisations like RhED, the Inner South Community Health Service, and the Scarlet Alliance, to pull together these disparate safety guidelines in to a suitable package.

(For those interested in the sex worker industry, $pread Magazine in the US sometimes has useful safety tips and case studies)

UPDATE – 6 October 2008

RhED has posted an interesting profile on sexworkers in Victorian brothels.  The statistics provide a very useful background to some of the information above.

UPDATE – 9 January 2008

The Red magazine article on working alone is now available online.

Kevin Jones