Sex workers demand change to laws
GLADSTONE'S sex workers are calling on the State Government to change laws they say are making them choose between working safely and working legally every day.
The call came after sex workers from across the region met in Gladstone yesterday afternoon as part of a networking event organised by lobby group Respect Inc.
The event was part of Respect's regional outreach program, aimed at providing support for sex workers in regional centres and reducing the isolation often experienced by those in the industry.
While there is a small number of legal brothels in Queensland - 20 as of 2016 - the state's criminal code currently makes it an offence for independent sex workers to take bookings together, share a workspace, or employ a receptionist.
The code even makes it problematic for sex workers to message each other about their locations or recommend a trusted driver to each other, according to Respect.
Respect spokesperson Janelle Fawkes said the rules governing prostitution in Queensland were very restrictive and "also very confusing".
"Most people don't really understand the guidelines, and people find themselves stepping outside the law without knowing it," she said.
"We estimate about 80 per cent of the industry is operating outside the legal framework in some way.
"You have to choose every day whether you're going to do this job safely or legally."
Ms Fawkes, who said attendees at yesterday's meeting described the industry as "in a bit of a rut" in Gladstone, said advertising restrictions also served to make their job less safe.
It is illegal for sex workers to provide limited or even coded descriptions of the services they are providing.
She said that meant not only did sex workers spend long periods of time fielding inquiries about services they were not willing to provide, it also put them at risk of breaking the law inadvertently.
Ms Fawkes said sex workers were "singled out" when it came to advertising rules.
"Not only is what we can put in our ads highly regulated, but also if someone in another industry gets their advertising wrong in some way they're not criminalised for that," she said.
Queensland's complicated advertising regulations pose a particular challenge for those for whom English is a second language.
Respect's Townsville project worker Vikki Boon focuses on working with Asian sex workers, and was at the meeting in Gladstone yesterday.
"The advertising rules are too confusing and sex workers end up paying high fines for saying something wrong in their ads," she told The Observer.
While there have not been any prostitution offences officially logged in Gladstone's crime records since 2013, advertising breaches are often enforced using Penalty Infringement Notices.
Ms Fawkes said regional sex workers were reporting a gradual increase in those notices being issued across the state.
Lack of sexual health clinic
Ms Boon said one other issue in particular stood out as a real concern following the Gladstone meeting.
Though there are several local organisations that provide medical and information services, Gladstone does not have a dedicated sexual health clinic.
The lack of a one-stop shop to provide free testing for sexually transmitted infections and other relevant information for sex workers means Gladstone sex workers are worse off, she said.
"Sexual health is important to sex workers and not having a sexual health service in Gladstone means sex workers have to travel to Bundaberg or Rockhampton," Ms Boon said.
Ms Fawkes said any barrier to sex workers and their clients accessing regular sexual health testing meant it was more likely industry-recommended best practice would not be followed.