John Miller

Prostitution and brothels were legalised in Canberra in 1992 when the newly formed ACT Legislative Assembly passed the Prostitution Act. Canberra's sex industry was one of the first in Australia to be so-called "regulated". Ten years later regulation is almost non-existent. The Act provided for a Registrar of Brothels and Escort Agencies to maintain a register of when brothels commenced operations, business names, owners, and names of persons in day-to-day control of businesses. No information is kept on the number of prostitutes working in registered businesses. It is Canberra's best kept secret.

The industry is supposed to be supervised by a sex industry consultative group who advise the government. It is a quasi industry lobby group of brothel owners and prostitutes, legitimised by the appointment of some government officials, including the police. It is not publicly accountable.

Two of the main arguments favouring legalising prostitution in 1992 were it would render illegal prostitution obsolete, and would liberate prostitutes from abuse by controllers. A decade later it has done neither. Illegal prostitution continues, and the industry would not survive without the human abuse of illicit drug addicts and illegally imported prostitutes.

It is clear now that the real purpose behind legalising prostitution was to normalise and promote it for commercial profit.

One of the first problems to emerge was under-age prostitution in 1996. In 1997 street prostitution emerged when girls, some as young as 14, exchanged sex for drugs, often without using condoms. The trafficking of prostitutes came to light in Canberra in early 1998. Immigration raids on Canberra's 17 legal brothels caught sixteen illegal residents in breach of their visas. Two of those apprehended had previously been caught, then released, and had simply returned to prostitution.

Legalisation has not eliminated organised crime from prostitution. Young Asian women on legitimate student visas were encouraged or coerced by an international prostitution recruitment ring to drop their studies and work as prostitutes in Canberra, not in brothels but as call-girls, operating from private apartments. This made them unlikely to be caught in immigration raids or questioned about their visa status.

In October 1998 a Saudi diplomat was found stabbed to death in his apartment. In the course of the investigation, police uncovered large-scale illicit drug activities in Canberra in which prostitutes played a key role. It also revealed links between the needle exchange and the supply of illicit drugs to Canberra's brothels. 65% of prostitutes have a habit and brothels need drug addiction to be commercially viable.

In 2003, it was reported by government that as many as 50 "sex slaves" could be working in the ACT sex industry at any one time.

Internationally, the legalisation and/or regulation of prostitution since the 1960s has led to:
"a dramatic increase in all facets of the sex industry
"a dramatic increase in the involvement of organise crime in the sex industry
"a dramatic increase in child prostitution
"an explosion in the number of foreign women and girls trafficked for prostitution
"and indications of increased violence against women.

The national capital of Australia should follow Sweden's lead and recognise prostitution as male violence against women and children. This means legislating to criminalise the buying of sex and those who support prostitution, while decriminalising the selling of sex by individuals. Since Sweden did this in 1999, and began prosecuting offenders while providing generous social services to prostitutes wanting out, and funding public education campaigns, street prostitution has been reduced by about two-thirds and brothel prostitution by 80%, and the trafficking of women into Sweden for prostitution has almost ceased.

If prostitution is to remain legal, it should be regulated as follows:
"police should be given special powers to conduct random checks in brothels
"prostitutes should be registered, not just the brothels, and subject to identity, age and immigration checks
"there should be mandatory prison sentences for people who organise, and managers that employ, unregistered under-age prostitutes
"prostitutes should be spot-checked for illicit drugs just as athletes are checked
"the industry's lap-dog consultative group should be abolished and replaced by a real surveillance authority such as casinos have
"the administrative cost to government should be recovered through user-pays
"funds from prostitution sources should not be allowed as political party donations.

John Miller
Canberra 2005