Over the last few decades greater attention has been focused upon law reform activities in Australia in response to government and community concerns regarding the sex industry. These concerns have been related to community health, local government, police corruption and organised crime. Little consideration has been given to the 'harms' that sex workers face in unregulated workplaces. Laws regulating the sex industry are an important determinant of occupational health and safety of sex workers, yet there is an absence of research which considers this link.
There is a perception that the sex industry is an inherently dangerous occupation. Anecdotal discussions in the Queensland sex industry suggest that violence against sex workers has been increasing. We have examined this issue by positioning the law and legislative change as primary factors shaping the occupational danger that sex workers experience. Exploring how current sex industry laws have re-structured the sex industry over time and the degree to which these laws may have contributed to an increase in serious crime were a major focus of the study.
A wide range of empirical studies have been conducted examining the sexual health of sex workers. Laws regulating the sex industry have been concerned with protecting the community from this health risk, yet the empirical data suggests that sex workers may enjoy better sexual health than the general community. As workplaces (in particular brothels) are criminalised in Queensland this study sought to consider to what extent sexual health practices might have been influenced by changing legislative frameworks.
A questionnaire administered through a snow-ball sampling technique incorporated in a multi-faceted outreach strategy was adopted to maximise exposure to sex workers throughout Queensland. It is argued that this approach provides the best access to sex workers across all sectors of the sex industry and makes contact possible with an often underground and marginalised group of people. In total, 149 questionnaires were administered to sex workers located in a range of sectors of the sex industry.
The findings of this study suggest that the occupational health and safety of sex workers is compromised by laws which criminalise the majority of sectors of the sex industry. The results of the study suggest that an increase in serious crime against sex workers has occurred since legislative change was introduced. Results were not conclusive with respect to occupational health but highlighted how sex industry laws might minimise health outcomes.
The study concludes by making a number of recommendations about the type of law reform that might assist with improving occupational health and safety in the sex industry. These recommendations are informed by sex workers' beliefs about how their industry should be regulated.