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SA Chief Public Well being Officer Nicola Spurrier requires higher healthcare entry for intercourse staff in battle towards COVID-19

Nicola Spurrier, South Australia’s chief public health officer, has criticized the state’s current legislation on sex workers, stating that it does not provide adequate protection for the industry.

Important points:

  • Nicola Spurrier says sex workers in South Africa face barriers to adequate health care
  • She says criminalizing sex work increases the risk of preventable diseases
  • A parliamentary committee has been told that the pandemic has made workers more vulnerable

Professor Spurrier told a parliamentary committee on the Repeal of Sex Labor Violations Act that criminalizing sex work has created barriers for workers to adopt safer sex practices and access adequate health care.

“We are at risk of increasing what I believe to be preventable diseases, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases in this state,” she said.

“Despite the leadership of South Australian sex workers in managing their own health and safety at work, I think we need to do more as a society.

“From a purely biological point of view, bacteria and viruses do not distinguish whether sexual activity is paid for or unpaid.”

Professor Spurrier said sex workers told SA Health’s Communicable Disease Control Department of their fear of going to health care providers.

“They don’t want to go to a health care provider and say what they are doing because they know it’s illegal and they are afraid of being reported or fear of discrimination,” said Professor Spurrier.

She said safer sex accessories such as condoms were used by police in court as evidence against sex workers on the street.

“This obviously means that they feel compelled not to use these safer sex practices, and that means that they increase the risk of both acquiring and transmitting communicable diseases,” said Professor Spurrier.

The committee was told that the COVID-19 pandemic had made sex workers more vulnerable.

“Sex workers are confronted with putting their own safety and the lives of their clients, but also their families, at risk,” said Professor Spurrier.

“Criminalization has also challenged the delivery of COVID-19 health advice to sex workers in South Australia.

“My understanding is that during the pandemic, the sex work industry developed its own health promotion resources and information.

“But they have not benefited from the commitment SA Health and my team and other agencies have been able to offer to other communities and individuals at risk.”

Due to the criminalization of sex work in South Africa, Professor Spurrier said she was unable to develop resources to educate sex workers about the risks associated with COVID-19, as health officials in other states have done.

“In order to track and control this outbreak, we have already put these barriers in place,” she said.

“For example, when we introduced QR codes, that didn’t apply to the sex work industry and I have real concerns.

“I think if we really want to tackle the pandemic on a broad front, we have to reach every single South Australian and every professional and corporate group.

“I think we should be very grateful to the sex work industry in South Australia for actually doing a lot of their own work, despite being marginalized in terms of mainstream occupations.

“They trained and supported each other during this time.”

The last campaign to decriminalize sex work in South Australia failed in late 2019 when the House of Assembly voted 24 to 19 against the law.

At the time, a number of MPs had raised concerns about the advertising of sex workers on the street and the locations of brothels in their constituents.

“This is a really good result for equality for women in this state,” said Claire Scriven, opponent of decriminalization and Labor MP, after the vote.

“The defeat of this law says women will not be a commodity, we will not buy and sell women, and we will not protect the pimps. That would have been the result.”

Law Society reiterates “strong support” for the bill

The President of the Law Society of SA, Rebecca Sandford, also presented herself to the parliamentary committee on Monday.

She said the Law Society supported the bill and advocated “strong support for the full decriminalization” of the state’s sex industry.

“We believe the elimination of law enforcement for sex work is an important positive step towards ensuring the safety, rights and well-being of all sex workers in South Australia,” said Sandford.

“Sex work remains stigmatized, adding to prejudice against sex workers, marginalizing these workers and denying the support and protection afforded to other workers in our community.

“The lifting of sex work crimes can be a starting point to change these attitudes and improve health and safety conditions for sex workers.

“We believe the bill offers an opportunity to change societal views on sex work and thereby improve the health, safety and safety of workers in the industry.”