Sex worker / adult industry person here:
While the terms legalization & decriminlzation may seem the same, interchangeable of like meaningless semantics, they are incredibly important.
Criminlazation (of workers, clients, or relating parties such as accountants, security, pa, landlords etc) is an extremely harmful model, obviously. It leads to endless human rights abuses, corruption, etc.
2 Legalization (‘regulation’)
Legalized model is what Victoria has, and many other places is the world. It is a harmful model. It means putting a lot of controlling, invasive, and unnecessary restrictions on sex workers, their families & communities. Legalization leads to things like:
Effectively making it illegal for sex workers to have Personal assistants, security, drivers or accountants.
Licencing schemes where governments of other agencies keep personal files & tabs on workers. This is a big invasion of privacy, especially considering the stigma, discrimination & abuse sex workers face even after leaving the industry.
Private premises and hotels booked by sex workers (so they have control & safety over space) classified as “illegal brothels”.
Licencing creates 2 tiered systems, making some workers vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, trafficking, etc.Dichotomies & hierarchies help no one.
Anything but decriminalization leaves the doors open for corruption, blackmail & other exploitation. Just look at the history of Australia’s Vice squad. When it’s easy for police to blackmail, abuse, coerce and be corrupt it happens, and when workers can’t trust police or feel safe things are bad.
Decrim is the model supported by World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and other UN agencies, as well as recently Amnesty International. Alongside (and more importantly) sex workers’ themselves and the organizations run by & for them. As put by Amnesty (
Bolded emphasis is mine. This is one of the key differences between legalization & decriminalization)::
It does not mean the removal of laws that criminalize exploitation, human trafficking or violence against sex workers. These laws must remain and can and should be strengthened.
It does mean the removal of laws and policies criminalizing or penalizing sex work.
This includes laws and regulations related to selling and buying or organising sex work, such as solicitation, renting premises, “brothel keeping” and living off the proceeds of “prostitution”.
Note: Decriminalization doesn’t mean no control, regulations or standards for sex work. Things still exist like safe sex practices are always required, workplaces must be coercion free, basic OHS, it’s only acceptable to work if you have regular health testing and are free of STIs etc (although this creates discirimnation issues for HIV positive workers & clients alike, but thats a matter for another post). Decrim doesn’t mean no rules wild west bordellos.
4 Mixed message models
You may often hear about the “Nordic model” or “Swedish model”. It’s partially decriminalized (sex work isn’t illegal to perform) but it’s also partially illegal (illegal to purchase sexual services, rent to a sex worker, live off the earnings of sex work, etc). This model is very harmful. It masquerades as the best, safest option but throws sex workers under the bus.
Amnesty has a great write up of it’s policies on Decrim, why it’s the best, why they chose it, and all that jazz. It’s worth a read, and it’s the stance I have and suggest to anyone who values safety, agency & respect: