• Sex work laws are having a greater impact on service accessibility to people with disabilities. (AAP)
As part of Insight's look at sex and disability, here's a breakdown of sex work laws around the country, and how they may work alongside the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Madeleine King

12 Apr 2016 - 4:34 PM  UPDATED 2 Dec 2016 - 9:56 AM

The laws around sex work differ from state to state around Australia, and their effect is being felt far beyond perceptions of traditional clientele. 

This week, Insight is looking at how people with serious disabilities navigate sex and sexuality. For many with physical limitations, being able to express their sexual needs requires assistance, often from sex workers who specialise in working with people with disabilities. 

Jenni and David Heckendorf are one such couple. Married 25 years, and both living with cerebral palsy, they managed for most of their relationship without assistance. 

But a couple of years ago, a fall left Jenni even more immobile. As David writes openly, they had to make "a decision to either give up on enjoying sex or to investigate the possibility of allowing a third person into our bed."

"We were way too young to stop having sex," he says. 

Living in the ACT, Jenni and David could quite easily access the services of a sex worker. 

The ACT sex work laws are quite liberal, with most aspects of the work legal once registered with the Department of Fair Trading. 

Workers can operate from their own homes once registered, though they must be working alone. 

The laws are quite similar in Victoria and Queensland, where sex workers, brothels and escort agencies must register or be licenced by the state government and there are restrictions on the way sex work is conducted. 

In all these states, there are also stringent health and safety requirements around condom use and STI checks, and street work is illegal. 

NSW is the only state to have completely decriminalised sex work, and licening and registering is not required. 

Things get interesting when we move to the other states, however. 

In WA, SA, Tasmania and the NT, most aspects of sex work are criminalised. 

Under Northern Territory laws, brothels and street work are illegal, though there is some flexibility with private workers who work by themselves, and with escort agencies, if they are licenced. 

The laws in WA and Tasmania are similar, but do not require licencing. 

South Australia's laws a perhaps the strictest, where brothels and in some cases private work is illegal. It is also illegal to be on the premises of a brothel without a reasonable explanation, to earn a living from prostitution, and to procure a prostitute. 

Kelly Vincent MLC is a South Australia politician with the Dignity for Disability Party. She's been advocating for the decriminalisation of sex work in the state, particularly to allow accessibility for people with disabilities. 

"There are definitely some grey areas as to where certain types of work can occur, what kind of work can occur in what setting in terms of sex work in South Australia," she tells Insight's Jenny Brockie.

"And what I can say is that it does translate to grey areas around the rights of people with disabilities."

"Having [aspects of sex work] illegal certainly makes it much more difficult or impossible to get government funding because obviously government doesn't fund illegal activity," says Vincent. "And there's certainly a lot of debate going on here in South Australia about whether in the event that sex work was decriminalised, whether people with disabilities would be able to use their funding for these types of services."  

Having [aspects of sex work] illegal certainly makes it much more difficult or impossible to get government funding. Obviously government doesn't fund illegal activity. 

Part of Kelly's argument relates to whether funding would be available through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) for people with disabilities to access sexual assistance. 

Currently, there is nothing in the NDIS that specifies funding can be spent on sex services or therapy.  

David and Jenni Heckendorf successfully lobbied to have their funding slightly increased so they could spend it on a regular sex worker. 

"We built a case based on a needs assessment ... and we had a very positive response from the NDIS," says David. 

They're now able to see a sex worker fortnightly, rather than saving up on their disability pensions to see one once a month.

David also made a parliamentary submission to a recent inquiry on this issue.  

"We need to stop pretending that just because the money might be labelled disability we have the right to moralise and impose our values on what that money is spent on," says Vincent. 

Further reading
New French prostitution law welcomed
Activists hope a new law passed in France making it an offence to pay for sex will help stamp out sex trafficking.


Insight: Sex and Disability | Catch up online now: 

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