Could a brothel be on your block?
Celine* was in her mid-twenties when she first entered the sex industry.
An ongoing struggle with mental illness meant that she felt unable to commit to a standard nine-to-five job, but sex work's flexible nature appealed to her need for money and her want to work.
"I started working in a state where sex work is still criminal," she told me, over email.
"I was lucky and unlucky in that the police generally turned a blind eye [to sex work] at the time.
"Criminalisation didn't stop people from working in the industry or seeking out adult services, there were brothels operating and there was plenty of work."
Despite the amount of work readily available, working in a state where sex work wasn't legal - Western Australia - meant that Celine's co-workers were never quick to forget that when they went in to work in the morning, they were breaking the law.
"[Other] workers were very cagey in speaking about what services they provided and how they provided them, even when they got to know you. I had a few significant helping hands, and snippets of 'how-to' information I picked up from various workers, but mostly I developed my practises through trial and error.
"I put myself in dangerous circumstances without knowing any better at the time," she admits. "The clients themselves were also more cagey, which made them more dangerous. They were seeking a service which was taboo and for some people shameful in itself, but it was also criminal."
Many sex workers will agree that working in places where sex work is against the law means that it can be harder to connect to other workers, to ask advice and develop supportive peer groups.
Likewise, the illegality of the industry can affect the behaviour of clients: some can be more likely to behave aggressively knowing that the worker they see may be reluctant to turn to the law for help.
Although some forms of sex work are legal in some parts of Australia, the land Down Under hardly has a free-for-all attitude towards sex. The laws surrounding the industry vary by state and territory, meaning that what's legal in one part of the country may be illegal in another. For example, private work is legal in some states, but limited by laws around how and where private workers can work:
For example, it's against the law for two sex workers to work out of the same hotel in Queensland, even if they've never met and totally unaware that the other is there. These variances in law mean that for sex workers, ancillary staff and clients alike, the adult industry can often seem confusing and intimidating.
"Decriminalisation treats the sex industry like any other industry: as legitimate employment under the law," says Romy Durrant, of Sex Work Law Reform Victoria.
"New Zealand and New South Wales are the world's only jurisdictions with decriminalisation, but as yet, no jurisdiction has achieved 'full' decriminalisation: the model that is universally recommended by sex worker and human rights organisations.
"Full decriminalisation would see all criminal laws relating to consensual sexual activity removed, to the benefit of workers, clients, and the wider community."
As a sex worker myself, my personal hope is that most people would support sex work decriminalisation, knowing that it would make work easier and safer for those in the sex industry.
However, decriminalisation is also a term that's frequently misunderstood, even by those who are supportive of the industry. If sex work were to be decriminalised in your state, would it mean that brothels would start popping up on every block? Could street-based sex workers suddenly start appearing outside your house as they wait for clients? Would there be a spike in human trafficking, or in sexually transmitted infections? Would sex workers be granted special exemptions from paying tax, or from following any other laws that the average working Australian has to follow?
According to Romy, the answer is a definite no.
"Contrary to what most people think, decriminalisation does not mean complete deregulation of the industry.
"Decriminalisation removes criminal penalties associated with consensual activity across all of the industry's sectors. Existing civil and business laws still apply and human trafficking, child exploitation and other serious offences remain criminal and councils would continue to regulate where brothels can be located in the community."
So essentially, sex workers are free to see any adult, consenting client they choose, but they still have to pay their taxes like the rest of us.
Now in her mid-thirties, Celine works in New South Wales, where sex work is mostly decriminalised.
"When I started working in New South Wales, my knowledge and safety practises were catapulted forward tenfold, solely due to the community. The sense of support was massive.
"I felt that workers here were so much safer and even more experienced in supporting each other, because they had come up in a more supportive environment."
"Plus, the specialist health services are an absolute godsend," she added, explaining that in criminalised states she had been met with arguments when requesting sexual health tests that are considered standard in the industry.
"Doctors and health practitioners who are profoundly experienced [with sex workers] are able to provide far better healthcare. When health practitioners are open to discussion, educated in the industry, and non-judgemental, workers feel safer speaking openly about their industry-related health issues."
Important, too, is the effect that work has had on Celine's mental health.
"Now, my years spent in this industry make me proud," she says.
"My career stands as a constant reminder of what I can accomplish, both despite and because of my mental illness.
"[Sex work] has helped me amplify my strengths, most notably interpersonal skills and empathy. I continue developing my brand. I'm constantly looking to upskill, both for myself and to provide the best service I can to my clients."
"I am happier than I have ever been. I greet regular clients as old friends.
"Yes, sexual services are often provided, but so is physical touch, emotional intimacy, and most importantly acknowledgment.
" In those moments we hold space for them, and send them back in to the world more able to face whatever they have to. I'm proud and grateful to be able to provide that."
- Names have been changed to protect identity
- The Scarlet Alliance provides information on the laws around sex work in Australia. You can find that here.
Kate Iselin is a writer and sex worker. Continue the conversation @kateiselin