LASH: The Law and Sex Worker Health Project

The challenge

Sex work is central to HIV and sexually transmissible infection (STI) epidemics in many parts of the world, yet most jurisdictions continue to criminalise or attempt to regulate many of the activities associated with sex work. As a consequence, sex workers are often alienated by the authorities – undermining surveillance and hampering health promotion programs for this population.

The project

This longstanding project maintains surveillance of state and territory government legal approaches to sex work, the impact these laws have on health promotion programs, the impact on behaviour, and the impact on the health and well-being of sex workers and their clients.

The method

This is done through searches of the laws as they affect sex work, measuring police activity, targeted surveys, and enhanced sentinel surveillance. These findings are regularly reported to government inquiries into their sex industries. The findings are also shared with community-based agencies charged with providing education and support services for sex workers to inform and evaluate programs.

The results

We have determined that criminalising or licensing sex work generally achieves little, but can be unnecessarily expensive and counter-productive for health promotion programs. Legal approaches have no effect in the incidence of sex work, though hostile policing practices can have adverse effects on the health, behaviour and human rights of sex workers.

The impact

Australian jurisdictions are slowly progressing toward a decriminalised and unlicensed approach to sex work, though there are still periodic moves to introduce unworkable regulations. The LASH project has consistently provided the most authoritative data to inform good policy.