ALP betrays WA sex workers

Issue 

ALP betrays WA sex workers

BY AMIE HAMILTON

PERTH — After months of joining with the Australian Democrats and WA Greens to block a repressive new bill on prostitution, WA Labor has signed a deal with the Liberal Party to allow the bill's passage through parliament on June 13.

The ALP claims it won a victory for sex workers because the final version of the bill includes a sunset clause automatically repealing the legislation in two years. Yet, in the meantime, the law gives police far greater powers to harass sex workers. It also weakens civil liberties by overturning the presumption of innocence, putting the onus of proof on the accused.

The new law broadens the terms under which a person can be charged with street prostitution and dramatically increases the penalty, to seven years' jail. Minors can be jailed for six months.

The interpretation of "reasonable grounds" for arrest is left to the police, leaving sex workers, and women and young people in general, vulnerable to harassment. A young woman in a short skirt standing on a street corner could "reasonably" be arrested for having the "intention" to prostitute herself; she would have to prove that she had no such intention.

The police will no longer need a warrant to search a person or their belongings. Police's right to conduct strip searches and cavity searches will be strengthened.

Trisha Reimers from Resistance and the International Women's Day collective blames the ease with which the government was able to pass the legislation on the "massive law and order campaign it and its lackeys in the media have been waging for months". In one case, police and the local council barricaded the entire suburb of Highgate to "force out" street prostitution.

"The new law targets the victims, the women who for financial reasons are forced into prostitution", Reimers said. "As a result, prostitution will be pushed further and further underground, further compromising the health and safety of sex workers."

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