WA prostitution bill punishes the victim

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WA prostitution bill punishes the victim

By Julianne Green

PERTH — Last week, Western Australia's police minister, Kevin Prince, released the final draft of legislation to massively increase the regulation of the sex industry. The Prostitution Control Bill, which is backed by the Labor Party and the Catholic Church, requires registration of and identification cards for all prostitutes and moves "red light" areas into industrial zones.

The state Liberal government has been doing its best to avoid a commitment to legalise prostitution on the pretext that more regulation of the sex industry would increase corruption within it. However, it doesn't explain why this bill would not increase corruption.

The rape of two sex workers by a police officer earlier this year is an example of the type of corruption, and violation of women's rights, that is possible while prostitution is illegal.

The proposed bill gives sweeping powers to a Prostitution Control Board, for which there would be no review process. Prostitutes who are registered with the PCB and who operate alone from their home will be legal, but women who work in small groups or have a friend in the house for safety reasons, or who employ a receptionist, will be treated as criminals.

The bill also makes soliciting on the street illegal. Minister for family services Rhonda Parker has misrepresented and sensationalised the issues by focusing on "protecting" drug-addicted child prostitutes from themselves.

Already, street prostitutes have been moved on from the area in Northbridge which they negotiated with authorities to work. This follows redevelopment of the area for luxury apartments.

According to Felicity Lewis, coordinator of Phoenix, a health service for prostitutes, the bill ignores health and safety issues, and some of the proposals "directly contravene national and international recommendations regarding the maintenance of optimum sexual health and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne viruses".

For example, the bill would enforce health checks on all prostitutes, yet all the research shows that the client is most likely to have a sexually transmitted disease and that prostitutes in Australia have fewer STDs than the general population because of preventive measures they already take.

The bill explicitly states that it will not be "conferring rights" on prostitutes. On the contrary, it will remove the right to privacy and the ability to work without harassment and criminal charges. The cry of "Save our streets and our children" coming from the Catholic Church, the town of Vincent and the Hyde Park Precinct Group lacks both sympathy for and an understanding of the lives of prostitutes.