Scarlet News:

Sex Work Laws Changing in Northern Territory

Dec 31, 2004 | News

Melinda James from Stateline, ABC Darwin, reports on sex industry laws in the Northern Territory, and interviews Janelle Fawkes, Scarlet Alliance President, and Alina Thomas, SWOP NT spokesperson. Broadcast 3 December 2004. Sex workers are unhappy with current level of police intervention in licensing and registration of the sex industry.

For full story abc website link

MICHAEL COGGAN: The Attorney-General Peter Toyne was unavailable to talk to Stateline.

He says the Government’s own legal advice is that the changes are appropriate.

Mr Toyne says the changes have been approved by the NT’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

SEX WORKERS STORY In March this year, two Darwin-based sex workers were found dead in the Adelaide River.

Two 18-year-old men have been charged with their murder.

The women’s deaths shocked the local sex industry.

At the time, sex workers claimed that the laws regulating prostitution left them vulnerable to attack.

The NT Government agreed to look into the legislation but the industry says nine months later nothing has been done.

Melinda James reports.

MELINDA JAMES: When the bodies of 27-year-old Sonjai Insamran and 58-year-old Puangsri Kroksamrang were discovered it sent shock waves through the local sex industry.

Their deaths were seen as a tragic reminder of how some aspects of NT law leave sex workers vulnerable and at risk.

JANELLE FAWKES, SCARLET ALLIANCE: Private workers, in particular, are aware that being forced to work alone puts them in an unnecessarily unsafe situation.

And they certainly, after the murders, were very concerned that changes weren’t made immediately.

And although there was discussion about it, it’s, as you say, six months down the track and nothing has changed.

MELINDA JAMES: Janelle Fawkes is the the president of Scarlet Alliance
a national organisation dedicated to improving working conditions in the sex industry.

She’s in the NT to help local sex workers lobby for changes to the Prostitution Regulation Act, which is administered by the Department of Racing, Gaming and Licencing.

In the NT, exchanging sexual services for money is legal.

It can be done through an agency or arranged directly with the sex worker.

But you can’t take bookings and receive clients at the same premises.

Under the law, those who choose to work solo must work completely alone.

"Melanie" is a 31-year-old student, and has been a sex worker on-and-off for 8 years.

She chooses to work alone despite the risks.

"MELANIE", SEX WORKER: It’s a really big safety issue.

Two workers working together is obviously safer.

I feel quite upset that I cannot legally work with another person.

You know, I often, also, will take calls and work from the same premises.

When I’m doing those practices, I’m actually breaking the law.

And if something happened, I would have to think twice about contacting the police because the work practices that I was engaging in are not within the law.

MELINDA JAMES: Agencies can offer workers added security and guaranteed business, but managers typically collect 50 per cent of the fee.

Another downside is the legal obligation to register with police as a sex worker.

JANELLE FAWKES: There are many parts of this legislation, I think, which are problematic.

But one of the main aspects is the way in which police have interpreted the legislation, and require every escort who works for an agency to register with police.

Now once a person is on this register, they’re on the register for life.

"MELANIE": I don’t understand why anyone should have to have a lifelong registration with the police to work in the sex industry.

There has been times when I’ve had friends who were pulled over for speeding, and as soon as the police get their name, then the police are saying to everyone in the car, "Hey, you’re a prostitute."

Really, it’s a really minor interaction with the police and yet, the police think that it’s okay to just spread that information as soon as they interact with anyone that’s registered.

MELINDA JAMES: This week, the NT’s sex worker Outreach Project, and the Scarlet Alliance, invited police, NT WorkSafe, government representatives and other professionals who might encounter sex workers, to a community forum, to discuss ways of better protecting those in the industry.

ALANA THOMAS, SEX WORKER PROJECT OFFICER: It’s been fantastic that the government have responded to those murders by looking at trying to address the deficiency of occupational health and safety standards within the legislation.

However, I haven’t seen a real commitment from the Government to really try and engage with sex workers, or with the sex worker Outreach Project.

SYD STIRLING, RACING, GAMING AND LICENSING MINISTER: It is a body of work that needs to be done, and Racing, Gaming and Licensing will be consulting with a range of key stakeholders in the industry.

We’re expecting them to come forward probably in the first part of next year, with recommendations in and around the Act.

MELINDA JAMES: Until then, many sex workers will continue to wilfully break the law.

"MELANIE": It is totally crazy when one has to break the law, in order to, you know, maintain an income and yet I would have absolutely no access to justice if a violent crime was committed against me while I was working from home.