Congratulations to the Prostitution Law Reform Working Group 2007.Scarlet Alliance recognises the approach of the Working Group as vastly more considerate of sex worker issues than that of previous Western Australian Governments. The report is a move in the right direction by the WA Labor Government, which has clearly learnt from the mistakes of prior law reform failures. We thank the Working Group for what appears to be a genuine attempt to understand a diverse and complex industry.
The consultation process adopted by the Carpenter Government is certainly an improvement on that of the Gallop Government in 2002/03. The Working Group has been transparent, engaged stakeholders and has taken the range of submissions into consideration. The Working Group has met with West Australian sex worker health services, Magenta and SWOPWA. The Working Group trip also travelled to New Zealand and met with the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. Scarlet Alliance urges the WA Government to continue to consult with sex workers prior to the legislation being drafted.
Terminology – “Sex Worker”
The term “sex worker” was coined by Carol Leigh, a San Francisco based sex worker activist, in the 1970’s. The intention was to reposition sex work within a workplace and industrial framework, rather than the morally charged ‘public good’ debate that had driven sex industry laws up until that point. Scarlet Alliance supports the use of the term “sex worker” to replace the stigmatising and outdated term “prostitute The adoption of appropriate language in sex industry legislation is essential in acknowledging and respecting the human and civil rights of sex workers and provides a positive example to the media and other sections of the community.
Terminology – “Decriminalisation”
Use of the term Decriminalisation to describe the proposed model is inaccurate. Decriminalisation is the removal of criminal penalties and the removal of police as regulators of the sex industry. In the proposed model, police will still have extensive involvement in the sex industry. Some of the suggestions in the report will actually grant police more power and authority in “decriminalisation”, than they had during containment.
The Working Party has attempted to anticipate and prevent potential problems with Local Government. “Local government be entitled to regulate but not prohibit such businesses.” (pg 7)Scarlet Alliance supports efforts to regulate Local Government powers in relation to the sex industry and looks forward to seeing this translated into appropriate legislation. Informing and working with Local Government prior to the laws becoming active will prevent confusion in the implementation of the laws. Scarlet Alliance suggests that sex worker groups who have experience with these policies, in Australia and internationally, be involved in designing training for Local Government planning staff and councillors. This will ensure that as well as familiarity with the practicalities of the law, staff would be sensitised to treat sex workers and sex industry businesses with dignity, respect and equality.
Scarlet Alliance supports the ongoing provision of targeted sex worker support services in Western Australia.The level of funding of non-government outreach organisations be reviewed in light of the expected increased demand on their resources in a decriminalised model. Pg 8We would hope that any additional funding will be directed toward those organisations that employ sex worker peer educators; the key to Australia’s internationally acclaimed success in STI/BBV education and prevention in the sex industry. Scarlet Alliance runs a nationally accredited workplace skills recognition project that assesses and formally recognises the work of sex worker peer educators. We strongly recommend that sex worker peer educators in Western Australian outreach organisations be resourced to participate in this process.
Occupational Health and Safety
Scarlet Alliance supports the Working Party’s approach to sex worker Occupational Health and Safety. We look forward to being consulted in relation to the adoption of an Occupational Code of Practice, as we have a great deal of expertise in this area. A Health Department funded project in 2001 resulted in the production of an OH&S guideline called “Bodies First”, developed by WA sex workers and addressing the specific needs of the WA sex industry. In 2000, Scarlet Alliance and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations developed “A Guide to Best Practice, Occupational Health and Safety for the Sex Industry”. This work went on to become the basis for the New Zealand Occupational Safety and Health Guidelines for the Sex Industry. In NSW, there has been a 10 year history of Occupational Health and Safety strategies and guidelines, developed in close consultation with sex workers. It will be important that the WA Code builds on the internationally recognised work already done in this field.
Criminalisation of sex workers with STIs/BBVs
Scarlet Alliance does not support the creation of additional offences for sex workers with STIs/BBVs. Penalties for infective persons who knowingly endanger the health of others are already contained in the WA Health Act. In addition, decriminalisation would see further protections provided by OH&S guidelines, with a breach of Duty of Care prosecutable by WorkCafe. The creation of sex worker specific laws pertaining to STI/BBV transmission is unnecessary and discriminatory.
Private Sex Workers
An option preferred by many, private work offers a sex worker complete autonomy, in control of their own working conditions and financial dealings. Best practise Occupational Health and Safety policy recommends private sex workers work in groups of two or more. This is not to suggest that working alone as a private sex worker is inherently unsafe, however the presence of a second worker acts as a deterrent for would be offenders. There are also practical considerations, such as sharing initial set-up costs and ongoing expenses. There appears to be some discrepancy between the recommendations made in the report and the announcements made in the media, as to whether sex workers working in pairs will be classified as a ‘brothel’ and subject to certification and planning issues. We would hope that this is not the case. Scarlet Alliance would like further clarification on how the new legislation will affect private sex workers, including their ability to share premises, employ staff (driver, receptionist, security) and whether safeguards will be introduced to minimise discrimination by councils and landlords.
Street Based Sex Work
The ongoing criminalisation of street based sex work is incongruent with Working Party attempts to improve conditions for sex workers in Western Australia. The Prostitution Act 2000 violates the human and civil rights of all WA sex workers, regardless of their workplace, but street based sex workers are especially marginalised and endangered by the legislation. Scarlet Alliance, our members and colleagues will continue to fight for the rights of street based sex workers to work without fear of prosecution in Western Australia.
Police right to enter sex industry premises
Police officers be conferred with limited powers to enter sexual services premises to verify that they are being operated and managed by certificated persons. (pg 9)Scarlet Alliance does not support powers that will allow police to enter premises to inspect certificates issued by the Department of Racing, Gaming & Liquor. Sex industry businesses should be subject to the same inspection and enforcement processes as other businesses regulated by the Department of Racing, Gaming & Liquor
Maintenance of the role of police powers; seizure, enter premises, entrapment (Part 4 of the Prostitution Act 2000)
The positive aspects of the proposed model will be undermined if police retain extraordinary powers in relation to the sex industry. The potential for police corruption will remain if these powers are retained. For the model to achieve its stated goals, it is vital that the Prostitution Act 2000 is not included in the new legislation.
Police Registration of Individual Sex Workers
The practice of involuntary registration of sex workers by police was recommended in one paragraph of the report, then condemned in the next. Scarlet Alliance is vehemently opposed to the concept of adding sex workers to what is effectively a criminal database, particularly in what will be a ‘decriminalised’ environment. The current methods of collection and retention of personal details used by the WA Police are a violation of sex workers’ right to privacy and anecdotal evidence has repeatedly demonstrated that the current database is not secure. Scarlet Alliance supports the existence of a police liaison, but recommends the engagement of a specifically trained Sex Industry Liaison Officer as employed in other Australian states. We would appreciate the opportunity to discuss the establishment of a Sex Industry Liaison Officer with the Government and the WA Police.
Link to the Working Party Report