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Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 21:53:59 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: AUSTRALIA: Sex Workers Fight for Legalization
Article: 66231
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.8935.19990603121716@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** headlines: 152.0 **/
** Topic: AUSTRALIA: Sex Workers Fight for Legalization **
** Written 12:24 PM May 31, 1999 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 12:09 PM May 31, 1999 by mmason@igc.org in women.news */
/* ---------- Green Left: Prostitution and Discri ---------- */

/* Written 6:55 PM May 31, 1999 by peg:greenleft in igc:greenleft.news */ Title: Prostitution and discrimination

Sex Workers Fight for Legalization

By Claire Baker and Sarah Stephen, Green Left News,
31 May 1999

PERTH - If it is a project of feminism to redress discrimination and end oppression, then the repeal of all laws that penalise prostitutes is a feminist issue. The following article is based on interviews with STEPHANIE, a representative of Phoenix, a sex workers' advocacy, outreach and support service.

The illegal status of prostitution means that employers have unqualified control over prostitutes' working conditions. They set the prices, take payment from the client and pay a proportion of that to the prostitutes, most of whom do not receive pay slips to indicate their earnings and deductions.

People wouldn't believe some of the outrageous things that occur, said Stephanie. Some employers are reported to take tax from workers' wages without notifying the tax department, which later follows up the workers for apparent non-payment. As a result, many prostitutes pay double tax.

Some brothels charge the prostitutes a bond of up to $200 to work on the premises, a shift fee of around $25 and, in some instances, additional room fees. A fining system also operates, designed to recoup additional revenue from workers. Workers can be fined up to $100 for using or answering their mobile phone during a shift and $10 for not maintaining a room after a shift, said Stephanie.

Owners refuse to pay workers, give them fewer jobs or threaten to tell their families if they cause trouble or disobey orders. If a session runs overtime, even for five minutes, workers can be liable to pay for the room for another hour.

In brothels and parlours, management regulates what prostitutes wear, how they greet clients and what services they will provide. While occupational health and safety guidelines exist, their implementation is not monitored. Stephanie comments: The beds are terrible, lighting is poor, in winter the rooms are very cold. Sometimes there is only one shower for the whole complex. In some places there isn't even a functioning toilet.

If workers are assaulted, pimps and brothel owners can demand that attacks not be reported and make various threats if workers attempt to involve the police.

Women often don't have the right to refuse a client, regardless of concerns for their own safety. Some women are made to see clients who have previously raped them. Numerous instances are reported of workers being expected to provide services for their boss.

While a Miscellaneous Workers Union liaison officer is available to advocate for sex workers on legal and industrial issues, the requirement to publicly disclose that they are prostitutes makes it impossible for many women to turn to the union. Many do not even tell family or friends what they do for fear of rejection.

Successive governments have attempted to limit prostitution, although the current consensus in the Western Australian government is that containment and control is preferable to outright prohibition. However, the containment policy practised for the last 25 years does not work.

Brothels and agencies with police approval to operate legally account for less than 10% of all sex workers in WA. While the majority are women, there are around 500 men and 50 to 70 transgender people engaged in prostitution in WA.

Having decided recently to review the containment policy, a WA Liberal cabinet ministerial working group has formulated proposals without any consultation with sex workers. Following are some of the controls being considered.

<F129S>l<F255D>A Prostitution Control Board to license owners and premises. <F129S>l<F255D>Compulsory registration of all prostitutes, thereby removing their right to privacy and subjecting them to greater control by the state. <F129S>l<F255D>Mandatory health testing, a violation of people's right to control their own bodies, and handing that right to the government, says Stephanie. <F129S>l<F255D>Identity cards for all sex workers, implying that they need to be monitored and controlled. The associated lack of privacy and the opportunities created for the state to monitor all activities of prostitutes is a denial of basic human rights.

Earlier this year, Gavin Walshe, a 28-year-old police constable (who has subsequently resigned) appeared in a Perth court on three charges of rape, committed against two prostitutes. It is alleged that in return for agreeing not to press charges of prostitution against one of the women, he coerced her into having sex with him at a police station. Anecdotal evidence indicates that such abuse is common.

Until all laws which penalise prostitutes are abolished, they will remain constantly vulnerable to rape and abuse by their clients, their bosses and agents of the state.