Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Court for street sex workers aims to cut reoffending rates

MELBOURNE — A new specialised street sex worker court will meet once a month in Melbourne in a bid to increase court attendance by prostitutes and reduce re-offending.

The Street Sex Worker Court Attendance Program will be held at the Melbourne Magistrates Court at 2pm on the first Tuesday of each month. The program, which enables those appearing at the court to get access to legal aid, housing and health services and drug and alcohol programs, has been welcomed by street sex worker support groups.

Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the program was a result of a recent survey which found only 16 per cent of street sex workers attended court. "We have to do everything we can to break the cycle between street sex workers and our criminal justice system," he said. "Time and again street sex workers are not appearing before court, for a whole range of reasons, not the least of which that they don't believe appropriate support services are being provided at our courts."

Mr Hulls said it was hoped the court would help street sex workers get out of the industry. "What's happening at the moment is many street sex workers are charged by the police (then) they fail to appear before the court," he said. "They then get picked up again. They get charged with failing to appear. "They get fines and they can't pay those fines so they go back on the streets to earn more money to pay those fines — so its a vicious cycle."

The program has been welcomed by street worker health and safety support group Resourcing Health and Education in the Sex Industry (RhED). Co-ordinator Susan O'Reilly said it would provide street workers with a chance to access community services. "The goal at the moment is to engage these people with community services that they might not ordinarily contact so they might be able resolve their drug dependency issues and attend some of their health issues," she said. "Then they don't need to do street sex work to maintain their drug dependence. "It's sort of a cyclical process."

A trial of the new court was held earlier this month. It will officially begin on December 2.

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Created: November 19, 2003
Last modified: January 15, 2004
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