Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Andrew Evans

p. 18

Tighter controls to target sex-trade clients

WOULD "decriminalizing and regulating" the sex trade really stop the harm, as The Advertiser Editorial, Mark Brindal and some others have suggested this week?

The New South Wales government thought so in 1995. But an investigation in 1999 found that brothel numbers had tripled and Asian gangs were taking over. NSW gonorrhea infection rates, which had remained steady, soared after 1995.

In 2000, the Queensland government legalized brothels with "strict controls", to clean up the industry and stop the murders of Queensland prostitutes. But the killings continue — street worker Julie McColl was found stabbed to death last week. Jasmin Crathern was murdered a few months earlier.

Drug use among sex workers, child prostitution, trafficking in Asian women — all these problems have not gone away in the eastern states, where the sex trade has been legalized or decriminalized. Countries such as the Netherlands have had the same experience.

When I visited the Netherlands last year, I discovered that young women and boys from impoverished Eastern Europe are still pouring over the border despite the country's attempts to curb the number of migrant prostitutes. Prostitutes in the Netherlands do not want to be registered because registration means taxes.

Government officials acknowledged that, as a direct consequence, the illegal industry is on the increase. Street prostitution is on the increase. More and more prostitutes are using mobile phones and e-mail addresses to do business.

They are working from their homes and cars.

Law-enforcement agencies are having difficulties policing the new laws. Legalization simply increases the illegal industry. Scattered throughout Amsterdam's red-light district were signs "rooms for rent". Window prostitution is on the decline in the Netherlands. The reason? Window prostitutes do not want to pay taxes and so they, too, are going underground.

The proponents for legalization argue that regular health checks will ensure a safer industry. There is no guarantee that prostitutes are not a danger to their customers in between health checks. How many customers does a prostitute see a day?

There is just one European country which has turned the tide, virtually eliminating street prostitution and greatly reducing the plague of people trafficking.

That country is Sweden, which tightened its prostitution laws in 1999.

Swedish laws against pimping and brothel-keeping remain on the books — but new laws against prostitution customers and advertising have made all the difference.

Street prostitution — still a scourge in Brisbane and Amsterdam — has been almost wiped out in Stockholm.

Two years ago, former Perth sex worker and madam Linda Watson came to Adelaide to talk to members of the SA Legislative Council.

Her graphic story of the mental damage all prostitutes suffer — the reason so many take drugs — made a big impact. Linda Watson runs a rescue ministry for sex workers called Linda's House of Hope. She has helped hundreds of girls quit prostitution and regain their lives.

She says legalizing the sex trade would make her job much harder. "For every girl I help leave, pimps would invite two new ones into the business," she says.

South Australian Police Commissioner Mal Hyde sees the damage.

His plea in The Advertiser on March 4 was not a call to legalize the sex trade but to give police power to enter brothels and prosecute those who are causing so much harm. Stuart Leggett, then SA MP for Hanson, tried to do this with his Bill in 1996. Another Bill to tighten the law nearly passed the SA House of Assembly in July, 2000.

SA needs to follow Sweden's lead and reduce prostitution harm — by tightening laws against pimps and madams, by prosecuting customers and by banning prostitution.

Andrew Evans is a member of the Legislative Council, representing the Family First Party.

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Created: April 13, 2003
Last modified: April 13, 2003
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