AU: Attorney General challenges anti-prostitution lobby

Thursday, 17 June 2010
Prostitution will always be around and it is impossible to police a blanket ban, Attorney General tells community forum

By Anthony Barich

WA Attorney General Christian Porter has turned the debate on legalising brothels on its head, challenging anti-prostitution advocates to come up with a better solution than his planned legislation to restrict brothels to “entertainment zones”.

While conceding prostitution is “morally objectionable”, a blanket law criminalising it is unenforceable and legislation that permits it in specific zones is the only feasible solution, Mr Porter told a community forum in Belmont on 8 June.

“I do believe that you have to have some kind of level of prostitution which is permitted, strictly regulated for the health and safety of the people in it, because of the fact that it has always existed and because of the fact that we have not been successful over successive decades in stopping it, notwithstanding a law which says it shouldn’t exist anywhere,” Mr Porter told a forum of over 100 at Belmont’s RSL Club.

To this end, Mr Porter, formerly the Director of Public Prosecution’s Senior State Prosecutor, will introduce a Green Paper by December, produced under his direction by senior civil servants from the Departments of the Attorney General, Police, Liquor and Gaming, and Town Planning.

This Green Paper, which, despite being prepared for community consultation, he said “will find its way into legislation”, will:

* Prohibit the operation of brothels in residential areas and street prostitution in any area in WA and require businesses tolerated in strict geographical areas to be stringently regulated and limited to a small number of appropriate locations,

* See “very high levels” of compliance checks to ensure the health and safety of those people who are “unfortunately engaged” in being prostitutes,

* Expand police powers so they can investigate and prosecute those engaged in prostitution outside the regulatory scheme,

* Give State Government ultimate authority to determine the areas where prostitution is permitted, with consultation with local government, a “necessary but not sufficient condition”,

* Ensure very strict controls of the types of people allowed to operate, manage or engage in services defined in prostitution;

* Put in place penalties to deter all parties from engaging in prostitution outside the regulatory schemes.

“I don’t have confidence in anything else that’s been put to me as an alternative system which would allow for the same ability to shut down that type of behaviour (surrounding prostitution), or advertising and the operation in brothels,” he said.

When asked whether his plans included any support for prostitutes to exit the industry, he told The Record: “It’s certainly an area which we have been giving consideration to.”

He admitted, however, “the fact is that police for a long period of time have not gone out and positively and proactively investigated incidents of prostitution”.

Due to the resourcing that must be allocated to enforce such a law, he said police have determined to investigate and prosecute incidences of prostitution where there is evidence of drug dealing, alcohol abuse, the involvement of juveniles, illegal immigrants or where organised crime is said to exist in relation to a particular brothel.

“Successive generations of police officers and administrations who want the best for this State say that they can’t possibly properly consistently enforce that law,” he said.

This was backed up by Senior Sergeant Steven Martyn, Officer in Charge of the Belmont Police Station, present at the 8 June forum with Mr Porter, who told The Record that “our hands are tied” unless they find evidence of one of the above circumstances.

“At my station, any information we get we collate on a database so that when legislation comes in like Mr Porter has proposed, then we will have a starting point,” Sgt Martyn said.

“If people tell us a brothel is operating it, we will … not investigate it, but inquire into it, and if we can prosecute we will; otherwise we will gather intelligence and proceed to the next level when the new legislation comes in.”

Mr Porter also admitted that while senior WA police watching trafficking closely have told him it does not exist in WA, it “must be watched vigilantly”. He also admitted he has watched the issue closely since becoming Attorney General as “it represents dire criminal conduct”.

Mr Porter said that those pushing for outright bans on prostitution have been using unsubstantiated claims about the failure of legalising or regulating prostitution in other States and countries. A statistic that says the number of illegal brothels in Victoria exploded from 149 to 400 in three years since it enacted the 1994 Prostitution Control Act under a similar model to Mr Porter’s was based on a report in Melbourne newspaper The Age, the source for which was either someone from the adult entertainment industry or “an unnamed source”, he said.

“That academic article is very average indeed. I don’t accept that those figures are true,” he said. While he knew the number of legal brothels had increased in Victoria since it was regulated, “which is to be expected”, he did not have data on illegal brothels, as they don’t declare themselves.

When The Record contacted Victoria Police on such stats, they said it is a permit/planning issue, not a police matter, and advised to contact the appropriate local councils or the City of Melbourne.

Similarly, Mr Porter dismissed the effectiveness of the ‘Swedish model’ which criminalises the purchaser but not seller of sex, and its champion Gunilla Ekberg, the expert adviser to the Swedish Government in the development and implementation of their legislation who was brought to Perth to advise MPs who ended up passing the previous Labor Government’s Prostitution Amendment Act 2008.

The Bill was not enacted, however, as Mr Porter’s Liberal government came to power in September 2008.

Mr Porter said that while he has “no difficulties with severely penalising the users of prostitution services”, he added that “penalising just the users does not give you the policing tool to control and shut down brothels where they’re unlawful”.
“Police have told me that this is not enough,” he said.

Under Mr Porter’s concept, prostitution will be strictly unlawful in any residential area outside designated zones, and will criminalise the service or profiting from the service and the users of the service, he said.

He said that Ms Ekberg’s statistics are “not a verifiably massive improvement in its ability to control prostitution in Sweden”.

However, the UK newspaper The Guardian reported that in 2008 Britain’s House Minister visited Sweden as it was considering adopting the Swedish model.

Having researched Ms Ekberg’s original documents, Mr Porter said she sources herself, her own anecdotes of conversations she’s had with people and newspaper articles “which themselves do not have proper sources”.

He noted that she also cites a group of reports issued by County Police of Stockholm, which say that in Sweden there has been some success in reducing street prostitution but “on the other hand, we do not know whether it has had any effect on prostitution overall”.

On whether the extent of prostitution has increased or decreased, he quoted the Swedish Government’s National Board of Health and Welfare as saying: “We cannot give any unambiguous answer to that question. At most we can discern that street prostitution is slowly returning after swiftly disappearing in the wake of the law against purchasing sexual services, but that refers to street prostitution, the most obvious manifestation. In regards to other areas, ‘hidden’ prostitution, we are even less able to make any statement”.

From this, Mr Porter concluded: “So I would counsel caution against believing on face value some of the quite expansive and, in my view, unsubstantiated positives that people have attached to the Swedish model.”

See original at The Record

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