By Anthony Barich
ARCHBISHOP Barry Hickey (pictured) has warned that the WA Government’s plan to legalise prostitution in restricted zones will normalise the industry, increase the proliferation of illegal brothels and expose police to corruption.
While admitting that eliminating prostitution is impossible, the Archbishop said legalising brothels is not the solution as it “sends the wrong message that going to a prostitute is socially and morally acceptable” and “creates a belief that women especially are only sex objects for personal gratification”. The resultant increase in demand from partial legalisation will mean illegal brothels will proliferate, which has happened in other Australian States, he said. “Illegal brothels will occupy police resources extensively and will offer the same dangers of exposure to corruption that legalisation hopes to avoid,” he said. “Legalisation does not eliminate those dangers.”
His comments come less than a month after The Record revealed that the ‘Swedish model’ of criminalising buying sex and educating law enforcement in areas such as the inherent dignity of women has been vindicated by an assessment of the country’s law over 10 years.
Under the WA Government’s proposed model, all forms of prostitution will be banned from residential areas and police will be given expanded powers to shut down illegal brothels.
But Archbishop Hickey said that with a system of legal and illegal brothels, police will have even more work than before legalisation as they will need to additionally monitor legal brothels for compliance with the law. WA Attorney General Christian Porter has already admitted that present laws criminalising brothels have not worked as law enforcement cannot police them.
Though Mr Porter told a June 2010 Belmont community forum that police have told him that trafficking does not exist in WA, Archbishop Hickey warned that close attention should be paid to the spread of trafficking of young girls against their will.
“Horrifying stories are emerging across the world of children being sold to brothels, girls being drugged and abused, made ready for prostitution and even sold to individuals, exactly like slaves, to be taken home for the use of the buyer,” he said.
“Prostitution is a form of slavery, not a job. They have little freedom to come and go as they please.”
Women prostitutes often drift into the industry due to poverty, low self-esteem or the need for quick money, especially for drugs; while many only manage to continue in the trade with the help of drugs, he said.
Funds should also be available to assist women to escape prostitution and re-build their lives, he said, and agencies set up to help prostitutes should be able to apply for assistance.
The Archbishop established such an agency – Linda’s House of Hope – in 1999 with former madam Linda Watson.
Legislation should also clamp down on advertising in the media for prostitution, he said. Under the WA Government’s proposed model, all advertisements for prostitution would be restricted to classified sections of publications and must include current licence numbers. Any operator, manager or prostitute found to be engaged in unlawful advertising would fined up to $50,000 and their property could be confiscated under the Criminal Property Confiscation Act 2000.
The Archbishop also called for health checks, regardless of what system of prostitution reform is set up.
Mr Porter said that, “unlike Labor’s Bill which would have seen micro brothels spread into WA communities and hold local governments accountable for their regulation, our proposed model will limit brothels to a small number of appropriate locations and ensure regulation and licensing is controlled by the State Government”.
Under the proposed model, the operator, manager and prostitutes within a brothel would be licensed by the Director of the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor. To combat organised crime, applicants would be required to undergo background checks, including palm printing and finger printing at the discretion of the director.
The Attorney General said persons with “substantial” criminal histories would be prevented from obtaining a licence and there would be expansive provisions to prevent the involvement of juveniles.
Operators and managers of brothels will face up to five years in jail if they are found guilty of employing a child. If a child is found present at a brothel, the operators and managers could face fines up to $24,000 for the first offence or imprisonment for up to three years for subsequent offences.
The penalty for operating or managing an unlicensed brothel would be up to three years in jail, and for clients caught entering or leaving an unlicensed brothel the penalty would be a fine of up to $6,000 or up to one year in jail.