Sex Work Offences (WA)
Under the Prostitution Act 2000, it is illegal for a person in Western Australia to carry out street-based sex work and most prostitution-related activities are illegal in WA. However, prostitution itself is not against the law. Under the West Australian Criminal Code, brothels are illegal but there are no laws against escort agencies. Numerous prostitution offences exist under WA criminal laws and the approach taken to sex work is generally punitive.
What is prostitution?
The Prostitution Act defines prostitution as any payment for sexual stimulation by means of physical contact, whether in the form of money or in another form.
Street-based sex work
The Prostitution Act empowers police to stop and search a person who they suspect is soliciting for sex work. A person suspected of engaging in street-based prostitution, whether as a sex worker or as a client, may be given a move-on notice, prohibiting them from returning to a stipulated area for a period of up to 24 hours. If a person receives a move-on notice and contravenes it by returning to the area, they can be issued with a restraining order, requiring them to stay away from the area for up to one year.
The WA sex work laws have been criticised for being overly punitive, particularly as they can have the effect that a person is prohibited from entering an area that includes their home.
Under the Prostitution Act, there are a number of offences relating to prostitution and children. Section 15 makes it an offence to provide prostitution services to a child. This is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to nine months.
It is also a serious offence to cause or permit a child to do sex work, to obtain payment for prostitution by a child or to accept prostitution services from a child in Western Australia. Penalties also apply for taking part in sex work in a place where a child is present and for allowing a child to be at a place where it occurs.
However, under the Prostitution Act, it is also an offence for a child to do sex work or to seek prostitution from another person. Under Section 14, a child who engages in sex work can be imprisoned for up to two years and under Section 19, a child who seeks sexual services can be fined up to $6000. These provisions mean that children who become involved in sex work may be criminalised as well as the adults involved.
Section 190 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to keep or manage a brothel or to live off the earnings of prostitution in WA. This offence is punishable by up to three years imprisonment and can be used to prosecute sex workers’ dependents as well as other staff employed by brothels.
It is an offence under the Prostitution Act to carry out sex work without using a prophylactic (Section 8). When this occurs, both the sex worker and the client are guilty of an offence. It is an offence for a business to advertise for sex workers or other staff to work in a business providing sexual services, such as a receptionist in a brothel (Section 9). It is also an offence to seek prostitution within view or hearing of a public place (section 4).
There has been public pressure for Western Australia to decriminalise sex work as has occurred in other jurisdiction such as New South Wales, though opinions are divided as to whether decriminalisation would change things for the better. Many sex workers and advocates say that decriminalisation would be in the interests of the workers’ health and safety, as sex workers currently have difficulty reporting offences against them to the police. Many advocates argue that sex work is a legitimate profession and should be regulated as such.
Other voices have called for WA to follow the Nordic model. In this model, clients of sex workers, rather than the workers, face penalties for engaging in prostitution. After the model was introduced in Sweden in 1999 there was a dramatic drop in the number of women involved in sex work.
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