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Sex workers: Society's scapegoat

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WA Attorney-General John Quigley has stated that the Government will not appeal the WA Supreme Court's decision (image via Facebook).

Last week, WA Supreme Court Justice Anthony Derrick approved the release of repeat sex offender Edward William Latimer, 61.

Latimer has offences dating back to the 1970s, has spent most of his adult life in prison. His crimes include the attempted rape of an intoxicated man sleeping in a Northbridge park, a violent sex attack on a woman at a Perth Train Station, numerous counts of indecent dealings for propositioning and harassing women, and wilful exposure.

He was jailed indefinitely in 2006, the first person to be prosecuted under WA's Dangerous Sexual Offenders legislation.

Despite refusing to accept that he is a sex offender, having breached bail conditions twice when previously released and court psychiatrists warning that he is at high risk of offending again unless monitored 24/7, Justice Derrick chose to release Latimer back into the WA community under a 10-year community supervision order which includes 52 conditions.

Some of which include: a curfew, no alcohol, no pornography and no unsupervised access to women — except in the case of sex workers, which is allowed by approval of a supervision order officer. Latimer specifically asked to be allowed to visit sex workers as part of his release conditions.

 While admitting that Latimer was a "serious danger to the community", Justice Derrick said the risk could be managed in the community.

Part of his judgment stated:

“Access to sex workers will not of itself resolve the issue of the respondent’s ability to manage his sexual urges … (but) the option for the respondent to engage in regular, albeit infrequent, sexual contact should serve as an additional protective factor.” 

Justice Derrick also said: "[Latimer] has gained a rudimentary understanding of the concept of consent.“

Despite huge uproar from the wider community, and urges by prominent figures including Opposition Leader Nick Goiran, Attorney-General John Quigley has refused to appeal the release conditions.

I don’t see anything in the judge’s decision which is appealable ... My understanding of sex work is that for the exchange of money, the female will willingly consent.

 

If he approaches a sex worker with a community supervision officer, while this is a bit unseemly for us all, it’s not involving an offence and it’s not putting any human being at risk ... We can’t keep people in prison forever. The cost of monitoring in 10 years, it is infinitesimal compared to $325 a day to keep him in prison.

Under WA legislation, sex work and its related activities are mostly criminalised and are policed heavy-handedly and inconsistently. Many WA sex workers have reported experiencing police harassment and exploitation and are hesitant to report crimes committed against them in fear of being prosecuted themselves.

They also face discrimination and stigma on a daily basis when accessing various community services such as healthcare, welfare, accommodation, education and the court system, just to name a few.

Our archaic laws put sex workers in harm's way as it is — yet Justice Derrick and Attorney-General Quigley are seemingly fine with throwing sex workers under the proverbial bus in the case of Latimer. If it wasn’t so horrifying, it would be almost laughable; how indifferent these two seem to be regarding this gross breach of our human rights.

“I realise there’s a moral question involved here but we’re not standing here as moral judges,” Attorney-General Quigley said.

This is where you are so very wrong — your very roles exist to ensure the application of fairness and justice.

Sex workers are members of the community as well, yet their rights have been disregarded in this abhorrent decision.

Sex workers are not "protective factors" for violent sex offenders — this statement equates sex workers to human shields; scapegoated to ensure the rest of the community is spared.

Sex workers are autonomous, and decide who they will and won’t see — payment does not equal automatic consent. Sex workers are already disadvantaged when it comes to reporting crimes committed against them, what about the risk posed by Latimer to their lives?

The only way that the systematic oppression, scapegoating and discrimination of sex workers will cease is with the decriminalisation of sex work in WA and ensuring that sex workers are protected by the introduction of specific anti-discrimination laws. Until this occurs, sex workers will continue to walk the fine line of having to choose between what is legal and what is safe.

It is disappointing to see that sex work stigma is still rife amongst those appointed to govern and protect our human rights. Reducing financial burden is the driving factor in Latimer’s release and the relative comfort of this repeat sex offender is more important than the safety and rights of an already marginalised group in the community.

And despite the overwhelming amount of evidence research supporting decriminalisation, the tireless lobbying of sex work rights activists and the progressiveness of other states in Australia towards decriminalising sex work in recent times, it seems WA still has a long way to go.

Emma Softly is the President of SWEAR WA (Sex Work Education, Advocacy & Rights Western Australia), Western Australia's peer sex worker organisation.

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Sex workers: Society's scapegoat

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