The Western Australian Government is currently reviewing its legislative approach to prostitution. In parallel with this process, the Law and Sexworker Health (LASH) team independently compiled extensive collateral data on the prostitution laws in WA, and prosecutions (2000–2005) resulting from those laws; the structure and function of the sex industry in Perth; the demographics, behaviour, health, and welfare of a representative sample of brothel-based sex workers in Perth; and the operation of health promotion and clinical services in WA. The WA Department of Health contracted the LASH team to compile this Report in order to better inform WA policy considerations.
- Perth had a small (and possibly contracting), diverse, and open sex industry commensurate with the size of Perth’s population. WA men are infrequent consumers of commercial sexual services, with only 1.9% purchasing sexual services in any one year, similar to the Australian average. This suggests that criminal sanctions in WA do not reduce the incidence commercial sex.
- Despite a remarkably large number of laws against prostitution-related activities, offenses finalised in the WA courts were overwhelmingly concentrated on the street-based sex industry. Indeed, more male clients of street workers were prosecuted than street workers. Over the six-year period, 2000 to 2005, there were no prosecutions against several prostitution laws.
- Perth brothels remained concentrated in traditional inner-city areas and the police still maintained a database of sex workers, indicating that the ‘containment policy’ was still in effect despite its official abandonment in 2000. The police visited Perth brothels and required names and other information much more than in brothels in Melbourne and Sydney. Nevertheless, there was little evidence of police corruption in Perth.
- Nevertheless, condom use at work approached 100% in Perth brothels and when the LASH team tested the Perth women the prevalence of four sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – chlamydia (2.7%), gonorrhoea (0), Mycoplasma genitalium (3.6%), and trichomoniasis (0.9%) – was at least as low as the general population. These low STI rates were similar to the rates in sex workers in Melbourne and Sydney.
- Similar to Melbourne and Sydney, 10% of Perth brothel workers were found to be severely distressed on psychological testing (the Kessler-6 scale) and this was strongly associated with injecting drug use. This proportion was twice as high as the general population.