I don’t think brothels are a bad thing and I don’t think brothels are a good thing – not per se. Businesses that offer sexual services to customers who drop in to select a sex worker are a kind of shop and a kind of workplace. Some people like to buy in that kind of shop and some people like to work in it, with managers, set shifts and rules. Some rights activists wish all sex workers would be entrepreneurs working independently or organise themselves in small collectives, but many people like being employed and having a boss and colleagues. Like an office or plant, a brothel can function as a reassuringly ordinary place, with its attendant office politics, opportunities for learning, quarrels with managers and struggles for better conditions.
When this form of conventional workplace has been banned, getting brothels back can feel progressive: thus a Swedish parliamentarian’s suggestion and the legislation described below in Western Australia. Australia’s states and territories make up a patchwork of different sorts of sex-industry legislation. In the case of Western Australia (capital city Perth), prostitution has been ‘illegal’, which means ‘criminalised’, but also ‘tolerated’ until recently.
Note, however, that the classic brothel system assumes that sex workers must be obligated to undergo regular, frequent tests to make sure they are free of sexually-transmitted infections – while clients are not. If the interest is in containing disease, everyone ought to be tested equally frequently: There is no defensible reason to make prostitutes more responsible for disease-containment than anyone else who has sex. Unfortunately, this sexist and stigmatising practice is frequently mentioned as an inherent condition of brothels.
AAP, 20 June 2010
Western Australia is set to legalise prostitution in a bid to improve health standards and keep brothels out of residential areas. Hundreds of suburban brothels are expected to close when WA Attorney-General Christian Porter ends decades of “turning a blind eye” and starts regulating the sex industry next year.
Prostitution is illegal in WA but police rarely lay charges unless they are related to underage sex or unsafe practices. Under the new legislation, brothels will be licensed and confined to designated commercial and industrial areas, and police will be given powers to investigate and forcibly close those which fail to comply.
Sex businesses will need to follow health and safety standards to obtain and maintain their licences. Individual sex workers will need to register with a central agency and will undergo compulsory health and blood checks.
They may also be required to carry ID cards.
Mr Porter said suburban operators would be given a grace period from next year to either close or move to a licensed area. Applications for brothels would first be put to local councils and then assessed by state regulators. Mr Porter said the new regulations would limit problems in non-residential areas.
WA brothel madams welcomed the move over the weekend but feared the bid to register individual prostitutes would drive some underground. While most agreed the new regulations would improve health and safety in the industry, they said some sex workers would be loath to have their personal records on file. This will lead a lot of workers into going underground,” North Perth brothel owner Donna McGuirk told The West Australian newspaper on Saturday.
“We are quite lucky in WA in that we don’t have girls working with organised crime, but the sensitivity of this information that they want the girls to hand over means that many will try to work outside the system.” Kalgoorlie madam Bruna Meyers told the paper she was opposed to a central register but welcomed plans for a licensing system and health checks. She said it would crack down on operators advertising unsafe sex, which was currently illegal but not widely policed.
Opposition attorney-general spokesman John Quigley said confining brothels to industrial areas would create “sex ghettos”.