Street sex work is an illegal activity in Victoria, and both workers and clients face fines or jail terms under the Sex Work Act 1994. Never-the-less it is a complex issue which cannot be addressed through solely through legislation or enforcement.
There are many reasons why a person undertakes street based sex work. For some it is their chosen profession, but for others it is something they undertake because they feel that they have few other choices left due such factors as drug addiction, mental and physical health issues, homelessness, missed educational or training opportunities, or abuse.
Council works in collaboration with the local police and community services to manage the impact of street sex work on the local community. In line with best practice national and international approaches, Council employs a range of strategies which aim to reduce the supply, demand and harm associated with street sex work.
Community service providers act as an integral part of this approach. These services provide emergency relief, exit programs, supported accommodation, drug rehabilitation, methadone and trauma counselling. In doing so, they help to reduce the need for individuals to be involved in street sex work.
Agency professionals who work in this field are acutely aware of the harms and risks involved in street sex work and do not encourage women to remain in the industry, rather they work with those who are ready to change their lives to find and choose alternative opportunities.
There are several agencies within the City of Port Phillip who offer support services to street sex workers including:
- Sacred Heart Mission
- St Kilda Legal Service.
St Kilda Gatehouse is a not for profit organisation which works alongside those involved in street sex work, who are often marginalised and have life controlling addictions. It is a place where individuals feel valued and important. For many who come from a background of abuse and poverty it is a source of dignity and hope – where they can find the support and care needed as they attempt to build a life off the streets and beyond drug addiction.
The Pathways program is a case management program supporting sex workers who are seeking to transition out of the Victorian sex industry. The program starts by helping women with things many people take for granted such as doctor’s appointments and finding a safe place to sleep. Then, through links with other groups like Fit For Work, who help with job interview clothes, and agencies like Centrelink and DHS, the program addresses the many things in a woman’s life that make street sex work seem like the only option available.
Workers from the Arrest and Referral service at RhED help women who have come into contact with the police, either through charges for loitering or solicitation or other non-violent drug offences.
A special court has been set up as part of the Melbourne Magistrates court to deal specifically with loitering and solicitation offences. RhED case workers attend court and act on behalf of the women, where sentences often involve referral to RhED for case management.
The court is an attempt to address the 'revolving door' justice system, where women come in and out, collecting more fines and then going back out onto the street to earn the money to pay them. Instead of fines, community based orders may be used, or women are referred to the care of RhED case workers.
'Some of the women we are dealing with only come into contact with us because of police intervention. They are really difficult to engage with. We make sure they get to court, we keep them linked into services.'
There is also a new referral process that has been implemented where Victoria Police from the St Kilda station refer sex workers directly to RhED through the Arrest Referral Service for support and follow-up.
St Kilda Legal Service is a community based organisation which has been providing free services to residents in the cities of Port Phillip, Stonnington and Bayside since 1973. The Service is staffed by lawyers, community workers and volunteers.
Some of the services provided to the community include legal advice, information and referrals and casework services. SKLS also run a series of legal education programs for local residents and community workers through talks, information sessions and fact sheets on common legal issues.
They also provide a drug and alcohol outreach service. SKLS also lobbies for access to justice through being actively involved in law reform campaigns. The service is managed by a Board of Directors who are elected from the community.
Sacred Heart Mission’s Women’s House offers a safe and welcoming space for women seeking support on a range of issues including those engaged in street sex work. Women gather at the House for a free lunch and to access a safe place where they feel that they belong. Some use the laundry and shower facilities or internet, while others participate in a range of life-skills workshops, art classes and social outings.
At the House that they connect with support workers who can provide assistance and referrals for issues ranging from housing and counselling to drug and alcohol support, as well as parenting advice as well and case management.
The Women’s House gets strong support from the community, with local residents helping each day to prepare a nutritious lunch and running the activities.
For more information or questions, contact us and ask for the Community Health Development Officer.