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Australia 'Off the streets and on the net': solicitation charges dwindle as sex workers shift online

14:50  30 november  2019
14:50  30 november  2019 Source:   theage.com.au

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The online sex trade also keeps sex workers safer by allowing them to vet their potential clients—something much harder to do if you are working the streets . "But the attorney general of California has managed the feat. By charging Carl Ferrer, the chief executive of Backpage.com, with

The number of street sex workers charged with solicitation in St Kilda has dwindled to almost zero.© Fairfax Photographic The number of street sex workers charged with solicitation in St Kilda has dwindled to almost zero.

Street prostitution has declined so dramatically in Victoria that police recorded only five solicitation crimes against sex workers last year – down from almost 500 offences 14 years ago.

Days after Victoria announced a wide-ranging review that could pave the way for the decriminalisation of the sex industry, new figures reveal that street-based workers are rarely ever charged anymore, even though street prostitution is still illegal.

A growing number of sex workers have turned to the internet or mobile phone “hook-up” apps to solicit clients, significantly altering the nature of the industry.

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Online classified services give sex workers an opportunity to vet their clients first—and they allowed sex workers to trade information with The researchers concluded that sex workers who advertised online spent less time on the streets , where they were more likely to face dangerous situations."

But experts say the number of sex workers in the country is actually much higher, according to the Washington Times Law enforcement has slowly begun setting its sights on the booming online sex trade. The owners of the site were charged with money laundering and facilitating prostitution.

But while Victoria Police agrees that new technology has kept some sex workers off the streets, it also argues that proactive policing, particularly across the once-notorious red-light district of St Kilda, has also contributed to the reduction in the crime rate.

“Over the years, police have worked alongside local councils, government and other agencies to provide proactive support to those who may be vulnerable or engaged in street-level sex work, enabling many to be diverted away from the risks associated with crime and street prostitution,” a Victoria Police spokeswoman said.

a man that is standing in the dark: Only five solicitation offences were recorded by Victoria Police last year.© Kitty Hill Only five solicitation offences were recorded by Victoria Police last year.

Data from the Crime Statistics Agency reveals that in 2005, there were 493 solicitation offences against street-based sex workers in Victoria. By the following year, that figure had fallen sharply to 139 offences, dropping to a record low of two offences in 2017 and five last year.

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Olivia is a sex worker specializing in body rubs and domination who is based in New York City, and for years she’s relied on Backpage, a website for posting online personals, to find and vet new clients without having to go through a pimp or work on the streets .

The figures also show that the number of solicitation offences against clients decreased over the same period, from 95 in 2005 to six in 2018.

Port Phillip Mayor Dick Gross, whose council had sought to make St Kilda safer for workers and residents over the years, said there was no doubt there had been a shift.

“They’re off the street and onto the net,” said Cr Gross, who favours decriminalisation. “We’re also seeing the growth of harm minimisation as opposed to an enforcement model, and I think that’s important.”

The arrest rates have emerged just as the Andrews Government has announced a long-awaited review Victoria’s sex industry laws, which critics have long argued are no longer fit for purpose.

Crossbencher Fiona Patten will oversee the inquiry, with the government planning to bring on a bill in 2021 – the year before it seeks a third term in office.

Fiona Patten sitting on a couch: Reason MP Fiona Patten will oversee the government's inquiry into Victoria's sex laws.© Paul Jeffers Reason MP Fiona Patten will oversee the government's inquiry into Victoria's sex laws. Under Victorian law, street prostitution is a crime but selling sex at registered brothels or escort agencies is permitted under strict licensing conditions. As of 30 June, there were 115 licensed sex work business operators, and 616 approved brothel managers, according to Consumer Affairs Victoria. Many more operate illegally.

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Understanding The Illicit World Of Sex Worker Code . Even police officers, whose ability to effectively communicate without tipping off suspects or bystanders is important, have codes used on the job. "Trollers" relates to the client now perusing the online sex forums instead of the streets in their

The new trend, however, is the growth in escorts working for themselves, booking clients online and working out of hotels or their own homes.

A spokesman for Sex Work Law Reform Victoria said this was “more lucrative and more convenient” for many - but it is also illegal without a proper licence.

However, few bother to jump through the hoops of Victoria's legal framework, particularly as it requires workers to have their true identity placed on a register run by the government.

Vixen Collective spokeswoman Jane Green said sex workers wanted the register removed as part of any move towards decriminalisation.  Others are pushing for Victoria to go further than New Zealand, where full decriminalisation passed in 2003 – unless you are a migrant sex worker.

“The New Zealand model isn’t perfect, so we shouldn’t necessarily be trying to emulate it," said former NZ worker Natasha*.

Opposition shadow minister Emma Kealy said the Coalition would consider the findings of the inquiry once it was completed, but accused Daniel Andrews of wasting years ignoring “the very real concerns that have been raised about the exploitation of women in the sex work industry.”

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