The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Free Sex? Only If You’re A Corrupt Cop

Posted by Clem Bastow on October 31, 2008

An alarming report handed to State Parliament yesterday suggests Victoria Police (and interstate) officers have been linked to illegal brothels and corrupt dealings with street sex workers. The report, by former judge David Jones, reveals that the officers (believed by The Age to have formerly worked in the St Kilda area, an area with a long history of turbulence when it comes to street sex workers and proposed “tolerance zones” and safe houses, plans for both of which were abandoned by the Bracks government) have been involved in numerous cases of highly questionable behaviour over the past 18 months, with sources telling The Age that:

A small number of police who have had sex free with street prostitutes, including transvestites, at a hotel and other locations around Melbourne.

A long-serving officer who was involved in plans to run a brothel with a notorious criminal figure who is also involved in the nightclub industry.

One former officer and one serving officer who are believed to have had long-term sexual relationships with street prostitutes.

[…]

Corruption investigators have also examined claims that a street sex worker was raped by a policeman using a baton and that an officer had travelled to a Sydney hotel where he met a transvestite and engaged in illegal drug use.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that these are a very worrying state of affairs, particularly when you consider the high concentration of sex workers currently working within the St Kilda area. As St Kilda Legal Service senior lawyer Vanda Hamilton says later in the article,

“Without safe houses or decriminalisation, police can say to street sex workers, ‘We are not going to charge you if you do this for us.’

“It also means the sex workers must rely on police to protect them against assaults, leading to a potentially unhealthy symbiotic relationship. But if they are allowed to work in a safety zone, things are much more transparent and it lessens those risks.”

Street work is still illegal in Victoria however previous talks and a report tabled by the Attorney General’s Advisory Group supported legislative reform to decriminalise street work in certain areas (the aforementioned “tolerance zones”) which was – as mentioned – rejected by the Bracks government.

I doubt I’d be be alone in thinking this, but there is something deeply troubling about officers expecting – or, worse, demanding/bribing – sex workers to “service” them, free of charge (not to mention the fact that the media is overflowing with the issue of politician or civil servant freebies, whether it’s pollies receiving cars and goods for free, or Police chief Christine Nixon acting as her husband’s +1 on a swish junket to LA, and this seems to be an ugly extension of that greatly skewed sense of entitlement and power).

If the public (and often the law) turns a blind eye to so-called “legitimate” sex work (stripping, high-end escort services, licensed brothels), then street workers are surely amongst the country’s least-protected workers. In so many cases – murders, rapes in particular – sex workers are silent victims, seen as expendable by many members of society (and more than a few members of the justice system). But as long as prostitution and everything it entails exists, sex workers have as much right to be protected from abuse and assault as any other citizen – which makes this gross corruption of Police power even more repugnant.

People in positions of power often expect to be given things for free, but to use a woman or man’s body for free? There is a reason that sex workers charge money for that most intimate of transactions. The question of paying (or being paid) for sex is already a fraught enough topic – if those who are meant to serve and protect us are putting a zero value on these workers’ bodies, what value do they place on their lives?

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5 Responses to “Free Sex? Only If You’re A Corrupt Cop”

  1. caitlinate said

    Also gross is The Age using the word ‘transvestites’ and making a particular note of the fact that the visit to Sydney was to meet a ‘transvestite’ and that the sex workers ‘also included’ (in case you were wondering) ‘transvestites’. Why does it even need to be mentioned? Because it was men having sex with men (holy shit!)? Because it doesn’t fit perfectly into mainstream gender presentation binaries and heteronormative behaviour?

    Instead of focusing purely on the use and abuse by police of sex workers they exoticise the story by making this element of it an issue. It implies trans or cross-dressing as something so ‘bizarre’ that it needs to be mentioned as an important and vaguely central issue in the story. It again follows the disgusting mainstream by painting having sex with a trans person – or someone who doesn’t necessarily dress as their genitals dictate – as in the realm of weird and outrageous.

    Although it is good they reported on the story in the first place negative three points to The Age for homophobia, queerphobia and transphobia.

  2. Clem Bastow said

    Absolutely, and thanks for reminding me – I was so enraged by the free sex/baton rape angle I forgot to mention that. On top of everything you’ve noted, it wouldn’t surprise me if “transvestite” was being used as a generic term for anyone “a bit weird” or, as you said, not dressing as their genitals dictate. The number of times you hear a transwoman called a “transvestite” or drag queen (etc etc) in that context is just gobsmacking.

    It’s double-edged discrimination, too – on one hand you have the “weird” sex worker, on the other you have the “secretly poofy” cops. Shock horror!

  3. hexy said

    Rage!

    It never stops. Anywhere there are officials governing the work-related actions of sex workers, there is corruption and abuse.

  4. Bearded Lady said

    Thanks for posting this.
    I really think we need to reopen the debate about Victoria’s prostitution laws. In the context of the current legislation I think that street work should be decriminalized. Keeping it illegal only contributes to the marginalization of prostituted men and women, benefits johns and gives dangerous leverage to the police. On the other hand, I’m not entirely convinced that decriminalization/legalization of brothels and escort agencies is really as unproblematic as some feminists and advocates of sex-workers’ rights think. There is a just as much research that supports the idea that legalization is harmful to women as there is literature that shows it to be beneficial. While I don’t think prostitutes themselves should be stigmatized or discriminated against by the law I do think reframing prostitution (at least for the majority of women)as ‘work’ and a question of personal choice obscures some of the more complex, feminist issues involved. I mean how, for instance, do you reconcile sexual harrassment laws with prostitution? Are the conceptual distinctions between child/adult and forced/free prostitution valid? I don’t have the answers but it’s great to have blogs like this where we can thrash these issues about.

  5. […] the post points out, it’s a short or non existent step to rape, given the power imbalance – Free Sex? Only If You?re A Corrupt Cop. In another post at The Dawn Chorus from the court records, Clem also finds a victim impact […]

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