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Decision to jail HIV positive sex worker by ACT magistrate John Burns appalling, says Australian Sex Workers Association, 16th September 2008

“The jailing of a HIV positive sex worker is appalling. This charge under Section 25 of the Prostitution Act is for being a sex worker whilst having HIV – this same activity is not illegal across the border in NSW. For the judge to feel the need to make an example of this case is preposterous,” said Janelle Fawkes, Chief Executive Officer, Scarlet Alliance from the Australasian Sexual Health Conference.

“Just last week Simon Corbell, ACT Attorney General, stated publicly that this law, Section 25 would be considered for review, and that he himself recognised that with the knowledge we now have of transmission and risk, being a HIV positive person whilst being a sex worker, does not pose a danger to the community.”

“Clearly this magistrate is out of touch with current approaches to public health. This law is left over from a time when there was much hysteria and misinformation about the risk of transmission. We have learnt a lot in Australia from the epidemic and one of the main lessons has been that criminalisation of HIV positive people is not the answer.”

“We believe there are serious public health implications from this case. The underlying message sent by this decision is that having sex with a HIV positive person is dangerous and this is simply not true. When safe sex equipment is used the risk is negligible. Sex workers are well known to be experts at implementing safer sex practices in their workplaces and as a result sex with sex workers is not risky.”

“A jail sentence for being a sex worker who is HIV positive goes against our internationally recognised public health approaches. This decision is in opposition to those approaches and will have serious consequences,” concluded Fawkes.

Janelle Fawkes is presenting at the Australasian Sexual Health Conference in Perth on the outcomes of a twelve month Needs Assessment of HIV positive sex workers in Australia. This case shows the concerning potential for criminalisation even though public health experts recognise the long term implications. The risk is that sex workers will not go for tests and that HIV positive sex workers will be pushed underground away from peer education and health services.

Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association