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"Prostitutes afraid to check for HIV" NATASHA RUDRA, Canberra Times 5 Sept 2008

Sex workers have called for changes to Canberra's prostitution laws in the wake of a high-profile case involving an HIV-positive male escort.

The Australian sex workers' association, the Scarlet Alliance, met ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell yesterday to raise concerns that the case involving Kingston prostitute had left workers afraid to take sexual health tests.

The sex worker is facing criminal charges for operating an escort service knowing he was infected with HIV and hepatitis C.

Mr Corbell said the alliance told him many sex workers had stopped screening for sexually transmitted diseases because they did not want to be prosecuted for knowingly operating with a disease.

"That's a serious concern, because you don't want to create a situation where sex workers are acting in ignorance of their sexual health status," he said.

The alliance wants the Government to remove a section of the Prostitution Act that makes it an offence for sex workers to knowingly infect clients with sexually transmitted diseases.

Mr Corbell has ordered his department to investigate whether the prostitution laws needed changing.

But he said infecting people with sexually transmitted diseases would remain a crime.

"In no way would we be saying that it's okay to knowingly infect someone else, there would still be relevant offences available under the Crimes Act to deal with that situation."

In a statement, alliance chief executive Janelle Fawkes said the laws were outdated and could lead to confusion and "hysterical action" by the Health Department or the police.

Mr Corbell said the ACT's prostitution laws were written when people with HIV had a very short life expectancy, and times had changed.

"The question is, should there be a complete prohibition on people operating as commercial sex workers if they have HIV? Because we know that with appropriate safe-sex measures in place, the risk of transmission is negligible."

Any changes to the Act will have to be put forward after the October election, when the Assembly returns

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