Members of the Victorian sex industry are calling on the state government to decriminalise street-based sex work after the death of a woman in St Kilda last week.
Tracy Connelly, a 40-year-old sex worker known professionally as Kelly, was murdered in daylight in St Kilda on July 21. She was found dead in a van in Greeves Street about 3pm. Police said she had severe face and upper-body injuries and had suffered a “horrific” death.
She was killed in the van that had been her home for the past month. It is believed Ms Connelly’s boyfriend found her.
Janelle Fawkes, chief executive of the national sex-worker organisation Scarlett Alliance, said by decriminalising street-based sex work, workers would look to police as protector rather than prosecutor, and thus feel safe to speak out when threatened or assaulted.
“By decriminalising it, it means that street-based sex work is able to occur, but in a way that reduces tensions between community and street-based sex workers, and provides safe working locations for the street-based sex workers,” Ms Fawkes said.
She said at present, street-based sex workers were unlikely to report harassment or threats to police for fear that they would put themselves at risk of conviction themselves.
Ms Fawkes said in NSW, where street-based sex work is decriminalised, some councils had put in place initiatives to regulate safe houses as short-term venues for sex workers to take clients.
She said such initiatives reduced violence in the industry and made it safer for the community and street-based sex workers.
Ms Fawkes said heavy policing of street-based sex workers in Port Phillip in recent months made them feel as though they had nowhere to go to for help.
Port Phillip police Inspector Paul Breen said the death was “shocking”. “In relation to the laws, it is up to the legislators. However, having said that, it would be interesting research to see if decriminalising street prostitution would reduce the instance of bashings and assaults,” Inspector Breen said.
“It has been a long time since a street prostitute has been murdered under these circumstances and we certainly don’t want to see it again.”
Port Phillip mayor Amanda Stevens said legislation to regulate the sex industry was a state government decision.
“Council’s approach to street sex workers in the municipality has been largely focused on harm minimisation, and we recognise that street sex work occurs whether it is illegal or not, and as such we focus on maintaining a strong network with other key agencies in the municipality, including Victoria Police to focus on reducing harm associated with the industry,” Cr Stevens said.
“As part of harm minimisation, council is committed to supporting local agencies who work at the face of street sex work.”
Anyone with information in relation to the murder is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.