SEX offenders that target sex workers will no longer be able to receive reduced sentences for their crimes under the updated Victorian Sentencing Manual.

The manual, which acts as a guide to sentencing in all Victorian jurisdictions, previously suggested that sex workers were less vulnerable in cases of sexual assault than other victims due to the nature of their work.

Two separate cases involving sex workers – in 1981 and 1991 – helped to inform this untouched section in the manual, which encouraged judges to consider a victim’s sexual experience when sentencing.

“The rape of a [sex worker] might lack certain circumstances of aggravation commonly associated with the rape of a ‘chaste’ woman,” it read.

“The [sex worker’s] experience may tend to reduce the weight commonly given in rape cases to the reaction of revulsion of the ‘chaste woman’… the elements of shame and defilement may be missing.”

However, after recent submissions were made to the Judicial College by Vixen Collective and the St Kilda Legal Service, these areas have since been amended.

The updated manual now identifies sex workers as being particularly vulnerable, and says their profession should have no effect on the sentence of a sex offender.

“Their work involves them being in close physical proximity to people, placing themselves in positions that can be susceptible to attack,” it now reads.

“An offender’s abuse of this vulnerability has been considered an aggravating feature for sentencing.”

Queer sex worker Jane Green from Victoria’s sex work organisation Vixen Collective said there’s been an extremely positive reaction to the changes from within the sex worker community.

“There are multiple barriers in front of sex workers achieving justice in Victorian courts, and this was certainly one important impediment we faced,” she said.

“To have it saying these things for such a long period of time was extremely disheartening for our community, there’s a clear perception that it has influenced judicial conduct – in the Jill Meagher case we very clearly felt the sentencing was too short.

“So it wasn’t just affecting people in our community.”

Despite this significant step, Green believes there are many systemic issues preventing sex workers from accessing police in Victoria that aren’t addressed in the manual.

“As a victim of sexual assault myself I can say things like the lack name suppression in courts and the fact that one’s sex worker status would be disclosed are impediments for many who want to come forward and go through the court process,” she said.

“There’s a persistent stigma towards our community and our community always has to fight these battles.

“Vixen Collective receives no funding from the government whatsoever yet this year $40,000 went to Project Respect which advocates for the criminalisation of sex work, something that would be intrinsically harmful and dangerous for us.

“So the lack of funding for our peer organisation is problematic.”

Earlier this year sex workers across the state were disappointed at the Victorian Government’s minimal updates to the Sex Work Regulations.

Lawyer at the St Kilda Legal Service Suzan Gencay said the updated manual will help to give judges more information if a case were to unfortunately arise.

“It would tell them that sex workers are more vulnerable, rather than less” she said.

“It essentially states that sex workers are a more vulnerable kind of victim that puts them in a situation where people could be offenders.

“What we discovered in our research was that no-one ever said the precedent was wrong, so we made a submission on the basis that those older cases shouldn’t be followed.”

Gencay said the Judicial College were quick to respond and update the topics, which had likely been overlooked among the thousands of pages contained within the manual.

She added that it was great working alongside Vixen Collective to make the changes happen.

“No-one deserves to have their sexual history taken into account when sentencing and it’s ridiculous we’re having this conversation in 2016.

“But the Judicial College were great – within 48 hours of making submissions they got in touch with us. They hadn’t left it in there on purpose, there are just thousands of pages and it’s the first update to sections in 14 years.”

 

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