Pressure from resident groups has led South Sydney City Council to temporarily close a number of roads in the East Sydney region in an effort to stem street-based sex work. However opponents of the road closures assert that the trial will in fact further disperse street-based sex activity in the precinct.

The closures to St Peters Street and St Peters Lane (which both formerly connected Forbes and Bourke streets) come as tensions between street-based sex workers, their clients and residents in East Sydney continue to escalate.

Clive West, who has resided in the East Sydney area on and off for some 20 years, told Sydney Star Observer that residents had been assaulted, intimidated and subjected to homophobic abuse by street-based sex workers and their clients. The abuse was mainly coming from the heterosexual-based prostitution activity on the streets and not the transgender-based sex work which was largely based on St Peters Lane, he said.

Residents feel they can’t do anything, West said. People feel intimidated. They’ve been written off as cranks.

Another local resident, AIDS Council of New South Wales president Adrian Lovney, told the Star that the views of residents would be important in the evaluation of the trial road closures, but that sex workers and the service organisations that assist them should also be heard.

You’ve got to recognise the history of the Kings Cross/Darlinghurst area. It is and has always been an area where prostitution occurs, he said.

Lovney said that road closures implemented by Melbourne’s Port Philip Council to discourage street-based sex work had actually exacerbated their situation.

It made the problem worse because it turned streets from being a loop type arrangement into a kind of cul de sac arrangement, so it made the problem worse for residents. It also increased the risk for workers because closing the streets stops that traffic flow and stops passive observation of the area, he said.

Lovney said the problem of street-based sex work was an issue that needed a strategic approach and experimental road closure trials could increase the risks for residents and workers.

The Mayor of South Sydney, Councillor John Fowler, told the Star that Council would continue to look at alternative sites for street-based sex workers to operate, in areas which did not impact on residents.

Council has been pioneering in trying to curb the sex industry, within the confines of the Environmental Plan-ning and Assessment Act, and this [road closure trial] is part of that continuum, I would suggest, of public policy, he said. Sex workers have a right to be heard on this issue, but it is not the one view in my personal assessment. I think the assessment will have to take in a balance of these viewpoints.

Sex Workers Outreach Project executive officer Maria McMahon told the Star that the road closures would have an especially severe impact on transgender sex workers. The section of William Street where they can work legally is currently inoperable because of restrictions on traffic, she said. The closure of the junction between Forbes Street and St Peters Lane could force transgender workers into adjoining areas where female street-based sex workers operate, which would have obvious health and safety implications for the transgender workers, she added.

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