Claims by sex worker organisations and some academics that the sex industry in NSW has the best s-x worker health and safety in Australia appears way off the mark.

My research shows that oral sex without a condom is being offered by at least 264 prostitutes in Sydney. It wasn’t hard to find them. I just fired up the computer one day and went surfing on the internet. The advertising is much more explicit on the internet than in a family-friendly newspaper.

Of the 264 prostitutes identified as providing unsafe sex, 221 are Asian, representing 84% of the total.

These people who belong to the seedy brothel trade, escort agencies, private escorts and single women working from home hoped they would remain below the radar by peddling their health hazards on the internet. Their exposure now will leave red faces on those who said everything was OK.

But punters should give these dens of decadence a wide berth. NSW Health advises that oral sex without a condom with someone who is sexually active can lead to Sexually Transmissible Infections (STIs) such as gonorrhoea, herpes, syphilis and other STIs. According to a NSW Health spokesperson:

STIs affect people’s physical health, psychosocial wellbeing and relationships. If left untreated STIs can lead to serious health consequences, including infertility. Statewide, the number of s-xually transmitted Chlamydia notifications have risen sharply, with chlamydia notifications increasing from 3509 cases in 2000 to 13,943 cases in 2008.

NSW Health does not collect data specifically related to sex workers. However, they advised that reported prevalence of HIV and STIs among Australian sex workers, and in NSW in particular, remains one of the lowest in the world.

Perhaps the academics that produce these reports should test a few of the sex cheats on my dens of decadence list. I’d dare suggest the results would be vastly different.

The average service provider works three to four shifts a week and sees four to five clients a shift. Factor in the 264 prostitutes that are providing unprotected oral sex and you have 5,280 Sydney men each week being potentially exposed to STIs.

Are these punters then going home to their wives and girlfriends and potentially spreading the problem further?

Health and safety at work is regulated by the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act 2000. The OHS Act covers every place of work in NSW, including premises in the sexual services (adult) industry.

To support the Act, NSW Workcover and NSW Health have jointly published Health and Safety Guidelines for Brothels which outline the health and safety responsibilities of brothel proprietors (including the use of condoms) to their employees, contractors, clients and visitors and establish minimum standards.

Guidelines are all very well for safe sex practices in brothels but why on earth isn’t it law? I presented the list to Planning Minister Kristina Keneally’s advisors this week. They were so shocked by its contents they immediately referred it to investigators in the NSW Planning Department for action. But what action? Can they be charged with an offence?

Crikey understands a task force comprising members of the Premier’s Department, NSW Police, Attorney-General’s Department and the Planning Department will hand a report on the state of brothel regulation to Minister Keneally within the next month. The report is expected to call for a ban on illegal brothels advertising and probity checks for owners.

Chris Seage is a tax consultant, former ATO audit manager and former legal brothel industry lobbyist.

Peter Fray

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