The Tasmanian Supreme Court on Thursday expressed its sympathy for convicted sex offender Terry Martin’s allergic reaction to Parkinson’s disease medication.1 Judge Blow attributed Martin’s possession of child exploitation material, and the fact he “engaged the services of 162 different sex workers on a total of 506 occasions”, to the side effects of the drugs. The medication caused ‘compulsive’ behaviours, including buying a 12-year-old girl for prostitution, sexually using her, and then snapping 100 photos. On Thursday the Supreme Court excused Martin’s possession of these child pornography shots with a suspended sentence, and noted its concern he no longer had a job, and looks set to leave the state. In the court’s view, this is a shame, because Martin has ‘made an enormous contribution to the Tasmanian community’.
The court thinks Martin might leave the state because he can no longer continue with his Parkinson’s disease medication, which got him into all this strife in the first place. The court laments the fact Martin will have to leave Tasmania to seek other medical treatment options. But, given its concern, why didn’t the court alternatively consider guiding Martin toward a legal outlet for his drug-induced compulsions, something that could be pursued while remaining in Tasmania? Martin could continue his present medication, but simply undertake to confine himself to the ‘compulsive behaviour’ of using hundreds of adult women in prostitution, like he did over the years 2006-2009. With this solution, his Parkinson disease could be kept in check, and children could be kept safe from its treatment effects.
It looks like Tasmania’s Attorney General is, as usual, two steps ahead of the courts in finding solutions to curly problems like this one faced by the state’s citizens. Brian Wightman earlier this month released a ‘discussion paper’ proposing to legalise brothel prostitution in Tasmania. This must have come as good news to Terry Martin. With the change, Martin will be able to visit government-endorsed brothels as much as is required to continue his medication and stave off the degenerative effects of Parkinson’s disease. With the money collected from legal brothels, perhaps the Tasmanian government could set up a support fund for him and other men needing to sexually access women to stay physically healthy.
The 12-year-old girl who was bought by Martin and (at least) a hundred other men for prostitution is surely a good candidate for entry into a legal Tasmanian sex industry in 2015 when she turns eighteen. She’ll feel right at home with all the other women in the industry who’ve been sexually abused as children. She’s certainly got work experience in the area—Judge Blow recognised this when he called her a ‘prostitute’ in his sentencing comments on Thursday. Thanks to Attorney General Wightman’s proposal, instead of the unprofessional pimping of Gary Devine out of his back room, the girl may come to enjoy all the advantages of a legalised sex industry—monthly genital checks, registration with government authorities, brothels in shopping districts, oversight by businessman pimps, and ‘independent contractor’ employment status.
With the legalisation of the sex industry, and government endorsement of pimps, Tasmanian society will come to accept prostitution as a legitimate economic sector, and women in prostitution as ‘sex workers’. By the time Martin’s victim turns eighteen, she’ll have the industrial ‘right’ to enter the sex industry, and this decision will be attributed to her free ‘choice’ of employment. With the social acceptance of prostitution that legalisation brings, questions will no longer be asked about the social and psychological vulnerability that caused her to enter the sex industry. Her new ‘sex worker’ status will allay any concerns anyone might have formerly had about factors in her background paving her way into male sexual service.
Attorney General Wightman’s proposal will also allay any public concern about choices exercised by men like Martin who decide to buy women for prostitution. Legalising the sex industry turns prostitution into a mere leisure activity or personal service. Never again need Martin steel himself against social opprobrium for using women in prostitution. On the contrary, when the sex industry is legalised, its customers are seen as helpfully contributing to government tax coffers, as well as the state’s economy in the form of sex tourism and demand for female ‘employment’. Victoria demonstrates this well—it’s had legalised prostitution for over fifteen years now, and is awash with sex industry businesses earning millions of dollars from the pimping of women, particularly Asian women. Brothels are everywhere—next to McDonalds in Clifton Hill, and The University of Melbourne on Swanston Street.
Legalising the sex industry brings one more advantage to Tasmania. It stops men like Martin joining the ranks of men in Sweden, South Korea, Norway, and Iceland who no longer have the right to buy women for prostitution, or pimp them to other men. Men in these countries are imprisoned, fined, or sent to ‘John School’ where they learn about the physical, psychological, and social harm that is visited on women and children when they become customers of the sex industry. If Sweden’s law had been in force when hundreds of Tasmanian men bought the 12-year-old girl for prostitution, Tim Ellis would have had no choice but to bring them before the courts. In Sweden, it doesn’t matter how old someone might believe a prostituted person to be. The girl who Martin victimised, if she had been in Sweden, would have been eligible for intensive social services and facilities to assist her recovery from the violence of prostitution, and her integration back into mainstream society.
The Attorney General’s proposal to legalise the sex industry in Tasmania adds insult to the overwhelming emotional and psychological injury that Martin’s 12-year-old victim suffered due to prostitution. If nothing else, the proposal is obscene in its timing, and should be rejected out of respect for her. Tasmania’s government, judiciary, and society failed to protect a 12-year-old girl from the harms of prostitution, and legalising the sex industry would compound this failure and leave the state’s women and children vulnerable to a proliferating number of men who, like Martin, feel emboldened to perpetrate prostitution, by the backing of the state government.
Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning at RMIT University.