Source: Newcastle Herald
HERE are concerns prostitutes could again rule Newcastle’s notorious sex strip, bringing crime and drugs back to the rebirthed streets of Islington.
Residents and shop owners, who fought hard over many years to clean up the hooker hot spot, said the changed suburb was under threat of reverting back to the city’s Underbelly days when pimps ruled the streets.
They told the Newcastle Herald kerb crawling was on the increase and that police had reported 60 matters in relation to street walkers in the six months to January.
The Herald spoke with a street-based sex worker known as Shelly, who said there was a stable of about 10 girls who regularly picked up customers along Maitland Road.
She said the current crop of street walkers tried to keep to themselves and weren’t out to cause any problems for residents or police.
An increase in the availability and use of heroin in Newcastle has coincided with the apparent rise in street sex workers.
Shelly said a number of women listed serious drug addictions as their main reason for working in the industry.
Islington Village Community Group spokesman Terry McCauley said prostitutes, and their pimps, again viewed Islington as the place to ply their trade.
Mr McCauley said the group wanted a full-time caseworker reinstated in the area to ensure things did not get out of control like the ‘‘bad old days’’ of the late 2000s.
‘‘There is always someone out there working,’’ he said. ‘‘If there is a caseworker who can continually work with these individuals as they come and go then obviously that’s got to be a benefit.’’
The Herald has spoken with more than 10 store owners and residents who told of increased activity along Maitland Road and surrounding streets.
On one occasion last week two girls worked the corner of Maitland and Coal streets at 7am, while young children walked to school just a few metres away.
Synonymous with street-walking sex workers since the 1960s, a section of Maitland Road used to be known by locals as ‘‘condom corner’’.
But in the past 10 years Islington has reinvented itself with trendy cafes, vintage clothing stores and a booming multicultural population.
In 2009, the Islington Action Group held public forums, lobbied the state government, threatened class action litigation and withstood threats, violence and vandalism from the suburb’s criminal element.
The police dedicated resources, launched undercover stings and the state government agreed to fund a full-time caseworker, at the cost of $92,000 per year, to support the sex workers and provide drug and alcohol rehabilitation, housing, health care and education. According to an independent draft report, the Aids Council of NSW caseworker was successful in helping women off the street, reducing the number of sex workers from more than 40 on an average night to three or four.
But with the three-year funding trial running its course and the problem seemingly sorted, only a part-time case worker has been available in the suburb since late 2012.
Wallsend MP and Shadow Minister for the Hunter Sonia Hornery raised the issue in state parliament this month, claiming sex workers were slowly trickling back to the suburb.
Ms Hornery called on Newcastle MP Tim Owen to reinstate the funding and support some of the city’s most vulnerable people.
‘‘The community was very grateful when [former Newcastle MP] Jodi McKay made a commitment to this program and they were really pleased with the results,’’ she said. ‘‘Residents are saying it was having an impact on the quality of life. It’s absolutely a shame to lose that.’’
But Mr Owen said the funding had done its job and the only remaining girls were considered ‘‘hardcore’’ or beyond help or intervention.
‘‘Should it go berserk again like it was a few years ago then we would consider funding the program again, but at the moment we have got our finger on the pulse and we are doing a lot of work behind the scenes,’’ he said.
ONCE a hairdresser, loving mother and wife, Shelly (not her real name) now spends her time pacing Maitland Road at Islington as a street-based sex worker.
The 38-year-old, pictured, agreed to speak to the Newcastle Herald about her life, her heroin addiction and community concerns about the sex trade in the suburb.
She disputed residents’ claims the number of girls was on the increase and said there was a stable of 10 regulars who still walked the streets. She said the current crop weren’t out to cause any problems and were simply continuing the tradition of ‘‘Isso’’ as the region’s illegal sex hub.
‘‘There used to be heaps of girls out here, like 10 to every corner kind of thing,’’ she said.
‘‘The girls who are here now, which is hardly any, we just do our own thing.
‘‘I don’t find any dramas with any of the other girls – we just keep to ourselves, we don’t annoy the residents or anything.’’
Shelly said she started working in a brothel a few years ago after the death of her partner led her to start using heroin.
She now works on the street, making up to $3000 a week. And she says she doesn’t have a pimp, ‘‘basically because I have a habit and it’s easier doing it myself out here than doing it in the parlour because they take most of the money off you, 60per cent’’.
‘‘It’s the independence of being able to do your own hours and have your own clients and all the rest of it,’’ she said.
But Shelly said working on the street did have its disadvantages.
‘‘It’s a lot safer in there – out here its a lot riskier,’’ she said.
‘‘I’ve been choked before, I’ve been bashed before by clients who get thrills of it. Or they hand you the money and try and take it off you and stuff like that.
‘‘But the majority of the guys are pretty good, it’s just a quick one on their way to work and then they go again. I have my regulars; most of mine are over 40 or 50 years old.’’
Shelly said the Aids Council of NSW’s dedicated case worker helped a number of girls to get off the street and she was waiting on approval to get into a methadone program through the service.
‘‘I don’t have any mental health problems, it’s just the drugs that are the issue,’’ she said.
‘‘I did year 12, I used to be a hairdresser, I used to be a mum.
‘‘Basically I’m just a normal person. I rent my own place but I just made a few bad decisions.’’