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Sex workers shouldn’t be arrested during raids; High Court

The Madras High Court has ordered that when police raid a brothel home, sex workers shall not be detained or penalised. Justice N Satish Kumar quashed an FIR registered against a customer of the brothel house, citing a recent Supreme Court judgement that held that whenever a brothel is raided, sex workers should not be arrested, penalised, harassed, or victimised and that it is only the running of the brothel that is illegal.

‘In the matter at hand, simply because the petitioner was in the location, which is stated by the respondents (police) to be a brothel being conducted by some person, the petitioner cannot be tied with any punitive consequence,’┬áthe judge concluded. The judge was hearing a criminal original plea from one Udayakumar, who was apprehended at a Chintadripet brothel home. When the police stormed the massage parlour, the petitioner was there, along with the sex workers, and he was detained and arraigned as Accused No. 5.

Petitioner’s attorney contended that even if all of the claims were considered together, no offence would be committed. Running a brothel was criminal, not doing sex work. Because the sex workers entered the profession of their own free will and without any enticement, force, or coercion, such activities were not punishable under Section 370 of the IPC. According to the Additional Public Prosecutor, the first accused operated a brothel under the guise of a massage parlour.

The judge granted the motion, noting that, according to the FIR, the petitioner was not there while sex workers were present at the massage centre, and he was not named as an accused. Only in the modification report is the petitioner identified as A-5. Even if the entire report was taken at face value, it did not establish that the petitioner committed any crime, other than his supposed presence at the specified location. Furthermore, there was no evidence that he was participating in any sexual conduct at the aforementioned location, nor that the individuals who had been rescued from the aforementioned location had made any claim against any of the individuals, much alone the petitioner.

According to the Apex Court judgement, any sex worker who is an adult and engages in sexual acts with his or her own permission shall not be prosecuted. As per the circumstances, as evidenced by the FIR and the alteration report, there was no hint of compulsion on the part of the sex workers to do the crime, particularly from the petitioner. Given that the petitioner was not accused of coercing the sex worker to do the sexual act, the judge concluded that pursuing the FIR against the petitioner was a useless exercise that would serve no purpose and dismissed the case against the petitioner.

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