Coronavirus Laws: Is Sex Work Banned?


Victoria Now allows Private Sex Workers (Outcall Bookings) and Escort Agencies to Operate 

Each state in Australia is introducing strict laws to combat the virus. Victoria now allows PRIVATE SEX WORKERS TO DO OUTCALL BOOKINGS AND ESCORT AGENCIES to operate. Brothel based sex work is still banned. Private sex workers doing incall bookings is also still banned. By sex work, the government means physical, person-to-person sex work. (The ban does not apply to solo web-camming and suchlike.) This is a Directive issued under sections 190 and 200 the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic), by the Deputy Chief Health Officer (Communicable Diseases).

Is Sex Work Allowed Now that Restrictions are Easing?

Yes, some forms of sex work are allowed. On 11 May 2020, the Victorian government announced that some restrictions on certain types of businesses will be relaxed. However, brothel-based sex work remains banned. Street-based sex work has always been against the law in Victoria. On the Victorian government’s new website, ‘Shopping, retail and personal services’, under the heading ‘Which personal services remain closed?’ it says:

‘Currently, escort services can operate, brothels and sex on premises venues remain shut.’

Victoria Police have now confirmed that the wording above is to be interpreted that brothels are to remain shut but escort agencies may operate and private workers may now work.

Restricted Postcodes (July 2020)

1. Additional stricter coronavirus laws now apply to some parts of Melbourne. Which suburbs are affected? 

Between 5 July 2020 and 20 July 2020, stricter coronavirus laws apply to the following postcodes.

3038Keilor Downs, Keilor Lodge, Taylors Lakes, Watergardens
3021Albanvale, Kealba, Kings Park, St Albans 
3012Brooklyn, Kingsville, Maidstone, Tottenham, West Footscray 
3042Airport West, Keilor Park, Niddrie, Niddrie North
3064Craigieburn, Donnybrook, Mickleham, Roxburgh Park, Kalkallo 
3047Broadmeadows, Dallas, Jacana 
3032Ascot Vale, Highpoint City, Maribyrnong, Travancore 
3046Glenroy, Hadfield, Oak Park 
3055Brunswick South, Brunswick West, Moonee Vale, Moreland West
3051Flemington, Kensington
3031Hotham Hill, North Melbourne


Source: Clause 4 of the Area Directions

2. I live in restricted postcode suburb with high coronavirus numbers – am I allowed to do sex work?

Yes. The 10 postcodes have what’s called Stage 3 Stay at Home Orders.

Legal sex work is classified as a work activity, not a personal activity.

In these 10 postcode areas, people are allowed to leave home for certain reasons, including for work purposes if they are unable to work from home. Private sex workers are unable to work from home, as incall bookings remain banned across Victoria. 

This means the new Restrictions allow private sex workers to still see clients within the 10 postcodes. 

Sources: Clause 8 of the Stay At Home Directions (Restricted Postcodes) and clause 7(2)(i) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Restricted Postcodes)

3. I’m a sex worker and I live outside the 10 postcodes area. Am I allowed to visit a client who lives in one of the 10 postcode areas?

Yes. People from outside the 10 postcode areas are allowed to enter the 10 postcodes suburbs as long as it is for work purposes and they are unable to work from home. The types of sex work covered here include private sex workers doing only outcall bookings or sex workers who work for escort agencies.

Source: Clauses 8, 11(1) and 11(2)(c) of the Stay At Home Directions (Restricted Postcodes)

4. I’m a sex worker and I live inside one the 10 postcodes area. Can I visit a client who lives outside one of the 10 postcode areas?

Yes. People from inside one of the 10 Postcode areas are allowed to leave those 10 postcode areas as long as it is for work purposes and they are unable to work from home.

5. I’m a client of a sex worker and I live in one of the 10 postcodes suburbs. I want to book a sex worker to come to my house and the sex worker also lives in one of the 10 postcodes? Is that allowed?

Yes. People living inside of the 10 postcode areas are allowed to have others enter their house provided it is for work purposes in order to receive services. This means a client can pay for a sex worker to come to their house in order to receive services.

6. I’m a client of a sex worker and I live inside one the 10 postcodes areas. I want to book a sex worker who lives outsides the 10 postcode areas. Is the sex worker allowed to visit me?

Yes. People living inside of the 10 postcode areas are allowed to have others enter their house provided it is to receive services. This means a client can pay for a sex worker to come to the client‘s house in order to receive services.

Are All Areas of Victoria safe to see clients?

No. While the law does allow some forms of sex work to occur within the 10 postcodes areas, medical advice is against visiting high coronavirus areas. 

The Australian government strongly advises against visiting certain parts of Victoria due to a high number of coronavirus cases in those areas. Travel to these areas is allowed by law, but health officials strongly advise against it.

On 21 June, 2020, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) strongly advised against travel to and from six council areas with high coronavirus cases until control of community transmission has been confirmed. The advice applies to everyone – sex workers included. The six council areas are: 

Hume (includes Broadmeadows, Craigieburn, Tullamarine, Roxburgh Park, Sunbury)

Casey (includes Endeavour Hills, Narre Warren, Berwick, Hallam, Hampton Park, Cranbourne and Clyde)

Brimbank (includes Sunshine, Deer Park, St Albans, Keilor, Keilor Park, Keilor Downs, Sydenham)

Moreland (includes Brunswick, Pascoe Vale South, Coburg, Pascoe Vale, Fawkner, Hadfield, Glenroy)

Cardinia (includes Officer, Pakenham, Bunyip, Garfield, Emerald)

Darebin (includes Northcote, Thornbury, Preston, Reservoir)

Most of these council areas are in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, where escorts are less likely to travel to bookings. You can find an interactive and detailed map of council areas and suburbs at the link below.

Link to advice against visiting six council areas

Government advises against travel to these six regions of Melbourne

What About Strip Clubs Being Allowed to Re-open in June 2020?

On 22 June, 2020, Victoria will permit strip clubs to re-open, with limited numbers of seated patrons and social distancing.

What About Massage Parlours Being Allowed to Re-open in June 2020?

Massage parlours are allowed to operate if they offer strictly non sexual massage. Massage parlour businesses offering happy ending massage/sensual massage are treated as brothels and remain banned. 

On 25 May, 2020, the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews announced there will be further easing of coronavirus Restrictions in June 2020. The announcement stated that massage parlours will be permitted to open and operate, with up to 20 clients in the building.  However, in Victoria, happy ending massage, erotic massage, tantric massage and sensual massage are classified as brothel based sex work, NOT massage, thus according to this announcement, only non-sexual/sensual massage businesses will be allowed to open.

Victoria’s coronavirus Restrictions treat erotic massage and non-sexual massage services very differently. Businesses offering non-sexual massage services are covered by ‘massage parlours’ and are classified under ‘Shopping, retail and personal services’ under the coronavirus Restrictions. Happy ending massage, erotic massage, tantric massage and sensual massage are NOT classified as massage services, and businesses offering these services are NOT treated as massage parlours. These sexual/sensual massage services are instead classified as sex work and fall under ‘Personal Services’.

What is Banned?

  1. All brothels (both licensed and unlicensed).
  2. All street based sex work (already criminalised under existing sex work laws).
  3. Massage parlours that offer sexual/happy ending massages

What is Permitted?

When Do These Restrictions End?

Current coronavirus restrictions will apply from 22 June, 2020, until 12 July, 2020. During that time, the Restrictions below remain in place. After 12 July, the government may choose to extend the restrictions.

Where Does the New Law Apply?

Only in Victoria. Other Australian states have issued their own coronavirus laws. 

Who is Ordering the Restrictions on Sex Work?

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (Victorian DHHS).

Who Enforces the Restrictions on Sex Work?

Victoria Police, both the Sex Industry Coordination Unit (SICU) and suburban police stations. 

What are the Penalties?

Police can penalise breaches of this ban in two ways: they can issue an on-the-spot fine or a penalty to be determined at court. 

On the spot fines are $1,652 for individuals and $9,913 for businesses. Victoria Police have not yet publicly clarified whether individual private sex workers will be classified as ‘individuals’ or ‘businesses’. Penalties determined at court occur under section 203 of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic), with the maximum penalty being 120 penalty units (until 30 June 2021), equivalent to a maximum fine of $19,826.40.

Which Types of Penalty Have Been Imposed To Date?

According to media reports, the majority of fines imposed within the sex industry have been on-the-spot fines issued to both individuals and businesses.

Who Has Been Fined So Far?

According to media reports, the majority of fines have been imposed upon brothels and massage parlours, and on individuals working inside them. One client at a massage parlour was also fined. Media reports have not suggested that any private workers have been fined.

What About Contact Tracing and the COVID-Safe App?

Contact tracing occurs when the government contacts people who they suspect have been in contact with someone who has an infectious disease. Contact tracing is not new, and has been used for years in relation to a number of infectious diseases. 

In order to speed up contact tracing during coronavirus, the Federal government has released a smartphone app called COVID-Safe, use of which is voluntary. Millions of Australians have already downloaded the app, but serious privacy concerns remain with how the data will be used and who will have access to it. 

Thorne Harbour Health has a guide to the CovidSafe app

Thorne Harbour Information on CovidSafe app

When Will the Updated Restrictions be Lifted?

We don’t yet know when Victoria will lift restrictions on brothels

The current ban on brothels in Victoria is due to expire at 11:59pm on 12, July 2020. It may be extended after that date.

Sources and More Information

Restricted Activity Directions (Restricted Postcodes)

Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Postcodes)

Advice Against Travel to Six Council Areas in Melbourne

Minister for Police Press Release on Fines and Enforcement

DHHS Question and Answer on New Directive Laws

DHHS Directive – See clause 7(2)(j), See clause 7(3) for info about how webcamming is still permitted. 

Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic)

Stay At Home Direction Allowing Up to Five Visitors To Your Home

Thorne Harbour Health Advice Against Casual Sex

What about unpaid casual sex?

DHHS has updated its separate Stay At Home Directive that now allows up to five visitors at your house provided they are family or friends.

What Do Medical Experts Say?

Thorne Harbour Health is Victoria’s leading health provider for LGBTI Victorians and people living with HIV. Thorne Harbour Health currently advises ALL Victorians against having casual sex. 

Read Advice Against Casual Sex

Centrelink Support

Information about government support payments is available on the Australian Government website.

Seeking Work Outside the Sex Industry

Many sex workers are currently considering their options and applying for work outside the sex industry. Once again, the law creates barriers to sex workers seeking alternative employment. Victoria’s anti-discrimination laws do not protect sex workers from discrimination by prospective employers. Fiona Patten’s Sex Work Review will consider many aspects of sex work, including any reforms to anti-discrimination laws. Individuals and groups can make written submissions until 17 July, 2020. 

© Sex Work Law Reform Victoria 2020

Last updated: 5 July 2020