Coronavirus Laws: Is Sex Work Banned?

All Forms of Sex Work Still Banned in Victoria

At 11:59pm on Wednesday 13 October, 2021, all forms of sex work and stripping are still banned in Victoria; both metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.

Updated coronavirus restrictions will continue to apply differently in two parts of Victoria. Although some minor aspects of the lockdown have been eased, such as aspects of the curfew, these changes do not change the situation for sex work, stripping and massage. All forms of sex work, stripping, erotic massage, non sexual massage and sex on premises venues remain banned across Victoria (banned in both metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria).

On This Page

Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List

A list of the workplaces and types of workers permitted to operate in Victoria. The list is updated and published on the Victorian Government website here

Sex workers and strippers are not on the list, which means they must not work. Sex industry businesses, strip clubs and sex on premises venues are not on the list, which means they must remain closed.

Source

Clause 11(5) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 20)

Necessary Goods or Services

A short list of goods or services permitted to operate in certain situations. Neither sex work or stripping services are on the list. 

Source

Clause 6(1) of the Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 27)

Overview of Victoria’s New Coronavirus Restrictions

In metropolitan Melbourne  businesses are only permitted to operate if they appear on the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List

All forms of sex work, stripping, erotic massage and non sexual massage are now banned in metropolitan Melbourne. Under different coronavirus directions, all forms of sex work, stripping, and erotic massage are also banned in regional Victoria. Non sexual massage is permitted in regional Victoria with some restrictions.


Banned in Metropolitan Melbourne

Sources & Notes

Neither sex workers, escort agencies or brothels are on the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List. This list applies to metropolitan Melbourne.

Sources & Notes

Neither brothels or escort agencies are on the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List. This list applies to metropolitan Melbourne  and the Mildura Rural City Council Area.

Sources & Notes

These types of workers are legally classified sex workers. Incall bookings are legally classified as brothels. Outcall bookings are legally classified as escort agencies. See ‘1. private sex worker bookings are banned (both outcall and incall bookings)’ above. 

Sources & Notes

Sexual services are also very broadly defined in s3(1) the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) to include any type of physical stimulation of genitals between paying client and worker. This includes erotic, sensual and happy ending massages, and similar tantric services of a sexual nature, even if the worker does not see themselves as a sex worker.

S3(1) of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) broadly defines escort agency businesses to include self-employed tantric massage, erotic massage, sensual massage, and happy ending massage practitioners doing outcall appointments.

For more information see the entry above,  ‘1. private sex worker bookings are banned (both outcall and incall bookings)’ above. 

Sources & Notes

Strip clubs are not on the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List

This list applies to metropolitan Melbourne  and the Mildura Rural City Council Area.

Sexually explicit entertainment means stripping

Strip club performances are legally defined in 3(1) of the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 (Vic), which refers to them as ‘sexually explicit entertainment’.

Sources & Notes

Non-sexual massage therapists, massage businesses and massage parlours are not on the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List. This list applies to metropolitan Melbourne  and the Mildura Rural City Council Area.

Sources & Notes

Sex on premises venues are not on the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List. This list still applies to metropolitan Melbourne and the Mildura Rural City Council Area.

Banned in Regional Victoria

Sources & Notes

Clause 9(9) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 13) does not permit brothels to operate.

Anyone working as a sex worker from home or a hotel booked in their name is legally defined as operating a brothel, which is defined in the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic).

While s23 of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) refers to private sex workers (the legislation calls them ‘small owner-operator businesses’), s23 does not legally define private sex workers or ‘small owner-operator businesses’.

Section 3(1) of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) is where the term ‘brothel’ is legally defined. The definition is very broad and includes situations where a single private sex worker sees a client in the sex worker’s home or hotel booked in the sex worker’s name.

Sources & Notes

Clause 7(2)(c) of the Stay Safe Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 12) permits visitors into homes for work purposes, but only if the work is to ‘provide or receive necessary goods or services’. Clause 6(1) of the  Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 27) lists what counts as ‘necessary goods or services’. Sex work is not on the list.

Sources & Notes

These types of workers are legally classified sex workers. Incall bookings are legally classified as brothels. Outcall bookings are legally classified as escort agencies. See ‘1. Private sex worker incall bookings are banned)’ above. 

Sources & Notes

Sexual services are also very broadly defined in s3(1) the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) to include any type of physical stimulation of genitals between paying client and worker. This includes erotic, sensual and happy ending massages, and similar tantric services of a sexual nature, even if the worker does not see themselves as a sex worker.

S3(1) of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) broadly defines escort agency businesses to include self-employed tantric massage, erotic massage, sensual massage, and happy ending massage practitioners doing outcall appointments.

For more information see the entry above,  ‘1. Private sex worker incall bookings are banned’ above. 

Sources & Notes

Clause 9(9) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 13) does not permit strip clubs to operate. 

Sexually explicit entertainment means stripping

Strip club performances are legally defined in 3(1) of the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 (Vic), which refers to them as ‘sexually explicit entertainment’.

Sources & Notes

Clause 9(9) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 13) does not permit sex on premises venues to operate.

Permitted in Regional Victoria

Sources & Notes

Non sexual massage service can operate with some restrictions according to clauses 12(3)-(4) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 13)

Our Submission on Coronavirus and Sex Work

After receiving considerable feedback from the sex industry, we made a submission to the Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Our 2020 submission identified a need for the Victorian Government to provide clear, timely communication in plain English about what coronavirus restrictions mean for the sex industry. The fact that no written material has been provided in languages other than English is of particular concern, given that around 50% of sex workers in Victoria are migrant sex workers.

View our submission

View all submissions

Each state in Australia has a form of special coronavirus laws to combat the virus. Victoria’s current COVIDSafe settings affect businesses, including sex work businesses. By sex work, the Victorian government means physical, person-to-person sex work. The new Restrictions come from Directives issued under sections 190 and 200 the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic), by the Deputy Chief Health Officer (Communicable Diseases).

Common Questions (updated 14 October, 2021)

Two Sets of Coronavirus Restrictions

As at 8 October, 2021, new coronavirus restrictions apply to metropolitan Melbourne. Metropolitan Melbourne includes the following council areas:

Banyule

Greater Dandenong

Melbourne 

Nillumbik

Bayside

Hobsons Bay

Melton

Port Phillip 

Stonnington

Boroondara

Hume

Mitchell

Whitehorse

Brimbank

Kingston

Moreland

Whittlesea

Cardinia

Knox

Monash City 

Wyndham

Casey

La Trobe City

Moonee Valley

Yarra City Council (except Little River)

Darebin

Manningham

Moorabool Shire

Yarra Ranges

Frankston

Maribyrnong

Moreland

 

Glen Eira

Maroondah

Mornington
Peninsula

Mildura

 

The greater Melbourne (metropolitan Melbourne) area is referred to as a ‘restricted area’ in the Directions.

Source

Clauses 4(1) of the Area Directions (No 26)

Some of the council areas above are not within metropolitan Melbourne, but are subject to the same restrictions as Melbourne.

All Victorian councils not listed above in Question 1 are classified as part of regional Victoria.

Source

Clause 4(3) of the Area Directions (No 26)

Yes. Visitors to Victoria have to follow the same restrictions as Victorians. Entry into Victoria is severely restricted, with only certain people allowed to enter for specific reasons. Entry permits may apply.

Sources

Clause 5(14) of the Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 27)

Clause 5(7) of the Stay Safe Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 12)

Metropolitan Melbourne Coronavirus Restrictions

No. All forms of sex work remain completely banned in metropolitan Melbourne, for both sex workers and their clients.

Current restrictions do allow visits between people in intimate personal relationships. But sex work means commercial sex, where there is payment for the sexual services. Sex work is of a business nature. An intimate personal relationship refers to an unpaid intimate relationship of a personal nature.

No. All forms of sex work remain completely banned in Victoria, for both sex workers and their clients.

Current restrictions do allow visits between ‘nominated’ and ‘nominee’ people, but these arrangements apply to relationships of a personal nature, where there is no exchange of money. Sex work means commercial sex, where there is payment for the sexual services. Sex work is of a business nature.

Sources

Clauses 13(35)-(36) of the Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 27)

No. You are not permitted to visit friends or family living in another household, unless they are your intimate partner. You may visit your intimate partner. Only your intimate partner can visit you. In this context, a family member who is your intimate partner would be your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Source & Notes

Social visits (whether sexual in nature) to another person’s house are not one of the specified reasons you are permitted to leave your house in metropolitan Melbourne. See clause 5(1) of the Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 27)

Regional Victoria Coronavirus Restrictions

No. You are not permitted to visit friends or family living in another household, unless they are your intimate partner. You may visit your intimate partner. Only your intimate partner can visit you. In this context, a family member who is your intimate partner would be your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Source & Notes

Social visits (whether sexual in nature) to another person’s house are not permitted in regional Victoria. See clause 7(1) of the Stay Safe Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 12)

Yes, but only if it is practical to do so. 

Sources & Notes

See clause 5(9)(u)-(v) of the Stay Safe Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 12)

If it is not reasonably practicable to receive a non sexual massage service wearing a face covering, then no covering is required (clause 5(9)(u)). If it is not reasonably practicable to provide a non sexual massage service while wearing a face covering, then no covering is required (clause 5(9)(v)).

We don’t know. The current coronavirus restrictions are due to expire at 11:59pm on 21 October, 2021. Until that time the existing coronavirus restrictions remain in place in Victoria. After 22 October, 2021, the Victorian Government may choose to extend the restrictions in their current form, relax the restrictions or make them even stricter.

The Victorian Government has the option to change restriction levels at any time. In the future, restrictions could become more strict or less strict. We have to wait and see.

Source & Notes

Clause 4 of the Restricted Activity Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 13)

Clause 4 of the Restricted Activity Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 20)

Clause 4 of the Stay at Home Directions (Restricted Areas) (No 27)

Clause 4 of the Stay Safe Directions (Regional Victoria) (No 12)

Clause 3(1) of the Area Directions (No 26)

This website covers how Victoria’s current coronavirus restrictions affect the sex industry, strip clubs, sex on premises venues, and non sexual massage therapy businesses. To learn about how these coronavirus restrictions affect other areas of our lives, see two pages on the Victorian Government’s coronavirus website:

How we live: Information for metropolitan Melbourne and some areas of regional Victoria

For any questions about coronavirus directions, or for any questions about re-opening the economy, please email the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions on:

ICC@ecodev.vic.gov.au

Coronavirus Grants and Payments for Sex Workers

Is the Sex Industry Eligible for Special Coronavirus Grants and Payments?

Special coronavirus grants and payments are temporary or one off payments to individuals or businesses above and beyond what is normally offered by Centrelink and other government agencies. In 2020, two examples of special coronavirus payments were the now ceased Jobkeeper and Jobseeker supplement payment. Special coronavirus grants and payments can be made to individuals or businesses and the money can come from either the Victorian Government or the Commonwealth Government.

COVID Disaster Payment

Weekly payments paid by the Commonwealth Government to individual workers in Victoria. Amounts range from $200/week to $750/week depending on your individual circumstances. Eligibility criteria stipulate that you must:

  •  be an Australian citizen, permanent resident, or hold an eligible working visa
  • live in an area impacted by more than 7 days of coronavirus lockdown (this applies to Victoria)
  • be unable to work and earn income as a result of a state lockdown (this would apply to sex workers and strippers in Victoria)
  • not be eligible for Victorian Government business support payments

This payment is of most relevance to sex workers as you can still be eligible if:

  • you are a sole trader (self-employed)
  • you are not registered for GST
  • you already receive Centrelink payments (such as Newstart or Youth Allowance)
  • you aren’t already receiving Centrelink payments

Payment amounts are $200/week if you already receive other Centrelink benefits or $375-$750/week if you do not already receive Centrelink benefits. Applications must go through your MyGov account and can take up to seven days to process. The Australian Taxation Office has confirmed COVID Disaster Payments are non-taxable payments and that they do not need to be included on your tax return.

Read more about eligibility criteria

Extreme Hardship Support Program

An $800 payment from the Victorian Government to single people (families receive a higher amount) can be made directly into your bank account. The payment is open to the following people:

  • Workers in all occupations, including sex workers
  • Those who are NOT eligible to receive Centrelink payments
  • Those living in Victoria only
  • Those with zero, or very limited income
  • Temporary or provisional visa holders, or undocumented migrants

The program runs until October 2021. 

Read more about eligibility criteria

(scroll down to ‘Extreme Hardship Support Program’)

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 $1,817.40 for individuals and $10,904.40 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 2022), equivalent to a maximum fine of $21,808.80.

Unlawful gatherings either indoor or outdoor can now attract fines of $5,452 for individuals.

The Age Article Refers to Fine For Unlawful Gathering (28 September 2020)

Victorian Government Website Explains Penalties

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. On 12 September, 2020, ABC News reported that 80 sex workers, brothel owners and clients had been fined for coronavirus restrictions. 

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

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.

In 2020, Fiona Patten’s Sex Work Review will considered many aspects of sex work, including any reforms to anti-discrimination laws.

© Sex Work Law Reform Victoria 2021

Last updated: 20 October, 2021