Coronavirus Laws: Is Sex Work Banned?

Sex Work Now Permitted in Victoria

At 11:59pm on Tuesday 27 July, 2021, Victoria ended its fifth coronavirus lockdown, allowing all types of businesses to re-open, with limitations such as the number of patrons in venues. Hotel rooms may not be used for sex work bookings, non-sexual massage or stripping performances.

Some restrictions still apply to the manner in which sex industry businesses can operate, and the new Directions will continue to apply equally to both regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne.

All forms of sex work, stripping, and sex on premises venues are now permitted, with some restrictions, state wide. These current restrictions will expire at 11:59pm on 29 July, 2021.

On this Page

Accommodation Facilities

Include hotels, hostels, bed and breakfast facilities, private holiday rental facilities including Airbnbs, motels, and serviced apartments. 

Source

Clause 14(2) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Victoria) (No 20).

 

Work Premises

Work Premises means the premises of an employer where work occurs. It excludes an employee’s ordinary place of residence (their home). For the sex industry, licensed brothels, massage parlours, strip clubs and sex on premises venues would fall within this definition. A self employed sex worker or massage therapist working from home would not fall within this definition. 

Source

See clause 10(80) of the Workplace Directions (No. 39)

Overview of Victoria’s New Coronavirus Restrictions

All sex industry, stripping and sex on premises businesses and workplaces can now operate, with some restrictions. The Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List no longer applies, meaning all industries and workers can operate, with restrictions. These restrictions include density quotients, mask wearing, and QR Code check in requirements. Hotel rooms may not be used for sex work bookings, non-sexual massage, or stripping performances.

Permitted in Victoria

Sources & Notes

Page 2 of the table of CHANGES TO RESTRICTIONS FROM 11.59PM TUESDAY 27 JULY indicates Entertainment and Leisure can operate, with caps on the number of patrons in venues. Such caps do not apply to a single private sex worker seeing a single client in a house or hotel room. Rules about masks do apply, see question 5 in “Common Questions” below for more information. Hotel rooms may not be used for sex work bookings. See question 2 in “Common Questions” below for more information.

As the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List no longer applies, no industries or workers are banned, so Victoria’s usual sex work licensing laws apply to private workers. To provide incall appointments, you need council and landlord approval. Whether doing incall or outcall appointments, you will need a sex work registration number. More information on our page Private Sex Worker Laws as well as Incalls – Are They Legal?

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

Page 2 of the table of CHANGES TO RESTRICTIONS FROM 11.59PM TUESDAY 27 JULY indicates Entertainment and Leisure can operate with caps on the number of patrons in venues. As the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List no longer applies, no industries or workers are banned, so Victoria’s usual sex work licensing laws apply.

Hotel rooms may not be used for sex work bookings. See question 2 in “Common Questions” below for more information.

Rules about masks, QR Codes and density quotients apply, see questions 5, 6 and 8 in “Common Questions” below for more information. 

Brothels are legally defined in clause 21(4) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Victoria) (No 20). This definition makes it clear that the legal definition of brothel used in the Directions is the legal definition found in the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic)Section 3(1) of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) is where the term ‘brothel’ is legally defined.

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 workers can operate (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 permitted (both outcall and incall bookings).

Sources & Notes

Page 2 of the table of CHANGES TO RESTRICTIONS FROM 11.59PM TUESDAY 27 JULY indicates Entertainment and Leisure can operate, with caps on the number of patrons in venues. As the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List no longer applies, no industries or workers are banned, so Victoria’s usual sex work licensing laws apply.

Hotel rooms may not be used for stripping performances. See question 2 in “Common Questions” below for more information. Rules about masks, QR Codes and density quotients apply, see questions 5, 7 and 8 in “Common Questions” below for more information.

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’. Clause 21(71) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Victoria) (No 20) adopts the definition found in the Liquor Control Reform Act.

Sources & Notes

Page 3 of the table of CHANGES TO RESTRICTIONS FROM 11.59PM TUESDAY 27 JULY indicates Hairdressing, Beauty, and Personal Care can operate, with caps on the number of customers in premises. As the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List no longer applies, no industries or workers are banned. Masks are not required. Hotel rooms may not be used for nonsexual massage bookings. See question 2 in “Common Questions” below for more information.

Rules about QR Codes apply, see question 5 in “Common Questions” below for more information. 

Authorities forget to legally define non sexual massage

The Chief Health Officer omitted the definition of non-sexual massage parlours in of the current Restricted Activity Directions (Victoria) (No 20)

In all previous Restricted Activity Directions up until 25 May, 2021, when ‘beauty and personal care facilities’ were mentioned, ‘massage parlours’ were included in the definition, as was the case recently on 25 May, 2021 in clause 21(4)(c) of the now replaced Restricted Activity Directions (Victoria) (No 16).

The current Restricted Activity Directions for Victoria refer to, but do not define, ‘beauty and personal care facilities’. We will assume that now, as in the past, ‘beauty and personal care facilities’ is defined to include ‘massage parlours’, meaning non-sexual massage ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses.

Clause 11(2)(a) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Victoria) (No 20) defines a ‘restricted retail facility’ to include beauty and personal care facilities.

Sources & Notes

Page 2 of the table of CHANGES TO RESTRICTIONS FROM 11.59PM TUESDAY 27 JULY indicates Entertainment and Leisure can operate, with caps on the number of patrons in venues. Sex on premises venues are classified as Entertainment and Leisure. As the Authorised Provider and Authorised Worker List no longer applies, no industries or workers are banned, so Victoria’s usual sex work licensing laws apply.

Rules about QR Codes and density quotients apply, see questions 4 and 7 in “Common Questions” below for more information. 

Sex on premises venues include gay sex saunas and are legally defined in clause 21(70) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Victoria) (No 20) which adopts the definition from section 3B of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic).

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

1. Home visits are still banned in Melbourne. Can a sex worker visit a client at his/her home to do an outcall booking?

Yes. Although private gatherings in homes (inviting someone into your house) are banned for personal or social reasons, home visits for paid work purposes are allowed.

Sources & Notes

Although in most instances, people are not permitted to invite other people into their homes in Victoria (see clause 7(1) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26))the Directions allow a person to invite another person into their house for the purposes of conducting paid work activities (clause 7(2)(d) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26)

Clause 7(2)(d) would apply to paying clients of private escorts or escort agency sex workers. This clause permits people (in this context, the clients of sex workers) to invite other people (in this context, sex workers) into their home to undertake paid work.

2. Are sex work or stripping performances allowed in hotel rooms?

No. Sex work bookings, erotic massage, non-sexual massage or stripping performances are not allowed to occur in hotel rooms. This ban applies whether the client or service provider (sex worker or massage therapist or dancer) books the hotel room. 

The ban on hotel room usage for these purposes applies to hotel, hostels, bed and breakfast facilities, private holiday rental facilities, including Airbnbs, motels and serviced apartments. This means that private sex workers can only attend outcall bookings at the client’s house or apartment. This ban on hotel use occurs as restrictions on people visiting the same hotel room are limited to family members, intimate partners and nominated/nominee people. 

Sources

Clauses 14(1)-(3) of the Restricted Activity Directions (Victoria) (No 20)

3. How far can I travel from home to go to an outcall booking?

Within Victoria, there are no restrictions on how far you can travel from home. 

Sources & Notes

Page 1 of the table of CHANGES TO RESTRICTIONS FROM 11.59PM TUESDAY 27 JULY under the heading ‘Social gatherings, visitors and leaving home’ says the 5km travel limit has now been lifted.

4. Can I hook up and have UNPAID casual sex in Victoria?

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

Source

Social visits (whether sexual in nature) to another person’s house are not permitted. See clause 7 of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26)

5. Does the compulsory QR Code check in system apply to sex work?

Yes, but only in on-site sex work workplace premises. This would include licensed brothels, private sex worker incall bookings, strip clubs and sex on premises venues. 

Sources & Notes

All clauses which relate to the QR code check in system only apply to on-site businesses (referred to in the Directions as Work Premises). See clauses 6(6)-(8) of the Workplace Directions (No. 39).

6. Are masks required during sex work bookings?

No, not if either the sex worker or client is engaged in ‘strenuous physical exercise’ or if it is not reasonably practicable to provide or receive the service while wearing a face covering.

Sources & Notes

Although mask wearing is compulsory in most settings outside your house (cl 5(2)(b) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26))there are exemptions that may apply to a sex work booking. If either party in a sex work booking is engaged in strenuous physical exercise, mask wearing is not required (cl 5(3)(0) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26)).

If it is not reasonably practicable to receive a sex work service wearing a face covering, then no covering is required (clause 5(3)(u) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26)).

If it is not reasonably practicable to provide a sex work service while wearing a face covering, then no covering is required (clause 5(3)(v) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26)).

7. Are masks required in strip clubs?

Some of the time, although exemptions may apply. If a stripper while performing is engaged in ‘strenuous physical exercise’ or if it is not reasonably practicable to provide the performance wearing a face covering, then no face mask is required.

Patrons in strip clubs who are eating or drinking are not required to wear face masks.

Sources & Notes

Although mask wearing is compulsory in most settings outside your house (cl 5(2)(b) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26))there are exemptions that may apply to strip club settings. If a stripper is engaged in strenuous physical exercise, mask wearing is not required (cl 5(3)(0) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26)).

If it is not reasonably practicable to provide a stripping performance while wearing a face covering, then no face covering is required (clause 5(3)(v) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26)).

People are also not required to wear face coverings if they are eating or drinking (clause 5(3)(r) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26)).

8. Do density quotients apply to the sex industry?

Yes. Density quotients limit the number of people in indoor spaces. For brothels, strip clubs and sex on premises venues, page 2 of the the table CHANGES TO RESTRICTIONS FROM 11.59PM TUESDAY 27 JULY applies. For indoor fixed seated entertainment: Open up to a maximum of 100 people per space. Group limit of 10 people. Density quotient of 1 person per 4 sqm applies in non-seated areas. COVID Check-in Marshals must ensure attendees check-in.

For indoor non-seated entertainment venues: Open to a maximum of 100 people per space. Group limit of 10 people. Density quotient of 1 person per 4sqm applies. COVID Check-in Marshals must ensure attendees check-in.

9. I’m a sex worker and I live outside Victoria. If I travel into Victoria, do coronavirus restrictions in Victoria apply to me?

Yes. Visitors to Victoria have to follow the same restrictions as Victorians. Entry permits may apply.

Sources & Notes

Clause 5(1) of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26)

Victorian Border Crossing Permit Directions (No 24)

10. When will these coronavirus restrictions in Victoria change?

We don’t know. The current coronavirus restrictions are due to expire at 11:59pm on 29 July, 2021. Until that time the existing coronavirus lockdown remains in place in Victoria. After 30 July, 2021, the Victorian Government may choose to extend the restrictions in their current form, relax the restrictions or make them 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.

Sources & Notes

Clause 4 of the Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 26)

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

Clause 4 of the Workplace Directions (No. 39)

11. What else do these coronavirus laws restrict me from doing?

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:

COVIDSafe Settings

12. Who do I contact with further questions?

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

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.

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’)

  1. Victorian Government’s Coronavirus websitesection titled Extreme Hardship Support Program
  2. Victorian Government document titled, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Extreme Hardship Support Program: Frequently asked Questions for People in the Community (reviewed on 7 June , 2021)

Available at

https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/financial-and-other-support-coronavirus-covid-19

(accessed on 16 July, 2021)

3. Victorian Government media release dated 7 June 2021, No One Left Behind: More Support For Victorians In Need

Temporary COVID Disaster Payment

A weekly payment of up to $500 paid by the Commonwealth Government to individual workers in Victoria. 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)
  • have less than $10,000 in the bank and have liquid assets of $10,000 or less
  • not already be receiving other Centrelink payments

Read more about eligibility criteria

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: 29 July, 2021