Glossary with Commentary

Some of the language used in the debate about sex work law reform is misused or misunderstood. This glossary aims to ensure discussion remains on a firm foundation.

Anti-Sex Work Activist

An activist who opposes sex workers’ rights. Many anti-sex work activists support the Nordic Model of sex work laws which criminalises clients. In Victoria there are a number of academics, public speakers and organisations holding anti-sex work views.

Australian Federal Police (AFP)

The police force that operates Australia wide. While the AFP have no power to enforce Victoria’s sex work laws, they are responsible for enforcing Federal human trafficking laws.

Banning Notice

A notice issued by Victoria Police to a person, usually a client of a street-based sex worker, which bans the client. A declared area is typically where street-based sex work occurs. See section 21C(1) of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic).

Brothel (general definition)

Premises where multiple sex workers provide sexual services. In 2018 there were 88 licensed brothels in Victoria. The number of unlicensed brothels in Victoria is unknown, but estimated to be around 500¹.

Brothel (legal definition according to the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic))

Premises, whether residential or commercial, made available for the purpose of sex work carried out by one or more people providing sexual services.

The above definition is a concise version of the wording of the Act. This legal definition is significant because it encompasses self-employed sex workers providing incalls, ie, seeing clients in the worker’s residence. This means any sex worker who accepts a paying client in the worker’s home without council approval is breaking the law. Currently in Victoria, to do so is an indictable offence – that is, a serious criminal charge.

Classical Liberalism

A political philosophy prioritising individual rights over conceptions of the common good. In the context of sex work in Australia, this refers to a ‘live and let live’ mentality where the consensual sexual activity of adults in private is not a police matter. Where there is an exchange of money resulting from business activity, the Australian Taxation Office has a legitimate interest in collecting various taxes, including income tax.


A client of a sex worker is an adult who pays for sexual services. Like sex workers, clients also face high levels of stigma.


The legal definition of coercion can be found in the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) which states that coercion is the threat of force such as that caused by fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or abuse of power. Crimes involving coercion occur in the sex industry as well as in other industries. Sex Work Law Reform Victoria believes all coercive acts should remain criminalised.

Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV)

A Victorian government agency that, amongst other things, licenses brothels and escort agencies. CAV also administers a register of self employed sex workers.

Declared Area

A geographical area of street sex work activity as declared by the Minister. See s 21B of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic).


To remove criminal penalties relating to particular conduct. Two Victorian examples:

  1. Consensual homosexual acts were decriminalised in 1980
  2. Abortion was decriminalised in 2008

The Full Decriminalisation of Sex Work

The removal of all criminal laws pertaining to consensual adult sex work. As yet, no jurisdiction has this in place, however, two have come close to achieving this ideal.

The Partial Decriminalisation of Sex Work

The removal of nearly all criminal laws pertaining to consensual adult sex work. This is the situation in New South Wales and New Zealand.

Department of Justice and Community Safety

One of the nine departments of the Victorian Government. Consumer Affairs Victoria sits within this department and is responsible for the licensing of sex industry businesses.

DHHS Victoria

A department of the Victorian government responsible for, amongst other things, enforcing sex work laws contained in the The Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic). This Act relates to the storage and provision of condoms in brothels and escort agencies.

Escort Agency

A business which arranges sex work, where sex workers are either based off-site whilst waiting for off-site work, or based at the escort agency premises whilst waiting for off-site work (at the client’s hotel, home, etc.). Clients do not visit the escort agency.

Escort Agency Worker

A sex worker who is contracted to work for an escort agency and derives work from that agency.


A term used in criminal law. A legal process by which a person’s criminal conviction is erased. For example, in 2015 the Victorian government commenced the process of expunging the criminal records of people convicted of homosexual acts between consenting adults.


An old-fashioned term for a male sex worker who sees female clients.

Hand Relief/Happy Ending

Colloquial terms used to describe a sex worker masturbating a client during a massage service. Although Victorian law classifies hand relief services as sex work, many massage therapists offering hand relief do not regard themselves as sex workers.   

Human Trafficking

The offence of human trafficking can be found in s271.2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), which states that human trafficking involves the organising of a person into Australia using coercion, threat or deception. Human trafficking occurs in various industries, including the sex industry. Sex Work Law Reform Victoria maintains that all forms of human trafficking should remain criminal offences.

Human Trafficking Related Offence

The Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) defines a number of serious offences related to human trafficking, such as sexual slavery, servitude, forced labour, deceptive recruiting, debt bondage, trafficking of adults and trafficking of children (ss 270.1A – 271.7). These Commonwealth offences can collectively be referred to as ‘human trafficking related offences’. Human trafficking related offences occur in many industries, of which the sex industry is but one. Sex Work Law Reform Victoria strongly upholds that all forms of human trafficking related offending should remain criminal offences.


The provision of commercial sexual services at a sex worker’s private residence. Under current Victorian law no sex worker is permitted to offer incall services.

Indictable Offence

A serious criminal offence. Private workers providing incall bookings commit an indictable offence.

Legalisation of Sex Work

The current legal model surrounding sex work in Victoria. Legalisation is sometimes referred to as licensing. Authorities attempt to control and regulate sex work by placing arbitrary and onerous restrictions on sex workers and sex industry businesses. Under legalisation/licensing the majority of sex workers remain criminalised, leaving a minority working legally.

All businesses and self-employed sex workers must be licensed and/or register themselves with the government (Consumer Affairs Victoria). Licensing requires individual sex workers to register on a government database using their legal names and addresses, thereby threatening their anonymity and possibly future employment. In Victoria the government maintains a register of individual sex workers which is accessible to authorised police officers.

M2M Sex Worker

A male sex worker who sees male clients can be referred to as a M2M sex worker. Some Australian studies suggest that male sex workers make up around 20% of sex working population.

male sex workers represent around 20% of Victorian sex workers


A manager of an adult entertainment or sex industry business. In 2018 there were 656 licensed brothel managers in Victoria.

Marcia Neave Inquiry into Prostitution 1985

Academic and former judge Marcia Neave headed an inquiry into sex work in Victoria in 1985. Marcia Neave’s recommendation 9.46 called for the removal of criminal penalties applying to one or two self-employed sex workers offering appointments from a private residence. She argued this would reduce exploitation in the sex industry. This recommendation was not adopted when Victoria introduced the Sex Work Act in 1994. As a result, self-employed sex workers in Victoria providing services from their private residences face serious criminal penalties.

Massage Shop/Parlour

Premises that advertise therapeutic massage but which may also provide sexual massage or other sexual services.

Migrant Sex Worker

Peer outreach support services find that the four most common languages spoken by migrant workers are Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai and Korean. Migrant sex workers include Europeans, New Zealanders amongst many others.

around one third of sex workers are migrants


Also known as anti-sex work activists.

Nordic Model/Swedish Model

A model of sex work laws that criminalise clients and third parties of sex workers. Third parties can include brothel owners, receptionists, maids, managers, drivers, landlords, security guards, hotels which rent rooms to sex workers and anyone else who is seen as facilitating sex work. Nordic Model laws do not apply criminal penalties to sex workers. None of the sex workers’ rights organisations in Australia (or elsewhere) support the Nordic Model.


The provision of commercial sexual services at the home or hotel of a client of a private (self-employed) sex worker. In Victoria self-employed sex workers with an SWA number are permitted to offer outcall services.


A colloquial term used to describe premises where sex work occurs and has the same meaning as brothel.

there were 88 licensed brothels/parlours in Victoria in 2018


In the context of sex work, this refers to a person who is a current or former sex worker.

Penalty Unit

One of the penalties for breaching a criminal law can be a fine. Fines are calculated according to the number of penalty units as stated in the relevant legislation. For example, clients of street-based sex workers may face fines of up to 90 penalty units or 9 months jail for subsequent offences, equating to $14,507.10 (Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) s12). Sex work service providers who describe their services in advertising may face fines of up to 40 penalty units, equating to $6,447.60 (Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) s 17).

From 1 July 2018 to 30 June 2019, one penalty unit is $161.19.

For more information, please see the Victorian Legal Aid website.

Police Sex Work Liaison Officers

Police officers who receive specialist training in how to engage with and respond to concerns from sex workers. The Australian state of New South Wales decriminalised consensual adult sex work in 1995.  The New South Wales Police force employs a sex work liaison officer, while Victoria has none.

Private Sex Worker/Private Escort

A self-employed sex worker conducting their own business involving the arrangement and delivery of sex work services, taking place either in their own home or other premises.

Private sex work is estimated to be the most common form of sex work in Victoria.


Sex workers prefer the term ‘sex work’ to ‘prostitution’, as sex work emphasises the labour involved. The term ‘prostitution’ is most often used by those who do not approve of sex work. Victoria’s current sex work laws date back to the Prostitution Control Act 1994. In 2011 the Victorian parliament changed the name to the Sex Work Act 1994, a positive move acknowledging sex work as labour. However, the related criminal laws remained unchanged.

Sentencing Advisory Council (SAC)

A database of sentencing statistics (of select offences) from Victoria’s courts. When it comes to sex work offences, the SAC only holds sentencing statistics re street sex work.

Sex Industry

Businesses and individuals providing sexual services for financial gain.

Sex Industry Coordination Unit (SICU)

A unit within Victoria Police that specialises in sex work offences.

Sex on Premises Venue (SOPV)

A business that charges an entry fee to patrons who then may choose to engage is non-commercial sex with other patrons on the premises. SOPV’s are not brothels, and Victorian law treats them differently from brothels under section 3B of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic). One example of SOPV’s are gay saunas.

Sex Slavery

The legal definition of slavery can be found in s270.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) which states that slavery is the condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised, including where such a condition results from a debt or contract made by the person. Sex Work Law Reform Victoria strongly upholds that all forms of slavery should remain criminalised.

Sex Work

The provision of sexual services for financial gain.

Sex Work Act

A shorter name for the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic). Unlike New Zealand, which has a single sex work Act, Victoria has hundreds of pages of complex sex work offence legislation spread over four acts and two regulations. See our legislation page

Sex worker

A person who provides sexual services for financial gain. For various reasons, including the high levels of stigma attached to sex work, many sex workers in Victoria may not identify as such despite providing commercial sexual services.

many sex workers are also students

Sex Work Sector

Victoria’s sex industry can be divided into four broad sectors: brothel, escort agency, private (self-employed) sex work and street-based sex work. Victorian law treats each sector differently. In Victoria, all sectors are criminalised to some extent. Despite its profile, street sex work is the smallest of these sectors.

Sex Work Ministerial Advisory Committee

A committee made up of sex industry stakeholders advising the Minister for Consumer Affairs on issues relating to the sex industry in Victoria. Despite legislation mandating the existence of such a committee, it was disbanded in 2014 and has not met since – see s 67 of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic).

Sex Work Offence

A criminal offence that specifically applies to sex workers or those working in the sex industry.

Sex Work Service Provider

A person running a brothel or escort agency. Victoria requires sex work service providers to be licensed. In 2018 there were 121 sex work service providers (licensees). The number of unlicensed sex work service providers is unknown.

Sexual Services (general definition)

Sexual intercourse with or masturbation of another person, using any part of the body or an object in exchange for financial gain. Masturbation includes the use of the hands or any part of the body to sexually stimulate another person. Sexual services include full service, body slides, hand relief, etc.

Sexual Services (Victoria’s legal definition)

In addition to the above, sexual services also include either the client or the worker observing acts of masturbation, whether either party is clothed or nude.

Victoria’s legal definition of sexual services is the most extensive in Australia and includes services where there is no physical touching between client and worker. Thus, some forms of stripping, eg. toy play, are legally classified as sex work in Victoria. See definition of sexual services in s 3 of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic).


Seeking or asking in a public place any person to pay for sexual services. This is a term that relates to how street-based sex workers engage with clients. The crime here is the communication between worker and client, not the sex act. In Victoria, solicitation offences apply to both worker and client. See sections 12 – 13 of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic). The definition of ‘public place’ can be found in section 3 of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic).


A person or organisation with an interest or concern in something and/or the capacity to influence it. Stakeholders in Victoria’s sex work law reform debate include those who support decriminalisation and those who don’t.

Street-based Sex Work

The negotiation of a sexual service conducted on the street or other outdoor location.

Street-based Sex Worker

Sex workers who derive some or all of their sex work income from clients they locate on the street or in other outdoor locations. In Victoria all street-based sex workers face criminal penalties. Clients of street-based sex workers also face criminal penalties.

Summary Offence

The law distinguishes two categories of criminal offences. A summary offence is less serious than an indictable (more serious) offence. Many sex work offences in Victoria are summary offences and most often heard in the Victorian Magistrates’ Court.

SWA Number

Sex Work Act number. A unique identifying number allocated to private workers who register with the Business Licensing Authority. Sex work regulation requires private sex workers to include this number in their advertising.


Acronym for “Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist”. A feminist maintaining anti-sex work views.

Toy Play

A special type of stripping performance where the stripper inserts an object into the vagina or anus. Victorian law classifies toy play as sex work, which has legal consequences for strippers providing toy play performances.

toy play in striptease is considered sex work

Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC)

An independent, government-funded organisation that develops, reviews and recommends reform of Victoria’s state laws.

Victimless Crime

A crime where an offence is committed between willing partners or in a situation where there is no person against whom the crime is committed. Sex work offences are often described as victimless crimes.

Victoria Police

Victoria’s sex work laws are enforced by state police. The Sex Industry Coordination Unit deals specifically with sex work offences.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)

A tribunal that hears civil disputes in Victoria. Sex industry businesses facing civil action brought by Consumer Affairs Victoria will appear before VCAT.

Victorian Magistrates’ Court

The Victorian court where sex workers and those working in the sex industry may face criminal penalties.

Work Safe

Victoria’s health and safety regulator and the manager of Victoria’s workers’ compensation scheme. WorkSafe is responsible for regulating the safety practices of all Victorian businesses, including those within the sex industry.

Last updated: 20 March 2019