Street-Based Sex Workers
Who They Are
Street-based sex workers are independent sex workers who meet clients in a public place. Street-based sex work is illegal in Victoria for both worker and client, with police able to charge both parties with the crime of solicitation. Melbourne’s street working population is almost entirely female or transgender, with the clients being almost entirely male. In the past there was a population of male to male street workers; they have now entirely disappeared. The number of street-based sex workers overall has declined over the last 20 years, and they now make up around 1% of all sex workers. This is primarily due to the widespread use of smartphones, social media and the internet, which has led many workers to move into private sex work.¹
How They Work
The worker waits on the street for clients who are driving by. When a client wishes to engage the services of a street worker, he will pull over in his car to discuss services and prices with the worker. The sex work itself takes place elsewhere, usually in the client’s car.
Street workers assist each other to be wary of any troublesome or violent clients in the area. Street workers also share information about where to resource themselves with food, showers, supplies such as condoms, lubes, sponges, sanitary products, as well as needle exchange facilities.
Street-based sex workers work largely within distinct areas, where they may or may not have the safety and security of working alongside other street workers. Historically, St Kilda has been the hub of street-based sex work. Street workers also operate in Dandenong and Footscray.
Street Sex Work in Dandenong
A small street-based sex work scene has emerged on a single street in the outer south eastern Melbourne suburb of Dandenong. The workers are generally Caucasian women aged between 18 – 35. Their clients tend to be men in their thirties, who are generally of Caucasian, South Asian, Afghani or African backgrounds. Prices for sexual services in Dandenong are around half that of St Kilda.²
In 2018 standard rates for services across the state ranged from $20 – $120, depending on the service. Payment is by cash only. Since they’re not working for brothels or escort agencies, street-based workers keep 100% of their earnings. Prices for services are set amongst street workers via word of mouth. Note that this type of sex work involves a fee per service, not per time spent with the client.
As well as keeping 100% of their earnings, street workers choose their own hours, decide for themselves whether or not to engage with a client, and which services they may/may not offer. This flexibility suits workers with children in their care, and those otherwise unable or unwilling to engage with the conventional workforce. Unlike private escorts, street workers do not carry the burdens of advertising, transportation or responding to numerous telephone calls, emails and texts. A major advantage of street work is that it involves a fee per service, not per time spent with the client.
Street-based workers receive no protection under the law. Even if a street worker invites a client into their home to provide the service, they are still operating outside the law. They may provide services in unfamiliar environments such as the client’s car, and being not in control of the vehicle themselves increases risk. Due to the clandestine nature of the work, street workers have little to no time to ‘screen’ new clients in order to assess their personal safety and security. Street workers rely on information from each other, their own lived experiences and intuition to protect themselves.
Street-based sex workers are the most visible of the sex working population, therefore the most at risk of police prosecution.
Street workers may be reluctant to report crimes committed against them due to fear of the legal ramifications resulting from reporting crimes to police. It could be argued that those offending against street workers are most likely aware that street-based sex work is illegal under Victorian law, and therefore may offend with greater impunity. This lack of legal protection contributes to the marginalisation and vulnerability of street-based sex workers.
*Names changed for privacy reasons.
- Dr Ben Durant, Survival Stripped Bare: An Ethnography of Street Sex Workers in Dandenong, (2015) Australian Catholic University, p34
- Dr Ben Durant, Survival Stripped Bare: An Ethnography of Street Sex Workers in Dandenong, (2015) Australian Catholic University
Last updated: 22 October 2019