The Benefits of Decriminalising Sex Work

Evidence shows that decriminalisation benefits sex workers as well as the broader community. It has been tried and tested in both New South Wales and New Zealand for many years now.

Benefits to the Community

  • Promotes conditions for tackling the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Increases reporting of violent offenders.
  • Frees up police resources to focus on serious crimes.
  • Improves rates of income tax compliance, which means increased revenue for the government.
  • Easier detection of human trafficking.
HIV and sex work Australia
33 - 46% of HIV infections over a decade would be averted by decriminalisation Source: Lancet Medical Journal, 2014 (Unsplash: Ani Kolleshi)


Benefits to Sex Workers

  • Improved health outcomes.
  • Safer work conditions.
  • Reduction in violence against sex workers.
  • Reduction in stigma faced by sex workers.
  • Can report violent crime without fear of being prosecuted themselves.
  • Elimination of constant fear of being charged by the police.
  • Improved relationships between sex workers and police.
  • Decriminalisation makes it easier for sex workers to transition out of the sex industry if they so choose.
  • The ability to enforce business contract laws to recover unpaid service fees.
  • Erasure of sex-industry-related criminal records (of victimless crimes) makes it easier for sex workers to secure other employment

New South Wales decriminalised sex work in 1995, New Zealand in 2003 and the Northern Territory in 2019. Independent reviews of decriminalisation in New Zealand and New South Wales were conducted and the findings made public.

In 2005 New Zealand’s Ministry of Justice commissioned a study¹ which found that decriminalising sex work reduced barriers for those wanting to leave sex work,

‘Until recently, a major barrier to exiting the industry arose from the illegalities associated with prostitution involvement.’

In 2008 it also came to the conclusion that ‘the vast majority of people involved in the sex industry’ were better off under NZ’s sex work decrim laws.’²

In 2015 a New South Wales (NSW) parliamentary committee³ which compared NSW’s decriminalised legal framework with Victoria’s licensing legal framework, and concluded that :

  • Victoria registers some sex workers and the registration of sex workers provides the potential for a lifetime of stigma for sex workers, many of whom work in the industry for only a small part of their lives;
  • Medical experts consider the registration of sex workers would probably have negative public health outcomes;
  • Registration of sex workers is not otherwise justified by the small benefits to be derived from such a system.’
  1. Jan Jordan, The Sex Industry in New Zealand: A Literature Review, (New Zealand Ministry of Justice, 2005) ‘Existing Sex Work’ chapter, page 49
  2. New Zealand’s Prostitution Law Review Committee, Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003  (New Zealand Ministry of Justice, 2008) ‘Conclusion and Future Review’ chapter, page 168
  3. Select Committee on the Regulation of Brothels, Inquiry Into the Regulation of Brothels (New South Wales Parliamentary Library, 2015) Recommendation 9


Last Updated:  12 August 2020