The Bill: Get the Facts
There are many myths about the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2022 (Vic). Here we bust seven of the most common myths and confusions.
Yes. In 2020 Fiona Patten, MP reviewed Victoria’s sex work laws. She consulted with and spoke to dozens of groups and individuals, including religious groups and those who oppose sex work decriminalisation. Any group or individual was invited to take part in the consultations.
This bill removes existing criminal laws requiring mandatory STI testing of sex workers and requiring condom use in sex work bookings. The bill also removed criminal penalites which prevent a sex worker from working if she/he has an STI. The opposition says this is irresponsible, as there will be no laws requiring basic health and safety measures for sex workers or their clients.
Shortly, the Victorian Government will unveil a new public health and infection control framework, developed by the Department of Health. This will replace the old criminal laws. Health regulations, rather than criminal laws enforced by police, are more effective at achieving positive public health results.
The law is only one of many ways to change behaviour around condom use and STI testing. Condom use and STI testing is best achieved with sex workers when well resourced and funded sex worker peer organisations work with other sex workers on health education and promotion.
No. The bill removes a criminal law which requires sex workers and clients to use condoms during sex work bookings.
Stealing is a completely separate matter, and is closer to sexual assault or rape. Stealthing occurs when two people agree to have sex with a condom, and then one of them secretly removes the condom without the other person’s knowledge or consent. Victoria already indirectly has a criminal law against stealthing, section 45 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) (Procuring a Sexual Act By Fraud). This existing criminal law can deal with stealthing, and applies to the entire population (including sex workers). The Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021, does not remove this stealthing related law.
The Victorian Law Reform Commission is currently working on developing an explicit crime of stealthing in Victoria, as part of its inquiry, Improving the Response of the Justice System to Sexual Offences. Such a crime, if introduced, would apply equally to all Victorians, including sex workers.
No. This bill makes NO CHANGES TO COUNCIL POWERS to control sex work. This bill repeals criminal laws, mostly in the Sex Work Act. Council planning laws come from the Victoria Planning Provisions, which remain completely unchanged by this bill. The Victoria Planning Provisions give councils the power to control where businesses can set up, how large they can be and their hours of operation. This bill does NOT change the Victoria Planning Provisions (VPP). The current VPP’s give councils extreme powers to limit brothel locations and size. At present all home based sex work is prohibited, unlike other types of businesses. Existing powers mean some councils have banned brothels completely, and the total number of legal brothels has been steadily decreasing as councils refuse to accept new ones.
It is expected that in the near future, the Victorian Government will announce completely separate reforms to the Victorian Planning Provisions. These reforms are expected to bring a sense of equality for sex workers, whereby council planning laws for brothels will be brought in line with other similar service businesses, such as hairdressers. The Victorian Government has already arranged for consultation with councils in 2020 as part of the Fiona Patten Sex Work Review, and then again in August 2021, as part of a council-focussed second consultation on planning schemes. Consultations with councils are ongoing and the multitude of concerns and fear harboured by councils have been very loudly and clearly heard by the Victorian Government and the sex worker community.
Not quite. For sex workers to be able to work from home legally and lawfully, this bill would need to pass and the Victorian Planning Provisions (council laws) would also need to be separately amended. This bill makes no changes to the Victoria Planning Provisions (council laws), or to the council law currently banning home based sex work businesses.This means, if the bill passes, home based sex work will still not be permitted by councils.
That said, we are expecting the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynn to announce changes to the Victoria Planning Provisions (VPP) in the near future. The current VPPs are highly discriminatory against sex workers, treating the sex work occupation radically differently from any other type of work. We hope reforms to the VPPs will bring sex work in line with other similar service industries, such as hair dressing. What sex workers want is regulatory equality – to be regulated in a fair manner, similar to other comparable service business, like hairdressers.
Alcohol is currently serviced in strip clubs in Victoria, and in brothels in some other parts of Australia. This bill does not require a brothel to apply for a liquor licence. It gives brothels the option of applying for a liquor licence. Liquor is heavily regulated, with inspections, staff training, responsible service of alcohol training and police given special powers of entry to inspect licensed premises.
There is no reason to believe such liquor regulations which apply to and protect workers in other industries, couldn’t also do the same for sex workers.
No. The bill changes anti-discrimination laws so that it will be unlawful for a landlord to discriminate against a sex worker in a rental or Airbnb. Does this mean landlords will be forced to rent to unruly sex workers who turn a rental into a wild brothel?
No. Anti-disrimination laws are quite specific and prevent a landlord from refusing accommodation, but only on the grounds of the sex worker’s ‘occupation’. Landlords will still be very free to refuse accommodation, or evict existing tenants according to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic). This general tenancy law applies to all Victorians, including sex workers. Landlords already routinely refuse accommodation to prospective tenants for many reasons. The following reasons are permitted by both anti-discrimination laws and the Residential Tenancy Act 1997.
If this bill passes, landlords will still be allowed to refuse accommodation to a person (including a sex worker) who:
- Has an income which is too low
- Is unable to demonstrate regular employment with a certain level of pay
- Is unable to show any official source of income
- Is listed on the tenant blacklist (a secret list of bad tenants)
- Has no references, or poor references
If this bill passes, landlords will still have the power to evict anyone (including sex workers):
- who damages or trashes the property
- who causes serious monetary damage or loss to the property
- who fails to pay rent or is in rent arrears
- who is a nuisance or noisy in front of other neighbours
- uses the property for illegal purposes (illegal drugs)
- breaches any other part of the tenant’s lease/contract
In order to prevent sex work from occuring in a rented property, landlords will still be able to insert an optional extra clause in a residential lease agreement which states,
‘the tenant must not use this residential property for commercial or business purposes.’
This is a relatively common optional extra clause found in many tenancy agreements. Notice how the clause is not specific to sex workers, as it apply to a tenant of any occupation.
To read about the events leading to decriminalisation since 2010, please read our Sex Work Review Blog.
What Has Sex Work Law Reform Victoria been Doing?
In 2018 and 2019 we lobbied members of parliament, government agencies, police, and others, calling for Victoria’s sex work laws to be reviewed. In 2020 we partnered with the Michael Kirby Centre at Monash University to conduct a sex worker consultation as part of the 2020 Fiona Patten Review into sex work. We made two submissions to the 2020 Review. In 2021, we made a submission to the August 2021 sex work consultation about sex work and local government laws. Along with seven other sex worker support groups, we also met with the Department of Justice and Community Safety on 23 August 2021 for an additional consultation.
© Sex Work Law Reform Victoria 2022
Last updated: 10 February, 2022