Sex Work Laws in Victoria

Laws pertaining to sex work in Australia vary across each state and territory. Victoria has a licensing model of sex work laws which criminalises some sex workers while allowing others to work lawfully.

The legal situation in Victoria means that sex workers are often forced to choose between safety and legality. For example, self employed sex workers (private escorts) are required by law to see their clients in unfamiliar environments. Restrictions on how private escorts can advertise prevent them from describing their services, thereby potentially creating confusion in the mind of the client. In order to carry out a service business smoothly there has to be a clear understanding of what’s being offered and what’s being purchased. Without this, misunderstanding can lead to aggravated tension on the part of clients, putting sex workers at risk.

Three Common Concerns About the Sex Industry

  1. The personal safety of sex workers.
  2. Possible negative impacts of sex work on local neighbourhoods.
  3. Sex workers not paying tax.

However, Victoria’s sex work laws:

  1. make sex workers unsafe
  2. do not address the impact of sex work on local neighbourhoods
  3. do not address taxation issues
existing laws make sex workers unsafe (Unsplash: Anna Demianenko)

The law divides sex work into four sectors. While many sex workers move between them, legislation treats each sector separately.

Private Workers (Self-employed)

This sector comprises the majority of Victoria’s sex workers. Sex workers in this sector are referred to as private escorts. Nearly all male sex workers operate in this sector. Legislation arbitrarily places restrictions on private escorts regarding advertising and place of service while requiring workers to register their legal names on a government/police database. The police are predominantly responsible for regulating this sector, unlike in New Zealand and New South Wales where consenting adult sex work is mostly decriminalised and there is little or no requirement to involve police resources.

Brothel Workers

Legislation, dating from 1994, permits a minority of brothels to operate lawfully, leaving the majority unlicensed. Health outreach workers have access to the minority licensed sector and no access to the larger unlicensed sector. Reasons include:

  • difficulty in locating the premises 
  • difficulty in identifying these establishments as brothels 
  • cultural and language barriers
  • mistrust of authorities on the part of owners, managers and employees 

The police are predominantly responsible for regulating this sector, unlike in New Zealand and New South Wales where consenting adult sex work is mostly decriminalised and there is little or no requirement to involve police resources. 

Escort Agencies

Legislation requires all escort agencies to be licensed, placing administrative burdens and costly licensing fees on operators.The police are predominantly responsible for regulating this sector, unlike in New Zealand and New South Wales where consenting adult sex work is mostly decriminalised

Street Based Sex Work

Public solicitation remains a crime for all street based sex workers in Victoria. The police are predominantly responsible for regulating this sector, unlike in New Zealand and New South Wales where consenting adult sex work is mostly decriminalised

not only street-based sex workers are criminalised under Victorian law (Unsplash: Christian Gertenbach)

Who is Affected by Victoria’s Sex Work Laws?

Victoria’s sex work laws apply to all people working in brothels (licensed and unlicensed) including owners, managers, escort agency drivers, street based sex workers and their clients, private workers, the families/friends of some sex workers, strippers, exotic dancers, show girls and peep show performers. 

Some strippers, exotic dancers, show girls and peep show performers (who may not offer sexual services), are caught up in Victoria’s sex work laws as the laws are particularly broad in their definition of sex work. (See definition of “sexual services” in section 3 of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic))

Who is Not Affected by Victoria’s Sex Work Laws?

All people working in the adult film industry. Live webcam performers. Phone sex operators. 

 

"I am not a sex worker because someone forced me into it. I'm a sex worker because I chose to be a sex worker."

Parker, aged 26, sex worker

Human Trafficking Laws in Victoria

In Australia powerful federal laws cover human trafficking related crimes across all states and territories. Sex Work Law Reform Victoria strongly condemns human trafficking in any industry and we do not propose any change to human trafficking laws.

Australian Federal Police data shows that between 2005 and 2016 there were 10 people charged with human trafficking related offences in Victoria. Five of those charges related to the sex industry, the other five did not. 

Reading the Legislation

Please see our Useful Links page to download all the relevant legislation.

 

Last updated: 17 October 2019

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