Top Myths About Sex Work in Australia

The Myths

The Facts

Myth 1

All sex workers are women and all their clients are men.

Fact 1

Australian studies show around 20% of sex workers are male or transgender.¹  ²

Myth 2

No one really chooses to become a sex worker.

Fact 2

Sex work is work. For many it provides a flexible, well paid source of income.³

Myth 3

Sex workers are desperate drug addicted women with no other options for work.

Fact 3

Australian studies show a minority of sex workers have substance abuse issues.⁴

Myth 4

Most sex workers were sexually abused in childhood.

Fact 4

Many people in society have experienced childhood sexual abuse. There is no evidence to suggest that child sexual assault contributes uniquely to the choice to take up sex work.⁵

Myth 5

Exploitation is rife in the sex industry.

Fact 5

Available police data shows human trafficking⁶ and coercion⁷ are rare.

Myth 6

Most sex workers are working on the street.

Fact 6

Only about 1% of Victorian sex workers are street-based.⁸

Myth 7

Asian migrant women working in illegal brothels have all been sex trafficked.

Fact 7

Australian Federal Police data shows there have been 21 human trafficking related offences in Victoria’s sex industry over a twelve year period (2005 – 2016). Two of these 21 offences resulted in a conviction.

"As long as there is stigma associated with sex work, support will remain difficult for those working within the industry."

Parker, age 26, sex worker
  1. Selvey, L., Hallett, J., Lobo, R., McCausland, K., Bates, J., & Donovan, B. (2017). Western Australian Law and Sex Worker Health (LASH) Study. A Summary Report to the Western Australian Department of Health. Perth: School of Public Health, Curtin University, page 16, table 4

<http://ceriph.curtin.edu.au/local/docs/reports/Law-and-Sex-worker-Health-Study-Summary-Report-Aug-2017(1).pdf>

2. Victorian Department of Justice and Community Safety data from 30 June 2018 revealed 21.3% of all registered private sex workers in Victoria were male or intersex.

3. Selvey, L., Hallett, J., Lobo, R., McCausland, K., Bates, J., & Donovan, B. (2017). Western Australian Law and Sex Worker Health (LASH) Study. A Summary Report to the Western Australian Department of Health. Perth: School of Public Health, Curtin University, page 29 ‘Motivation to engage in the industry’

<http://ceriph.curtin.edu.au/local/docs/reports/Law-and-Sex-worker-Health-Study-Summary-Report-Aug-2017(1).pdf>

4. Selvey, L., Hallett, J., Lobo, R., McCausland, K., Bates, J., & Donovan, B. (2017). Western Australian Law and Sex Worker Health (LASH) Study. A Summary Report to the Western Australian Department of Health. Perth: School of Public Health, Curtin University, page 23 ‘Drug and alcohol use’

<http://ceriph.curtin.edu.au/local/docs/reports/Law-and-Sex-worker-Health-Study-Summary-Report-Aug-2017(1).pdf>

5. Vanwesenbeeck, I. (2001). Another decade of social scientific work on sex work: A review of research 1990-2000. Annual Review of Sex Research12, 260.

6. Australian Federal Police data reveals the extent of human trafficking in Victoria’s sex industry over a twelve year period (2005 – 2016). During this period there were 21 human trafficking related offences recorded in the sex industry resulting in two convictions.

7. Crimes of coercion in the sex industry are covered by sections 8 – 9 of the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic): ‘Forcing person into or to remain in sex work’ as well as in sections 60AD – 60AE of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic): ‘Deceptive recruiting for commercial sexual services’. Between 2005 and 2016 Victoria Police recorded 22 offences relating to these crimes.

  1.   Scarlet Alliance, Principles of Model Sex Work Legislation (2014) Scarlet Alliance, page 20

<http://www.scarletalliance.org.au/library/principles_2014>

Basil Donovan et al, The Sex Industry in New South Wales

A Report to the NSW Ministry of Health (The Kirby Institute 2012) Page 8, Recommendation 6

<https://www.nswp.org/resource/the-sex-industry-new-south-wales-report-the-nsw-ministry-health>

Selvey, L., Hallett, J., Lobo, R., McCausland, K., Bates, J., & Donovan, B. (2017). Western Australian Law and Sex Worker Health (LASH) Study. A Summary Report to the Western Australian Department of Health. Perth: School of Public Health, Curtin University, page 18, Table 6

<http://ceriph.curtin.edu.au/local/docs/reports/Law-and-Sex-worker-Health-Study-Summary-Report-Aug-2017(1).pdf>

Sex Industry Decriminalisation Action Committee (SIDAC), Sex Work – a local issue? (2019) Sex Industry Decriminalisation Action Committee

<http://sexworklawreformsa.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/4-Sex-work-a-local-issue-AF-10may19-editpdf.pdf>

In this information sheet, SIDAC estimates South Australia’s street-based sex workers represent 20 out of a total of 2000 sex workers. This equates to 1%.

We include the above three references which relate to the proportion of street-based sex workers compared to the industry overall. While the studies refer to jurisdictions other than Victoria, they all find that street-based sex work is the smallest sector of the industry. We estimate that in 2019 the number of street-based sex workers represents around 1% of all sex workers in Victoria.

Last updated: 18 October 2019

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