Who Are Sex Workers?

While the law defines certain activities as sex work, not everyone engaged in these activities will think of themselves as a sex worker. Despite Victoria’s legal definition of sex work, some porn stars identify as sex workers, whereas many erotic massage therapists do not.

What is sex work?
(Pexels: Kristina Paukshtite)

Why Might A Sex Worker Not Want to Call Themselves a Sex Worker?

Some sex workers do not identify as such for various reasons:

  • their work in the sex industry is part time or intermittent
  • their income from sex work is below the tax-free threshold ($18,200 pa)
  • they feel their behaviour or appearance does not conform to stereotype
  • they fear criminal laws will expose them to prosecution
  • they have no contact with the sex worker community or other sex workers
  • fear of discrimination and stigma associated with identifying as a sex worker
  • they may have a second job outside the sex industry which generates more income than sex work
  • they may fear disclosure (being ‘outed’ as a sex worker)
Prostitution in Australia
(Pexels: Gabriela Cheloni)

Some sex workers’ rights organisations require their members to identify as sex workers. This can result in their support services being offered only to those who identify as sex workers. This affects people engaged in sex work who do not identify as such, as they may not receive the support services they need. In Victoria, a 2012 survey¹ of Thai, Chinese and Korean workers found that 59% would not contact a support organisation (e.g. RhED) because they did not want people to find out they were sex workers.

migrant Sex Workers support
Source: Star Health, Migrant and Multicultural Sex Worker Report 2012
  1. Research conducted by Star Health, formerly Inner South Community Health
  2. Based on surveys with 94 migrant sex workers speaking Thai, Chinese and Korean
  3. RhED is a community health program in Victoria that provides support services to sex workers
  4. Migrant and Multicultural Sex Workers Report 2012

© Sex Work Law Reform Victoria 2021

Last updated: 29 September, 2021