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Sex Work and the Law (NT)

In 2019, sex work was decriminalised in the Northern Territory, with the passage of the Sex Industry Act. The act aimed to enhance safety in the sex industry through various means, including by allowing sex workers to work together, prohibiting exploitation of sex workers, prohibiting the use of children in sex work and allowing the sex industry to operate in accordance with territory and commonwealth laws. It also enshrined the right of a sex worker to refuse to perform or to continue sex work.

Under the new legislation, there remain some criminal offences relating to sex work in the NT. This article deals with those offences.

Inducing person to perform sex work

Section 10 of the act makes it an offence to induce a person to do sex work. This offence is committed where a person:

  • Intimidates, assaults or threatens to assault a person;
  • Supplies or offer to supplies a dangerous drug to a person;
  • Makes a false representation or act fraudulently;
  • Damages or threatens to damage the property of a person;

Where the conduct results in a person doing or continuing to do sex work and the accused is reckless as to that result.

The maximum penalty that applies to this offence is five years imprisonment.

Inducing person to provide payment for sex work 

Under section 11, it is an offence to induce a person to provide payment derived directly or indirectly from sex work.

Child performing sex work

It is an offence to cause or allow a child to perform sex work or work in a sex services business (section 12); to receive payment from sex work performed by a child (section 13); or to offer or accept an offer of the performance of sex work by a child (section 14)

These offences are punishable by a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 14 years if the child is under 14 and seven years is the child is over 14.

These are offences of strict liability, meaning that it is a defence if the accused had an honest and reasonable but mistaken belief that the person concerned was not a child.

Non-compliant advertising

It is an offence under section 19 to advertise sex work in the NT other than in accordance with the Sex Industry Regulations 2020. It is also an offence to advertise in a way that induces a person to seek work as a sex worker. These offences are punishable by a fine of up to 20 penalty units.

Section 3 of the Sex Industry Regulations states that an advertisement for sex must:

  • not be larger than 3.5 by 4.5 cm;
  • appear in the classified section under the heading ‘adult services’ or similar;
  • not contain a visual representation of a person unless this is limited to head and shoulders only;
  • not refer to the race or ethnicity, age or physical attributes of the sex workers;
  • not use the words ‘massage’ or ‘masseur’ unless preceded by the word ‘erotic’.

Medical examinations

Under section 16 it is an offence for a person to misrepresent their medical status to induce another person to believe that they do not have a sexually transmitted infection and enter into a contract for sex work with the other person.

This offence is committed if a person states or implies that they have had a medical examination and as a result of that statement the other person believes that they are not infected with an STI or blood borne virus, and the person enters into a contract for sex work with the other person.

This offence is punishable by a fine of up to 20 penalty units.


Prior to the passage of the Sex Industry Act, brothels and soliciting were illegal in the Northern Territory, meaning it was an offence to stand in the street in order to attract work. It was also illegal to perform sex work in the same place that the sex work was organised.  

Sex work could occur legally only by advertising sexual services and receiving clients in the sex worker’s home or at a hotel or another private place.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.  


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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