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Sex Work and the Law (Qld)

Written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom holds a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts. She also completed a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice at the College of Law in Victoria. Fernanda practiced law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practiced in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016. Fernanda has strong interests in Indigenous and refugee law, human rights and law reform.

In Queensland, sex work is legal if it occurs in a licensed brothel. Sex work that occurs outside of a licensed brothel is a criminal offence unless it occurs in private and the sex worker is operating alone. Offences relating to illegal prostitution are contained in the Criminal Code 1899 and in the Prostitution Act 1999. 

What is sex work?

Section 229E of the Criminal Code defines prostitution as providing to another person, under a commercial arrangement, any of the following:

  • Sexual intercourse;
  • Masturbation;
  • Oral sex;
  • Any other activity that involves one person using another for his or her sexual satisfaction involving physical contact.

Legal sex work

Sex work itself is not illegal in Queensland. It is legal to conduct sex work is a licensed brothel, which may have up to eight sex workers on the premises at once. It is also legal to conduct private sex work as a sole operator. Such workers may work from their home or provide outcalls.

However, it is illegal for a private sex worker to work in conjunction with another sex worker. It is also illegal to solicit.

A private sex worker may employ another person as a bodyguard or driver, or both. Sex workers do not have to be registered or licensed in Queensland.


The following are offences under the Prostitution Act and are punishable by fine.

Public soliciting

Section 73 of the Prostitution Act makes it an offence to publicly solicit for prostitution. This includes offering to perform sex work or accepting an offer to perform sex work in a public place or within view or hearing of a public place. It also includes loitering in a public place or within view of a public place.

This offence carries a maximum penalty of a fine of 15 penalty units for a first offence, 25 penalty units for a second offence or 30 penalty units for a third or subsequent.

Coerce person to provide prostitution

Section 77 of the Prostitution Act makes it an offence to coerce or use duress to cause a person to provide sex work. The maximum penalty for this is a fine of 100 penalty units.

Sex work without a condom

Section 77A of the Prostitution Act makes it an offence to perform sex work involving sexual intercourse or oral sex without a prophylactic. It is also an offence to ask or offer to perform sex work without a prophylactic.

The Criminal Code also contains a number of offences relating to illegal sex work.

Obtaining prostitution from person under 18

Under Section 229FA of the Criminal Code, it is an offence to pay a person under 18 for sex work where the offender knows or ought to know that the person is under 18.  The maximum penalty for this offence is imprisonment for seven years. If the person is under 16, the maximum penalty is 14 years.

Procuring engagement in prostitution

Section 229G makes it an offence to procure a person for prostitution, or to come to Queensland or leave Queensland for the purpose of prostitution. This offence carries a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment, or 20 years imprisonment if the person procured is under 18.

Participating in provision of prostitution

Section 229H makes it an offence to knowingly participate in the provision of prostitution, This offence carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for three years for a first offence, five years for a second offence and seven years for a third or subsequent offence.

However, it is not an offence to participate in the provision of prostitution at a licensed brothel.

Carrying on business of providing prostitution

Section 229HB makes it an offence to carry on the business of providing unlawful prostitution. This is punishable with a maximum of seven years imprisonment, or 14 years imprisonment if the person engaged in prostitution is a child or a person with a mental impairment.

Unlawful prostitution

Section 229HC makes it an offence to engage in or obtain prostitution through an unlawful business. This offence is punishable by imprisonment for three years for a first offence, five years for a second offence and seven years for a third or subsequent offence.

Other prostitution offences

There are numerous other offences relating to unlawful prostitution. These include:

  • Being in a place used for prostitution;
  • Allowing premises to be used for prostitution;
  • Permitting a person under 18 to be at a place used for prostitution.
  • Manager of a brothel providing prostitution at a place other than the brothel
  • Operating a licensed brothel other than in a building;
  • Failing to personally supervise a licensed brothel.

Law reform

The Queensland legal framework surrounding sex work has been widely criticised. The law preventing privately operating sex workers from operating together with other sex workers means that such workers have to work in isolation which makes their work unnecessarily dangerous. Advocates for the rights of Queensland sex workers such as Scarlet Alliance say that governments have repeatedly ignored the concerns of sex workers, who are forced by the existing laws to choose between safety and legality.

Queensland police commonly solicit illegal acts by sex workers and arrest and charge them if they agree. The poor relationship between sex workers and police makes it harder for sex workers to approach police when they become the victims of crimes, such as sexual assaults.

Sex workers from migrant communities reportedly have difficulty understanding the complex regulations. Advocates of the decriminalisation of sex work say that it would improve workplace health and safety and lead to greater transparency for the industry.

The current system has also been criticised as pandering to the economic interests of licensed brothels, whose business interests are undercut by private sex workers.

The laws governing sex work have been reviewed twice by the Crime and Misconduct Commission but it has rejected calls for change, saying it might encourage organised crime.

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

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