Sex work is legal in Victoria but it is subject to a strict licensing scheme governed by the Sex Work Act 1994 and the Sex Work Regulations 2016. Sex workers who are unable to comply with these licensing requirements operate outside of the legal framework and can be prosecuted with criminal offences. This means that a large majority of Victorian sex workers operate unlawfully. The Victorian parliament is currently undertaking a major review of the state’s sex work laws and there are widespread calls for all forms of sex work to be decriminalised in Victoria.
To operate lawfully, a brothel in Victoria must have a Sex Work Service Provider’s license and must comply with the Sex Work Act. Brothels with only one or two sex workers are exempt from licensing requirements. Such brothels do not require a license to operate but they do require a permit to be granted under the Planning and Environment Act 1987. They must also register with the Business Licensing Authority as an exempt brothel.
Brothels in Victoria must only operate in locations that are at least 100 metres away from residences and 200 metres away from churches, schools, hospitals and places where children spend time regularly.
Under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, sex workers operating in brothels must be provided with an adequate supply of condoms and lubricant, free of charge. The Act also requires brothels to provide clean linen and showers and baths with hot and cold water for the use of sex workers and clients at all times.
Sex workers operating in brothels must undergo STI testing every three months.
Escort agencies are businesses that provide sexual service to clients at premises that are not provided by the company. Escort agencies are legal in Victoria. Agencies must comply with the Sex Work Act and sex workers may refuse a booking if they think the situation is unsafe.
Street-based sex work
Street-based sex work is illegal in Victoria. Sex workers who do street-based sex work can be charged with criminal offences.
It is legal for sex workers to advertise in Victoria. However, the Sex Work Regulations stipulate exactly what can be included in the advertising.
Ads for sexual services that are published online may include a photo of the sex worker, provided the photo does not show the sex worker’s bare breasts, genitals or a sexual acts
Sex work must not be advertised through broadcasting or on television. Ads must not describe sexual services, induce anyone to work as a sex worker, or refer to the health of the sex worker. However, the ad may state the sexual orientation of the sex worker and that they practice safe sex.
Printed ads must not be larger than 18cms by 13cms.
A range of acts involving sex work amount to criminal offences under the Sex Work Act. These offences and their maximum penalties are listed in the table below.
|Causing a child to take part in sex work||10 years|
|Obtaining payment for sexual services provided by a child||15 years|
|Allowing a child to take part in sex work||10 years|
|Forcing a person into sex work||10 years|
|• Loitering with the intention of soliciting sexual services in certain public places||9 months|
|Soliciting sexual services in certain public places||1 month for first offence; 3 months for second offence; 6 months for third offence|
|Permitting an infected sex worker to work in a brothel||50 penalty units|
|Performing sex work while infected with a sexually transmittable disease||10 penalty units|
|Operating a brothel in a place other than a building||3 months|
|Behaving in an indecent, offensive or insulting manner towards a sex worker in a public place||3 months|
In November 2019, the Victorian government announced that the state will conduct the first large-scale review of its sex work laws since 1985. Among other things, the enquiry will look into workplace health and safety and criminal activity within the sex work industry.
Advocates for the rights of sex workers say the enquiry is needed because Victorian laws are out of date. Developments such as the widespread use of the internet have led to situations and practices that were not anticipated when the laws were drafted.
Advocacy groups such as Sex Work Law Reform Victoria and Scarlett Alliance believe that all sex work should be decriminalised to promote health and safety among sex workers and better relationships between sex workers and police.
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