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Sex Work and the Law (NSW)

New South Wales was the first jurisdiction in the world to decriminalise sex work between adults. The state has the most liberal laws around sex work in Australia. The process of decriminalisation in New South Wales began in 1979 when criminal offences involving doing street-based prostitution were repealed. In 1995 most types of sex work were decriminalised in NSW. However, the Summary Offences Act and in the Crimes Act 1900 still contain some criminal offences relating to sex work. 

History of sex work law in NSW

Sex work used to be criminalised in NSW under the Vagrancy Act, under which a woman could be arrested as a ‘common prostitute’ if she engaged in street-based sex work. During the 1970s, community pressure mounted for prostitution to be decriminalised and in 1979 the Prostitution Act was passed, making sex work legal.

The act was subsequently amended in 1983 after calls began for the industry to be regulated. Under the new legislation, it was an offence to solicit in certain areas.

What is legal?

In NSW, it is legal for a person aged over 18 to provide sexual services to another person who is over the age of consent (16).

Street-based sex work is legal provided it does not occur in view of a school, church, hospital or dwelling.

In NSW, sexual service premises (brothels) operate lawfully and are regulated by local councils along with other businesses.

Remaining sex work offences

The Summary Offences Act 1988 still contains the following offences.

  • It is an offence for any adult person to live on the earnings of the sex work of another person. This offence can attract up to 12 months imprisonment (Section 15).
  • It is an offence to cause or induce another person to engage in prostitution (Section 15A).
  • It is an offence to advertise prostitutes or to advertise premises used for prostitution.
  • It is an offence to allow premises that are used for sauna baths, steam baths, sauna baths, physical exercise or as a photography studio to be used for sex work. This offence carries a penalty of up to 12 months imprisonment (Section 17).
  • It is an offence to solicit or to take part in sex work within sight of a school, hospital, church or dwelling (Section 20).
  • It is an offence to allow a minor to enter a brothel (Section 21D).

The Crimes Act contains a number of child prostitution offences. These are:

  • Inducing a child to take part in sex work or participating as a client in sex work with a child (Section 91D) which carries a penalty of imprisonment for up to 10 years, or if the child is aged under 14, for up to 14 years.
  • Receiving money or another material benefit knowing it is derived from child prostitution (Section 91E), which carries a penalty of imprisonment for up to 10 years, or if the child is aged under 14, for up to 14 years.
  • Exercising lawful control over premises where child prostitution occurs (Section 91F). This may be by being the owner, lessee, licensee or occupier of the premises. A person is not guilty of this offence if they did not know about the act of child prostitution.

Brothel Closure Orders

The Brothels Legislation Amendment Act was passed empowers local councils in NSW to issue a Brothel Closure Order in respect of an unauthorised brothel that or where there has been a complaint about the operation of the brothel. A Brothel Closure Order can be used to shut down premises that have more than one sex worker.

A local council may issue a Brothel Closure Order if complaints are made about a brothel by a person or persons who work or use facilities in the area.

A Brothel Closure Order can be opposed by a person lodging an appeal at court after the making of the order. Failing to obey a Brothel Closure Order is a criminal offence.

If you require legal advice or representation in a criminal law matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal. 

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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