Sex Work Offences (Vic)
In Victoria, sex work occurs legally but is subject to a strict licensing scheme. This scheme is governed by the Sex Work Act 1994 and the Sex Work Regulations 2016. Victorian sex workers who are unable to comply with these licensing requirements operate outside of the legal framework and can be charged with criminal offences. A large majority of Victorians who work in the industry, therefore, operate unlawfully. The Victorian parliament is currently conducting a major review of these laws. There are widespread calls from sex workers and advocates for all forms of sex work to be decriminalised in the state.
To operate lawfully, Victorian brothels must have a Sex Work Service Provider’s license and must comply with the Act. Brothels that have only one or two sex workers are exempt from licensing requirements. Although such brothels do not require a license to operate, they do require a permit under the Planning and Environment Act 1987. They must also register as an exempt brothel with the Business Licensing Authority.
Brothels in Victoria are only allowed to operate in locations that are more than 100 metres away from residences and at least 200 metres away from churches, schools, hospitals and places where children regularly spend time.
Under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, sex workers who operate at brothels must be provided with adequate condoms and lubricant, free of charge. Brothels are also required to provide clean linen and showers and make baths with hot and cold water available for the use of workers and clients at all times.
Sex workers operating in brothels are required to have STI testing every three months.
Escort agencies are businesses that deliver sexual service at premises that are not provided by the company, such as the client’s home or in a hotel room. Escort agencies are legal in Victoria. Escort agencies must comply with the Act and workers may refuse a booking if they consider the situation to be unsafe.
Street-based sex work
Street-based prostitution is illegal in Victoria. If a person engages in street-based sex work in Victoria, they can be charged with criminal offences.
It is legal for prostitutes to advertise in Victoria but the Regulations stipulate what can and cannot be included in the advertising. Online ads for sexual services may include a photo of the sex worker, but the photo must not show the sex worker’s bare breasts, genitals or show them
Sex work must not be advertised on radio or television in Victoria. Ads must not describe sexual services, must not induce anyone to work as a sex worker, and must not refer to the health of the sex worker. However, the ad may state the sex worker’s sexual orientation and that they practice safe sex.
Printed ads must not be bigger than 18cms by 13cms.
There is a range of acts involving sex work that amount to criminal offences under the Act. These offences and the maximum penalties courts can impose for them are set out 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|
Review of sex work laws
During 2020, the Victorian government conducted the first large-scale review of its sex work laws since 1985. Among other things, the enquiry looked into workplace health and safety issues and criminal activity within the industry. The final report on this review was tabled in November 2020. The minister has yet to officially respond.
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