Sex work


Sex work was previously known as ‘prostitution’. Providing sex work in a licensed brothel is legal in Victoria. Strict laws exist in relation to responsibility of sex workers to refrain from the provision of sex work where they know they have a sexually transmitted disease.

Legal definition of sex work

The Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) legislates for prostitution (now called “sex work”) to be carried out under licensing conditions applicable to brothels, escort agencies and private operations (operations consisting of one or two people).

The Act defines “sex work” as “the provision by one person to or for another person (whether or not of a different sex) of sexual services in return for payment or reward”.

Criminal offences

Street sex work: offences by workers

A person must not solicit or accost any person or loiter for the purposes of sex work in a public place. Such behaviour in a brothel, however, is lawful. The penalties that can be imposed under statute increase for second and subsequent offences.

Street sex work: offences by clients

It is an offence to loiter in, or frequent, a public place (apart from a brothel or a licensed escort agency) in order to invite or solicit anybody to engage in sex work, or to be accosted by or on behalf of a sex worker, or to invite or solicit anybody to engage in an act of sex work. It is also an offence to loiter intentionally or recklessly, whether to invite or solicit someone to engage in sex work (or anyone else), or to be accosted by or on behalf of a sex worker in a public place.

Unlicensed brothels

It is an offence to enter, be in or leave an unlicensed brothel without a reasonable excuse.

Offensive behaviour towards sex workers

Behaviour towards sex workers is explicitly regulated by legislation. It is a criminal offence to be in or near a public place with the intention of intimidating, insulting or harassing a sex worker, or to behave in an indecent, offensive or insulting manner towards a sex worker or to use threatening, abusive or insulting words against a sex worker.

Working with a sexually transmitted disease

It is an offence to work as a sex worker while knowingly infected with a sexually transmitted disease. These diseases include AIDS, HIV, chlamydia, genital herpes when lesions are visible, genital warts when lesions are visible, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

Sex workers who work while infected are presumed to have been aware of their infectious state, unless they can show that at the time of the alleged offence they were undergoing regular blood tests (at least quarterly for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases for which blood tests are appropriate) and regular swab tests (at least monthly, for the purpose of determining whether they were infected by a sexually transmitted disease), or they believed on other reasonable grounds that they were not infected.

Other offences

It is a criminal offence:

to cause or induce a child to take part in an act of sex work, whether as the worker or as a client;

to receive a payment knowing that it, or any part of it, has been derived, directly or indirectly, from sexual services provided by a child;

to enter into, or offer to enter into, an agreement under which a child is to provide sexual services for payment or in exchange for drugs of dependence;

to assault or threaten to assault a person, to intimidate a person, to supply or offer to supply a drug of dependence, or to make a false representation or use any false pretence or other fraudulent means to induce an adult to engage in, or continue to engage in, sex work;

to assault or threaten to assault a person, to intimidate or supply, or offer to supply, a drug of dependence to induce an adult to provide, or continue to provide, money derived directly or indirectly from sex work engaged in by the person;

to knowingly live on, wholly or in part, or derive a material benefit from the earnings of sex work unless the business has been licensed and provided with a permit;

as a person who owns or occupies a premises or who manages or assists in the management of premises, to allow a child to enter or remain on the premises for the purpose of taking part in sex work, whether as the worker or as the client or in any other capacity;

as a person who carries on a business of a brothel or who assists in the management of a brothel, to permit a child over the age of 18 months to enter or remain in a brothel; and

as a “sex work provider”, to sell, supply or consume liquor at a brothel or permit such activities.

It is unlawful to carry on a business of providing sex work (that is, a brothel or an escort agency) without holding a licence and adhering to the conditions of that licence, unless there are two or less people acting as sex workers in the business. The Business Licensing Authority oversees the requirements of applications for licences (see “Contacts”).