Victoria’s Decriminalisation Of Sex Work, Explained

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It’s been a monumental time for sex workers in Victoria.

The state’s government has just passed a new law decriminalising sex work.

The new law strengthens anti-discrimination protections for sex workers and allows the industry to operate under existing laws that apply to all other Victorian businesses.

“The Scarlet Alliance and Vixen Collective along with local sex workers have been calling for decriminalisation for decades. So it’s great to see progress. But unfortunately, as it’s currently written, there are areas where it falls short of full decriminalisation,” said Jules Kim, CEO of Scarlet Alliance.

How Was Sex Work Regulated In Victoria Previously?

“So Victoria is regulated under what’s called a licensing framework. It’s a narrow framework that’s still regulated by the police or a specialised agency that’s kind of created for regulating sex work,” Jules Kim.

That means operators of brothels or escort agencies, and independent sex workers in Victoria were previously required to have a licence to practice lawfully, as per the Sex Work Act 1994.

“A lot of it that is kind of unrealistic for the majority of sex workers. So, what inevitably happens is that the majority of sex workers are forced outside of that.

And they are therefore considered illegal,” said Jules Kim.

The Impacts Of The Old Laws

Sex Work Reform Victoria states that 80% of sex workers are considered illegal in the current framework.

Before this new law, individual sex workers were required to register for their practice to be legal.

That type of record is with them for life.

“You can never, ever, ever remove that record even after you die. And as you know, there’s still a lot of stigma and discrimination around sex work and sex work is still criminalised in most countries around the world.

That record impacts them. We’ve heard in other ways how it impacts on child custody cases, because there’s that assumption that if you’ve ever worked as a sex worker, then you must therefore be a bad parent.

It’s really great in the bill. They are seeking to remove that registration system because the government have heard that this is incredibly harmful.

We want the sex work register not retained as historical register, but actually destroyed,” said Jules Kim.

Victoria Joins NSW And NT

Now that the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill has passed, VIC joins NSW and the NT as the only jurisdictions to decriminalise sex work in Australia.

The first stages of the law will come into effect in March.

Offences for consensual sex work – whether street-based work or public health – will be removed.

And it will now be unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their employment.

“To include a provision for profession, occupation, and trade – we welcome that inclusion. However, we think that that’s not sufficient, to actually protect sex workers.

We actually require access to like robust, specific anti-discrimination protections.

We are seeking amendments to the fact that they’re maintaining sex industry specific advertising regulations.

If sex work is decriminalised, sex workers should be able to advertise safely and transparently, but unfortunately those restrictions will remain in place,” said Jules Kim.

“How has the rest of the sex worker community reacted Jules to this news?” I asked.

“I guess it’s a bit bittersweet because for, for us, you know, it’s not decriminalisation unless all of us are decriminalised. And unfortunately, a lot of the times in law reform campaigns, a bit of respectability politics kind of comes into it. And also, there’s fear mongering and that’s particularly true around street-based sex workers and migrant sex workers.

I will say I commend the government on the process because it has been a good and from the, from the beginning, you know from the initial consultation process that was the Fiona Patten report. And then following that there has been extensive consultation with the sex worker community coordinated with Scarlet Alliance and Vixen collective.

And, you know, it should be understood that there are many great provisions in the bill, but it’s just those four or five remaining areas that we want to see, amended,” said Jules Kim.