Contributor

Suzan Gencay

Lawyer

Is sex work legal?

Last updated

30 September 2022

Sex workers must be over 18 years old and choose to provide sexual services.

Sex work in Victoria was decriminalised in 2022 under Sex Work Decriminalisation Act 2022 (Vic); the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) will be repealed by December 2023.

The register of exempt service providers (people who did not work for a licensed escort agency or brothel) that was previously kept by the Business Licensing Authority (BLA) has been closed (s 17AB Business Licensing Authority Act 1998 (Vic)).

In Victoria, sex workers can work independently as private escorts or jointly with another sex worker. They can also work in a licensed escort agency or brothel.

Sex work service providers (brothels and escort agencies) must be licensed. A person must not knowingly or recklessly carry on a business such as a brothel or an escort agency without holding a licence, or if that licence is suspended, or if they breach a condition of that licence. If they do, the penalty is up to five years’ imprisonment, or a fine of 1200 pu, or both.

A person must not assist in the carrying on of a brothel or escort agency if they knew this was occurring or were reckless as to whether this was occurring. If they do, the penalty is up to five years’ imprisonment, or a fine of 600 pu, or both. It is a defence if a person was under the mistaken but honest and reasonable belief that their conduct did not constitute an offence (s 22 SW Act).

If a sex worker carries on a business such as a brothel (in accordance with a permit granted under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Vic) (‘PE Act’)) or an escort agency, then they are exempt from the requirement to hold a licence. This exemption does not apply if clients are managed or directed to the premises or otherwise attended to by a person who does not work in the business and who performs this function in the course of another business, or the business being carried out is associated with another brothel or escort agency (s 23 SW Act). A person must not operate a brothel at a premises where a permit is not in force under the PE Act for its use or development as a brothel. This offence is punishable by a fine of up to 360 pu, or three years’ imprisonment, or both (s 21A SW Act).

To operate a brothel or escort agency, you must apply to the BLA. Brothels must have a planning permit issued by the local council to operate under the PE Act.

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