Sex workers have applauded the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021 passed by the Legislative Council of the Victorian Parliament.
From May onwards, criminal offences pertaining to street-based sex work have been scrapped with this work now being recognised as a legitimate form of employment.
The new laws have been implemented to encourage sex workers to report crimes against them and improve the safety of sex industry workers.
The change occurred under the Sex Work Decriminalisation Act 2021, making Victoria the fourth jurisdiction in the world to legalise sex work.
Matthew Roberts, a policy officer at Sex Work Law Reform Victoria (SWLRV) says it’s a “momentous” victory for sex workers and their supporters, who have been involved in advocacy and activism fighting for legislative changes since the 1970s.
Roberts explains that decriminalisation of sex work is about recognising differences among those in the industry.
“It removes criminal penalties associated with people working in the sex industry voluntarily with consent while retaining criminal penalties against people who would coerce, force or traffic people into the sex industry,” he says.
Under the new Act, sex workers now have access to the same workplace health and safety protections as other Victorians.
The new Act also states that people or organisations cannot discriminate “against or refuse someone service on the basis they are a sex worker.”
Before the bill was implemented, Roberts says street-based sex workers and their clients faced criminal charges including three offences.
“Up until May of this year, Victoria criminalized street based sex workers and their clients…via section 12 and 13 of the Sex Work Act,” he says.
“The criminal laws were enforced by the police and in Victoria where offenders could face up to 10 years of imprisonment or a fine as a maximum penalty.”
According to Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia (CDLA), the first offence consisted of a $1,817.40 fine or 1 month imprisonment.
The second offence amounts up to a $5,452.20 fine or 3 months imprisonment.
For a third offence of solicitation, the penalty could go up to six months in prison, and a fine of up to $10,904.40.
Although the new rules legalise street-based sex work, there are some exceptions in limited circumstances and locations.
“It is an offence for sex work to be carried out near schools, care services and places of worship between 6am and 7pm and on holy days, pursuant to section 38B of the Sex Work Decriminalisation Act 2022,” the Act says.
To improve safety in the industry, the Victorian government initially announced a budget that will go to government agencies to support sex workers, including workplace health and safety agencies.
Anti-discrimination bodies will also receive funding.
“So the goal from the Victorian Government via its funding announcements, is that it will direct funds towards these key agencies to assist sex workers to actually enforce their legal rights now that they have those legal rights,” says Roberts.
In this podcast Matthew Roberts – a policy officer at Sex Work Law Reform Victoria – tells us about the new Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill.
The majority of offences and criminal penalties for individuals engaging in consensual sex work have been abolished in the first phase of decriminalizing sex work.
The second phase starting in December 2023 will abolish the licensing system for sex work service providers, reinstate offences towards children and coercion in other laws, and investigate whether sex service businesses are treated like other organisations.
According to Roberts the focus will be on local governments and councils.
“The local government sector will have an increased role in regulating the sex industry following the passage of this bill, and also another area that will still need work is discrimination against sex workers, particularly on the part of financial service providers,” he says.
“So, we will be looking at how we can enforce those laws through strategic litigation through the courts and tribunals, to really send a clear message to companies and society at large that discrimination against sex workers is not only not okay – it’s also unlawful.”