Victoria decriminalises sex work after 40 years of 'tireless advocacy'

State's historic move spells out changes to its Equal Opportunity law

Victoria decriminalises sex work after 40 years of 'tireless advocacy'

In early May of this year, the state of Victoria historically decriminalised sex work after forty years of “tireless advocacy” by sex workers and their allies. “Every Victorian worker, no matter their industry, deserves to feel safe in their workplace,” the Victorian government said.

In February, the Victorian parliament passed the Sex Work Decriminalisation Act 2022 and has recently become law. The state’s rationale revolved around the idea that sex work is “legitimate work and is better regulated through standard business laws.”

According to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC), the move to decriminalise would mean that the state “recognises that consensual sex work is legitimate work,” adding that sex work would now be “regulated like all other industries in the state,” ensuring that workers in this industry are “entitled to the same treatment and protections as any other worker.”

Victoria’s decriminalisation process would occur in two stages to allow time to transition to a different regulation model.

The first stage has already begun on 10 May 2022, and includes:

  • the decriminalisation of street-based sex work in most locations
  • the repeal of offences for working with a sexually transmitted infection and requirements to undergo regular STI testing
  • the repeal of offences for individual sex workers not using safer sex practices
  • the repeal of the small owner-operator sex work service provider register
  • changes to advertising controls applicable to the sex work industry
  • amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

The second stage is expected to start in December 2023 and will include:

  • abolishing the sex work service provider licensing system by repealing the Sex Work Act 1994
  • re-enacting offences relating to children and coercion in other legislation to ensure their continued operation following repeal of the Sex Work Act 1994
  • changes to planning controls to treat sex service businesses like other businesses
  • the establishment of appropriate liquor controls for the sex work industry
  • the repeal of brothel and escort agency provisions in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 to remove specific sex work industry controls.

Meanwhile, to ensure proper legal integration of this recent legislative development, the state had also changed some relevant provisions in its Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to reflect that sex workers cannot be discriminated against based on their work or refused accommodation due to their profession.

The VEOHRC said that these anti-discrimination protections would “reduce the social stigma towards sex work, and promote the health, safety and human rights of all sex workers in Victoria.”

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