SEXHUM Australia

In Australia, SEXHUM concentrated on the experiences of migrant sex workers under the first Decriminalisation model in NSW (since 1995) and under the 1994 licensing Sex Work Act in Victoria. Trafficking has been gradually decreased in the last 10 years and composes a stark minority of the experiences of sex workers. In both NSW and Victoria, exploitation by bosses and managers in the form of blackmailing and lack of support with aggressive clients still takes place. Mistrust in the police by sex workers is ripe in both states, but more so in Victoria. In NSW, sex workers benefit from a much larger variety of work options and are therefore less tied to abusive or exploitative work places. 

All migrant sex workers with a valid work visa (including temporary visa holders) can legally work in the decriminalised sex industry of NSW. In Victoria, legal (licensed) work options are much less, which increases the contractual power of owners and operators and fosters their engagement in blackmailing workers to get them to follow their rules, as they have much less options to work legally elsewhere. 

Migrant sex workers (including those with permanent residence) are particularly vulnerable as they risk deportation if working outside the few licensed options. In both NSW and Victoria, majority Asian massage parlours offering extra sexual services but not holding council approval (NSW) or a license (Victoria) are targeted by councils, private investigators, law enforcement and immigration raids and controls in the name of finding victims of trafficking and exploitation, but ultimately resulting in issuing fines and even deportation notices and detention for Asian migrant sex workers. 

Again, in Victoria sex workers caught in these raids risk more repressive consequences than in NSW, because they are found involved in criminal conduct. In Victoria, these raids are backed and called for by sexual humanitarian neo-abolitionist organisations and the association of owner and operators. In NSW, peer sex worker organisations are funded to provide an array of essential support to (migrant) sex workers, while in Victoria neo-abolitionist organisations who campaign for the Nordic Model and promote raids are funded and peer only organisations are not. 

During the current COVID-19 crisis, sex workers who are citizens or permanent residents are entitled and have access to government benefits, though some reported great difficulties and delays in receiving the payments. No migrant on any temporary visa has had any access to government benefits. 

Migrant communities are helping by providing food and funding to co-nationals and the national sex worker peer organisation, Scarlet Alliance, organised a fund for sex workers ineligible for government financial support.  As of July 2020, Victoria saw the majority of COVID-19 related fines, 5 fines were reported in NSW, most against Asian erotic massage parlors.

Australia-specific policy making recommendations:

  • All Australian states and territories should regulate the sex industry through federal employment and labour law, eliminate all criminal laws relating to sex work, and introduce the full decriminalisation of the sex industry (inclusive of all sectors of consensual sex work, of third parties and of all migrant workers).
  • Sex workers labour rights unions and peer organisations should be funded consistently and not only on a project basis.
  • Anti-discrimination legislation should include sex workers in all states and territories.
  • All sex workers, including independent/private, should be exonerated from having to register in their legal names or to acquire formal authorisation to engage in sex work.
  • Smaller, sex worker-led establishments and workers cooperatives should be incentivised as opposed to bigger businesses.
  • Compliance with health and safety standards and fair working conditions should be the uttermost priority for the regulatory bodies of the sex industry.
  • Greater protections should be in place for sex workers regarding name suppression/protection of identity in the court process, in order to improve access to justice and willingness to engaging in the court process.
  • Labour exploitation in the sex industry, including trafficking and forced labour need to be addressed by more detailed and comprehensive labour right legislation and made more accessible through lower threshold support and compensation mechanisms.
  • Labour rights and work visa access for migrants should be improved in order to increase their work opportunities in Australia without having to depend on the sponsorship of one employer or partner.
  • The identification of victims of trafficking should not take place through an interview with the Australian Federal Police, but through a collaborative approach including non-state actors and peer and in-language support organisations.

 NSW-specific policymaking recommendations:

  • Developmental authorisations for sexual services premises should be financially accessible and obtainable in all local jurisdictions, to allow workers’ access to a greater variety of fairer and authorised work options.
  • Independent sex workers working from home and small scale sex worker led businesses operating as cooperatives should be exempt from development application (DA) processes for sex industry land uses.
  • Compliance with health and safety standards and better practice working conditions should be the primary consideration for regulatory bodies. The existing Sex Services Premises Planning Guidelines should be updated with a training component to provide evidence-based guidance that supports the original intentions of the NSW reforms. See: Scarlet Alliance current best practice guide and Worksafe NSW: Guidelines for sex services premises
  • Consensual sexual services in massage facilities without a DA for sexual services should be fully decriminalised. Condoms should never be used against workers as evidence of non-compliance.

Victoria-specific policy recommendations:

  • The licensing regime must be removed through:
  • Repealing the ‘Sex Work Act 1994’
  • Repealing the ‘Sex Work Regulations 2016’
  • Repealing the ‘Sex Work (Fees) Regulations 2014
  • Critical components of the removing of the licensing regime:
  • The decriminalisation of all forms of sex work.
  • The removal of laws that mandate HIV/STI testing for sex workers (‘Sex Work Act 1994’ Part 2, 18A(2), 20A).
  • The removal of laws that criminalise HIV/STI’s (‘Sex Work Act 1994’ Part 2, 19, 20 and ‘Sex Work Regulations 2016’ Part 2 (6))
  • The removal of laws that mandate safer sex use of condoms and other barriers (‘Sex Work Act 1994’ Part 2, 18A(1))
  • Spent Convictions legislation should be reformed so that convictions retained by sex workers under prior criminalisation of sex work including under the licensing system are expunged.
  • The register held under Part 3, Division 1 (24) of the ‘Sex Work Act 1994’, which held the details of sex workers required to register under licensing, should be eliminated and its data expunged.
  • The funding of peer sex workers organisations in Victoria.
  • Extending the protection granted by the ‘Equal Opportunity Act 2010’ to people engaging in “lawful sexual activity” to all sex workers, not just those in compliance with the licensing system.

Australia-specific SEXHUM Publications to date:

Macioti PG, Aroney E., Bennachie C., Fehrenbacher A. E., Giametta C., Hoefinger H., Mai N., Musto J. (2020) ‘Framing the Mother Tac: The Racialised, Sexualised and Gendered Politics of Modern Slavery in Australia’, Social Sciences 9(11):192.

Available online (Open Access):