Awareness of social issues is, unsurprisingly, the bread and butter of social media these days. In particular, denouncing the negative stigma surrounding sex workers can not only get you a lot of retweets, but can also help bring light to the people who need their voices heard.
An article from Vice, explains how sex workers are using platforms like Twitter to show that sex workers are more than “mindless, manipulated f*ckbots”. Attention like this is great for the issue, but this community deserves tangible action toward the acquisition of equal rights and protection under the law…so that begs the question…what is the law right now?
Australia is split up into different states and territories, of which hold their own laws and regulations on the legalities of sex work. Breaking it down by state and territory, it’s evident that the necessary discourse for the safety and legality of sex work isn’t happening.
Laws on Sex Work By Each State and Territory
In Victoria, sex work has been legalised within the confines of brothels (with a license), through escort services and through private sex work (only if registered).
Queensland has legalized sex work within brothels (with a license), escort services, and private sex work, although, the individual must work alone.
Northern Territory has legalized escort services (must have “free of convictions certificate”), and private sex workers, however, they cannot provide services in the same place they are organised.
New South Wales
New South Wales has legalized all forms of sex work, except for living off the wage of ‘selling’ a sex worker’.
Australian Capital Territory
In the ACT, brothels have been legalised in two seperate industrial suburbs, while escorts and private workers have also been legalised but must register.
In Western Australia, most sex work remains criminalised. There’s a stance placed up individual adults exchanging money for sex, however, no specific laws have been placed on private sex work.
In Tasmania, most sex work remains criminalised. However, up to two sex workers may work together, but cannot employ one another.
Like Western Australia and Tasmania, most sex work is criminalised. However, no specific laws have been places upon private sex work.
This list is a shorthand and not comprehensive, but it gives a decent snapshot into the type of regulations that surround the sex worker community in terms of what is ‘legal’. However, this government run website features an in-depth look at the laws that define each state and territory.
Yet despite these ‘regulated’ spaces, sex workers still suffer inequality.’
Normal employee entitlements (such as sick and annual leave) and legal protections are not granted to sex workers because they are viewed as independent contractors. However, their arrangements with managers, brothels or escort services usually resembles an employer/employee relationship.
Because of this, their freedoms are limited as independent contractors and their workers rights impeded. These contracts are known as ‘sham contracts’, and if sex workers don’t engage in this type of work, they won’t get the small portions of protection they have under the Fair Work Act.
Some territories may seem to have more ‘lenient’ laws regarding sex work, but that idea of ‘leniency’ is specifically the problem. These laws are inherently restrictive and inhibit the community. People could argue that if someone wants to do sex work, then they should just follow the law and get adequate licensing. However, sex work is often a job that workers need compensation from immediately. There is no time to wait weeks or months for a license, and many people may not have any knowledge of this option.
The stigma around sex work causes people to enter the workforce without knowing their limited rights, and once they’re in, it may be hard to change profession when they don’t feel comfortable changing gaps in employment history to what society deems as ‘accepted’ lines of work.
Sex workers working outside of the legal framework also have virtually no protections from abuse or violence. When a non-licensed or non-registered sex worker is assaulted, in many cases, they cannot call the police. Jane Green is a proponent of the sex worker movement and has tried to raise awareness about this issue through sex positive group Vixen Collective.
Paying for sex does not mean that the sex worker’s body is at the disposal of the buyer. The assault and/or rape of sex workers is not negated by the fact that the sex was sold, however, this is how it is treated under current law. This problem can be exacerbated when language barriers prevent migrant sex workers from effectively communicating with their escort, brothel or private management and clientele.
Despite all of the inequalities of the sex worker industry, highlighting the positives remains crucial in maintaining hope. Every brand new step we take towards the decriminalisation of sex work is a ‘win’ for the community.
These regulations requires brothels to provide sex workers with clean spaces, adequate prophylactics and protection from aggressive or violent clients. It also restricts employers from being able to promise certain services to the client from the sex worker. That is the sole discretion of the sex worker involved.
Advertising for sex work has also been improved in recent years. In Victoria, sex workers can add more information to their ads than previously allotted. Originally, sex workers could only upload what was essentially a mugshot with virtually no description of who they were. Now, sex workers can better explain their body type, what they like, ethnicity and/or sexuality. This allows people to avoid unwanted bigotry and possible violence from customers who become unhappy when learning about who their potential sex worker is.
Society has become transaction after transaction, so it’s quite ironic that one of the most desired commodities in human nature has isn’t allowed to be commodified.
If you don’t want to fully decriminalise sex work for the morality of it, then think of it through a capitalistic approach. While I’m not for supporting capitalism, I can’t help but see this is as a seriously undervalued economic opportunity, if it is handled responsibly.
Even with a highly transactional society, the leftover traditionalist values that plague all former British colonial ventures, continues to impede sexual liberation. Most countries, including Australia, don’t have comprehensive sexual education. Rarely, if ever, do LGBTQIA+ narratives ever make it into sex education and even heterosexual intercourse is glossed over or thrown away with the mantra of ‘abstinence’. If we want to dissolve the harmful stereotypes against sex workers, then we also need to focus on liberating sex and sexuality on a foundational level.
However, while we wait, there is still work we can do in our everyday lives to destigmatize sex workers. For example, call them sex workers. Using the term “prostitute” is harmful and incorporates all of the negative connotations the sex worker movement wants to leave behind. If you pay for sex or sexual services, there should be a level of respect for the sex worker. Adhere to their stipulations, and recognise that they are there to fulfil a job, not become your confidant or decrease their rate simply because you are a ‘loyal customer’.
People have a right to be treated justly. It’s about time that society realises sex work is real work.