Department of Health

Decriminalisation of sex work

Information about the decriminalisation of sex work and the department’s work to support sex worker health and wellbeing.

The decriminalisation of sex work involves the removal of sex industry specific laws, offences and penalties. 

Sex workers and business operators will continue to have the same general occupational health and safety (OHS) rights, duties and protections that apply in all other workplaces in Victoria. More information can be found on the WorkSafe website

A key aim of the sex work reform agenda is to reduce social and structural barriers to sex worker health and wellbeing. This includes but is not limited to sexual health.

Evidence has shown that decriminalisation helps to:

  • create safer working environments for sex workers
  • reduce stigma and discrimination
  • enhance sex worker access to care and support services
  • support blood-borne virus (BBV) and sexually transmissible infection (STI) prevention efforts.

Stages of decriminalisation 

The decriminalisation of sex work in Victoria is happening in 2 stages. The first stage started on 10 May 2022. 

The first stage included: 

  • anti-discrimination protections for sex workers
  • an end to mandatory 3-monthly STI testing for sex workers
  • repeal of offences for:
    - working as a sex worker with an STI
    - permitting a sex worker to work with an STI
    - engaging in sexual services without the use of a condom.

The second stage is set for 1 December 2023. This stage will include the full repeal of the Sex Work Act 1994 and the repeal of brothel and escort agency provisions in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008.

Removal of discriminatory health laws

The first stage of reforms included the repeal of laws regarding condom use and health status specific to sex workers.

Evidence has shown that punitive approaches to sexual health can be counter-productive and create barriers for sex workers to access the services they need.

A key aim of decriminalisation is to create a supportive enabling environment for the health and wellbeing of sex workers.

A strengthened systems approach including investment in peer-based services, training for health professionals and expanded options for services and support will help to ensure equity of access and care for all Victorians.

The Victorian public health response to the decriminalisation of sex work

The Victorian government is using decriminalisation as an opportunity to improve the health system and create an evidence-based and effective public health response.

The focus of a public health response is not only on disease prevention and management, but on providing necessary information and resources, increasing community agency over the determinants of health, improving access to services, reducing stigma and discrimination, and ensuring high-quality evaluation and monitoring.

Peer-based services

In Victoria, there are a range of organisations that provide services and programs that support sex workers. 

As part of the sex work reform agenda, the Victorian government is funding Vixen, Victoria’s peer-only sex worker organisation, to provide and expand essential services. These services include peer education, support, outreach, advocacy, counselling and community education.

Evidence has shown that community-led initiatives provide essential protection and support for sex worker health and wellbeing.

The Department of Health is also partnering with Vixen to deliver targeted communications about decriminalisation to key stakeholders in English, Simplified Chinese, Korean and Thai.

Health professional training

The Victorian government is investing in a program of anti-stigma training and sex work education for health professionals. 

This program aims to:

  • improve the capacity of the health workforce, including general practitioners, to respond appropriately to the needs of diverse sex workers
  • reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by sex workers
  • improve access to prevention, screening, treatment, care and support services.

The training will be developed and delivered by Vixen and the Victorian HIV and Hepatitis Integrated Training and Learning program. It will address a broad range of sex worker health needs, including sexual and mental health.

Department of Health guidance

The department is developing fit-for-purpose guidance for the sex industry in consultation with sex worker organisations and other key stakeholders.

This guidance will provide information about best practice methods for STI prevention and management in English, Simplified Chinese, Korean and Thai.

The methods described in the guidance, such as condom use, regular testing and taking reasonable steps to avoid onward transmission, are best practice regardless of occupation.

The guidance will also provide information about Victoria’s strong existing legislation and policies to prevent and manage STIs in the Victorian community.

Monitoring and evaluation 

A key part of the Victorian public health response is the development and refinement of a high-quality evidence base. 

This includes monitoring and evaluation of the health impacts of decriminalisation and a strengthened public health environment.

The Centre for Social Research in Health (UNSW) has been funded to conduct research on key indicators of sex worker health and wellbeing. The research team will monitor and track how these indicators change over time.

This research will build on existing evidence from an initial needs assessment conducted by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health, and Society to inform the sex work reform process.

A high-quality evidence base will help Victoria to assess and adapt the public health response, identify gaps in service provision, and support other jurisdictions to make evidence-based policy decisions.
 

Reviewed 16 August 2022

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