Department of Health

Stage one health reforms - key issues

Information about the decriminalisation of sex work and the health-related reforms in stage one, including changes to testing requirements.

End to mandatory testing

Evidence has shown that sex workers in Victoria already take great care looking after their sexual health by consistently using condoms and getting tested regularly.

Mandatory sexual health testing for sex workers has been shown to be a burden on the health system and a barrier for sex workers to access non-stigmatising healthcare. Instead, peer education and improved access to voluntary testing and treatment are the pillars of successful sexually transmissible infection (STI) and blood-borne virus (BBV) prevention.   

To support access to voluntary testing under decriminalisation, funding has been provided for sex worker peer education and support as well as anti-stigma training for primary health practitioners who work with sex workers.

Working with an STI

It is no longer illegal in Victoria to work as a sex worker with an STI. This includes HIV.

Advances in HIV treatment and research mean that people living with HIV can have sex without risking passing the virus on. When taken as directed, modern anti-retroviral therapy effectively reduces the amount of the virus in the blood. 

Levels of HIV in the blood, or viral load, can become so low that the virus can no longer be passed on to others. This is known as an undetectable viral load.

Testing data show that rates of STIs among sex workers have consistently been below the levels for the general population. The sex worker community in Australia has a long history of effective peer education about safer sex practices.

Most STIs are easily treatable or manageable, and many are curable.

Anyone in Victoria who is diagnosed with an STI has a responsibility to take reasonable steps to prevent passing the infection on to others.

Reasonable steps will depend on individual circumstances. They can include:

  • achieving and maintaining an undetectable viral load (for HIV)
  • consistent condom use
  • accessing treatment as soon as possible
  • follow up testing to determine if the treatment has worked
  • following a health professional’s advice about what sexual activities to avoid while completing treatment.

The Department of Health is developing clear and practical guidance for the sex industry on best-practice methods for preventing and minimising the spread of STIs.

Condom use

The Victorian law mandating condom use by sex workers and clients has been repealed.

Consistent and correct condom use remains a key factor in keeping STI rates among sex workers low. Evidence has shown that sex workers in Victoria have high rates of condom use. 

Everyone in Victoria has a responsibility to take reasonable steps to avoid getting an STI or transmitting an STI to others. Condom use with water-based lubricant is a best-practice method for preventing and minimising the spread of STIs.

Business operators still have a responsibility under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 to provide workers with condoms and water-based lubricant, take reasonable steps to ensure condom use, and not discourage the use of condoms. 

Brothel and escort agency provisions in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 will not be removed until the second stage of reforms on 1 December 2023.

Sex industry employers and employees will still have responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 after this point. Find out more about these responsibilities on the WorkSafe website

Public Health and Wellbeing Act provisions for business operators

Brothels and escort agencies, including exempt small owner-operators, still need to comply with the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (‘the Act’).

The Act includes public health provisions specific to brothels and escort agencies. These will remain in place until the second stage of reforms on 1 December 2023. 

Independent or private sex workers in Victoria are currently classified as exempt small owner-operators. Exempt small owner-operators are expected to meet specific conditions such as working alone or with one other worker they do not employ. Exempt small owner-operators are defined by law as brothels or escort agencies.

In summary, the Act includes provisions for business operators to:

  • provide a free supply of condoms and water-based lubricant to workers
  • store condoms in an appropriate manner
  • take reasonable steps to ensure condom use for vaginal, anal and oral sex
  • not discourage the use of condoms
  • allow workers to refuse services based on suspected infection or unwillingness to use a condom
  • provide easily accessible and medically accurate information on STI transmission in relevant languages
  • take reasonable steps to ensure a medical certificate is not used as evidence that a worker does not have an STI
  • provide clean linen and towels
  • provide clean shower facilities with hot water.

Any potential non-compliance with these provisions is assessed by the department. The department recognises that most business operators want to meet their responsibilities. Education and support are the primary means to achieve compliance.

The Department of Health is also developing clear and practical guidance for the sex industry on best-practice methods for preventing and minimising the spread of STIs. Many of the above methods will continue to be best practice for business operators. 

Sex industry employers and employees also have responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. These responsibilities will continue after 1 December 2023. Find out more about these responsibilities on the WorkSafe website

Reviewed 17 August 2022

Health.vic

Contact us

Sex Work Reform Team Prevention and Population Health

Was this page helpful?