Street Sex Work as a CriminalOffence in Victoria

Street Sex Work as a CriminalOffence in Victoria. Policy paper on the effects in Victoria, Australia.

The questions are for each section of this policy paper

1. Background on the issue: why and how is street sex work constructed as a ‘problem’ that policy must address? What are the major issues that must be considered? 650-750 words

2. Contemporary policy approaches to street sex work in Victoria and Australia; 200-300 words

3. Shortcoming and inadequacy of the existing policy approaches; 650-750 words

4. Suggested changes: what do you think should be done in order to successfully address the issue and minimise harm? You need to elaborate on why you think this is the best way of dealing with the issue and use evidence to support these claims. 400-500 words

These are the two themes the whole research will be on

1- How is your case study currently regulated—i.e. what are the current laws in place?

2- What have scholars and other experts said about these laws: are they adequate,

partly adequate, inadequate and why?

    a. Scholars 6 other experts may not agree: if there is a debate, what is this?

    Why is there a debate? What is your position?

    b. How do scholars and other experts think that the law should be reformed?

    Why? Do you agree or disagree?

Should Street Sex Work be a Criminal Offence in Victoria



Contemporary policy approaches

Shortcomings and Inadequacies of Existing Policy Approaches

Suggested Changes


From a historical perspective, communities have responded differently to sex work as a social vice. In turn, the government and law enforcement is mandated to regulate the practice through the use of policies. Similarly, prostitution in Victoria is viewed as a problem by the government. Such a perspective necessitates for the establishment and implementation of systems that control the industry. Further, just like any other industry, the sex work industry has safety problems that have been facing it in Victoria. Ultimately, this calls for the need for policies to determine the legal and illegal activities that characterize the industry. According to the Office of Police Integrity (2008), some people view sex workers as responsible for their problems, others hold the clients as responsible, while others believe that sex workers are victims of the challenges and issues that they encounter. Ultimately, the existing problems require intervention policies that effectively address them.

First, street sex work is a problem in that it is partially viewed as an illegal activity or a criminal offense. As such, workers cannot exercise their freedoms. Further, Barnett, Casavant, and Nicol (2011) note that the safety of workers in the sex industry is significantly undermined, putting their lives at risk. Currently, the workers are prohibited from taking clients to their own spaces. In turn, they become vulnerable as they are invited to the clients’ spaces. This is a disparity that highlights the need for policies that promote uniform sex work laws for both the workers and their clients. Indeed, they should be treated with equal measures, improving their safety. Additionally, sex workers report that they have problems with access to health care, regardless of the risks that they are susceptible to in their line of work.

In the sex work industry, the street-based workers are the most affected, given that it is categorized as being illegal. Some of the issues that have to be considered are that street sex work occurs in an area that is unstructured, unmonitored, and characterized by an exposed environment. As a result, the street workers become vulnerable to acts of violence, assault, kidnapping, nonpayment, as well as unlawful imprisonment (Office of Police Integrity, 2008). These issues are attributed to the lack of a structured form of service. Indeed, prices for services are settled through negotiation, which increases the risks of the workers not being paid. More so, Tomazin (2019) points out that misunderstandings might arise in geographically isolated areas. In the context of mental health, street sex workers are exposed to the risk of developing mental illness. In other cases, the rate of drug use is high, leading to addiction.

With the range of problems and issues that street sex workers face, policies are required to be implemented by the police officers. Nonetheless, the policies that represent the problems have faced numerous debates among scholars, drawing different conclusions and findings. One side of the debate is in support of measures and policies that are put in place to regulate street sex work. In Victoria, the legal aspect of prostitution is monopolized by the licensure of brothels. As Barnett, Casavant, and Nicol (2011) argue, brothels act as an appropriate approach to ensuring that sex work is well structured. Further, researchers point out that legalizing some of the activities in the sex industry provides an opportunity for tax payment, primarily when a structured method is implemented.

On the other hand, some researchers argue that legislations that make street sex work an offense should be abandoned. As such, the reasoning is that it should be categorized as being similar to other job industries, rather than viewing as illegal. According to Gorry, Roen, and Reilly (2010), the social ills associated with street sex work is attributed to the religious teachings and community perceptions. The two depict a negative picture of the street sex work. In turn, it forces the enactment of policies that are not in favor of the practice. Further, researchers have noted that in as much as there is a negative social perception towards street sex, the laws enforced do not promote safer practices (Office of Police Integrity, 2008). Therefore, the regulation must provide an equal and conducive environment for work as opposed to harassment and unlawful imprisonment. Such would ensure that street sex workers practice it within the established regulations.

Contemporary Policy Approaches

According to Shumka, Strega, and Hallgrimsdottir (2017), street sex work remains criminalized in Victoria. In 2019, there were legislation efforts to decriminalize the industry. This is contrary to policy approaches in other parts of Australia. For instance, street sex work is already decriminalized in New South Wales, promoting the overall safety of workers. In addition to criminalization in Victoria, the sex industry is only legal in licensed big brothels. As a result, hundreds of workers are denied the opportunity to open and operate smaller brothels. Tomazin (2019) reports that by June, there were 115 licensed sex work operators and 616 brothel managers that were approved. Overall, the policy restrictions in sex work operations result in the outlined numbers.  

Additionally, the work health and safety code of practice is applied in the street sex work industry. This policy is aimed at ensuring that sex workers conduct their activities in a way that reduces health risks. As such, brothel operators and managers are legally required to provide an environment that meets safety and health standards. The Office of Police Integrity (2008) describes the approach used in Australia as one with decriminalization with controls. In this approach, some sex activities are allowed within a structured and controlled environment. Nonetheless, street sex work in Victoria is illegal, exempting it from the decriminalization with controls approach. Therefore, the prohibition and criminalization approach is adopted when dealing with street sex work. Ultimately, the highlighted approaches are utilized in policies that guide the sex industry in Victoria.

Shortcomings and Inadequacies of Existing Policy Approaches

Various challenges face the current policies adopted in Victoria regarding street sex work. Therefore, this leads to inadequacies in addressing the existing issues. Nonetheless, some of the policy approaches are characterized by some adequacies, promoting their overall role in the regulation of sex work. First, the criminalization of street sex work has reduced the number of street workers. Indeed, this is viewed as an achievement towards fighting with prostitution in the public spaces (Tomazin, 2019). In this approach, prohibitions happen to provide tangible results, with most workers associating themselves with the licensed brothels. Overall, this depicts a positive public image that is widely accepted. Given that there is a negative social perception about the activities of street sex work, the approach helps to reduce the perception.

Nonetheless, the prohibition and criminalization approach is inadequate as it does not wholly solve the challenges. First, this approach provides room for harassment of street sex workers by police officers. In the implementation of the policies, some workers are, at times, unlawfully arrested. Such acts undermine their freedoms and rights. More so, Barnett, Casavant, and Nicol (2011) note that cases of bribery are common during implementation. For instance, some of the sex workers pay law enforcement officers to allow them to conduct business in street environments. As such, the policy approach should be all-inclusive, addressing the behavior of the officers. Further, the policies should establish an evaluation program to monitor success. In cases where the officers are charged for their actions, it could reduce the inadequacies that affect the policy approach.

Additionally, the prohibition policy approach is biased to the street sex workers as they are impacted negatively. In the context of equal rights, the approach lacks uniform sex work laws. The current no in-call laws only affect the sex workers, while the clients have the freedom of inviting the workers. Such is common in areas where there are no brothels, leaving the workers at risk of being exploited. As Cook (2020) suggests, such an approach to the challenge does not offer a solution as it leaves the workers vulnerable. For instance, kidnap cases among street sex workers are common. Further, clients could fail to compensate the workers, and at times they assault them. Regardless of the mistreatment and assault that the sex workers face, they are less likely to make formal charges against their perpetrators. Indeed, the lack of reporting such incidences is attributed to the perception that workers are the ones at fault for engaging in a socially ill activity. Therefore, the existing policy approach fails to meet the desired objectives.

The work health and safety code of practice is also applied to the sex industry. In turn, the policy advocates for facilities that meet the health and safety needs of the workers. As such, the approach is useful in providing a conducive work environment. Further, the provision of personal protective equipment is crucial in promoting the health of sex workers. Moreover, the approach requires that sex workers undergo regular tests for sexually transmitted diseases. In turn, the workers become aware of their health status. In instances where positive cases are identified, the approach dictates that treatment should be initiated to reduce the risk of spreading. Indeed, the approach is focused on promoting the wellbeing of sex workers as well as reducing risks associated with their working environments.

Nonetheless, the health and safety code of practice also suffers from inadequacies. The approach addresses the health and safety of workers who are within registered brothels. For street sex workers, it is difficult to improve their working conditions as they work within public spaces. As Tomazin (2019) suggests, the laws addressing the work environment should be similar to other laws of the land to promote overall security. As such, sex workers who work in public areas would not face discrimination. Further, in as much as sex workers are required to take regular tests for sexually transmitted infections, most of them fail to do it. This is attributed to the fact that street sex workers do not operate within registered brothels. Therefore, it is difficult to identify them or subject them to mandatory testing. Overall, the testing is done on a free-will basis among the street workers. In turn, this depicts the failure of the policy approach to promote health and safety for all workers.

Suggested Changes

For many years, the regulation of street sex work across Australia has been minimal. In turn, there have been growing concerns and interests in the decriminalization of the activity, necessitating the need for reforms. The first change to the existing policies would be recognition of street sex work as normal work. As such, the workers will be subjected to the same labor rights and benefits as professionals from other sectors. Further, this would minimize the stigma associated with involvement in the sex industry. So as to achieve minimal stigmatization, the policies should ensure that street prostitution is not examined from a non-moralistic viewpoint. As a result, individual sex workers would seize been viewed as criminals.

Additionally, total decriminalization of street sex work ought to be done to allow sustainable opportunities in other industries. In previous years, the bills supporting decriminalization have lacked approval in parliament. In turn, this frustrates the efforts to initiate changes and reforms in the sex industry. Due to the criminalization of street sex in Victoria, systematic discrimination is prevalent across industries and professionals. As a result, it is difficult for sex workers to get employment outside of the sex industry. Indeed, this highlights the need for initiating decriminalization reforms to allow individuals an opportunity to engage in other activities. The law should recognize street sex work as an occupation, to reduce the stigma it is associated with as well as provide other employment opportunities for workers in the industry.Street Sex Work as a CriminalOffence

In line with provisions from international organizations, changes in the policies regulating street sex work should promote workplace safety and health. Currently, most of the policies neglect the street sex workers and concentrate on workers within licensed brothels in Victoria.  Given that street sex workers conduct their business in public areas, some of which are isolated, they face challenges of insecurity. As such, the law should require the police to protect the workers and treat them similarly to other citizens. In turn, this would reduce harassment and exploitation of the street workers. Ultimately, the safety and wellbeing of the sex workers should be paramount, just like the safety of other citizens and professionals.Street Sex Work as a CriminalOffence

A different change would be a reduction in the prohibitions that surround the street sex industry. The prohibition makes the workers vulnerable to legal charges, whereby they are forced to pay penalties. For instance, the use of hotel rooms for sex work is prohibited, an act that attracts penalties for the workers who engage in it. As a result, the workers are only allowed to use registered brothels or their client’s spaces. By using the client’s space, the risks of exploitation and kidnapping are increased, making the workers vulnerable. Indeed, changes should be made in these policies to ensure that the workers can conduct their business without attracting penalties. Further, it would promote the overall safety of the workers. Ultimately, reforms and changes in the existing laws are required to sufficiently regulate street sex work while protecting the workers at the same time.Street Sex Work as a CriminalOffence


Barnett, L., Casavant, L., and Nicol, J., 2011. Prostitution. Ottawa [Ont.]: Library of Parliament.Street Sex Work as a Criminal Offence

Cook, M., 2020. ‘We Are Not Safe’: Escorts Call for Change in Victorian Law. [online] ABC News. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 April 2020].

Gorry, J., Roen, K., and Reilly, J., 2010. Selling yourself? The psychological impact of street sex work and factors affecting support seeking. Health & Social Care in the Community, 18(5), pp.492-499.Street Sex Work as a CriminalOffence

Office of Police Integrity, 2008. Risk Mitigation in High-Risk Environments – Street Sex Workers. Melbourne, Vic.: Office of Police Integrity, Victoria.Street Sex Work as a CriminalOffence

Shumka, L., Strega, S., and Hallgrimsdottir, H., 2017. “I Wanted to Feel Like a Man Again”: Hegemonic Masculinity in Relation to the Purchase of Street-Level Sex. Frontiers in Sociology, 2.Street Sex Work as a CriminalOffence

Tomazin, F., 2019. ‘Off the streets and on the net’: solicitation charges dwindle as sex workers shift online. The Age.

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