Sex Work is Real Work

Fair Rights for Sex Workers because everyone has the right to be safe at work and come home at the end of their shift

Fair Rights for Sex Workers
4ZZZ’s ‘Brisbane Line’ and 3CR’s ‘Stick Together’ talk to Elena Jeffereys from 
Respect Inc. (QLD) and Jane Green from Vixen Collective (Victoria) about sex
work and how these 
collectives organise in a space which has legal barriers faced by no
other group
of Australian workers.

11 June 2018​

The legal status of sex work in Australia is convoluted, not because of any inherent complexity in the work itself, but because of myriad discrepancies between state and territory jurisdictions, and the countless legal and regulatory contradictions within state laws themselves.

It’s tempting to see the terminology we’re raised with as correct, or at least harmless. Casual ignorance is for our grandparents with their stereotypical fondness for out-dated slurs. However, individuals who normally err on the side of political correctness seem unaware (and sometimes unconcerned) that the word pr*stitute is a slur; that the term perpetuates harmful stereotypes and assumptions; and that, no, ‘just kidding’ doesn’t give you a free pass.

— Kat Muscat, Junkee 2014

Sex work is largely decriminalised in the ACT and NSW; in WA, the Prostitution Act* and the Criminal Code govern sex work law and prohibit most sex work-related activities, however the act of sex work itself is not an offence; in SA commercial sex is not illegal, but a raft of laws regulating brothels effectively render brothel-based sex work illicit; and in Victoria and QLD sex work is regulated through ‘licensing systems’, meaning street-based sex work remains criminalised, but sex work conducted in a licenced brothel is legal. Only 20% of QLD’s industry is licenced; this, despite millions of dollars being pumped into the system in the past 18 years — rendering the rest ‘criminal’.

To work in QLD, sex workers must navigate the Criminal Code 1899; The Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000; and the Prostitution Act (Qld) 1999. The Prostitution Act established QLD’s brothel licensing system, the Prostitution Licensing Authority and allowed for the development of a suite of interconnected, yet at times contradictory, bureaucratic Regulations. While licensing may have removed some of the criminal laws governing sex work, legal controls on how, when, where and with whom sex workers can work has not made sex workers safer. In fact, at times, these laws have endangered the safety of sex workers, failing on at least three fronts: safe work places, effective regulation and licencing, and protection from police corruption. Further, the laws have failed the QLD taxpayer by creating an inefficient, arduous and expensive regulatory framework. The result is a two-tier system where police regulate ‘legal’ activities and police ‘illegal’ activities, despite the fact that the one activity may be deemed both a legal commercial transaction and an illegal act simultaneously. Much of the industry operates in this grey area.

With police operating in a duel role, as regulator and enforcer, the ability of sex workers to access legal help and protection is severely impeded. For instance, in 2006 the Prostitution Act was amended so that ‘offering’ or ‘asking for’ sexual services without prophylactics: condoms, dams, gloves, finger cots, became illegal. This safety regulation is not a problem itself, but imagine if a client pulls a condom off without your consent, you stop the service as soon as you realise, but when you report the crime to police, you’re charged with ‘offering sexual service without prophylactics’ — and therefore not complying with the Prostitution Act.

Worse still, entrapment (or ‘deceptive practice’) is legal in QLD. This means police can (and do) pose as clients or other sex workers to try to coerce people into acting illegally. It’s illegal for one sex worker to organise another worker to participate in a double act. To use the prophylactics example again, QLD police can legally try to trick a sex worker into ‘offering services without prophylactics’. How can the police ‘regulate’ safety and ‘police’ crime at the same time? I’d hazard a guess that it’s cold comfort to sex workers that ‘deceptive practice’ does not give police the right to have sex or receive sexual service.

The full decriminalisation of sex work would resolve such legal conundrums. Decriminalisation involves the removal of criminal laws relating to sex work, but it doesn’t mean no regulation. Bodies such as The Scarlet Alliance (Australia’s national peak sex worker organisation), Respect Inc. and Vixen advocate for the legal, health, industrial and civil rights of sex workers — protections other Australian workers currently enjoy. Regardless of your occupation (sex worker or police officer) you have the right to come home safe.

Notes, References and Links:
*Preferred terminology is ‘sex work’; the term ‘prostitution’ is only used where it is directly quoted from legislation.


  1. The Conversation (October 20, 2017)
  2. Respect Inc.
  3. Vixen Collective
  4. The ABC

Respect Inc.
We are QLD sex workers united to provide a formal medium to communicate sex worker issues and concerns so as to improve the rights of our peers and respond to our workplace health and safety and other needs regardless of gender, age, location, industry sector, legal status, cultural background or linguistic abilities. Contact Respect Inc.

Vixen Collective
Vixen Collective is Victoria’s peer-only sex worker organisation. We promote the cultural, legal, human, occupational and civil rights of all sex workers. We receive no government funding and we’re run by sex workers volunteering their time and energy. As a peer-only organisation we are made up of current and former sex workers. Contact Vixen Collective.

Scarlet Alliance
Both Respect Inc. and Vixen Collective are members of Scarlet Alliance — the national peak body for sex workers in Australia.


Why is safety illegal for sex workers in QLD?
Watch this one minute video to learn about six different safety measures that are illegal under Chapter 22A of Queensland’s Criminal Code.

Licensing is a waste of resources
Watch this video to find out how QLD’s ‘cost neutral’ licencing model still relies on public funds after 18 years.