Do you think Marco is wearing too many clothes in his escort advertisement?

On 10 May 2022, a raft of outdated sex work specific advertising criminal laws were repealed in Victoria, in a major win for sex workers’ rights and freedom of expression. The relaxation of advertising laws is the first set of sex industry law changes following the passage of the Sex Work Decriminalisation Act 2022 in February.

Previously, sex work was licensed in Victoria; an outdated model of regulation which left the majority of gay male sex workers criminalised and fearing the police.

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Gay male sex workers fell afoul of former onerous advertising laws as they were unable to comply with the prohibition of nudity, description of services or the use of the word ‘massage’ in escort advertisements.

Laws Against Sex Work Ads Were Rarely Enforced

The banning of the words ‘massage’ or ‘massage therapist’ in ads was laughable, given that so many gay male sex workers possess professional massage qualifications and choose to operate on a massage table rather than a bed.

All of these advertising restrictions will be lifted, as well as the requirement to print, in at least 7-point type sized text, the sex worker’s registration number on every ad. Police data shows such laws were rarely enforced, despite tens of thousands of non-compliant escort ads proliferating across dozens of websites.

Advertising in all industries will continue to be well-regulated, with existing general content, advertising, contract and copyright laws applying to all advertisements, including sex work advertisements.

Gay Male Sex Work Is Work

Gay male sex workers comprise around 20% of all sex workers, with at least 1000 discreetly operating in any given year in Victoria. Sex work is work, but gay male sex workers are also sole traders, who must manage their own advertising, photography, and branding.

The wording and photos on online adverts are crucial to business success for  sex workers, with some gay escorts spending thousands of dollars each year on ads and photos. Clients report wanting to ‘see what they’re about to pay for’, with client requests for nude photos familiar to any gay escort.

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Both clients and male sex workers welcome the ability to legally describe exactly what’s on offer – and what’s not. Accurate description of services in ads helps temper client expectations and assists in the ongoing negotiation of consent before and during bookings. 

Outdated Moralistic Criminal Laws Booted Out

If a gay escort looks fantastic nude, then why wouldn’t he bare all in his ads if the law permits? Interestingly, many gay escorts choose to leave just a little to the prospective client’s imagination, as part of their branding or in a desire to appear ‘classy’.

For some, full frontal nudity can be seen to attract a certain type of undesirable client, and may distract from other attributes the escort has to offer, such as massage skills, personality or BDSM special services. In addition to this, some gay escort advertising websites, most notably Massage Guys, have terms and conditions which ban nudity, and escort advertising laws still differ markedly across states.

Despite this, it’s about choice: market forces and sex worker personal preferences ought to dictate whether their advertising images are nude, rather than outdated moralistic criminal laws. It took forty years of lobbying, but finally Victoria’s sex work advertising laws are largely in line with the reality of how sex work actually occurs.

 

Matthew Roberts is the policy officer at sex worker peer led organisation, Sex Work Law Reform Victoria. He has been working to decriminalise sex work in Victoria since 2015, and was present in parliament for the final successful vote of the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021. Matthew will be speaking alongside private escort Christine McQueen about financial discrimination against the sex industry at a Humanists Victoria event on July 28, 2022, Balwyn Library Meeting Room at 7:30pm.


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