Victoria on Friday announced that it will decriminalise sex work between consenting adults, marking a major overhaul of its outdated laws that were characterised as “no longer fit-for-purpose”. 

The law reforms that will be put in place in two years time will mean that sex workers will have the same rights as other employees in Victoria. 

Victoria will become the third jurisdiction after Northern Territory and NSW to decriminalise sex work. 

LGBTQI and HIV/AIDS organisations joined sex workers in welcoming the announcement saying that the reforms were long overdue. 

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The Victorian government said that the law reforms that will be implemented over the next two years would aim to “increase safety, reduce stigma and improve access to government health and justice services.”

‘Red Letter Day’

The decision comes two years after the Dan Andrews government appointed MP Fiona Patten to lead “a targeted review of sex work regulation and how to best decriminalise the industry.”

Patten on Friday called it a “red letter day for the red light industry”. 

“The collective view of all the sex worker groups was that decriminalising the industry was by far the best way to give them the best occupational health and safety outcomes,” Patten said in a statement. 

“These changes will allow them to make a true profession out of their work – to pay tax, demand better conditions and be more open with their friends and family about what they do.”

Under existing laws, street-based sex work is a crime. Selling sexual services as a private sex worker or from registered brothels and escort agencies is allowed under strict licensing rules. 

According to the government, sex work between consenting adults will be now be decriminalised by removing offences and criminal penalties as well as repealing public health offences as far as they relate to consensual sex work. 

The Sex Work Act enacted in 1994 will be repealed and sex work will instead be regulated through existing government agencies and business regulation. Planning, public health and anti-discrimination laws will be updated and modernised to reflect the reformed laws. 

The government clarified that it would continue to enforce laws that relate to criminal offences to protect children and as well as protect sex workers from coercion and address non-consensual sex work. 

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Minister for Consumer Affairs Melissa Horne expressed hope that the law reforms would “ensure that sex work is safe work and go a long way towards breaking down the stigma sex workers continue to experience.”

‘Criminalisation Of Sex Work Is A Failed Policy’

Jules Kim, the CEO of Scarlet Alliance, said it was time for other jurisdictions in Australia to follow Victoria’s lead. 

“By decriminalising sex work, the Victorian  government has sent a clear message that workers in the industry deserve the same rights  and protections as every other worker. This will reduce the stigma and discrimination many  sex workers continue to face, while improving public health,” Kim said in a statement. 

According to Darryl O’Donnell, CEO,  Australian Federation of AIDS organisations (AFAO), the reforms were an important public health measure and would strengthen the response to the HIV epidemic in Australia. 

“Criminalising sex work is a proven failed policy which has increased stigma and driven  poorer public health outcomes. By treating sex work as a public health issue and not a  criminal one, we can much easily remove the barriers sex workers face in getting access to  the health services they need,” O’Donnell said. 

 Aaron Cogle, Executive Director of the National Association for People Living with HIV  Australia (NAPWHA) called for sex work to be decriminalised across Australia. Cogle explained that criminalisation of sex work had historically  “hindered the public health response to HIV by  driving sex workers away from prevention, care and support services.”

The Victorian Pride Lobby said that “sex workers deserve the same basic human rights as any other worker.”

 

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