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Victoria has taken its first step toward decriminalising prostitution, launching an inquiry into the laws around sex work to be led by crossbench state MP Fiona Patten. Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz announced on Wednesday morning that the review will cover commercial brothels and escort agencies, massage parlours and street prostitution.
Credit: Justin McManus. If the review recommends that sex work be decriminalised, Ms Kairouz said legislation would be introduced to Parliament for decrminalisation. Ms Patten, herself a former sex worker, said this was an opportunity for Victoria to lead the nation in identifying "progressive, forward-thinking" ways to address the industry that is still grappling with stigma.
I'm very pleased to be able to do this. The government says the regulation of sex work has not undergone a significant review in Victoria for nearly 35 years and that the time has come to consider following NSW and New Zealand and decriminalise the trade. The state government says the review will also examine workplace safety in the sex industry, stigma and discrimination against sex workers as well as regulatory requirements for operators of sex-for-sale businesses.
Powers for law enforcement to crack down on human trafficking of sex workers as well as coercion, exploitation, debt bondage and slavery in the trade will also be examined as part of the review's terms of reference. The impact of street prostitution on areas where it is common will also be considered as well as the appropriate location for brothels and the regulation of the advertising of sexual services. Street prostitution is a crime in Victoria but selling sex at registered brothels, escort agencies, or as a private sex worker is permitted under strict licensing conditions.
However, to obtain a license involves navigating a complex and often confusing legislative framework. Faced with stigma, few bother to jump through the hoops, risking fines and jail as they operate illegally. To obtain a license, sex workers must register with the government's Business Licensing Authority, which some fear will "out" them or risk their privacy. In addition, there are rules and regulations governing everything from advertising to health — pages alone relate solely to sex work.