Is Prostitution legal in Australia?

Prostitution definition is essentially sex work, which is the modern ‘umbrella’ term used to describe the exchange of sexual services for money or other reward.

There is no official or current data regarding the number of sex workers in Australia, but in 2014, the UN estimate there were around 20,500 across the country.

Across Australia, each state and territory has its own laws regarding prostitution or sex work.

Sex work is largely decriminalised in New South Wales, the Northern Territory and now Victoria.

In Queensland, Tasmania, and the ACT some sex work is legalised.

Sex work remains largely criminalised in South Australia and Western Australia.

Advocates have campaigned across the country for decriminalisation, to enable safer working conditions for sex workers and to ensure the industry can be better regulated.

Here is more information on the sexual assault and age of consent laws.

Prostitution Sydney | Prostitution Laws NSW

Is sex work legal in NSW? New South Wales has the most decriminalised system of all Australian jurisdictions and imposes the least controls on the sex work industry.

The process of decriminalisation began in 1979, where criminal offences targeting street-based sex work were repealed.

In 1995, most aspects of sex work were decriminalised.

It is legal for a person who is over 18 to provide sexual services to a person who is over the age of consent in exchange for money, goods, or favours.

Furthermore, street-based sex work is legal provided that it does not occur in view of a school, church, hospital, or dwelling.

The maximum penalty for soliciting clients or prostitutes, in view of such a place, is a $660 fine and/or 3 months imprisonment, pursuant to section 19 of the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW).

Sexual service premises, such as brothels, operate lawfully in NSW, provided that they comply with regulations.

Such premises are regulated by local councils like other businesses.

If a premises is held out as being available for massage services, sauna baths, a facility for physical exercise, a photographic studio, or for services of a like nature, the premise is unable to be used for the purpose of prostitution or soliciting prostitution.

A maximum penalty of a $550 fine and/or 3 months imprisonment is applicable.

Advertising premises used for prostitution is also banned under the Act, including advertisement that employment for a prostitute is or may be available.

Other offences apply, in order to protect the exploitation of sex workers and children.

These include that it is an offence for an adult to ‘live wholly or in part on the earnings’ of the sex work of another person, pursuant to section 15.

This carries a maximum penalty of $1,100 fine or 12 months imprisonment.

Furthermore, it is an offence to, by coercive conduct or undue influence, cause or induce another person to engage in sex work, in accordance with section 15A.

This carries a maximum penalty of a fine of $5,500 and/or 12 months imprisonment.

Tougher penalties apply under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), including a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for procuring or enticing someone to perform sex work by means of any fraud, violence, threat, abuse of authority, or by the use of any drugs or alcohol, under section 91B.

Furthermore, it is an offence to by any means, cause or induce a child to participate in an act of child prostitution, or participate as a client in an act of child prostitution

This carries an applicable maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment where the child was under 14 years, and 10 years imprisonment in other cases.

A child is defined as a person who is under 18 years of age.

Darwin Prostitution Laws | Northern Territory Sex Work Laws

Sex work was decriminalised in the Northern Territory in 2019, following the Sex Industry Act 2019 (NT) being passed through parliament.

Brothels, soliciting and home-based sex work are no longer illegal.

However, brothels and soliciting are prevented from being next door to childcare centres or schools.

Other offences remain under the Sex Industry Act 2019.

As with the other legalised states, inducing a person to perform sex work by intimidating, assaulting, supplying a prohibited drug or making a fraudulent representation is an offence.

It is punishable by a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment, as per section 10.

Causing or allowing a child to perform sex work or work in sex services business is punishable by a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment where the child is under 14 years old, and 7 years imprisonment where the child is at least 14.

Furthermore, it is an offence for a sex worker to imply that they have undergone a medical examination, and that they are not infected with a sexually transmissible infection or blood borne virus if this is not the case.

A maximum penalty of a $3,140 fine is applicable.

Is Prostitution Legal in Melbourne? | Victorian Prostitution Sex Work Laws

Victoria has recently decriminalised sex work, becoming the third Australian jurisdiction to do so, following the Sex Work Decriminalisation Act 2022 (VIC) being passed by Victorian Parliament.

The first stage of decriminalisation, commencing May 2022, involves the decriminalisation of street-based sex work in most locations, repeal of offences targeting working with a sexually transmitted infection and not using safer sex practices, and the requirement to undergo regular STI testing.

The second stage of reform, commencing in December 2023, will involve abolishing the sex work service provider licensing system, re-enacting offences relating to children and coercion in other legislation, and changes to planning controls to treat sex service businesses like other businesses.

The Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) will be abolished, and replaced by business regulatory procedures, similar to those that operate currently in New South Wales.

Street-based sex work is now legal in Victoria except in limited circumstances and locations.

It is an offence for sex work to be carried out near schools, care services and places of worship between 6am and 7pm and on holy days, pursuant to section 38B of the Sex Work Decriminalisation Act 2022.

The maximum penalties applicable, includes a $1,817.40 fine or 1 month imprisonment for a first offence, a $5,452.20 fine or 3 months imprisonment for a second offence, and a $10,904.40 fine or 6 months imprisonment for a subsequent offence.

Other offences, protecting the exploitation of sex workers and children, are found within the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic).

It is an offence to induce a person to engage in commercial sexual services by assaulting, threatening, supply a prohibited drug of dependence or making a false representation.

A maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment is applicable, pursuant to section 53L.

Causing or inducing a child to take part in commercial sexual services, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, as per section 53H.

Furthermore, a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment is applicable where a person receives a commercial benefit, or payment or reward knowing that it has been derived, directly or indirectly, from commercial sexual services provided by a child, as per section 53I.

Is Prostitution Legal in Queensland? | Prostitution Laws Queensland

In Queensland, sex work is legal, provided that it is conducted in licensed brothels or by sole operator sex workers, pursuant to the Prostitution Act 1999 (QLD).

An application must be submitted to the local government authority for a licence, with strict laws controlling how brothels and sole operator sex workers provide services.

Street-based sex work is banned in Queensland, with soliciting in public for prostitution an offence.

A maximum penalty of a $2,067.75 fine is applicable for a first offence, a $3,446.25 fine for a second offence, and a $4,135.50 and/or 6 months imprisonment for a third or subsequent offence, pursuant to section 73.

Furthermore, sex work must not occur without some form of ‘prophylactic’, such as a condom being used, as per section 77A.

A maximum penalty of a $1,378.50 fine is applicable where a sex worker provides or offers services without one, or where a client asks or accepts an offer for services where one is not used.

As found across Australian jurisdictions, Queensland also imposes an offence where a person forces another to participate in sex work by way of a threat, intimidation or making false representations.

A maximum penalty of a $27,570 fine and/or 7 years imprisonment is applicable.

Sex work is also governed under Chapter 22A of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (QLD).

It specifies that sole operator sex workers may work privately from a premises or provide outcalls and must work alone.

Where the provision of sex work is deemed ‘unlawful’, a maximum of 7 years imprisonment applies for knowingly carrying on the business of providing such services, pursuant to section 229HB.

If the person engaged in prostitution is a child or a person with a mental impairment, the person carrying on the business faces a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

Being found in, or leaving a place, suspected on reasonable grounds of being used for the purposes of unlawful prostitution (by two or more workers), is an offence.

A maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment applies for a first offence, 5 years imprisonment for a second offence, and 7 years imprisonment for a third offence.

In proving whether business of prostitution is being carried on, evidence such as employment records, business records, telephone records, advertisements and other relevant factors and circumstances, may be used to infer this.

However, evidence of condoms and other material for safe sex practices is not admissible against a defendant, pursuant to section 229M.

The Queensland Law Reform Commission is currently reviewing the current laws, and plans to draft a decriminalisation bill, in line with NSW, Victoria, and the Northern Territory.

Australian Capital Territory Sex Work Laws

Sex work has been legal in the Australian Capital Territory since 1992.

Owners of brothels or escort agencies must register their businesses with the Department of Fair Trading.

Sole operator sex workers are no longer required to register; however, they are prevented from sharing premises with other sex workers.

Street-based sex work remains illegal in the ACT, with section 19 of the Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT) imposing a $3,200 fine for offering or procuring commercial sexual services, in a public place.

If the person offered commercial sexual services in a public place is a child, a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment is applicable.

Operating a brothel, other than in a prescribed location, is punishable by a maximum penalty of $1,600 and/or 1 year imprisonment.

Causing child to provide commercial sexual service is punishable by a maximum penalty of a $240,000 fine and/or 15 years imprisonment where a child is under 12 years old, or a $160,000 fine and/or 10 years imprisonment where the child is 12 years or older.

The Sex Work Act permits sex workers to work, even if they knowingly have HIV or a sexually transmitted illness, so long as they take all reasonable precautions to avoid contracting or transmitting the condition, such as using safer sex practices.

Furthermore, the Act does not impose mandatory testing on sex workers.

Despite this, it is an offence for a sex worker or an owner or operator of a brothel or escort agency to use the fact that a sex worker has had a medical test to lead someone to believe or be ‘reckless about’ whether they believe that a sex worker does not have HIV or a STI, as per section 26. This is punishable by a maximum fine of $3,200.

Is Sex Work Legal in Tasmania?

Tasmania has historically had a heavily criminalised sex industry.

Currently, brothels remain criminalised, however, sex work is legal if no more than two sex workers work together (noting various conditions are imposed), following the introduction of the Sex Industry Offences Act 2005 (TAS).

Street-based sex work remains illegal, with offering or procuring sexual services in public punishable by a fine of $3,460.

A maximum penalty of a $51,900 fine and/or 3 years imprisonment is applicable where the person offered sexual services or procured to provide, is a child, as per section 8.

Brothels are considered ‘commercial sexual services’ under the Act, with operating one punishable by a $138,400 fine and/or 8 years imprisonment, as per section 4.

Receiving services from a brothel carries a maximum penalty of a $17,300 fine and/or 1 year imprisonment.

Procuring, or otherwise causing or permitting a child to provide sexual services, or receiving payment from this, carries a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment.

Section 7 outlines offences against sex workers, including that a person must not intimidate, assault, threaten or supply a prohibited drug (including for the purpose to overpower them), as per section 7(1).

A maximum penalty of a $86,500 fine and/or 5 years imprisonment is applicable.

Legislative reviews of the Act have occurred in 2008 and 2012, however no changes have occurred to date.

Is Prostitution legal in South Australia? | Adelaide Prostitution Laws

South Australian sex work laws criminalise sex work in the state. In South Australia, sex work is criminalised via a range of offences found within the Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) and the Criminal Law Consolidation Act.

Soliciting is banned, under section 25 of the Summary Offences Act, punishable by a maximum penalty of a $750 fine.

It is an offence to assist in, or keep, or manage a brothel, as well as receive money paid in a brothel in respect of sex work, pursuant to section 28.

A maximum penalty of a $1,250 fine and/or 3 months imprisonment is applicable for a first offence, whereas a fine of $2,500 and/or 6 months imprisonment is applicable to a subsequent offence.

Permitting a premise to be utilised as a brothel is punishable by the same maximum penalties, pursuant to section 29.

An offence using the outdated word ‘common bawdy house’ to refer to a brothel, is found within section 270 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act.

It imposes a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment for keeping a brothel.

Whilst many of these offences are aimed at the organisers of sex work, they have been used by South Australian police to charge workers as well.

South Australia’s Greens leader, Tammy Franks, has recently announced that she intends to put up a bill to allow legal prostitution in the state.

A bill to decriminalise sex work previously failed to pass parliament in 2019.

The latest proposed bill by the Greens will be the 14th time a proposal to decriminalise sex work has been put to South Australian Parliament in the past two decades.

Perth Prostitution | Western Australia Sex Work Laws

WA prostitution laws prescribe heavy criminal penalties for sex work. In Western Australia, sex work is criminalised via a range of offences found within the Prostitution Act 2000 (WA) and the West Australian Criminal Code.

Brothels are illegal, and it is not permitted to carry out street-based sex work or other prostitution-related activities.

Seeking another person to act as a prostitute in or within the view of hearing of a public place is an offence, punishable by a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment if tried summarily or 7 years imprisonment, if not.

A sex worker who solicits a client in such circumstances, faces a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment where the client is a child, or 1 year imprisonment in any other case, as per section 6 of the Prostitution Act 2000 (WA).

The Prostitution Act also empowers police to stop and search anyone who they suspect is soliciting prostitution.

A person assaulting, threatening, intimidating, supplying a prohibited drug, or making a false representation with the intention of inducing another person to act, or continue to act, as a prostitute is guilty of a criminal offence in WA.

It is punishable by a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment if dealt with summarily, or 10 years imprisonment if not.

As is expected across Australia, there are a number of offences relating to prostitution and children.

Under Section 15, it is also an offence to provide prostitution services to a child and this is punishable by imprisonment for up to nine months.

Causing, permitting, or seeking to induce child to act as prostitute, is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

However, the Act also criminalises children, with up to 2 years imprisonment applicable for a child who works as a prostitute, as per section 14.

Section 190 of the West Australian Criminal Code makes it an offence to keep or manage a brothel or to live off the earning of prostitution. A maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment is applicable.

For more tailored advice, speak to our sexual assault lawyers Sydney based team.

By Poppy Morandin.

About Poppy Morandin

Poppy Morandin is the managing law clerk and an integral part of the team of criminal lawyers at Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia . She's also a part of CDLA's content article production team. Poppy is passionate about law reform and criminal justice.

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