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Victoria to decriminalise sex work in win for sex workers

Sex work is set to be decriminalized in Victoria, which will see it become only the third state or territory to do so.

While sex work isn’t illegal in Victoria, a raft of regulations and licensing requirements apply to the industry, which has been criticized as unfair and led to many sex workers not reporting violence against them.

The Victorian government has stated that sex workers will be treated like any other employee in the future.

“Decriminalisation recognizes that sex work is legitimate work and should be regulated through standard business laws, like all other industries in the state,” a government statement said. Scarlet Alliance – the Australian Sex Workers Association and Victorian sex work organization the Vixen Collective said in a statement that the current system “had long been burdensome and unworkable for Victorian sex workers, criminalizing many of our essential safety strategies and workplace health and safety measures”.

Victoria’s current sex work rules

Under current legislation, many sex workers in Victoria have to jump through hoops to work legally. While they can work in registered brothels and escort agencies, private sex work – spruiking sex work online, for instance – is a no-no unless the individual is licensed. But many fear having their name on a directory of sex workers could open them up to discrimination. Those who shun being approved are less likely to report crimes committed against them because it could open them up to police action.

The Victorian government said the current regulated model – which has been in place for three decades – was “out-of-date and no longer fit-for-purpose”. “Every Victorian deserves to feel safe in their place of work,” said Consumer Affairs Minister Melissa Horne. “Decriminalisation will ensure that sex work is safe work and go a long way towards breaking down the stigma sex workers continue to experience.”

The reforms came after a review led by Reason Party MP Fiona Patten.

Over the next two years, the government has said the Sex Work Act will be repealed, and offenses and penalties for consensual sex work will be done away with.

Sex work will then be regulated through existing agencies and regulations that apply to all businesses.

The government said only sex work between consenting adults would be decriminalized, and criminal offenses to protect children and prevent coercion into sex work would remain in place. Under the current laws, sex workers are forced to make choices based on the dangerous and unworkable requirements of the licensing system, rather than our health and safety,” Vixen Collective spokesperson Dylan O’Hara said.

“The full decriminalisation of all forms of sex work in Victoria is essential to recognising sex work as work and supporting sex workers and is a crucial first step towards rectifying many years of harm and discrimination against Victorian sex workers. Scarlet Alliance chief executive officer Jules Kim said the needs of the most marginalized sex workers shouldn’t be sidelined in the decriminalization process. “We hope that the government will stick to their commitment to fully decriminalize sex work for all of us,” she said. “The evidence and support for decriminalization are unequivocal, and it is great that the Victorian government has heard the voices of sex workers in moving forward these much-needed reforms.”

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