Australia’s sex work laws have a long and interesting history. While sex work is legal in many areas of the country, there are still many stipulations that complicate sex work there. In Western Australia, for example, prostitution itself is allowed but some activities associated with it are not, including working in brothels or doing sex work in pairs. This puts Perth escorts and other WA sex workers at risk, because brothel work and paired work is often safer than solo sex work.
I became interested in Australian sex work laws when I discovered Zahra Stardust. Zahra does many different kinds of sex work – including stripping, poledancing, and porn – and she’s also taught gender studies at a university, advocated for sex workers’ rights at the United Nations, and spoken out in the media against Australian censorship laws in porn. Basically, she is a badass. A badass who’s hella smart, incredibly cute, and can squirt enormous amounts.
Zahra has worked closely with the Scarlet Alliance, also known as the Australian Sex Workers Association, with the goal of achieving justice, equality and autonomy for sex workers down under. Among other things, the Alliance does research about sex workers’ lives and work. One finding of theirs is that the mandatory HIV testing required of sex workers in some areas of Australia may actually be a bad thing. A 2012 article (of which Zahra Stardust is a co-author) claims that mandatory STI testing increases stigma, and is invasive, costly, and ultimately unnecessary, because Australian sex workers have some of the lowest STI rates and highest condom usage rates of any sex workers in the world. This suggests that government intervention into sex work may be more hazardous than helpful.
It does indeed seem that many sex work laws make sex workers less safe, despite technically making their work legal. Brisbane escorts and other Queensland sex workers are allowed to work privately or in licensed brothels; however, they are not allowed to hire receptionists, drivers, lawyers, accountants, or cleaners, and they are only allowed to tell another person where they’re going if that person is not a sex worker too. This obviously makes the work not only dangerous but also even more laborious and time-consuming than it already is.
This minimal level of legalization doesn’t even work the way it’s supposed to. A 2009 report found that 90% of sex work in Queensland is either illegal or unregulated. It’s no surprise that when you put ridiculous limitations on how sex workers are allowed to conduct their work, more and more of them will work outside the bounds of legality.
I don’t live in Australia and I’m not anywhere near as entrenched in this world as someone like Zahra Stardust, but at least on paper, it seems like Melbourne escorts and other Victoria sex workers have some of the best rights and protections of any sex workers in Australia. In licensed brothels, sex workers may refuse to see a client if they feel the situation may become unsafe or violent, and they cannot be punished for doing this. Condoms and lube must be provided to sex workers for free in these brothels. Brothel owners must provide workers with clean linens, showers, baths, and hot and cold water. Escort agencies have to provide sex workers with a cellphone or another two-way electronic device to allow for safe communication between workers and licensees. Privately licensed escorts in Victoria are allowed to hire staff, unlike in Queensland, but they may not advertise to find staff.
While there are still many ways in which Australian sex work laws are lacking, it seems to me that they are miles ahead of many other countries in this regard. For example, here in Canada, it’s legal to sell sex but illegal to buy it (?!). I hope that more countries move in the direction Australia is heading, albeit with more protections for sex workers and fewer absurd restrictions on how they can do their work.
Note: this post was sponsored, but as always, all opinions and writing are my own!