Legalisation of the sex industry in the State of Victoria, Australia

Alison Arnot, “Legalisation of the sex industry in the State of Victoria, Australia: the impact of prostitution law reform on the working and private lives of women in the legal Victorian sex industry” (2002) MA Thesis, University of Melbourne Department of Criminology.

Full text available here.


In 1984 the State Parliament of Victoria began the process of legalising sectors of the Victorian sex industry. Reforming legislation was enacted in 1984, 1986 and 1994. To date there has been no research assessing the changes to the industry that have occurred as a result of the legalisation process, and in particular, the effect it has had on the lives of the women working in the industry.

This research has examined the impact of sex industry law reform on the working and private lives of women in the Victorian sex industry. Interviews were conducted with twenty women, nine of whom had worked in the industry prior to legalisation. All but four of the interviewees had experienced work in the industry before and after reforms.

A number of significant findings were made. Since legalisation brothels have become cleaner and physical surroundings have been improved. However, the owners and managers of industry businesses have increased their level of control over workers by determining services to be offered, fees to be charged and clothes to be worn.

While brothel workers have always felt safe in their workplaces, escort workers now feel safer. The main reason given for this is that the work is now legal and the specific safety regulations contained within the legislation was thought to be of little consequence.

Escort workers now feel that they have more control over the client, whereas brothel workers have always felt a level of control in the relationship. This feeling of control did not however, result from a willingness to report crimes perpetrated by clients against the women. Similarly workers were largely unwilling to report the unethical or illegal behaviour of owners or managers of sex industry businesses. It is argued that legalisation does not increase women’s access to the justice system.

Legalisation has created a sex industry where the illegal industry operates alongside the legal industry. This part of the industry includes illegal brothels and individual women working outside of the requirements for solo operators included in the Prostitution Control Act.

Sex industry employment has a significant impact on women’s private lives, and it would appear the changing legal structure surrounding the sex industry, has had little or no effect on this. Interviewees reported the hardest thing about working in the industry was having to hide their profession from those closest to them. This tendency stemmed from the women’s perceptions that society, while it had become somewhat more accepting of the industry as a whole, still did not approve of sex work. The women believed that being open about their work could impact on their families, their jobs outside of the industry, their intimate relationships, and their friendships.

This research shows that the Victorian system of law reform and its associated politics have served to reinforce negative views of the sex industry. It is argued that it is not enough to make sex work a legal occupation. Both legislators and the general public need to consider it a legitimate occupation of choice.

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