News, Victoria

‘Long past time’: Victoria to decriminalise sex work

Advocates have called the decriminalisation of sex work in Victoria a major win for evidence-based public health policy.

The Victorian Government plans to decriminalise sex work in the state, recognising it as legitimate work that should be regulated through standard laws like all other industries.

Jules Kim, CEO of Scarlet Alliance, the peak body for sex workers and sex worker organisations in Australia, said the reform was long overdue and consistent with the National HIV Strategy.

“This announcement is a major step forward,” said Kim. 

“By decriminalising sex work, the Victorian government has sent a clear message that workers in the industry deserve the same rights and protections as every other worker. 

“This will reduce the stigma and discrimination many sex workers continue to face, while improving public health.”

As part of decriminalisation, sex workers in Victoria will no longer be subject to mandatory testing requirements, a process Kim said was “unfair and discriminatory”.

“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,” said Dylan O’Hara of Victorian sex worker organisation Vixen Collective.

“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.”

While the change in Victoria is welcomed, advocates have said that reform is still needed elsewhere in Australia to bring the entire nation in line with decriminalisation.

“Victoria will become only the third jurisdiction in Australia to undertake such a reform, an important reminder for other states and territories to follow this lead,” Kim said.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations CEO Darryl O’Donnell said the reform was an important step for public health.

“Criminalising sex work is a proven failed policy, which has increased stigma and driven poorer public health outcomes,” O’Donnell said. 

“By treating sex work as a public health issue and not a criminal one, we can much more easily remove the barriers sex workers face in getting access to the health services they need. 

“This is a measure which will strengthen our response to the HIV epidemic in Australia.”

Aaron Cogle, Executive Director of the National Association for People Living with HIV Australia, also welcomed the news.

“Criminalisation of sex work has historically hindered the public health response to HIV by driving sex workers away from prevention, care, and support services,” Cogle said. 

“The policy has not worked, and it’s long past time sex work was decriminalised across all of Australia.”

Community efforts are currently raising funds for sex workers in Victoria and beyond who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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