Sex workers in Victoria celebrate industry reform, but say more needs to be done in regional areas

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Victorian sex workers and industry advocacy groups say the state's new reforms for the industry are “a win”, but are not a panacea for workers, especially those in regional areas.

Key points:

  • The Victorian government introduced new sex work decriminalisation reforms on Tuesday as part of a two-phase plan
  • Peer-only support group Vixen Collective is among industry voices weighing in on the reforms
  • Victoria is the third jurisdiction in Australia to decriminalise sex work, following New South Wales in 1995 and the Northern Territory in 2019

Introduced on Tuesday, the suite of reforms includes removing penalties for people participating in street-based work, and repealing a register that contains details of independent workers.

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Free legal support for sex workers will also be available through Melbourne's St Kilda Legal Service from July 1.

The changes form part of the state government's two-phase, $11.3 million commitment to decriminalise sex work in Victoria.

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The reforms still include restrictions on where sex workers can legally work, including restrictions near places of worship.

Consumer Affairs Minister Melissa Horne described the most recent reforms as “an important milestone for sex work decriminalisation”.

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Sex workers in victoria celebrate industry reform, but say more needs to be done regional areas

An advocate says the reforms are a huge achievement but are not a “magic bullet”.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

Sex-worker friendly services 'need to expand to regions'

Victoria's Vixen Collective has been run by volunteers since 2005, “by sex workers, for sex workers”.

Peaches Smith, a sex worker and co-ordinator of Vixen's outreach and education team, said Tuesday's announcements were a huge achievement.

“But obviously this isn't a magic bullet,” she said.

Sex workers in victoria celebrate industry reform, but say more needs to be done regional areas

The Vixen Collective has begun a drop-in program for people in need of information or support.(Supplied: Vixen Collective)

Ms Smith said she grew up in a small town in the state's north-east before moving to Melbourne to begin working in the industry.

She said a lack of equipped, non-stigmatised sexual health centres were just one of the challenges she was presented with when working in regional Victoria.

MP calls for reforms to go further

Reason Party MP and former sex worker Fiona Patten said the reforms were a win for sex workers, but the changes did not fully legalise the industry.

“You still can't legally work at or near places of worship, schools, children's services, education, and care services,” Ms Patten said.

The MP would like to see the reforms go even further.

“Without the changes … it doesn't remove the barriers to justice and barriers to services, because of the partial criminalisation that is in place,” she said.

Sex workers in victoria celebrate industry reform, but say more needs to be done regional areas

The changes form part of the state government's two-phase, $11.3 million commitment to decriminalising sex work in Victoria.(ABC News: Oliver Gordon)

Jules Kim, chief executive of the Scarlet Alliance, an Australian association working to advance sex worker rights, said there was more to be done for Victoria's sex industry.

“I think lots of sex workers are celebrating today in Victoria,” Ms Kim said.

“We'll also be celebrating on the 1st of December 2023, when the second stage of the reforms come into effect.”

The second stage will include measures such as allowing sex workers to work from their own homes.

Ms Kim said it was disappointing the second stage would not come into effect for another 20 months, but the suite of changes yesterday was still a positive step.

“Some of the changes … that I think were particularly significant, were the destruction of the [sex workers'] register, and the ability to advertise,” she said.

“Standard laws and processes when it comes to advertising will still apply … the changes to advertising really just mean that we can do what other people can do … you're able to just offer basic information.”

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