ASHM Report Back

Clinical posts from members and guests of the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) from various international medical and scientific conferences on HIV, AIDS, viral hepatitis, and sexual health.

Reforming Victoria's Sex Work Act 1994

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The Talk was presented by Mr Joel Murray, Senior Officer Policy and Research from Living Positive Victoria 

Reference from Reform of the Sex Work Act 1994 ( VIC ); Policy Statement


Living Positive Victoria, The Victorian AIDS Council, Scarlet Alliance: Australian Sex Workers Association and Vixen Collective: Victoria's Peer - only Sex Worker organisation, are supportive of the full decriminalisation of sex work in Victoria.

The Position statement deals with the narrower issue of sex workers living with HIV, but it should be seen as part of a broader call for full decriminalisation of sex work. Law regarding commercialised Sex should mirror those of other consensual sexual activity. This statement summarises the case for reform of the Sex Work Act 1994 ( VIC )


Sex work in Victoria has been regulated via a licensing system since 1986. A licensed system allows for the establishment of Brothels and escort agencies. Similarly sex workers are required to be registered in order to work legally in brothels and escort agencies. It is currently illegal for as person living with HIV ( PLHIV )to undertake sex work. 

The knowledge of HIV in 1986 was limited - WHO advised governments around the world that Sex workers were an at- risk population. Therefore, to not allow PLHIV to engage in sex work was seen at time to be in the interest of Public health. 

However, in 1994 when the current statute was enacted, increased knowledge of HIV and treatment, the advancement of human rights of PLHIV and the sex industry's considerable efforts in health promotion, demonstrated that provisions within the statute that disallowed PLHIV from undertaking sex work were not justified on Public health grounds.


Public Health and Human Rights 

The prohibition on HIV positive sex workers does nothing to protect public health, but rather forces HIV positive sex workers to work illegally, potentially harming HIV response by driving HIV underground. 

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 sets out attributes on the basics of which discrimination is unlawful according to Victorian law.

Barriers to accessing health and HIV specific services

Criminalisaiton of sex workers living with HIV establishes a barrier to access services, treatment, care and support. ALL PLHIV should be able to access education and effective antiretroviral treatment to further reduce risk of HIV transmission. 

Stigma and discrimination 

Sex workers living with HIV face the potential for multiple levels of stigma and discrimination depending on their personal circumstances and how they wish to identify. To identify as both living with HIV and being a sex worker is to face at least twice the level of discrimination. 

Sex work and HIV in Australia 

In Australia, significant efforts have been undertaken to ensure the widespread adoption of safer sex practices in the sex industry. This has resulted in lower rates of STIs among sex workers compared to general population. In addition, there have been no documented cases of HIV transmission from a sex worker to a client in Australia. 

Inconsistent laws between Australian jurisdictions relating to sex work by PLHIV, may cause a person to unintentionally break the law simply by going about their work in a state or territory has different laws to their place of residence.

Policy Context

This position is supported by a number of Australian and international policy contexts, including but not limited to

  • Victorian HIV Strategy 2017 - 2020
  • Seventh National HIV Strategy 2014 - 2017
  • AIDS 2014 Melbourne Declaration; nobody left behind
  • UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work
  • UNAIDS 2016 - 2021 Strategy 
  • UN General Assembly Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS 2001,2006,2011 and
  • The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion
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