Working in Victorian Brothels

Sharon Pickering, JaneMaree Maher, Alison Gerard

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report (public)


In November 2008 Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) contracted Monash University to conduct Research on the Illegal Brothel Sector in Victoria (RIBS). The project submitted a Report on Stakeholder Consultations in December 2008. The Interim Report was delivered in April 2009. This is the Final Report of the project. The research is based on qualitative interviews with regulatory and enforcement agencies, owners and operators of brothels, support workers and sex workers. As the research reveals, clear definitions of illegal brothels and illegal activity are difficult to achieve for a number of reasons. The regulatory framework in Victoria engages four different agencies with different interests in the framework. The Business Licensing Authority (BLA) is responsible for the issuing of licences for prostitution service providers (owner-operators), exempt prostitution service providers (one or two workers offering services) and managers. Consumer Affairs Victoria is responsible for enforcement consequent upon breaches of licence conditions. The Department of Health is responsible for health and safety breaches. Victoria Police is responsible for illegalities arising from breaches of the Prostitution Control Act 1994 (PCA). This research reveals that the current compliance and enforcement structures generate some confusion for industry stakeholders (owner-operators and workers) which impact on understandings of illegal activity and views about breaches and consequent harm. Therefore, in reporting our findings about illegal brothels, and illegal and unregulated activity, we have adopted the following terms and definitions for clarity in reporting our findings.This report uses the term unregulated activity for any activities which contravene or fall outside the provisions of the Prostitution Control Act 1994 and Prostitution Control Regulations 2006 (PCR), but do not undermine or negatively impact on worker autonomy. We use the term unlicensed activity to describe sexual service provision without licences primarily in premises offering some other form of service (massage is the prime example). We use the term illegal activity for any activities occurring in the licensed sector which contravene the provisions of the PCA and PCR and simultaneously undermine worker autonomy and control, as well as for organised activities that are carried on outside the regulatory framework by those profiting from the labour of sex workers. We make this distinction on the basis that the purpose and intent of the PCA, especially the offences outlined in Part 2 of the Act, and of the PCR suggest that worker safety and autonomy are key objectives in the regulatory framework in Victoria. In addition, the penalties applied in the PCA to workers and licensees are different, which suggests clear recognition of different and lesser degrees of harm consequent on breaches by workers, in contrast to breaches by owner-operators and/or managers. Illegality and unlicensed behaviour have different impacts for workers than owner-operators and managers when worker autonomy is central. Activities characterised as illegal when carried out by owner-operators are so defined because of their negative impact on workers as well as on community safety. By contrast, workers operating outside the regulatory framework are described as engaged in unregulated activity as they are generally seeking to undertake sex work in conditions that support rather than erode their autonomy.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherVictorian Government
Commissioning bodyConsumer Affairs Victoria
Number of pages72
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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