Prostitution in Australia
Australia was born out of a prison colony and some of the deportees who arrived in 1788 with the First Fleet were there because of conviction for prostitution. In 1817 the British legal system and the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies wanted an investigation to determine the effectiveness of transportation as a deterrent and penal measure. John Bigge was sent to the New South Wales colony to conduct this investigation and in his report he mentioned the existence of brothels in the colony, although they were largely prostitutes working individually out of their homes.
During Australia’s colonial period brothels did appear, as in the United States, near mining and lumber camps, railroad construction camps, and other areas where large groups of men were gathered without their wives and families. The colonial administration established laws which were aimed at the control of sexually transmitted diseases. These required women suspected of engaging in prostitution to submit to medical examination and while not specifically making prostitution illegal, they did give the authorities power to place women who were infected in locked down medical facilities until they were cured. The laws were mainly to protect members of the military from infection.
When Australia became federated the laws regarding what was and what was not criminal activity were left to the states. Not until 1910 were laws regarding prostitution enacted and enforced. These again did not make prostitution itself a crime, but soliciting for prostitution was criminalized as was operating a brothel. Most of the laws regarding prostitution had to do with soliciting minors and the use of accommodations for the sole purpose of prostitution. Enforcement of laws against prostitution was lax, with the exception of those regarding minors throughout most of the twentieth century.
Beginning in the 1970s Australia’s Capital Territory’s already liberal attitudes towards prostitution began to become even more liberal, as studies showed laws against the practice to be inefficient and enforcement did little to eliminate or control the practice. Australia in the 1970s banned soliciting in the same place on a consistent basis. It also prohibited using prostitution as one’s primary source of income. Brothels were not allowed. The police and the courts found the law unenforceable and it was not enforced. In 1992 the Capital Territory passed the Prostitution Act 1992, which allowed for the establishment of brothels and required “sex workers” to register with the government.
Prostitution is legal across all of Australia today, though each state has its own regulations and limitations. New South Wales is the most liberal of the Australian states as regards prostitution, allowing brothels, and by law someone living on the earnings of a prostitute – in American lexicon a pimp – is a criminal. In other areas of Australia streetwalking is illegal, but prostitution through an escort service is legal. The state of Victoria had over 90 legal brothels around the turn of the 21st century. Throughout the Australian continent assault of a sex worker is a crime separate from ordinary assault, and most locales require sex with a sex worker be protected with a prophylactic.