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Sex Industry Laws in Australian Capital Territory

Legal Situation in the ACT for Sex Work

Below is an explanation of the laws described in the ACT's Sex Work Act 1992

On the 10th August 2018, the Prostitution Act 1992 (ACT) was replaced with the Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT). The Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT) has introduced a number of significant changes to ensure the rights and safety of ACT sex workers. One such change was the updating of terminology to replace outdated terms such as ‘prostitute’ with non-judgemental, gender-neutral terminology, such as ‘sex work’ and ‘sex worker’.

ACT Sex Worker Organisation

SWOP ACT is a project of AIDS ACTION ACT- and is the ACT's peer sex worker run organisational member or Scarlet Alliance


Private Work

The Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT) refers to private sex workers as ‘sole operator brothels’ or ‘sole operator escorts’. It is not an offence for a private sex worker to work from a premise provided that private workers are operating alone. Since the passage of the Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT), private workers are no longer required to register with the Department of Fair Trading. Only ‘commercial brothels and commercial escort agencies’ must register with the Department of Fair Trading. Although private workers are prevented by law from sharing work premises, there are no restrictions as to the location from which they can work. As far as the law is concerned, it is not an offence for private workers to use two separate apartments in the same complex, adjacent townhouses or two separate hotel rooms.

If you have any concerns about your registration details that you provided before the law change, or want to talk in more detail about the changes or other details of laws affecting sex workers in the ACT, please contact our member organisation SWOP ACT.

Street Based Sex Work

In the ACT, street sex work is criminalised, and workers may be arrested for soliciting or loitering for extended periods for the purpose of prostitution. Section 19 of the Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT) states "A person must not, for the purpose of offering or procuring commercial sexual services, accost any person, or solicit or loiter, in a public place."

Brothels/Studios/Agencies Registration

The Sex Work 1992 (ACT) asks commercial brothels and escort agencies to register with the Commissioner of Fair Trading ‘7 days before the day the brothel or escort agency begins to operate’ (Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT), Section 12). Brothel registration information is available to the public (Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT), Section 11).

Criminalisation of sex workers living with HIV + STIs

Under the Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT), it is not an offence for a sex worker to knowingly work with HIV or a sexually transmitted illness (STI), privately or at a brothel, provided that the sex worker abides by the Public Health Act 1997 (ACT). The Public Health Act 1997 (ACT) requires that a person who engages in ‘activities that are known to carry a potential risk of exposure’ to STIs or HIV transmission must take all reasonable precautions to avoid contracting or transmitting the condition, such as using safer sex practices (Public Health Act 1997 (ACT), section 99).

Medical Tests

The Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT) does not mandate sex workers undergo mandatory testing. It is, however, an offence for a sex worker or an owner or operator of a brothel or escort agency to use the fact that a sex worker has had a medical test or the results of the tests to lead someone to believe or be ‘reckless about’ whether someone believes that a sex worker does not have HIV or a STI (Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT), Section 26).

Prophylactic Use, such as condoms, and the Law

All sex workers and clients are mandated to use prophylactics when receiving or providing vaginal, anal and oral penetrative sex. Failure to use a prophylactic, such as condom or a dental dam, can result in charge of non-compliance with a penalty of 50 units (Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT), Section 27) It is also an offence for brothel and escort operators to discourage the use of prophylactics. Brothel and escort operators must take all reasonable steps to ensure that no person provides or receives vaginal, anal and oral penetrative sex at their brothel or escort agency without using prophylactic (Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT), Section 27). It is also an offence for a client to misuse, damage or interfere with the efficacy of any prophylactic used or continue to use a prophylactic that he or she knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, is damaged (Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT), Section 27(4)). This includes interfering with or trying to remove the prophylactic during sexual intercourse.

Brothel or escort operators must provide health and safety equipment to workers.

Under the Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT) it is an offence for a brothel or escort operator to not provide a sufficient quantity of condoms and other personal protective equipment for sex workers (Section 26A) It is also an offence for brothels and escorts to impose a fee for the personal protective equipment, including condoms (Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT), Section 26A(3c)) Personal protective equipment is defined to include ‘anything used or work by a sex worker to minimise a risk to health or safety from engaging in sex work. Eg, dental dams, latex gloves, water based lubricants, sponges’ (Sex Work Act 1992 (ACT), Section 26A(4)). Brothel and escort operators are also required to take reasonable steps to ensure workers use the personal protective equipment to minimise risk to sex workers health or safety.

SWOP ACT: Scarlet Alliance Member Organisation based in Canberra, ACT

(Peer sex worker project) For up to date contact information check their website.

You are welcome to drop in for a cuppa and con­fidential chat with a SWOP worker 9:30am – 5:00pm Tuesday – Friday. Calling ahead is recommended to ensure a SWOP worker is available.

Outreach is a free service to all workers and studios in the ACT. SWOP ACT does outreach to ensure all workers have access to information about their health and rights. Low-cost safe sex products and safe injecting equipment is available. Outreach to studios once a month on Thursday and Friday evenings from 7:00pm – Midnight. Contact for upcoming outreach dates. SWOP is always available to visit private workers, please contact to make a booking.

Low-cost condoms, lube, and other safe sex products are available. Drop by 9:00am to 5:00pm Monday – Thursday and 9:00 to 4:00pm Friday. Cash and card facilities available. The SWOP ACT at Havelock House is a secondary NSP (needle and syringe program). A range of safe injecting and disposal equipment is available.

Click here to be taken to SWOP ACT's website for more details