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Northern Territory Sex Work Laws

Any questions should be directed to SWOP NT (our member organisation in NT) Find up to date contact information for SWOP NT by clicking here. (opens in new window)

Law reform campaign is under way, with SWOP NT and the sex worker reference group actively consulting and advocating for the current unjust laws to be removed- and for NT to adopt a decriminalised model of sex work regulation.

On the 18th of September, 2019, the Sex Industry Bill 2019 was presented and read for the first time. Sex Industry Bill 2019 has been referred by the Legislative Assembly to the Economic Policy Scrutiny Committee for inquiry and report. This is an Info Kit produced with SWOP NT to assist community members in providing submissions to the Committee on the Bill. You can find the Info Kit here: 'by clicking here'



The Prostitution Act applies to private workers even though they are not required to be registered with the police or licensed through the Licensing Commission. Within the legislation everyone is considered as an escort business, however you only need to apply for a licence if you want to work with or employ other people.

Private Workers are free to advertise in the paper (see “advertising” section). The laws in the N.T stipulate that private workers are able to operate as long as they do not arrange or organise the service from the same place as where the service is provided. To be compliant with the law, Private Workers must arrange jobs for themselves and no-one else; Private Workers are not allowed to work with anyone else. This includes other sex workers, a driver or a receptionist. If you want to operate outside these restrictions but still within the law, you can consider registering as an escort agency.


Street work and soliciting is illegal. It is an offence to stand in a public place in order to get work (whether it is for money or other payments).


If someone wants to start an escort agency they must apply through the Licensing Commission for an operator’s licence. This is how the Licensing Commission regulates the industry. The Licensing Commission can place conditions or restrictions on the licences. They can suspend or cancel a licence if they decide the conditions are being breached. They can ask the police to investigate complaints made against the agency and the police can enter an escort agency without permission if they think it is necessary. The licences must be renewed every 12 months. One of the conditions of the licence is that the operator may also have to employ a manager. If there is a manager then they too will need to apply for a separate manager’s licence.

Escort Agency Licences

The operator is the person who owns the business. The manager is the person who manages the running of the business. To be eligible to get an operator’s or manager’s licence you must be over 18, be a resident of the Northern Territory, have no convictions of “a disqualifying offence” (mostly violent or drug related crimes), or have a business or domestic partner who has convictions for a disqualifying offence.

The Licensing Commission decides whether the person applying for the licence is a ‘suitable person to carry on/manage an escort agency business’. The licences carry conditions and restrictions which can relate to working conditions, health and welfare of sex workers, and the health and welfare of the general community. There are standard conditions used by the Licensing Commission but these can vary between agencies. The licensee can apply to have conditions or restrictions changed or lifted. The licences are valid for 12 months, after this time the person who holds the licence must apply to have it renewed.

Police certificates – for Escorts

The manager must arrange for each staff member to have a certificate to work from the police. The police may not give the certificate if the person has been convicted of any “violent or drug related crime”. If the certificate is refused the worker can appeal the process through a tribunal. If you are not happy with the decision made by the tribunal then you can appeal to the Supreme Court.

If a worker commits a “violent or drug related offence” before, during or after their application for the police certificate the Police Commissioner will cancel the certificate and tell the operator/manager and the worker. The certificate will then need to be handed back to the Police within 2 weeks.

It is an offence to arrange a service for a worker who does not have a certificate. This is the responsibility of the operator.

At this time there is no way to remove yourself from the police register and some sex workers have experienced the negative impacts of police registration when their sex work experience has been used in custody cases or when applying for a police clearance for work.

Escort Agency Conditions

The conditions under which Escort Agencies are licensed are decided by the Licensing Commission and can vary between agencies. The following is a summary of the standard conditions for agencies. Meeting these conditions is necessary for an escort agency to keep their licence. .

Escort agency operators must give each of their staff a Contract which outlines the terms and conditions of how the agency will arrange services and how the worker will provide the services.

The contract should set out

  • how the worker is paid (percentages, payday etc)
  • whether the operator is paying PAYE Tax, superannuation or work health insurance
  • a list of information services for sex workers
  • a statement that the operator, when arranging the services, will tell all the clients that all services incorporate safe sex practices, including using condoms and dental dams
  • whether the agency will provide condoms, dams and lube and if so how much they cost
  • that the worker has the right to refuse a client
  • that the worker must tell the operator if they can’t do a shift
  • what to do if the worker finds themselves in danger at a job
  • if there is any dress requirement
  • hours and days that you have to work
  • any terms and conditions where the worker is obliged to pay for extras offered by the operator (accommodation, meals etc)
  • whether the worker needs to have regular medical check ups
  • that the worker must have a police certificate
  • if the worker needs to work as a receptionist
  • what, if any, transport is provided by the agency.

If the operator or the manager is not at the agency they must be able to be contacted by the employees (workers and receptionists) _ at all times . If the operator/manager is not available then they must notify the Director of Licensing. The operator has to provide training in relation to safe sex issues and accurate information on where to go to get help should any of the employees need to. Operators must distribute material to sex workers on safe sex practices if asked to by the Commission.

If the agency knows that a worker has a blood borne virus (HIV, Hep B or Hep C) then they have to tell any clients who are getting service from that worker.

Under NT law Operators must do whatever they can to ensure that sex workers do their job safely; this means not taking risks with anyone’s health. The operator must do whatever they can to ensure that no workers PROVIDE or RECEIVE vaginal or anal services without a condom, or oral service without a dental dam/condom.


Under NT law, managers, operators and workers cannot promote whether a worker is getting regular health check ups or is free of any STIs as a way of promoting their service. When the receptionist/manager arranges the service they must tell the client that all services use safe sex practices – including condoms and dams. The agency should provide access to condoms, lube and dams. It is then up to the agency to say how much they cost or if they are free.

The agency can ask the workers to have regular medical check ups and they may ask to see a certificate of attendance from the doctor.

There is currently a condition of the licences that the operator (or whoever arranges the service ie the receptionist) must tell the clients if they know a worker has any blood borne virus including HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.


Agencies cannot advertise for sex workers (staff) within the Northern Territory. In any advertisement in the paper the agency name must also be with the advertisement. You cannot advertise on radio or TV.

It is ok for an agency to advertise for reception staff in the newspaper however, you must state that there are no other duties involved.

It is ok to advertise “prostitution services” in the newspaper but there are restrictions on what you can include in the ad. The ad must be in the “Adult Entertainment” section of the classifieds. You can only show a persons head and face in an ad – no other parts of the body. You cannot describe yourself, others or an agency by age, race, colour or ethnic origin. You cannot refer to any physical attributes and if you say massage or masseur you must actually say ‘erotic massage’ or ‘erotic masseur’. The ad in the paper cannot be any bigger than 3.5cm by 4.5cm.

You can;

  • advertise on T-shirts,
  • distribute brochures to Hotels/Motels,
  • sponsor sporting or charity events,
  • have a website (which you can then advertise but not in the NT News)
  • hand out business cards (as long as they don’t mention ‘prostitution services’ or use the opportunity to solicit for work)


It is an offence to allow any person under the age of 18 to work in the sex industry in the NT. It is also the responsibility of the legal guardian to ensure that this does not happen.

It is illegal to enter into an agreement and/or to get money for prostitution services with a person under 18. The prison sentences for each offence carries a gaol sentence of 7-14 years.

If you are under 18 it is against the law to provide any prostitution service. Working as a receptionist for an agency is also illegal if under the age of 18.


Brothels are illegal in the Northern Territory. This means that you cannot use the same premises to organise AND provide a sex service. It also prevents people from working together without escort agency licences. When more than one person is working they must be licensed through the Licensing Commission and have current police certificates.

Being Forced to Work

It is an offence to coerce a person to work in the sex industry, coercion could be through intimidation, threat or manipulation by another person. (partner, employer, family etc). At no time can you be forced or bullied into giving the money you have earned to another person- to do so would be an offense under NT law. It is your right to choose whether or not to work in the sex industry.

(Note that forcing anyone to do anything is also against the law- and will remain so under a decriminalised model. Decriminalisation will just mean that sex work itself is not seen as a crime, enabling sex workers better access to justice and work health safety mechanisms, without fear of being charged ourselves with sex work offences if we are reporting something as a victim of crime)

SWOP NT - LOCAL SEX WORKER PROJECT FOR NT based in the NTAHC office in Darwin- sex worker peer support Phone 08 8944 7777



Police are able to enter any place if they suspect it may be a brothel. They can enter an escort agency at any time. If the agency refuses admission to the police they have the power to forcibly enter the premises.

The police have a liaison person dedicated to the sex industry. This position is housed in the Missing Persons Unit. This position processes the paperwork and maintains relevant records including issuing the police certificates to sex workers for the whole of the Northern Territory. The police/sex worker liaison officer is a contact point for workers who may have queries about the law or who have concerns about practices in the sex industry. The Liaison officer is a point of contact in the police to provide advice and arrange police assistance if workers are the victims of crime.

Licensing Commission

The Licensing Commission administers the Prostitution Regulation Act and Prostitution Regulations. The Commissions aim is to regulate prostitution in the Northern Territory and is the licensing body for escort agencies

The minister appoints 9 people who make up the Licensing Commission. Four of whom are dedicated to escort agencies but if one of them is not available to meet then someone else from the commission can be asked to participate.

Licensing Inspectors

Licensing Inspectors are employed by Racing, Gaming and Licensing to inspect the escort agency premises. When they visit agencies they are looking to see if the agency is complying with its licence conditions. They may check if workers certificates are current, what kinds of employment records the agency maintains, if workers have contracts, whether the agency gives out information on safe sex practices and other occupational health and safety details.


The definition of prostitution does not include phone sex, skimpies or strippers. Peep shows remain undefined by the regulations.

Download More Information...

Rights and Obligations for Sex Workers in Northern Territory August 2003 This SWOP NT handout is an extended version of the information you have found on this page; it includes contacts and relevant phone numbers.

Northern Territory Sex Industry Legislation – Open the PDF version Passed on the 11th December 2001

Questions and Answers April 2003 The Prostitution Licensing Board addresses the most common questions asked about the Northern Territory Sex Industry Laws. This document includes contact information for those wishing to obtain a license in the Northern Territory.

Scarlet Alliance Submission to the Racing, Gaming and Licensing Department Scarlet Alliance critiques the problems with NT's licensing laws and the ways that private workers are not able to impliment OH+S practises.

The Government Minister Responsible for Sex Industry Laws - NT

If you would like to contact the government regarding Northern Territory sex industry laws:


Minister for Employment, Education and Training

Minister for Racing, Gaming and Licensing


GPO Box 3146

Darwin NT 0801

Telephone: 08 8901 4052

Facsimile: 08 8901 4060

updated 15 July 2017