Laws Relating to Sex Work (‘Prostitution’) in Western Australia
It’s the world’s oldest profession, and also the most controversial. Whilst sex work (‘prostitution’) is decriminalised in many other Australian jurisdictions, Western Australia is unique in largely criminalising the practice.
Here’s what you need to know about the criminalisation of sex work and related activities in Western Australia.
What counts as ‘sex work’?
Whilst the term ‘prostitution’ is generally considered outdated, it is the term used under WA criminal law to refer to sex work.
Section 4 of the Prostitution Act 2000 (WA) defines ‘prostitution’ as:
…prostitution in which payment is consideration for the sexual stimulation of a person (the client) by means of physical contact between the client and another person (the prostitute ), or between either of them and anything controlled by or emanating from the other, and it is irrelevant whether payment is in money or any other form.
The legal status of sex work depends on the environment in which it is conducted and whether a third-party (such as a brothel-owner) benefits.
Offences related to private escorting in Western Australia
Private escorting (also known as “private sex work”) is where sex workers operate independently arranging their own contacts with clients. Some escorts may utilise an ‘escort agency’ which arranges interactions between clients and sex workers.
Whilst there are no criminal laws specifically outlawing private escorting in WA, a number of related offences make conducting this type of work difficult.
It is an offence under section 10 of the Prostitution Act 2000 (WA) to promote or publicise prostitution, meaning workers cannot legally advertise their services. This offence carries a maximum penalty of a $50,000 fine.
Criminal offences designed to outlaw brothel-keeping (see below) also deter landlords or hotels from hosting premises used as prostitution. Moreover, offences designed to outlaw “pimping” (also see below) mean that sex workers cannot hire third-parties, such as bodyguards or receptionists, to assist in their work.
Under section 15 of the Act it is an offence to provide sex work to a child under the age of 18 years old. This offence carries a maximum penalty of 9 months imprisonment.
Furthermore, section 14 of the Act makes it an offence to ‘act as a prostitute’ if you have a serious criminal history related to drug trafficking or other serious criminal offences. This offence carries a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment.
Offences related to brothel-keeping in Western Australia
A ‘brothel’ refers to a premises from which sex work is provided. Brothel operators take a percentage of sex worker earnings for services provided on the premises. Under section 190(1) of the WA Criminal Code, it is an offence to:
- Keep or manage, or act, or assist in the management of any premises for purposes of prostitution; or
- Be the tenant, lessee, or occupier of any premises, permits such premises, or any part thereof, to be used for purposes of prostitution; or
- Be the lessor or landlord of any premises, or the agent of such lessor or landlord, lets the same, or any part thereof, or collects the rent with the knowledge that such premises, or some part thereof, are or is to be used for purposes of prostitution, or is a party to the continued use of such premises, or any part thereof, for purposes of prostitution.
This offence effectively criminalises brothel-keeping in Western Australia.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment (if pursued as an indictable offence) or 12 months imprisonment and a fine of $12,000 (if pursued as a summary offence).
Offences related to street-based sex work in Western Australia
Street-based sex work occurs when sex workers meet clients in a public place.
Street-based sex workers and their clients are often at risk of being charged with ‘solicitation’ – an offence encompassing the seeking or asking for sexual services in a public place.
Section 6 of the Prostitution Act 2000 (WA) outlines a solicitation offence criminalising prostitutes who seek another person to be a client in, or in the view, or within hearing, of a public place. This offence carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment (if the client solicited was a child) or imprisonment for one year (in all other cases).
On the flip side, section 5 of the Act outlines an offence to seek a prostitute as a client in, or in the view, or within hearing, of a public place. This offence carries a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment (if the ‘prostitute’ solicited was a child) or two years imprisonment (in all other cases).
For the purpose of these offences, a ‘public place’ means:
- Any place to which the public, or any section of the public, have or are permitted to have access whether on payment or otherwise; or
- A school, university or other place of education, other than a part of it to which neither students nor the public usually have access; or
- A privately owned place that is unoccupied or is occupied by a person who is not the owner and does not have the authority of the owner.
Offences related to ‘pimping’ in Western Australia
A ‘pimp’ is a person who procures others to engage in sex work and takes a percentage of their earnings. A number of criminal offences in WA are designed to deter third-party involvement in sex work activities.
Under section 191 of the WA Criminal Code a person commits an offence if they procure:
- A girl or woman who is under the age of 21 years, and is not a common prostitute or of known immoral character to have unlawful carnal connection with a man, either in Western Australia or elsewhere; or
- A woman or girl to become a common prostitute either in Western Australia or elsewhere; or
- A woman or girl to leave Western Australia, with the intent that she may become an inmate of a brothel, elsewhere; or
- A woman or girl to leave her usual place of abode in Western Australia, such place not being a brothel, with the intent that she may, for the purposes of prostitution, become an inmate of a brothel, either in Western Australia or elsewhere; or
- A man or boy for any of the above purposes.
This offence carries a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment. It is not a defence to this offence that the sex worker involved consented to the behaviour.
A broader offence is outlined under section 190(3) of the Code if a person ‘lives wholly or partly on earnings that the person knows are the earnings of prostitution’. This offence carries a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment (if pursued as an indictable offence) or 12 months imprisonment and a fine of $12,000 (if pursued as a summary offence).
For the purposes of this offence, a person is taken to be living on earnings of prostitution if they live with, or are habitually in the company of a prostitute, and have no visible means of subsistence.
Finally, section 7 of the Prostitution Act 2000 outlines an offence for inducing a person to act as a prostitute through coercive means including:
- Assaulting or threatening to assault anyone; or
- Intimidating anyone; or
- Supplying or offering to supply a prohibited drug to anyone; or
- Making a false representation or using any false pretence or other fraudulent means; or
- Doing anything else, or refraining from doing anything with the intention of inducing another person who is not a child to act, or continue to act, as a prostitute.
This offence carries a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment (if pursued as an indictable offence) or three years imprisonment (if pursued as a summary offence).
Offences related to child involvement in prostitution in Western Australia
Unsurprisingly, many criminal offences in WA are focused on deterring child involvement in prostitution.
Under section 14 of the Prostitution Act 2000 (WA) it is an offence for a child to act as a prostitute, carrying a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment. Under section 19 of the Act, it is an offence for a child to seek the services of a prostitute, carrying a maximum penalty of a fine of $6,000.
Several other discrete offences are outlined under the Act encompassing individuals who involve children in prostitution including offences for:
- Causing, permitting, or seeking to induce a child to act as a prostitute under section 16 of the Act.
- Obtaining payment for prostitution by a child under section 17 of the Act.
- Entering into an agreement for the prostitution of a child under section 18 of the Act.
These offences each carry a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.
Finally, a number of offences apply to children being on premises related to prostitution including:
- Taking part in acts of prostitution (as a worker or a client) at a place where the person knows that a child is present under section 20 of the Act.
- Allowing a child to enter or remain at a place where the person knows prostitution is taking place under section 21 of the Act.
These offences each carry a maximum penalty of a fine of $25,000 (for a first offence) or imprisonment for two years (for any subsequent offence).
Offences related to sex trafficking in Western Australia
Finally, a number of federal offences apply in relation to sex trafficking into or out of Western Australia. Sex trafficking refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people for sexual exploitation through force, fraud or deception.
Various offences are outlined under section 271.2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) relating to the trafficking of persons into the country for sexual purposes.
It is an offence to organise or facilitate the entry (section 272.2(2)) or exit (section 271.2(2A)) of a person whilst deceiving the person that they are being moved for the provision of sexual services.
It is also an offence to organise or facilitate the entry (section 272.2(2B)) or exit (section 271.2(2C)) of a person whilst deceiving the person about:
- The nature of the sexual services to be provided; or
- The extent to which the other person will be free to leave the place or area where the other person provides sexual services; or
- The extent to which the other person will be free to cease providing sexual services; or
- The extent to which the other person will be free to leave his or her place of residence; or
- If there is a debt owed or claimed to be owed by the other person in connection with the arrangement for the other person to provide sexual services–the quantum, or the existence, of the debt owed or claimed to be owed.
Each of the offences above carries a maximum penalty of 12 years imprisonment.
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