She says business is booming. The Pink Palace is one of the only legal Melbourne brothels run by a woman. She argues that this leads to a happier work environment for the sex workers, which buoys business, despite digital technology's encroachment into the commercial sex world. The sex-work industry is a complex, multi-headed beast. Experiences vary greatly in Victoria between street sex workers all illegal , brothel and escort agency workers both legal and illegal and private sex workers both legal and illegal.
Added to that, there are characteristics specific to each of the heterosexual, gay and transgender sex work communities. And then there are the state and territory variations — Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and the ACT have legal sex work industries but they differ greatly in what they allow.
In WA and Tasmania, brothels are outlawed but sole sex workers are legal. Now the internet, social media, video streaming and hook-up apps such as Tinder and Grindr add a whole new layer of complexity. Whether digital technology has been a blessing or a curse for the industry depends on who you speak to. Increased independence, autonomy, anonymity, ease and convenience are among them. Private escort Savannah Stone says the internet works well for clients as well as sex workers.
One such tool, the Ugly Mugs program, was started in Victoria by sex industry welfare organisation Rhed. It has now been adopted by sex-work industries all over the world. An information service circulated among sex workers, it provides details of clients who have been violent, abusive, refused to pay or caused other difficulties.
And there are now many members-only social media forums where sex workers can discreetly share information about their industry. In Victoria, brothels must pay an initial licence application fee to the Business Licensing Authority which works closely with Consumer Affairs Victoria to start their businesses. They then pay an annual licence fee. There are89 licensed brothels operating in Victoria.
Private sex workers must get a free registration number from the authority, which allows them to operate alone. There are more than of these owner-operated businesses registered at present.
There's a fascination with sex workers so, on Twitter, people can interact with me and I like to not take it too seriously. The financial gains for private escorts can be substantial. After paying tax, they take home per cent of their earnings, compared to an average of 50 per cent in a brothel. But brothel owners argue that the risks of working alone outweigh the financial benefits. Eve, an escort who works at the Pink Palace, says she chose a brothel over private work because of the safety aspect.
In her mids, she is studying law full time at university and did her research on the industry before entering it about six months ago. And Robyn Smith says some sex workers have arrived at the Pink Palace after frightening experiences. Here, in the 15 years I've been here there's never been any incidents. Of course, it is in the brothels' interests to highlight the risks of working alone. Many of those operating privately say the threat of violence and abuse are blown way out of proportion.
Cameron, a male-to-male escort based in New South Wales, says in 30 years he has never been a victim of violence. If I wanted to go into an unsafe profession I would become a nurse or a taxi driver. Some brothel owners also fear the impact of hook-up apps on their businesses. But Cameron says that, although apps such as Grindr are utilised in the gay escort industry, they are not a major player.
They are more commonly used by someone offering cash for sex as a one-off, or by someone who works only occasionally, rather than regular sex workers, he says. Some Australian online services directories are incorporating app-like features. Jonslist — launched this year— is run by Jackie Crown, herself a former sex worker.
Independent sex workers say online advertising and marketing are a positive. Many use a range of marketing tools including their own websites, online directories, Twitter and other social media, and sometimes hook-up apps. The industry is frustrated that the Victorian Sex Work Act has not moved sufficiently into the digital age.
Fawkes says Victorian sex workers face prohibitive regulations around advertising, while those in other states don't. In an era when the internet does not adhere to state boundaries, this makes things tricky, and in some cases makes the law look plain stupid. This is a problem for Victorian escorts who want to protect their privacy and end up displaying a blurred-out face and a set of shoulders. Meanwhile, workers in NSW and Queensland are allowed to display full body pictures.
However, as Fairfax Media discovered, Victorian-based escorts can still post full-body nudes online via their Twitter account. This does not flout the law because they are not actually advertising their business on Twitter, they are just using social media. So are a lot of people. The Eros Foundation, an adult entertainment industry group, also wants change. Its executive officer Fiona Patten is founder of the Australian Sex Party and will contest the upper house Northern Metro region at next month's state election.
Victorian workers are also prohibited from listing the specific services they offer, unlike workers in Queensland and New South Wales.
So Victorian sex workers often set up websites with a section for Victorian clients that doesn't list services and a section for interstate and international clients that does. But a Victorian punter only has to click on the interstate section to see the services listed.
A spokeswoman for Victoria's Consumer Affairs Minister, Heidi Victoria, says current regulations, including advertising controls, expire in A consultation process for new regulations will start next year and stakeholders will include sex workers and brothel licensees. These are all issues for sex workers attempting to stay within the law. First posted January 23, If you have inside knowledge of a topic in the news, contact the ABC. ABC teams share the story behind the story and insights into the making of digital, TV and radio content.
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