Who Are They?
Independent sex workers who meet clients in a public place are known as street sex workers. In Victoria, street-based sex work is unlawful for both the prostitute and the client, with police authorized to arrest both parties with solicitation. The street workers in Melbourne are virtually entirely female or transgender, and the customers are almost entirely male. There used to be a population of male to male street laborers, but they have all but vanished now. Over the previous 20 years, the number of street-based sex workers has decreased, and they now account for about 1% of all sex workers. This is partly due to the growing use of smartphones, social media, and the internet, which has led to an increase in the number of people working in private sex.
How They Operate
The worker stands on the sidewalk, waiting for passing clients. When a client wants to hire a street worker, he will pull over in his automobile and talk to the worker about services and costs. The actual sex work takes place somewhere else, generally in the client’s car.
Workers on the street work together to keep an eye out for any unpleasant or violent clients in the vicinity. Street workers also share information about where they can get food, showers, supplies including condoms, lubes, sponges, sanitary products, and needle exchange services.
Sex workers on the street typically work in separate areas, where they may or may not have the same level of protection and security as other street workers. Historically, St Kilda has been the epicenter of sex work on the streets. Dandenong and Footscray also have street laborers.
Sex Work on the Street
On a single street, a small street-based sex industry scene has evolved. The workers are mostly Caucasian women between the ages of 18 and 35. Men in their thirties who are Caucasian, South Asian, Afghani, or African comprise the majority of their clients. Dandenong’s sexual services are about half the price of St Kilda’s.2
Depending on the provider, typical fees for services in 2018 ranged from $20 to $120 across the state. Only cash is accepted. Because they aren’t employed by brothels or escort companies, street workers keep all of their profits. Prices for services are decided by word of mouth among street workers. It’s worth noting that the pay for this sort of sex work is based on the number of services provided rather than the amount of time spent with the client.
Street workers pick their own hours, whether or not to connect with a client, and which services they may or may not offer, in addition to keeping 100% of their revenue. Workers with children in their care, as well as those who are otherwise unable or unable to participate in the traditional labor, will benefit from this flexibility. Street workers, unlike private escorts, are not responsible for advertising, transportation, or responding to countless phone calls, emails, and messages. One of the key advantages of street employment is that it is paid per service rather than per hour spent with the client.
Workers on the streets are not covered by the law. Even if a street worker welcomes a customer into their home to perform the job, they are still breaking the law. They may perform services in unfamiliar settings, such as the client’s car, and the fact that they are not in charge of the vehicle enhances the risk. Because of the nature of their employment, street workers have little to no time to ‘screen’ potential clients to determine their personal safety and security. To protect themselves, street workers rely on knowledge from their peers, their own lived experiences, and intuition.
Because street-based sex workers are the most visible of the sex working community, they are also the most likely to be arrested by the authorities.
Because of the legal repercussions of reporting crimes to police, street laborers may be hesitant to disclose crimes committed against them. It might be argued that people who commit crimes against street workers are likely aware that street-based sex work is prohibited under Victorian law, and hence can get away with more. The marginalization and vulnerability of street-based sex workers is exacerbated by the lack of legal protection.