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This section of the report provides an overview of the structural elements of the sex industry in Australia—its size and structure, applied legal frameworks and employment practices, as well as the characteristics of the sex worker population such as age and cultural background, education, and health and safety issues. The review of the literature on the characteristics of the Australian sex worker population focuses specifically on female migrant sex workers and the issues pertinent to this subgroup.
There exist no official statistics on the number of sex workers in Australia. Other attempts to estimate the size of the industry are confined to specific jurisdictions or cities. Using a variety of quantitative and qualitative approaches, it has been estimated in prior research that there are between 1, and 10, sex workers in New South Wales at any one time, highlighting the complexities involved with relying on estimates to provide a reliable number Donovan et al.
Many of these estimates include only female sex workers. In the Australian literature on sex work, brothel work is generally defined as multiple sex workers working at premises where services are provided on-site. Private work refers to a sex worker arranging jobs independently Donovan et al. Escort agency work involves jobs that are arranged by a business escort agency , and services are provided off-site at a location arranged by the client.
Some brothels fulfil a similar function by arranging services to be provided by their employees off-site Donovan et al. As outlined later in this report, the legislation concerning sex workers in Australia generally distinguishes between the provision of services at on-site premises at sex industry or sole-operator businesses such as brothels or massage parlours, or residences , at off-site premises arranged through an agency or independently or by soliciting clients in public spaces, although how each type of sex work is legislated varies considerably between each state and territory.
The structure of the industry is therefore often subject to the legislation of the jurisdiction in which it operates. The criminalisation or licensing system imposed on sex industry businesses and the independent provision of sexual services create a separate category of the illegal or unlicensed sector. The proportion working as street-based sex workers or sex workers providing escort services is largely unknown, but has been estimated to be five percent and less than 10 percent, respectively, of all sex workers in New South Wales Donovan et al.