Assaults on West Australian sex workers have risen in recent years, Curtin University research suggests, fuelling calls for decriminalisation.
A study into prostitution in Western Australia has recommended legalising the industry, concluding criminalisation hurts the health, safety and wellbeing of sex workers.
Researchers found there had been a rise in private sex work and use of the internet and social media to promote sexual services, and a decrease in brothel-based and exclusive street-based work in the past decade.
Just over 20 per cent of prostitutes surveyed in the Curtin University study reported being assaulted at least once in the past 12 months, which was higher than found in the previous study in 2010.
The proportion of respondents who reported being threatened by one or more clients was also higher.
Several said clients had justified their abuse because of a perception sex workers were less likely to report assaults.
That appears to be a correct assumption, given almost half of those surveyed reported feeling uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with reporting sexual assault, threats and other crimes against them.
Almost 70 per cent of respondents who were born in Asian countries reported feeling that way, and Chinese sex workers were particularly fearful of having their trade revealed to family and friends back home.
Many in the industry reported fewer clients, reflecting the overall downturn in the WA economy, which could prompt some sex workers to be less discriminatory in their choice of clients and increasingly likely to agree to unprotected sex, the researchers said.
The hidden nature of sex work in private houses and massage parlours impeded access to health services and promotion, the researchers said.
A spokeswoman for WA Attorney General John Quigley said there were no current plans to review legislation relating to sex work.