Gold Coast's illegal brothels ‘like back lanes of Asia’
A BROTHEL madam says a police crackdown on illegal massage parlours is uncovering a sex trafficking rort on the Gold Coast.
Pentagon Grand boss Suzanne Pfeifer said she had been approached by eight Asian women looking for a job since police swooped on alleged underground brothels late last year.
She said the women did not have visas, spoke no English and were accompanied by "minders" who refused for them to be interviewed alone.
"Whenever there is publicity about a raid, we get a lot of Asians who don't speak English coming in for a job," said Mrs Pfeifer.
Pentagon Grand is the city's only 24-hour seven-days-a-week legal brothel.
"They are scared and want to work at a place that is legal. But the thing is as soon as I ask them for a visa they are out the door.
We also get a lot of calls from men saying my wife or girlfriend wants to work. I say: 'OK, can you bring your wife or girlfriend in for an interview?' "
However, she says the men, many of them English-speaking Europeans, did not allow the women to be interviewed alone and refused to provide documentation.
Queensland Police declined to comment on the issue yesterday.
However, police sources said they were aware of cases of historical sex trafficking on the Gold Coast.
"Usually they come to the Gold Coast on holiday or working visas," they said. It is understood some of those who end up coming to the Coast on international visas are paying off either their own or family debts.
However, a sex industry lobby group said it was "misleading to conflate trafficking and illegal sex work".
Respect Inc said sex workers had complained of being victims of crime and that their reports were not taken "seriously" by police, and challenged authorities to provide evidence of trafficking.
The group said decriminalisation of sex work, as recommended by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women and Children, "would lead to fewer opportunities for exploitative working conditions, including human trafficking".
Mrs Pfeifer described the illegal industry on the Gold Coast as the "back lanes of Asia". "It's bad to think there is still human trafficking in a place which is supposed to be in the 21st century," she said.
"The Gold Coast is the perfect place for (sex trafficking) as it's a tourist location.
"People come and go easily."
Mrs Pfeifer said there were "hundreds" of illegal prostitutes operating "everywhere, even in private houses" and "two or three shutdowns a year just isn't enough".
"(People) can go for an illegal massage and pay less than $100 for a rub and tug but for us we have to set our prices (higher) because we have to pay fees to the Prositution License Authority (PLA).
"The (licence) costs us $35,000 a year. We have to work under these laws."
Whenever there is a raid, Mrs Pfeifer said Pentagon Grand was not only inundated with clients - but with people wanting to be employed.
FULL RESPONSE FROM RESPECT INC
"Trafficking and illegal prostitution are not the same thing and conflating the two has had a disastrous impact on policy development and sex workers," Respect Inc state co-ordinator Elena Jefferys said.
"Queensland laws make sex workers working together in pairs, from erotic massage parlours or for escort agencies illegal. We do not support criminalisation of sex work as it creates barriers to sex workers accessing services and reporting crimes.
"Police raids and criminalisation do not stop illegal sex work.
"The real problem in Queensland is the laws that have provided so few licensed businesses, and criminalised erotic massage parlours. It has created a situation where licensed brothel see everyone else as competition - and seek to increase policing in this area.
"Sex workers in Queensland are calling for the decriminalisation of sex work, a model of legislation introduced in November in the Northern Territory, which increases sex workers access to justice and safety.
"Decriminalisation of sex work is recommended by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women and Children, as it "would lead to fewer opportunities for exploitative working conditions, including human trafficking."
"Respect Inc is the statewide sex worker organisation in Queensland and has a local Gold Coast office that supports sex workers, including Asian and migrant sex workers, with workplace health and safety issues, access to justice and human rights.
"Australian research commissioned by NSW Health Department, and international research published in Dec 2018 in the PLOS Medical Journal recommend against the licensing of sex work. Queensland currently has a licensing framework which does not meet the needs of the majority of sex worker workforce.
"In 1991 a government report found sex work occurs via a range of sex industry business models. Despite this, the Prostitution Act 1999 created the licensing framework and made all massage parlours illegal in Queensland, only allowing boutique brothels. This results in police having the power to raid and arrest people attached to erotic massage parlour businesses. "Raids and closures lead to sex workers having limited workplace options. Respect Inc supports sex work being decriminalised, in line with best practice recommendations from Amnesty International, UNAIDS, the Kirby Institute and The Lancet.
"Statewide, the biggest complaints we receive from sex workers are regarding petty fines like advertising breaches, the impact of laws that criminalise sex worker safety strategies, unfair deportation, racism from police, and discrimination by health services.
"The second most concerning type of complaints we receive is about police raids where police pose as clients, often requesting illegal services and seize sex workers phones and money, with sex workers claiming the money is not returned. In a case in 2018/19 the court instructed it to be returned, albeit 18 months after the initial arrest.
"Thirdly, motels and hotels have been known to evict migrant sex workers without refunding money already paid.
"On a number of occasions in the last 12 months sex workers have come forward to Respect Inc about being victims of crime, and have not had their reports taken seriously by police. "Respect Inc staff liaise with police to assist sex workers to make a complaint to police and access justice. Many of these cases are ongoing.
"We are extremely concerned with any assertion that exaggerates trafficking within the sex industry in Australia. If police are saying it is happening we would say 'where is the evidence' as we were recently told by high level police there was no evidence. It is misleading to conflate trafficking and illegal sex work.
"Queensland desperately needs the repeal of laws that criminalise sex worker businesses and sex worker safety strategies like has happened in the Northern Territory."