Single text that led to sex worker arrests
Jaidee from Queensland thought it was just a standard booking from a client, but then the man's request changed.
"He asked me if I had a friend working with me. I said no, I work for myself," the sex worker, originally from Asia, told news.com.au.
"He said bring your friend. If it was a double he'd pay extra. I asked him to leave, I didn't feel respected, like I was being forced. Then he told me there were police waiting on the street."
Jaidee's room was raided by seven officers.
"It was scary; they were searching around in bags and cupboards. They pointed their finger at me and said they will ring immigration to get me sent home," she recalled.
"They put handcuffs on me and dragged me. They were so tight I got bruises from my arrest. Seven police to rough up one woman."
It was a traumatic experience and one that would never have happened if she had lived in New South Wales.
In recent months Jaidee said fellow sex workers throughout Queensland have been in a state of fear due to a sweeping police crackdown on the industry.
They claim they have been "entrapped" by undercover officers into breaking the law.
In the state, it is against the law to work in pairs, a "double" or even to send another sex worker a text.
It comes as the Sate Government begins a review into prostitution laws, some of the toughest in Australia.
Last month, a 47-year-old man was charged with running an illegal brothel, according to the Gold Coast Bulletin.
However, 24 sex workers were also arrested, with many of those cases coming to court this week.
Queensland Police said Operation Romeo Manoeuvre, which has been running since March, aimed to "disrupt and dismantle networks profiting from illegal prostitution activities."
It doesn't wash with sex work advocates.
"Claims by the Prostitution Enforcement task force that they are only targeting the big wigs is farcical," Janelle Fawkes, the campaign leader of DecrimQLD, which is pushing for the decriminalisation of sex work, told news.com.au.
"It is largely sex workers who are being charged and dragged through the courts."
Ms Fawkes said there had been an "escalation of charges" against women as the talk about decriminalisation has gotten louder.
Yet when sex workers have crimes to report - one woman told news.com.au she was raped by a client - some say they are practically ignored by the police.
TEXT ENOUGH TO GET YOU ARRESTED
Sex work, to some extent, is legal across Australia, but the laws that govern the industry differ hugely from state to state.
In Queensland, the industry is tightly regulated and sex work can only take place in a handful of licensed brothels or by individuals working alone.
In NSW, sex work is entirely decriminalised with few restrictions. Brothels, for instance, are considered a business like any other and do not need to go through the hoops to be licensed.
Put simply, the very crimes that sees Queensland's sex workers hauled before the courts don't even exist south of the Tweed River.
"The system is clearly broken when only 20 legal brothels exist in the state, 20 years into a system of regulation. This has left 80 per cent of industry operating outside of the legal sector," Ms Fawkes said. "And its sex workers are carrying the burden of this broken system."
The state's myriad laws regulating sex work have been slammed as nonsensical.
Sex workers can be fined for using a list of banned words in adverts that include arguably inoffensive phrases like "natural," "tasty," and "kissable".
Someone who knowingly drives a sex worker to a job could fall foul of the law, as could a receptionist who handles a sex worker's bookings.
Indeed, anyone - paid or not - who "participates in any action knowingly enabling another person to engage in prostitution" could be arrested.
Texting a fellow sex worker that a client has arrived and then left, a common safety technique, is forbidden.
"It's complete over kill - it's just an individual sex worker charged for being a sex worker," said Ms Fawkes.
RAPED BY A CLIENT
"We're seen as second-class. Our safety strategies are criminalised. We are put in situations that we can't access help," said Stephanie, also a sex worker.
She told news.com.au that her safety concerns became all too real two years ago.
"When I first started working privately, I had a client come to me," she said.
"We were not going to do intercourse. I had agreed a massage and a hand job. Then he pinned me down and raped me. I told him not to; he didn't stop."
When her ordeal was over, Stephanie went to the police. She said she was appalled by her treatment.
"The officer taking details said 'is that it?' He sort of looked at me like it was a bit comedic that I had come into report it.
"They said how horrible the experience would be if I wanted to continue. So it was very much trying to get me straight back out of the door. I left there feeling distraught and never tried to report it again."
Queensland Police did not comment on Stephanie's treatment.
Stephanie still works in the industry but now she breaks the law by texting another sex worker to let them when she has a client.
"I can work legally or safely, but I would prefer to be safe."
Ms Fawkes said police behaviour towards sex workers was "completely unacceptable".
"Even for those brave few that report crime, most of those reports are not acted on by police."
She said that while police had to do their jobs, pouring so many resources into catching out sex workers was unnecessary.
"Most Queenslanders want police to be focused on other areas of crime not perusing sex worker adverts."
HOW SEX WORKERS FALL FOUL OF THE LAW
The common modus operandi of cops was to scour adverts from sex workers to find misdemeanours, Ms Fawkes said.
"One word out of step and that gives permission to do an undercover sting, to contact the sex worker and make a booking under the guise of being a client," she said.
"If the sex worker in their work attire, such as lingerie, it can be a horrific experience when they find out they're client is actually a police officer.
"The police often seize your money, laptop and phone and it's through that they might find evidence of you communicating with another sex worker for safety. You end up with a $5000 fine. You have to do a lot of sex work to pay off $5000 in fines."
That's how Jaidee broke the law. She received a six-month suspended jail sentence.
"My conviction will impact on me for the rest of my life. Entry to the US excludes people who have a sex work charge."
She believes Asian sex workers are targeted because many have a limited grasp of English or intimate knowledge of local laws.
"Police entrap and harass us. We are forced to work alone and then we have no one with us to witness the way the police behave. Why would any government want to keep laws that make us unsafe?"
Acting Detective Inspector Jason Hindmarsh from the Major and Organised Crime Squad told news.com.au that the role of police was to enforce the Prostitution Act 1999.
"A range of investigative techniques are used to enforce this act, including covert policing methodologies. In commencing any criminal prosecution each investigation is assessed on its individual merits, including a decision to assess if it is in the public interest to prosecute."
Queensland Police has also defended the use of "covert policing methodologies".
Last month, Police Minister Mark Ryan said the government had asked the Queensland Law Reform Commission to look at the "development of an appropriate regulatory framework for the sex industry".
Decriminalisation will likely be one of the options.
"All Queenslanders should have a healthy and safe working environment," Acting Minister for Police Dr Anthony Lynham told news.com.au.
"This Government continues to monitor and consult on the effectiveness of the current regulatory approach in relation to the sex industry."
Ms Fawkes said action by the government couldn't come soon enough: "Every day sex workers go to work they are under the risk of police arrest, criminalised for implementing basic safety strategies."
Stephanie said she has a message to legislators.
"If people doing sex work are happily participating, there is no victim. Please let sex workers work safely, please let us has very right other business have. This is a job I enjoy and I'd like to do it within the law."
Names of the sex workers who spoke to news.com.au have been changed to protect their identities
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call triple-0