Brothels to spell out illegal slavery
Kate Lahey and Maris Beck, The Age, Melbourne; 12 March 2009
Brothels in Melbourne would be made to install signs telling workers and clients sex slavery is illegal, under new laws being considered by several councils.
In an effort to reach women brought to Australia illegally and forced to have sex, often for no money, the signs would offer phone numbers to seek help and information on Australian law.
The move comes amid claims from the Federal Police and brothel owners that sex traffickers are using Melbourne's legal brothels as a front for their trade.
A Melbourne brothel owner has told The Age of several approaches made to her to buy women.
"Over the past three years I would have had at least four to five people approach me with the offer of girls," said the owner of Collingwood brothel Le Boudoir, who asked not to be named. "They said the same thing. They had girls available, 'Would you be interested? They'll make you a lot of money.' "
Another woman in the sex industry said she saw a trafficker approach the owner of an outer-suburban legal brothel with photocopies of Asian women's passports.
"He was basically offering for them to work double shifts, seven days a week, and he was putting the idea to her that they didn't need to be paid, that the two of them would go halves on the money," she said.
"It's more prevalent than people think."
William Albon, of the Australian Adult Entertainment Industry, said his organisation was opposed to servitude and trafficking. "We find it a heinous and dreadful crime," he said.
He said industry members reported more than 30 advances from suspected traffickers during 2006-07, but none last year. He said traffickers had moved to illegal brothels.
Jennifer Cullen, from the Federal Police, said Melbourne was a "major destination" for sex trafficking and most trafficked women were found in legal brothels.
Kathleen Maltzahn, a former brothel outreach worker and author of Trafficked, agreed. "The women that I've met, almost without exception, have been in legal brothels. Really the best place to hide a woman is in a legal brothel."
She said the mandatory signs being considered by councils would help reach enslaved women who were often impossible to contact. "You may not get an outreach worker in there, but you can have a sign in someone's language that says 'If you're experiencing this, it may be sexual slavery, that's a really serious charge in this country and you can get help'," she said.
She said while some men did not care whether or not a woman was a sex slave, or enjoyed the fact that they were, occasionally clients wanted to help women in these situations but did not know how.
The City of Melbourne has drafted a by-law that would force brothels to put up signs. Other councils, including Yarra and Moreland, are planning similar laws.