CAMPAIGNERS against human trafficking have joined calls for Gold Coast massage parlours to be licensed to protect vulnerable young workers.
Josephite Sister Margaret Ng has reacted to reports that massage parlours operating as underground brothels were recruiting overseas workers ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Sr Ng said it was common worldwide for big sporting events to attract activity within the illegal sex industry.
“I think it is a good idea to license the massage parlours,” she said.
“It is one step towards a control. It would allow the police to go in and check up if they are legitimate massage operators, or not.”
A scan of social media reveals hundreds of massage parlours operating on the Coast. Many have opened in the past year.
Websites advertise sexual massages from “young Asian girls” and boys.
The ads describe services available from “stunning young, young girls”, “young Asian girls” and in one ad a “young Asian boy”. Employees of massage parlours and brothels in Queensland must be aged 18 or over.
Gold Coast City councillor Dawn Crichlow said legitimate health massage services did exist on the Gold Coast, but were being rapidly outnumbered by disreputable services.
Cr Crichlow said international students, particularly Chinese students, were being recruited as young sex workers.
“The government’s got to do something about it. They’ve got to legislate and license them the same as brothels and then you will see them closing up,” she said.
Cr Crichlow cited the case of a Canadian female student who “got caught up in the business for the money”.
She said the massage parlour operator took her passport away “so literally she was a prisoner to them. And she was getting half the money.” Cr Crichlow approached the parlour owner and demanded the passport be returned.
“And that was the end of that,” she said.
“But that’s the kind of thing going on.”
Cr Crichlow named Davenport Street in Southport where there are four massage parlours operating.
“It’s got to be stopped. I’m definitely sure three out of four are doing sex acts,” she said.
Cr Crichlow has called for Queensland Health to license massage parlours in the same way as brothels were.
Sr Ng said it was common knowledge that a lot of people working in the sex industry were from other countries, experienced a language barrier and may not understand their rights.
She pointed to the horrendous cost of human trafficking.
Sr Ng is an expert in the field, which can include the recruitment of illegal foreign workers in the hospitality industry but also agriculture, horticulture, construction, domestic work and food processing.
“The recruits can be under age, and don’t know what their rights are,” she said.
Sr Ng described the activities of “phoenix companies”, which were bogus companies which recruited vulnerable young people in their homeland.
“But when they arrive they find the company does not exist. They are left vulnerable and alone,” she said.
“At the moment we are asking the Government to license the labour-hiring agencies.”
The licensing system would include making it harder for criminals and other unsuitable people to set up or control labour hire businesses, and make it easier to detect and identify human rights abuses.
“Many survivors of human trafficking are traumatised and depressed, often suffering a loss of self-worth as they try to make sense of what has happened to them,” Sr Ng said.
“Guilt and shame prevent them from speaking of their experience to their families. Some resort to self-harm, alcohol or drug addiction.
“One lady showed me a scar on her wrist, telling me that she had cut herself to take the other pain away. Endorphins alleviate the other pain.”
Sr Ng co-ordinates the Josephite Counter-Trafficking Project and has travelled across Australia giving talks at schools, parishes and in the community to raise awareness of human trafficking in Australia.
By Mark Bowling