Councils call for police to target illegal brothels
Councils are calling for increased regulation of unauthorised brothels, including a liquor licensing style system, beefed up fines and even police intervention.
Nine Sydney councils have shut down at least 62 unauthorised brothels since July 2017, with the majority of those in the City of Sydney (21), Canterbury-Bankstown (12), Parramatta (9), and Burwood (5).
The City of Sydney - which has 62 legitimate brothels and countless ones operating without planning consent - has issued $300,000 in fines to dodgy operators since July 2017.
But while the City of Sydney says it is happy with the state of play, other councils are flat out trying to snuff out massage operations that go rogue.
Willoughby Council area is without a doubt the north shore's secret playground, having the highest concentration of legitimate brothels per person outside of the City of Sydney.
The council, which has 10 approved brothels, has been having particular trouble with massage parlours that suddenly decide to provide 'happy endings' or other sexual services.
"Council has the authority to stop it from continuing to offer unauthorised sexual services but we are unable to close it down permanently - it is still allowed to go back to operating under the existing permitted land use as a massage business despite the misdemeanour," a council spokeswoman said.
Many councils say the burden of proof to weed out illegal brothels - multiple private investigators have to sleep with at least two sex workers - is too high.
Getting verbal confirmation of services provided should be enough, they say.
One Sydney council, which chose to remain anonymous, called for $5000 on-the-spot fines for massage parlours which offer sexual services without consent. The current fines are $1500.
Local Government NSW President Linda Scott said dealing with organised crime, the prevention of sex trafficking and high-level public health "sit far more appropriately with state government agencies such as Health NSW, and possibly police".
"In 2015 LGNSW made a comprehensive submission to parliament calling for a registration regime that appropriately allocates responsibility for the complex issues associated with brothels, and we believe the time for action is well overdue," Ms Scott said.
Blacktown, Hornsby and Campbelltown councils have called for more resources to deal with the problem, while Strathfield and Canada Bay councils say there needs to be more police involvement in investigating unauthorised brothels.
"Police are better equipped, trained and resourced to investigate illegal brothels, including other more serious illegal activities, such sex slavery, underage workers and organised crime," a Strathfield Council spokesman said.
But industry advocates say the industry has been decriminalised since 1995 and does not need more regulation.
"Having a central authority would just make another layer of bureaucracy that nobody needs," Kate, who owns Ma Belle Cheri brothel in Clyde near Parramatta, said.
A NSW government spokesman said "the government has no intention to amend the current regulatory framework".
Lachlan Jarvis is a consultant investigator with Lyonswood Investigations and Forensics - working on behalf of local councils and lawyers to uncover unauthorised brothels.
He said the company conducts about 25 undercover investigations a year on these establishments - one-third more than what they were doing 10 years ago.
"It appears there may be a rough correlation between a lack of brothels in an area and the number of unlicensed brothel investigations undertaken in that area," he said.
"As we only do work for a selection of councils, we can't comment on this definitively but there is something of a pattern (with exceptions) apparent."
Originally published as Councils call for police to target illegal brothels