| 12.10,17. 11:59 PM |
Police swoop on Gold Coast massage parlours suspected of offering sex
Photo: Police interview staff members at a Nerang massage parlour. (ABC News: Kristian Silva)
Police have raided seven massage parlours on the Gold Coast that were allegedly operating as fronts for illegal prostitution.
Shoppers watched on as groups of officers descended on suburban shopping strips, carrying out the daylight raids on Wednesday at Nerang, Mermaid Beach, Southport, Mudgeeraba, and Burleigh Waters.
Body camera footage from one raid showed officers walking in on a man who appeared to be receiving sexual services from a female worker.
Investigators are looking through items seized at the sites, and could lay criminal charges in the coming weeks.
Dozens of women working at the parlours were also questioned by Australian Border Force (ABF) officials checking for visa breaches.
An ABF spokesman said the department planned to cancel the visas of a Taiwanese and Malaysian woman, allegedly working in breach of their visa conditions.
Detective Inspector Lance Vercoe said the police sting, known as Operation Papa Validate, would now shift to examine links between the businesses and possible connections to organised crime.
"The reality is a number of the girls we find working in these massage parlours are from South-East Asia," he said.
He said police were yet to find evidence of sex slavery in Queensland, but it was something investigators were keeping an eye out for.
"A lot of the time the girls don't provide assistance to police in terms of talking about the management, or who's running them, or who's made arrangements for their flights to Australia or flights to Queensland, or who pays for their accommodation."
At a Nerang shopping strip where police raided two massage parlours, neighbouring traders said they had made repeated complaints about the businesses.
"Customers are here all hours. They're here before they open. It's unbelievable," one trader said.
"There's been a blind eye to it, they've just let it go on and it's not right."
Individual massage parlour workers offering sex to customers is not illegal, so investigators will need to prove management was aware of the activity.
A quick search online reveals some of the parlours raided on Wednesday advertise "sensual massage" services in the escort categories of classifieds.
An Australian-based forum also exists where customers share explicit details of their visits to massage parlours and rate their experiences.
"I think all of us posting here have probably broken the letter of the law through ignorance at some point," one person wrote on the forum.
The raids come amid calls from the legal brothel industry for more to be done to clamp down on rogue operators, who do not need to pay for government brothel licences and offer cheap sex to customers.
In its 2016-17 annual report, Queensland's Prostitution Licensing Authority said legal brothels were making more complaints about the scale of illegal prostitution, which was costing them business.
"Illegal operations are by their nature unregulated and unscrutinised and there is a heightened risk of the danger of exploitation of workers, violence, and pressure to have unsafe sex," the report said.
Bond University criminologist Terry Goldsworthy said the scale of illegal prostitution "may be larger than we think", with organised crime groups adept at moving into areas where it was easy to make money.
"If they get the sense that there's no regulation of prostitution or that the legitimate prostitution avenues are falling by the wayside, they will move to fill the market through illegitimate means," Dr Goldsworthy said.
"A lot of these crime gangs are operating from countries where there's a very weak rule of law so once the money goes offshore I think it'd be extremely difficult to get it back."