It’s long been an open secret, tucked away in the alleyways of the tropical Northern Territory capital — red signs blazing day and night offering massages with a little something extra on the side.
- The new paper could lead to the eventual decriminalisation of brothels within the Northern Territory
- If it goes ahead, the shift would mean the region’s illegal brothel industry would be stamped out, and legislated
- Advocates from the sex industry have long supported the move, which is outlined in the paper
Now, the veil has been lifted on the illicit industry, with the NT Government releasing a new discussion paper which reveals the extent of the illegal sexual activities operating in plain sight within the Darwin CBD.
“In the last two to three years, the Northern Territory, particularly in Darwin, has seen significant growth in the number of standalone massage parlours that, alongside their therapeutic massage services, provide erotic or sexual services,” the discussion paper reads.
“Currently there are no licensed escort agencies, and any other business that provides sexual services are not operating in compliance with the Act.
“… Anecdotal evidence suggested that in a number of massage parlours, sexual services are offered at the end of the normal massage service.”
Under the Territory’s ageing sex industry laws, brothels remain illegal, despite a high demand for services from the region’s largely transient workforce.
“Street-based work” also remains forbidden.
While police officers have largely turned a blind eye to the outlawed activities, a 2015 crackdown saw NT Police and Australian Border Protection Force officers raid 19 parlours across Darwin and Palmerston and “uncovered sufficient evidence to suggest some were being used as illegal brothels”.
No arrests were made during the raids, although three people were deported for breaching visa conditions.
Discussion could lead to decriminalisation
While prostitution itself is not against the law, the outlawed use of brothels means sex workers are forced to use hotel rooms or clients’ homes to offer their services, putting them at potential safety risk, and rendering them largely unprotected by legal rights.
The last review of the Act was undertaken in 1997, which ended with the recommendation that brothels be legalised — a recommendation which successive NT governments have failed to act upon.
The discussion paper — titled Reforming Regulation of the Sex Industry in the Northern Territory — aims to “open meaningful dialogue on the future of the sex industry” and “consider options to improve the NT’s legislation in respect of sexual services provided for fee or reward to and by consenting adults”.
The discussion has been pegged as a move towards the eventual decriminalisation of the industry, a shift which has long been welcomed by industry advocates.
“Advocates of the sex worker industry in the Northern Territory, and indeed across Australia, strongly believe that decriminalisation of the sex industry is the best practice regulatory model,” the paper reads.
“Fundamentally a decriminalised model removes criminal penalties for sex work.
“The model, in general, puts the industry under the same regulatory framework as any other industry type, including rights and obligations in terms of workplace health and safety, industrial relations and general legal rights.”
Move could stamp out illicit industry
The paper also reveals there has been community concern over the “increase of illegal brothels operating as massage parlours”.
Decriminalisation would stomp out the existence of illegal brothels operating in homes and shopfronts in Darwin and the Territory, by allowing for “the establishment of specific places where people could go to receive sexual services”.
“It would not necessarily mean the end of escort agencies or solo workers but would provide a legal place rather than the purported illegal activity currently found in the Territory,” the paper reads.
“Workers may see the legalisation of brothels as a way to offer their services in a more transparent manner without fear of retribution from the owner/proprietor or the authorities.”
Attorney-General Natasha Fyles said in a media statement that “all Territorians deserve to be safe at work”.
“Being a sex worker is a recognised profession in the NT, but workers have no protection and minimal rights,” Ms Fyles said.
“That’s why the Territory Labor Government is working on legislative reforms to deliver a safer and more sustainable framework for sex workers, their industry and the broader community.”
Gala Vanting, president of the Scarlet Alliance, the nation’s peak sex worker organisation, welcomed the discussion paper but said it doesn’t give a complete picture about what decriminalisation would look like.
“It brings up a lot of really broad questions, and even for people who work in this sector these things are quite difficult to sort of wrap your head around,” she said.
“What we would urge is that people in the general public look to peer-run sex worker organisations in order to get that information.”
Consultation regarding changes to the Prostitution Regulation Act is open until May 6, 2019, after which legislative changes to decriminalise brothels could forge forward.
This would then launch a broader legislative discussion on the industry in the NT, including where the brothels would be located, what worker’s rights would apply, and what licensing requirements would be needed.
Topics: sexual-health, sexuality, unions, prostitution, darwin-0800, alice-springs-0870, katherine-0850, tennant-creek-0860, nhulunbuy-0880, borroloola-0854
Lawn Mowing Service