RECENTLY I wrote a blog about human trafficking in Australia, where I discussed the cold reality of women and children being sold, lured, and held captive within the Australian sex industry. Quite often these instances of slavery and sexual servitude go unnoticed within society…simply because they are carried out within ‘normal’ businesses, such as massage parlours, beauty salons and restaurants.
The more I learn about trafficking and how organised crime operates, the more I have realised the need to begin looking around my own neighbourhood for instances of corruption. I decided to start with one particular massage centre in Brisbane, which operates out of a Queenslander home and seems to offer services quite late at night. Today I decided to investigate, and below is an account of what I discovered at Massage centre XY (name has been changed).
February 4th, 2014
Today I decided to do a little investigating at XY Massage Centre. There were several key factors that had been tipping me off – in particular, the fact that the business was run from an old Queenslander, seemed to operate 365 days per year from early until late at night, and had a range of staff who were all foreign and often spoke poor English. There was also the fact that when I searched through an adult services forum, there were several accounts suggesting that the women at this business could be pressured into giving ‘happy endings’ for as little as $40. I figured this was enough to begin investigating.
Walking up towards the front door, I noticed that all of the windows were covered with wrapping paper or other materials – preventing anyone from seeing inside – and there was a sign notifying that the business operated 365 days per year.
As I made my way inside the presentable (yet slightly darkened) waiting room, a young Asian woman appeared from a side room to greet me. She spoke fairly good English but seemed somewhat confused about processing my Eftpos card, and disappeared out the back to check with someone. This gave me the impression that they must be used to dealing mostly with cash.
I was taken into a massage room where I changed and waited for my massage therapist, a young foreign woman around 21 years of age named Anna (name changed for privacy). I noticed that the young woman was quietly spoken and seemed somewhat shy, usually speaking only to ask if her massage pressure was okay.
After about 10 minutes I began by asking how her weekend had been, and what she had gotten up to. Slowly we began to share with each other, talking about our jobs and interests, and about what it’s like to work in Australia. Somehow we got onto the topic of Australian accents, and I taught her how to spot an Aussie ‘bogan’ – which she found hilarious.
“Bogan? What is this bo-gan?” she asks.
Before I knew it, she was giggling and laughing at my explanations of how to spot these unusual ‘people’.
“Are they white?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” I replied. “And they usually have a ‘rat tail’ in their hair, like to do burnouts in their car, and make loud comments like “heyyy mannn, that’s so sick!”
This caused more laughing. Soon Anna seemed to relax and began sharing with me about her life. She told me she grew up in Taiwan and came to Australia recently on a working holiday VISA.
“I was working at a restaurant in city, but I was paid so very little – so I ran away,” she laughs.
As we continued chatting, our conversation turned slightly more serious.
“So how do you enjoy working her at XY?” I asked?
Anna paused, before replying, “Uh…well——-“
“What would you rather do?” I asked. “Is there something you’re passionate about?”
“I would love to be Airline hostess!” she exclaimed. “But money is very good here…I can make almost $100 a day, so maybe I stay here in Australia for a while. I can make much more than in Taiwan.”
“Yes I imagine it must be a big difference in pay,” I said. “What are Australian customers like to work with?”
“Well, there are lots of very nice clients, very kind like you,” she mused. “But most of my clients are men…sometimes they ask for things that I don’t want to do,” she admitted.
“Sometimes they ask for extras, and I tell them, ‘No I don’t do that.’ But sometimes they don’t even ask, they just start touching themselves,” she says.
“They can be very creepy. I once had a man who phoned and asked for ‘couples massage’. I thought, ‘Oh how sweet, he must be a nice customer who cares about his wife,’” said Anna. “But then he arrived, and he was alone. He goes in for massage and starts saying things to me, like ‘Oh you’re so beautiful…If I wasn’t married I would love to take you out.’”
“Wow,” I say. “Was he an older man?”
“No,” she says. “He was like maybe, 28? He tell me he marry only 3 months ago. It was so awkward, he kept saying these things to me and he was naked while he was talking to me. I have a boyfriend too, so I felt really awkward.”
“What did he say next?” I ask.
“He started to ask me things like, ‘Do you think I’m handsome?’ I just pretended I did not understand him,” she laughs. “I said, ‘handsome?’ Ahh, I do not know that word.”
“Maybe that can be a good strategy for avoiding creepy men’s answers!” I joke.
“Yes!” she laughs. Turning serious, she mentions something about these requests, and being ‘legal.’
“You have to be firm,” I say. “It’s actually completely illegal and unless a business has a license for sexual services they CANNOT ask you for these things. I would probably punch them in the face, but maybe you can just tell them to go away,” I laugh.
We both have a giggle.
“Yes,” she says. “When they do these things I tell them, ‘If you don’t stop I will walk out of the room.’” That usually stops them. They say, ‘Oh sorry, okay I won’t do it again.’”
My blood boils. These men – who do they think they are to assume that a young foreign woman, a complete stranger, should be expected to fondle their genitals just because they offer her a few dollars?
Spending an hour with Anna wasn’t so much about the massage for me, but more about the chance to connect with someone in my community; to hear her story and to offer her some fun for the afternoon. She may be lucky to work in a business where she is not expected to perform sexual services, yet this doesn’t stop her from constantly experiencing sexual harassment from men.
She passed her mobile number onto me at the end of the session and I promised to give her a message if I hear of any legitimate job opportunities for her in the hospitality industry – she seemed more excited about this than the repeat business. I left feeling on a high.
To finish, I have two simple messages:
- If you are a man who is purchasing sex from women, or attempting to pressure massage staff into giving you ‘extras’, then stop. Sorry, but your penis and its desires are YOUR responsibility, not that of some foreign (or local) woman in a massage parlour. If you can’t be bothered taking possession of your own sexual desires, then go out and form a relationship with a real woman who can meet your emotional and physical needs.
- If you want to do more in your local area to investigate illegal sex services, you don’t have to look far. Keep your eyes peeled for anything in your community that seems suspicious, or start looking online at local beauty/massage places. Google is your best friend for finding the answers to what is going on. If you note anything suspicious, begin compiling evidence and then speak to a local anti-trafficking organisation or police station for further advice.