A former Chief Minister once suggested the apparent proliferation of massage parlours in Darwin's CBD was lowering the tone of the city. It was May , and the topic in Parliament was business confidence. Terry Mills, the member for the Palmerston electorate of Blain, said he was surprised by how many parlours were filling gaps left behind by other businesses.
Whether you agree with his concerns or not, behind the neon lights a murky and complex industry lies. This investigation is part of Curious Darwin, our series where you ask us the questions, vote for your favourite, and we investigate. Why are massage parlours offering sex services when brothels are illegal in the NT?
You voted, so we took a look. Do massage parlours do the wrong thing? City Walker explained in an email they do not want to be identified because of the "illegal nature of the subject", as they put it, but said they had contacted multiple politicians with this concern and had gotten no reply.
Sex workers call for a crackdown on the illegal massage parlour industry, saying it robs them of safe, legal work. Of course, this question assumes massage parlours do the wrong thing. So, is this an issue for police? NT Police said it periodically received information that sex services were being offered at massage parlours.
Police continue to investigate and patrol massage parlours, including conducting ongoing liaison with parlour managers. A Darwin massage parlour spray painted with graffiti reading 'Does your wife know?? Neda Vanovac Non-erotic only One massage parlour in Darwin's CBD said initially it had to place a sign at the window front explaining it offered non-erotic massages only.
The owner said they could probably remove the sign, although some customers still asked for more than just a massage. A therapeutic Chinese massage business told Curious Darwin they had moved interstate from Darwin's CBD because they were sick of being pestered by customers asking for extra, and were fed up with saying no. The owner said business wasn't that great in Darwin because of the presence of illegal massage parlours.
Now, they said, they don't get anywhere near as many of those type of customers interstate. City Walker also asked whether local newspapers were complicit in this issue by publishing ads in the classifieds section of the NT News. Classifieds advertisements for massages in the Northern Territory. Michael Donnelly So, Curious Darwin called all massage-related ads in the paper to find out.
Some numbers weren't connected, and for the ones that did, we explained who we were and what we were investigating, and offered them the chance to speak anonymously.
Some didn't understand the query because they said English wasn't their first language, while others didn't want to understand, before hanging up the phone. One only had to look online for more options and, indeed, there was less subtlety.
Sex work or providing prostitution services isn't illegal in the NT, however, it is an offence to keep or manage a brothel. It's also illegal for a sex worker to solicit in public; for example, on the street. Under the Prostitution Regulation Act, a person or body corporate is allowed to run an escort agency business, as long as the prostitution services are not provided at the business premises. The laws also make it mandatory for sex workers to register with police for life. Jules Kim, CEO of the sex workers union the Scarlet Alliance, said the "extremely draconian" legislation violates the rights and safety of a section of the community.
Jules Kim The regulations haven't been significantly reviewed since they were introduced in The NT Labor Party has promised to make reforms to the legislation within its first term of government. Advocates for sex workers in the NT are campaigning for decriminalization of sex work to improve privacy and safety.
Ms Kim said some people were scared of the idea of decriminalisation because they thought it meant means no regulations, and that the industry was going to grow. The industry would actually be subject to more regulation, Ms Kim explained, because it would be governed by standard practices like occupational work, health and safety rules, or industrial rights regulations.