Interactive map: Where Gold Coast’s alleged illegal brothels exist
6 min read·11 hours ago
Gold Coast Bulletin
The illegal sex trade is rife in Queensland – and nowhere more so than the Gold Coast, with more than 30 illicit brothels revealed in a Bulletin special report.
Illegal sex work is a crime on the rise on the Gold Coast.
Sex work itself isn’t illegal in Queensland if conducted in a licensed brothel. But the Gold Coast is home to a large number of massage parlours, offering rough trade that can negatively impact the lives of young women, by exploiting them and failing to provide adequate protection for workers.
Find out where they are, why it’s so hard to stop and the Gold Coast’s history of illegal sex work.
WHERE ARE THEY?
Sign outside a Gold Coast massage parlour.
It is illegal in Queensland to conduct sex work through escort agencies, unlicensed brothels, massage parlours, public solicitation, or street working.
A Bulletin investigation reveals there are dozens of illegal brothels masquerading as massage parlours across the Gold Coast.
The investigation looked at reviews for Gold Coast massage parlours on the internet and found 31 of them were alleged to be offering sexual services.
It was found the majority of massage parlours allegedly offering “happy endings” and “extras” were based in central Gold Coast from Southport to Mermaid Beach.
A report by the Queensland Adult Business Association suggested there could be more.
The association commissioned a confidential private investigator to probe illegal prostitution on the Gold Coast.
The investigator’s report revealed there were 49 illegal brothels allegedly operating under the guise of massage businesses.
WHY IT’S ILLEGAL
The Prostitution Licensing Authority (PLA) currently regulates 20 licensed brothels in Queensland, which includes four on the Gold Coast at Ashmore, Molendinar, Bundall and Stapylton.
Suzanne Pfeifer is the manager of Molendinar brothel Pentagon Grand and said for her brothel to be licensed by the PLA it pays close to $40,000 per year and about $1000 for each manager annually.
“We are open 24/7, which means the licensee pays for up to seven managers plus any new ones that start,” she said.
“Under the regulations, there must be a manager on the premises at all times the brothel is
open and all managers undergo extremely strict background checks on themselves and
their family members and have police interviews every three years.”
Brothels are heavily regulated according to Ms Pfeifer with her business required to meet guidelines and the Prostitution Act, face yearly audits and random police checks.
Any breach results in a heavy fine.
Ms Pfeifer said brothels are only allowed to operate in industrial areas away from schools, playgrounds and childcare centres.
Brothels can’t use the words “massage” or “new to the industry” and are not allowed to advertise for sex workers, according to Ms Pfeifer.
Only one sign is allowed on the outside of the building and it must be under a certain size and must be attached to the building with no flashing, or red lights.
“The parlours can be in the middle of your neighbourhood, in a shopping district, in a busy tourism precinct and in full view of children and adolescents with sandwich boards out on the
footpath, flashing lights and photos of semi naked girls and couples,” she said.
“They also have no limits on signage, advertising or location and don’t pay the fees or undergo the strict audits and police checks that we do.”
Suzanne Pfeifer, Manager of the Pentagon Grand brothel. Picture: Glenn Hampson
Ms Pfeifer said illegal sex work was dangerous to the community and her business jumps through hoops to keep people safe.
Brothel workers go through sexually transmitted infections (STI) education to spot signs and symptoms, organisations like RESPECT help support brothel staff in needed and employees are required to have photo ID and a current sexual health certificate when working.
“Illegal operators don’t provide this education and don’t require sexual health checks so the possibility of spreading STIs throughout the community is a great concern but of greater concern is the possibility of underage minors providing prostitution since there is no law requiring a masseuse to be over 18 years old,” she said.
“They can entice unsuspecting girls with promises of ‘no experience necessary’ and ‘all training provided’.
“Illegal parlours have the ability to exploit workers with absolutely no repercussions, with many being run by organised crime rings.”
According to a Gold Coast Health spokesperson STIs are dangerous when untested because they can be present even without symptoms.
CRIME ON THE RISE
In the 19 months since March 2020, when Covid-19 first locked down the Gold Coast, 74 prostitution related offences occurred in the city, according to Queensland Police statistics.
It almost quadrupled the number of prostitution offences in the 19 months before the Gold Coast’s first Covid-19 lockdown, which was only 21.
The statistics reveal a spike in prostitution offences on the Gold Coast in April and September this year.
A Queensland Police spokesperson said the April spike was from Operation Sierra Vast, while the September spike was from Operation Tango Quartz, the task force that charged seven people with 74 offences as a result of an investigation.
It included a Gold Coast man alleged to be a brothel licensee.
The spokesperson said police work with other government stakeholders, including the PLA, to ensure licenced brothels and sex workers comply with the Prostitution Act.
“The QPS receive reports from community members and the Prostitution Licensing Authority relating to unlawful prostitution and investigations into those reports are undertaken across the state, aimed at ensuring compliance with legislation,” they said.
The former Secret Liaisons brothel in Burleigh. Picture: Jerad Williams
In 2014, police intelligence suggested the sex trade boom began after the first massage parlour opened at Coolangatta on the border.
That year police conducted a citywide raid on the illegal sex trade that included 50 parlours.
Former Southport councillor Dawn Crichlow fought a long battle to crack down on illegal brothels and told the story of a “Christian brother” telling her that a masseuse in Southport’s Chinatown reached for his “private parts”.
“Would you like a happy ending?” she had asked.
That was in 2015 and two years later Cr Crichlow pushed to have cameras installed outside massage parlours to eliminate them “one by one”.
The same year in October 2017, Queensland Police operation Papa Validate raided 12 Gold Coast massage parlours.
One of the bedrooms at the former Secret Liaisons brothel in Burleigh. Picture: Jerad Williams
The Gold Coast used to have a fifth brothel in the Burleigh Heads industrial estate but Secret Liaisons was forced to close in 2017, which its operator blamed in part on unregulated massage shops offering cheap body rubs and illegal sexual services.
In 2019 a police investigation found four massage parlours allegedly acting as illegal brothels on the Gold Coast, resulting in at least two being forced to close their doors until December 2020.
Police sent a number of undercover officers into the massage parlours masquerading as clients – including one who was fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese – conducting surveillance on the businesses as well as questioning clients as they left.
The massage parlours were allegedly offering sexual services for as little as $20.
Last year Detective Inspector Juliet Hancock revealed to the Bulletin, Queensland’s illegal prostitution-busting task-force officers had visited more massage businesses because of police Covid compliance checks – and some were found to be illegally selling sex.
WILL IT BE STOPPED?
The Bulletin’s investigation on alleged illegal brothels found most were in central Gold Coast.
The Bulletin’s investigation found most of the massage parlours allegedly offering illegal sexual services were based in central Gold Coast.
Southport recorded the highest with eight massage businesses followed by Surfers Paradise with four.
Cr Crichlow’s fight against the industry finished when she stepped away from politics last year.
Since then no other local politicians have raised concerns over illegal sex work.
Southport MP Rob Molhoek said he hadn’t received any complaints about illegal brothels running out of massage parlours since Covid-19 hit, and rarely did before the pandemic.
“I don’t want illegal activity happening anywhere but I expect it hasn’t been a priority for police with borders and anti-social behaviour happening in the CBD,” he said.
“Anti-social behaviour and homelessness is the main area we get complaints about and we have done a lot of work on that front.”
Division 10 councillor Darren Taylor agreed the issue hadn’t been raised to him but said he would put a stop to illegal activity if it’s confirmed.
“I haven’t had any complaints about this type of issue. If we did we’d have concerns about that type of activity in the area, particularly if it’s not legal,” he said.
“If anything is happening that’s illegal out there we’d put in the measures to try and stop it.”
Police have previously said it is difficult to crack down on massage parlours being illegal brothels because it can be difficult to prove a manager or operator knows what is happening inside rooms between clients and staff.
Ms Pfeifer said the way that the law is written makes it impossible for the police to do anything about illegal brothels.
“The frustrating thing is that it’s so out of control on the Gold Coast now. They even
advertise on escort sites,” she said.
“The police can’t do anything about it because the laws don’t support them.”