In a joint Four Corners/Fairfax special investigation to air tonight on the ABC, reporter Sally Neighbour exposes the brutal illegal offshoot of the sex industry — slavery. In a report that exposes the worst excesses of human trafficking, she reveals how networks of criminal gangs are luring women to Australia where they are forced to work as sex slaves. If they refuse they are beaten and their families are threatened.

This is not the illegal brothel trade we are talking about here. Unfortunately for those government authorities that have oversight of brothel regulation in the various states, this is happening in legal brothels.

The investigation begins in brothels in Australia’s major cities. Using public records and information gathered from industry insiders, they investigated the extent of the networks and detail the methods used by the gangs and their standover men to force women to work in this brutal industry. I assisted the Four Corners investigation by providing the names of dodgy Sydney Asian brothels and other relevant information.

In a report this morning in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald it’s alleged legal brothels in NSW and Victoria are operating unchecked despite police investigations implicating them in human trafficking, sex slavery and organised crime. It names the Five Star in Woolloomooloo, which was approved by the City of Sydney, and the Candy Club in Melbourne, licensed by the Victorian government.

Others named were Nadira Entertainment in inner-city Sydney, which specialises in Korean pr-stitutes. It is closely linked to the Comanchero outlaw motorcycle club and senior Asian organised crime figures. Regarding House, in Melbourne’s Heidelberg, where a sex slave allegedly worked in 2009. The owner of the premises is linked to a Chinese syndicate that runs illegal brothels and 39 Tope Street in South Melbourne, from which authorities removed two women in late 2008 due to s-x slavery allegations which the licensee later denied.

If I was a prospective Asian sex trafficker I would make a beeline for Sydney because of the lax brothel regulation in that state. Setting up a dodgy brothel business is easy because there are no probity checks done on the owners. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can get a brothel license in NSW irrespective of their criminal background.

You could be a convicted murderer, sex trafficker, child molester or crime boss and there is nothing to stop you owning a brothel in NSW. This is because brothels are regulated under NSW planning laws, not the criminal code. Local councils only consider whether the location of the proposed brothel meets local zoning laws. Otherwise everything else is fine.

Information on sex slavery held by the Australian authorities is not extensive. The Four Corners investigation revealed “scores” of women trafficked to Australia. Around the world the problem is much worse. In Peru last week 300 women were rescued from sex slavery in Peruvian brothels, including at least 10 minors — the youngest was a 13-year-old girl.

That is not to say we shouldn’t recognise that we have a problem here. Last month SBS programmed last month a story called Trafficked — The Reckoning, which was the inspiring story of a former AFP officer, Chris Payne, and his quest to find and bring to justice the man who enslaved a 13-year-old Thai girl in a Sydney brothel. The young girl named Ning, now 28, has suffered psychological problems including attempted suicide and drug dependency. She is also HIV. The consequences for each individual are huge.

The sooner brothel regulation is taken out of the hands of local councils and given back to the police cannot come soon enough.

Peter Fray

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