Eve, an escort who works at the Pink Palace, says she chose a brothel over private work because of the safety aspect. In her mids, she is studying law full time at university and did her research on the industry before entering it about six months ago. And Robyn Smith says some sex workers have arrived at the Pink Palace after frightening experiences. Here, in the 15 years I've been here there's never been any incidents.
Of course, it is in the brothels' interests to highlight the risks of working alone. Many of those operating privately say the threat of violence and abuse are blown way out of proportion.
Cameron, a male-to-male escort based in New South Wales, says in 30 years he has never been a victim of violence. If I wanted to go into an unsafe profession I would become a nurse or a taxi driver. Some brothel owners also fear the impact of hook-up apps on their businesses.
But Cameron says that, although apps such as Grindr are utilised in the gay escort industry, they are not a major player. They are more commonly used by someone offering cash for sex as a one-off, or by someone who works only occasionally, rather than regular sex workers, he says.
Some Australian online services directories are incorporating app-like features. Jonslist — launched this year— is run by Jackie Crown, herself a former sex worker. Independent sex workers say online advertising and marketing are a positive. Many use a range of marketing tools including their own websites, online directories, Twitter and other social media, and sometimes hook-up apps.
The industry is frustrated that the Victorian Sex Work Act has not moved sufficiently into the digital age. Fawkes says Victorian sex workers face prohibitive regulations around advertising, while those in other states don't. In an era when the internet does not adhere to state boundaries, this makes things tricky, and in some cases makes the law look plain stupid.
This is a problem for Victorian escorts who want to protect their privacy and end up displaying a blurred-out face and a set of shoulders. Meanwhile, workers in NSW and Queensland are allowed to display full body pictures. However, as Fairfax Media discovered, Victorian-based escorts can still post full-body nudes online via their Twitter account. This does not flout the law because they are not actually advertising their business on Twitter, they are just using social media.
So are a lot of people. The Eros Foundation, an adult entertainment industry group, also wants change. Its executive officer Fiona Patten is founder of the Australian Sex Party and will contest the upper house Northern Metro region at next month's state election. Victorian workers are also prohibited from listing the specific services they offer, unlike workers in Queensland and New South Wales. So Victorian sex workers often set up websites with a section for Victorian clients that doesn't list services and a section for interstate and international clients that does.
But a Victorian punter only has to click on the interstate section to see the services listed. A spokeswoman for Victoria's Consumer Affairs Minister, Heidi Victoria, says current regulations, including advertising controls, expire in A consultation process for new regulations will start next year and stakeholders will include sex workers and brothel licensees.
These are all issues for sex workers attempting to stay within the law. But there is another cohort deliberately operating outside the law. Many such examples can be easily found online, much to the disgust of Albon and many brothel owners, who are paying heavy licence fees to adhere to regulations. A couple of clicks through the Melbourne personals section of some online classifieds sites reveal a number of explicit and lurid ads for sex acts in exchange for cash. None of these advertisers display a registration number from the Business Licensing Authority and many promote specific sex acts or mention their ethnic origin, all of which flouts the advertising regulations.
There are also many such classifieds advertising massage parlours with "happy endings", in reality illegal brothels offering sex that are masquerading as massage services.
A spokeswoman for Minister for Consumer Affairs Heidi Victoria says the activities of illegal brothels and sex workers are a matter for the Victoria Police. Consumer Affairs Victoria, however, monitors and enforces compliance in relation to online advertising by licensed brothels and legal private workers.
CAV "welcomes information about any of those parties ads in breach of regulations," the spokeswoman says, suggesting scrutiny is reactive rather than proactive. A Victoria Police spokeswoman says such issues can only be investigated if an official complaint is made against a specific ad.
She was unable to answer questions about monitoring online activity. We're paying these massive fees and what services are they providing in return to protect our industry? The answer is near nought. Female escort Savannah Stone had her own pre-conceived ideas about the industry before she started sex work four years ago. Stone moved here from the US when she was 21 after completing a marketing degree.
Then, when I wanted a change, I decided to look into sex work. She has never worked in a brothel but worked for an escort agency for about eight months before deciding to go private. She has her own professionally designed website, which includes a blog and her own Twitter account. It is listed in several online directories. I make jokes, post nudie pictures, talk about the gym. It's nice to show people this is a day in the life of me. It is also a really good way of advocating for sex work.
Stone says the internet works well for clients as well as sex workers. Most clients do their research. I looked after myself in a very smart way and I got myself out of that situation in about 20 minutes.
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