A CALL from councils to bolster policing of illegal brothels masquerading as massage businesses has been answered by the state government insisting existing resources are enough to crack down on dodgy operators.
Kingston Council won backing from councils across Victoria at a Municipal Association of Victoria state council meeting in October to urge the Labor state government to set up a taskforce to tackle massage parlours offering illegal extra services (“State brothel busters call wins support”, The News 25/10/17).
Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville has responded by saying Victoria Police’s Sex Industry Coordination Unit (SICU) established in 2012 has “a specific focus on disrupting illegal brothel activities”.
Kingston mayor Cr David Eden, representing council at the MAV meeting, has said council appreciates police efforts to investigate illegal brothels but ratepayers are increasingly copping bills of about $3000 each time council hires private investigators to bust illegal brothel operators.
Council revealed five massage parlours across Chelsea and Mentone have been caught recently offering extra illegal services and five others are under investigation.
“I am aware of the local community’s concerns around alleged unlicensed brothels, and police are working closely with the industry, state and federal authorities to investigate and disrupt illegal brothel activity,” Ms Neville said in a statement.
“We have always said we will give Victoria Police the powers and resources needed to keep Victoria safe. This area is no exception.”
The SICU was formed five years ago under the former Coalition state government headed by then premier Ted Baillieu.
Victoria Police said local police work with the SICU on illegal brothel cases.
“The investigation and response to illegal activity in the sex industry – as with any industry – is delivered by local police, resulting in a state-wide response to the issue,” Victoria Police spokesperson Hannah McDonald said.
Ms McDonald said Operation Visita representatives meet with and inform operators of suspected unlicensed brothels that the provision of sexual services without a licence is an offence in Victoria.
Operation Visita is a joint SICU, Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration and Border Security operation.
The state government advised police charged 19 offenders with 43 offences in 2016-17 related to illegal sex work.
The Victoria Police SICU was initially staffed by a handful of officers.
Victoria Police would not disclose the number of officers working in the unit for operational reasons.