With registered brothels closed, it's a lockdown cash windfall for illegal sex workers

Picture: Shutterstock
Picture: Shutterstock

Canberra's largest brothel owner who shut his business during the Covid lockdown has warned that illegal sex workers operating in various locations around the territory could potentially, and unknowingly be community superspreaders.

Aaron Jones, who operates the Langtrees brothel in Mitchell, said that sex workers booking services through online platforms and operating out of private premises in Woden, Gungahlin, Belconnen and Civic would not be using traceable QR entry codes and other mechanisms which could help trace customers.

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He has urged Access Canberra, the directorate responsible for regulating the industry, to make an urgent assessment of the issue given the legitimate operators were classed as non-essential businesses and had closed their doors, but independent sex workers were operating across the ACT with impunity.

"This is a high risk environment given the close nature of the contact, and with no idea of who is operating and where, and who their customers are, it presents a very large issue for the community," Mr Jones said.

"These independents are advertising on private platforms and taking four, five, six bookings per night."

He said this issue was far riskier from a public health perspective than browsing at a hardware store.

"We are talking about very intimate contact between numerous people multiple times a night; aside from the obvious workplace health and safety issues outside the regulatory environment, with these independent operators there's going to no QR codes and zero contact tracing."

To test availability, Mr Jones had one of his staff call a number of the independent operators listed under several online sites.

"On day one of the lockdown in Canberra, we were able to make a booking for 8pm that night for multiple girls; there was no mention of a lockdown or restrictions or anything," he said.

"That's scary, that's concerning. These people are operating completely off the government's radar."

Langtrees shut the doors to its Mitchell premises on 2pm of the Friday lockdown announcement.

Under normal business conditions, it has between 50 to 80 women working out of its premises at various times, and with clients of their own choosing. Neither contractors nor employees, each of the sex workers operate as sole traders with their own ABN. The business provides each worker with a hygienic, safe, secure environment.

"They have full control over the hours they work, the clients they see and the services they provide," he said.

He said about 70 per cent of the sex workers at Langtrees are not Canberra locals but girls who "tour" here from Sydney, Queensland and the Northern Territory. The local workers and those who were in Canberra when the lockdown was announced are staying at home.

"We sent a notification out to all our girls as soon as the Canberra lockdown restrictions were known and we keep in contact with them," he said.

"They are very mindful of the public health orders and the restrictions.

"But of course those [sex workers] who are not known to us and operating independently are able to make a lot of money while businesses like ours are closed."

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Our coverage of the health and safety aspects of this outbreak of COVID-19 in the ACT and the lockdown is free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support. You can also sign up for our newsletters for regular updates.

This story Operating off the tracing radar, independent sex workers cash in during lockdown first appeared on The Canberra Times.