REVEALED: Inside the brothels in your neighbourhood
Sex work in Queensland is a hard slog according to those in the industry who say it is hampered by archaic laws and eye-watering costs.
Currently the entire state has 21 licensed brothels compared to 223 in Sydney alone leading to sex workers, especially sole operators, feeling disenfranchised and "treated as criminals".
Thanks to the 1989 Fitzgerald Inquiry Report we have some of the most onerous laws relating to prostitution and it is taking all the fun out of the job according to some.
Solo Queensland sex worker Bella has worked across the state and fears entrapment by police with every phone call while dodging legal technicalities, she says, that hinder safety measures.
Attracted to the job for its "flexibility, money and community of amazing people" she said it has been an uphill battle of late.
"I can and have worked privately in Brisbane and throughout Queensland but the laws can be hard to understand and essentially isolate private workers from other sex workers," Bella said.
"My preference for safety reasons is to either work with a friend (another sex worker) or to be in contact with another sex worker to tell them when my private clients arrive or leave and so on.
"This is all illegal in Queensland and I know of many sex workers who have been fined or charged for simply having text messages on their phone to another sex worker.
"I also can't describe my services in my advert or I risk a fine. It feels like the laws are completely out of step with the times - Queensland is falling behind while other states and territories decriminalise sex work.
"And all brothels in Queensland offer the same 'full service' - so at times when I have wanted to offer sensual services but not sex, there isn't an option of working in an erotic massage parlour legally like there is in Sydney.
"And the police presence is really felt by myself and my colleagues. Entrapment is used and police regularly contact us to try and pressure us into agreeing to provide an illegal service -like a booking with two workers known as a 'double'. It is always in the back of my mind when answering the phone."
One might think then, with so relatively few licensed venues - Brisbane city has 12 while the suburb of Surry Hills in Sydney has 18 - that legal brothels would be laughing, but owners say otherwise.
Licensee and owner of The Viper Room in Yeerongpilly, Joan Leeds, warns what might look like a guaranteed money-maker comes with a steep price.
Ms Leeds faces a near $40,000 yearly licence fee, pays $16,900 in weekly rent and $10,000 barely covers her wage costs per week, she said.
Firmly against whole-scale deregulation the business owner sees merit in decriminalising the sunshine state sex industry, which she feels is critical to keep spirits up.
"There are lots of clients out there," Ms Leeds said.
"A lot of older clients who are on their own, a lot single clients, a lot of disabled clients who shouldn't be disenfranchised just because they want a bit of skin on skin contact.
"And there are a lot of people out there who want to try something they know their partner isn't up to.
"So the good thing about us is there is a point of reference - if something has gone wrong or they have a complaint they have somewhere to go to.
"If they go to an illegal establishment where are they going to raise their complaints?
"And the clients who come here know the rules: there are no drugs on the premises and it is only safe sex practised and the girls are similarly aware.
"So there is not a lot of trouble in these places".
On top of significant costs, the brothel owner said banks routinely refuse loans to operators as "ethical objectors" for fear of involvement in an industry deemed ripe for money laundering.
It is no small measure of irony, Ms Leeds said, that the Queensland sex industry is intensely regulated making it a particularly poor target for organised crime and placing much of the workload on licensees.
"I have all the responsibility, the girls have all the rights," she said.
"I have to provide the protection, all their resources, I give them a comfortable place to work and I am the person who complies with all the hygiene, etc.
"We can only have five rooms in Queensland with eight girls working at a time; all licensees go through intense probity every three years and we are highly regulated by the Prostitution Licensing Authority - they can come in at any time and take what they like as they have widespread powers.
"And our hygiene and safety standards for our workers are of the highest standard".
It is the very prescriptive nature of the state's laws that have drawn the ire of advocates who argue its architecture endangers workers who choose to go it alone.
"The sex industry is an established part of the Queensland economy," Respect Inc and #DecrimQLD campaign leader Janelle Fawkes said.
"The workers in this industry contribute to the local economy and deserve the same rights as any other worker in Queensland.
"Every worker should be able to return home to their family safely after work which is why laws that criminalise the strategies sex workers use for safety are abhorrent. We are members of the local community like anyone else, providing a service and deserving of the same rights and protections.
"Sex workers charged for working in pairs to reduce overheads, getting a word wrong in their advertising, hiring a receptionist to take bookings or even working from the same motel as another worker make up most of the fines and offences. A criminal response to this issue has left many sex workers dragged through the court system for offences that are standard in other industries and the average Queenslander is surprised to find are illegal."
And appear before court they do.
In August police prosecutor Constable Sanghyun Koh at the Holland Park Magistrates Court described how an officer uncovered illegal sex work at a private residence.
Appearing at the court for the matter unemployed masseuse Jing Li, 58 pleaded guilty to knowingly participating in the provision of prostitution at her Runcorn home and possessing tainted property.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic police conducted surveys on (premises suspected of involvement) in the sex industry,'' Constable Koh said.
"A police officer posing as a client entered the premises. Li led him to a bedroom in (a converted) garage.
"He met the sex worker, they discussed prices and negotiated a price of $200 an hour for a massage and full sexual services.''
At that point the police officer revealed his identity and detained both women, the court heard.
Magistrate Sue Ganasan fined Li $900 and ordered she forfeit two iPhones.
And some three weeks prior a QUT marketing graduate was fined $2500 after Prostitution Enforcement Taskforce officers raided his massage parlour and found naked men and women inside.
On July 16 a court heard a police sting at Sky Day Spa Massage at Eight Mile Plains revealed male customers were seen throwing away used condoms in a bin outside a childcare centre after leaving the premises.
Jenn Huei Ting, of Algester, faced Holland Park Magistrates Court on the day on one count of knowingly participating in the provision of prostitution and one count of possession of tainted property.
A Melbourne student Ryeowon Kang, who was charged with the same two offences, also told the court that she flew up from Melbourne for 10 days to work at the massage parlour because she was in financial trouble.
And it is the ardent pursuit of wrongdoers that the Queensland Police Service (QPS) argue must be investigated and prosecuted for the greater good, although they stop short of describing what tactics are used to accomplish this.
"Unlicensed brothels may be linked to organised crime, and are operated by unapproved persons, operating businesses with unknown safety and health procedures," a QPS spokesman said.
"The QPS through the Prostitution Enforcement Task Force investigate illegal prostitution activities in Queensland, to ensure the health and safety of both the sex workers and their clients.
"In addition to risking the safety of their sex workers and clients, unlicensed brothels threaten the viability of lawfully established brothels that are required to comply with the Prostitution Act as well as in a COVID-safe manner.
"The QPS do undertake investigations and activities across the state to disrupt, enforce and
respond to illegal prostitution activities. It is not appropriate to release further details due to
"The transient nature of some illegal operators can add a level of complexity to investigations,
however the QPS works closely with law enforcement partners to target and prevent illegal sex work being undertaken outside licenced brothels".
Originally published as REVEALED: Inside the brothels in your neighbourhood