It's a bad time to be a brothel keeper in Queensland. Over the past five years the state’s legal sex industry has taken a sustained hit at the hands of hook-up apps and massage parlours, both of which have pretty convincingly cornered the market of people looking for a spot of non-committal lovemaking.
At the end of the 2017-18 financial year, just 20 licensed brothels had managed to keep their red lights on—the smallest amount since 2004, according to a recent report by the Prostitution Licensing Authority (PLA). And the Authority’s chairman, Walter Hutt, thinks illegal massage parlours are largely to blame for forcing so many brothel keepers out of business, the ABC reports.
“In my view, the most significant factor is the proliferation of the so-called massage parlour,” says Walter. “While there is, of course, the legitimate remedial and therapeutic massage clinic, many are clearly a front for illegal prostitution.”
Walter explains that these illegal operators are proving tough competition for the proprietors of licensed brothels by undercutting their prices and shouldering them out of the market. That’s a problem not just for business owners, but also workers in the sex trade.
“Illegal operations are by their nature unregulated and unscrutinised and there is a heightened risk of the danger of exploitation of workers, violence, and pressure to have unsafe sex,” says Walter.
The PLA’s report further concluded that the prospects of future growth in the industry were “limited at best” by the challenges of illegal operators and dating apps. Last year, Brisbane brothel licensee Joan Leeds made a similar observation that her business was struggling against the tide of Tinder.
"These guys used to come into the brothels all the time because they are the people who don't commit to anybody," she told The Brisbane Times. "They would be the bread and butter of your Friday and Saturday nights. Well, they don't come in anymore because they just jump on Tinder, it's free."
Joan bought The Viper Room in March 2006, and has reportedly seen little growth in her business since the app launched in 2012.
"I would suggest the industry is dying out," she said.