Tuart Hill, Osborne Park businesses see red over massage parlours

Brian Burnell (owner Bernina Sewing Centre) with Lisa Thornton (Main St Co-Op). Both are concerned about a massage parlour opening next door. Picture: Andrew Ritchie.
Brian Burnell (owner Bernina Sewing Centre) with Lisa Thornton (Main St Co-Op). Both are concerned about a massage parlour opening next door. Picture: Andrew Ritchie.

BUSINESS owners in Tuart Hill and Osborne Park are concerned about massage firms they believe are providing inappropriate services.

A massage therapy business recently opened opposite Jessica Hillam’s hairdressing salon on Wanneroo Road near Tuart Hill Primary School.

She said she was suspicious about services offered after seeing men leave from the business’s rear entrance, with a balcony, security cameras and blinds always drawn at the shop front.

“I’ve spent so much money making my business look nice,” she said. “I’m annoyed that they’re there.

“I actually want to break my lease over it.”

Brian Burnell runs a Main Street sewing centre and has similar concerns about a massage business next door.

“I just think it’s wrong; residents don’t seem to be able to do something about it,” he said. “It brings seedy people to the area.

“Why should our business, which is reputable, be next to a massage parlour?”

He was worried it would cause his customers to feel “uncomfortable”.

Community News contacted the two businesses and three more nearby that featured photos of scantily clad women in their advertising.

Several also listed staff members’ physical attributes, including bust size, but removed these after being contacted.

An advertisement for the massage business from classifieds website Locanto.

Four of the businesses denied offering sexual services and said they did not understand why other business owners believed they did.

One did not return a request for comment.

MORE: Massage Club CEO wants public perception of massage to change

Main Street Co-Op chairwoman Lisa Thornton believed the number of such businesses in the area was increasing and unacceptable.

“I am aware of five on Main Street alone and there is one across the road from Tuart Hill Primary School,” she said.

“It financially devalues our properties and there is also the unsavoury social aspect. If I were a parent, I would not want my children being near these type of establishments.”

An advertisement for the massage business from classifieds website Locanto.

She wanted the establishments to be in commercial or light industry areas in specific “red light districts” and prostitution decriminalised to make the industry safer.

Perth-based Magenta offers support, health services, education and information to WA sex workers.

Manager Lena Van Hale said accusations of sex were common against massage businesses, whether they were being provided or not.

“WA’s legislation leaves much to be desired and has multiple grey areas,” she said.

“We would like to see sex work decriminalised and we promote decriminalisation as the best model for recognising sex worker health and human rights, as well as the most affordable model for taxpayers and the simplest model for policing.”

She described it as a complex situation and said migrant sex workers could not easily access protections usually available in workplaces.

“Decriminalising so that these structures are accessible to sex workers is essential to improving safety, healthy outcomes, and relationships between sex workers and their local councils, law enforcement and communities.”

Workers are encouraged to contact Magenta to access information and education on their rights.

The law

THE sex industry is governed by the Prostitution Act 2000 in WA.

Lawyer Genevieve Cleary said the Act mainly dealt with offences related to soliciting or offering prostitution services in public, advertising and involvement of children in prostitution.

The barrister said it also gave police powers to enter and search places where prostitution services were offered or where they suspected people were being forced into prostitution.

“In other words, the Act assumes that prostitution businesses exist and does not legislate against them,” she said.

According to Ms Cleary, it was up to each local government to regulate brothels.

“They do not have support or guidance from the WA Parliament as to how they do that, other than the general constraints on local councils, and the way they govern and make their own policies, procedures and local laws,” she said.

“I suppose it depends on the appetite of a council to control the issue as they see fit.

“In my 20-odd years as a criminal lawyer, I think I have only seen three or four people facing charges under this Act or its predecessor.”

The Prostitution Act is the portfolio of the Health Minister and Attorney General.

A State Government spokeswoman said there were no plans to amend the legislation.

An advertisement for the massage business from classifieds website Locanto.


What the City says

CITY of Stirling planning and development director Ross Povey said development applications for personal care services were approved under the City’s local planning scheme.

It included hairdressing, beauty therapy and massage services but not consulting rooms, a medical centre or sex services involving prostitution.

“The City can only take further action when there is evidence that illegal services are being provided,” he said.

“When the City receives an inquiry or concern in relation to alleged sexual services or brothels operating from a premise, City officers will undertake an investigation, based on the information available.

“However, it is extremely difficult to prove illegal services are being provided without an admission from the tenant/business operator.”

Mr Povey said premises for proposed massage businesses were not usually inspected unless the application was retrospective.

There was no evidence of a concentration of massage services within the City.


Report recommends decriminalisation

Curtin University published a report into WA’s sex industry last year.

The Law and Sex worker Health (LASH) Study: A summary report to the Western Australian Department of Health recommended that the industry should be decriminalised and programs established aimed at reducing stigma and discrimination.

It found there was an increase in private sex workers and decline in brothels and street-based sex work in the past 10 years.

The report included a survey of more than 350 sex workers and included ‘massage shops’ in detailing the industry, which it described as “premises that promote therapeutic massage but which may also provide sexual massage or other sexual services”.

Researchers discovered evidence of 40 shopfront massage shops in Perth and reported an owner said clients found them “easier to access, less hassle, cheaper and involving less guilt than accessing a brothel or private worker”.

A third of sex workers who responded to the researchers’ survey worked in a massage shop.

In recommending decriminalisation, the study said “the hidden nature of sex work” in massage shops impeded access to services and health promotion.

“There is good evidence that decriminalising sex work does not result in an increase in the number of clients accessing sex work and the normalisation of this work is important in improving the health and wellbeing of sex workers,” the report said.