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Prostitution rackets are running hundreds of illegal brothels from massage parlours, hair and nail salons and karaoke bars in Melbourne, in which police say trafficked women and teenage girls work in secret. Police investigating the city's illicit sex trade executed one of Victoria's largest operations against illegal brothels on Friday. Officers stormed five suburban massage parlours and arrested two suspected brothel madams aged in their 20s. Police spokeswoman Natalie Webster said the alleged madams, aged 24 and 29, were arrested in Derrimut and were expected to be charged with running illegal brothels and living on the earnings of sex workers.
The raids were the culmination of a four-month investigation by the Sex Industry Co-ordination Unit, which has warned other illegal operators and brothel users that ''We know what's going on''. Senior Sergeant Marilynn Ross said up to suspected illegal brothels continued to ply their trade throughout Melbourne, most of them in massage parlours.
Senior Sergeant Ross said illegal brothels were operating out of other cash-based businesses including hairdressers, nail salons and beauty parlours in the inner city and small suburban shopping strips. They can pop up and close down with relative impunity. Illegal brothels run from karaoke bars have also increasingly been on the police radar.
Karaoke bars were providing sex in private rooms or sending clients to hotels with prostitutes, Senior Sergeant Ross said. She said officers from the sex industry unit were aware of underage girls working as prostitutes, and of links to human trafficking into sex slavery from Asia.
Inspector Andrew Glow said there were many legitimate massage parlours and beauty salons in Melbourne, and police were ''not tarring everyone with the same brush''. Australian Association of Massage Therapists chief executive Tricia Hughes said prostitution rackets masquerading as massage businesses trashed the credibility of legitimate massage businesses, and called for an ''urgent review'' of the rules. She said the association had been pushing state and federal governments for industry regulation since Police raid illegal brothels in Brunswick and Coburg, two women arrested.