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Updated March 30, It's long been an open secret, tucked away in the alleyways of the tropical Northern Territory capital — red signs blazing day and night offering massages with a little something extra on the side. Now, the veil has been lifted on the illicit industry, with the NT Government releasing a new discussion paper which reveals the extent of the illegal sexual activities operating in plain sight within the Darwin CBD.
Under the Territory's ageing sex industry laws, brothels remain illegal, despite a high demand for services from the region's largely transient workforce. While police officers have largely turned a blind eye to the outlawed activities, a crackdown saw NT Police and Australian Border Protection Force officers raid 19 parlours across Darwin and Palmerston and "uncovered sufficient evidence to suggest some were being used as illegal brothels".
No arrests were made during the raids, although three people were deported for breaching visa conditions. While prostitution itself is not against the law, the outlawed use of brothels means sex workers are forced to use hotel rooms or clients' homes to offer their services, putting them at potential safety risk, and rendering them largely unprotected by legal rights. The last review of the Act was undertaken in , which ended with the recommendation that brothels be legalised — a recommendation which successive NT governments have failed to act upon.
The discussion paper — titled Reforming Regulation of the Sex Industry in the Northern Territory — aims to "open meaningful dialogue on the future of the sex industry" and "consider options to improve the NT's legislation in respect of sexual services provided for fee or reward to and by consenting adults". The discussion has been pegged as a move towards the eventual decriminalisation of the industry, a shift which has long been welcomed by industry advocates.
The paper also reveals there has been community concern over the "increase of illegal brothels operating as massage parlours". Decriminalisation would stomp out the existence of illegal brothels operating in homes and shopfronts in Darwin and the Territory, by allowing for "the establishment of specific places where people could go to receive sexual services".