Confirmation this week of illegal workers in the Geraldton sex trade comes as no real surprise but is a great concern for the community.
The Guardian has been running stories on this issue for some time but until now have not been able to nail down any specific cases.
Australia’s Department of Immigration is running advertisements on television regularly about the so-called slave trade of Asians being lured to Australia on the pretence of a new life, solid employment and migration only to discover they are heavily in debt to their new masters.
We have heard the same stories here and our reporters Tom Davis and Gavin Box spoke to several in the industry who confirmed this was a growing trend.
The increase in sex services advertisements in this newspaper are just one indicator of the growth of the trade in Geraldton, let alone the growth in marketing such services online.
Chief concerns are the inherent risk of a spread of sexually transmitted disease.
Equally as abhorrent is that there are possibly people in our community using innocent young girls from China, Vietnam, Korea and Thailand for sex services in a master-slave situation.
This should not be happening in a modern culture like Australia and more importantly in a small city like Geraldton.
There is a case here for the Federal Police, Immigration and Geraldton police to work together but from our own investigations it appears there is little co-operation, at least none they are prepared to make public, or perhaps the problem needs to get bigger before the budget for more officers or inter-agency co-operation can be signed off.
Where there is demand supply will surely follow.
As our population grows, particularly with single men in the mining industry earning significant cash, there will be growth in demand for these services.
Sex worker took passport and fled
A senior police detective has confirmed an Asian sex worker ran from officers during a raid late in 2011.
Senior sergeant Tony Longhorn said police were alerted to a unit in Mount Tarcoola after concerns from residents.
He said the woman ran off when officers rang through her details to be checked by the Department of Immigration.
“We attended the property and a woman of Asian descent was there by herself,” he said.
“When officers were checking her details she grabbed the passport from a kitchen table and ran off and couldn’t be located.
“Her actions by running off speak for themselves and are indicative that she wasn’t supposed to be working in the sex industry.
“An intelligence officer later indicated that the woman was not on a working visa,” he said.
A spokesperson from the Department of Immigration said the department was unable to provide details of “isolated cases” where a person had breached their visa conditions.
The spokesperson said no illegal workers had been located in the Mid West “recently” and sex workers found to be working in contravention of their visa conditions could have their visa cancelled.
“WA compliance officers work closely with local police and local government in relation to non-citizens working in the sex industry, to ensure they are not breaching visa condition,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said compliance officers visited Geraldton last year “to engage with a number of stakeholders on visa compliance issues”.
Sgt Longhorn said police received several calls each month from residents concerned about prostitution houses in their area.
He said police were obligated to follow up concerns with visits to properties and check passports.
“The properties are generally rented by someone in Perth and have little furniture,” he said.
“The girls are sent up from Perth on the bus and speak limited English.”
Sgt Longhorn said the police could only pursue charges if children had been involved in prostitution or if it was conducted in view of the public on a street.
Growing fears about trafficking in the sex industry has prompted the Australian Federal Police to launch an operation across WA.
The AFP human trafficking teams plan to co-ordinate information sessions for police in Perth, Port Hedland, Karratha and Kalgoorlie next month to increase awareness of the crime.
SEE TODAY'S GERALDTON GUARDIAN FOR THE FULL REPORT.