Multiple massage parlours throughout Wollongong are reportedly fronts for unapproved brothels.
Operating out of shop fronts, often just metres from churches, schools and parks, several businesses have brazenly advertised their unauthorised sex services in the Mercury.
One business on Crown Street has advertised its services in the Mercury’s adult classified section daily for three consecutive weeks, despite not having council development consent to operate as a brothel.
One northern suburbs massage parlour and another in Wollongong have also advertised regularly under ‘‘Adult Services’’ in the Mercury.
The Mercury knows the identity of these premises but cannot name them, for legal reasons. None of the three businesses are on a list, obtained by the Mercury, of nine Wollongong City Council-approved sex services.
When asked about the outfits, a council spokesman said he was ‘‘not aware’’ the premises were being used to provide sex services.
Other operations in the Illawarra have relied on online reviews on ‘‘punters’ forums’’ to spread the word.
For as little as $20, customers at another northern suburbs massage parlour can receive a ‘‘happy ending’’ or a ‘‘naked happy ending with touching’’ for $50, one forum said.
Multiple reviewers described the massage parlour as ‘‘very clean with quiet rooms’’ and ‘‘another reliable rub and tug in the gong’’.
Online reviews for a Wollongong parlour, close to a church, refer to the business having two entrances.
The front entrance is for legitimate massage and beauty services while a back entrance, via a set of stairs, is reportedly used by customers seeking adult ‘‘extras’’.
When the Mercury called the business, it confirmed extras were available if customers used the ‘‘back steps’’ via an alley off the mall.
One online reviewer alleged he left a naked body slide massage mid booking, due to sexual health concerns.
None of these premises were named on the council’s list of authorised brothels.
The council told the Mercury if it became aware of an unauthorised sex service business, it would require ‘‘relevant information to investigate’’.
A council spokesperson said advertisements of adult services in the Mercury did ‘‘not of itself provide strong evidence’’ they were operating as brothels.
‘‘Even if unlawful activity has been substantiated, [the] council takes into consideration whether the unlawful activity has caused a breach which is technical in nature and does not cause harm to amenity or the environment and whether development consent would have been granted...if the appropriate application has been submitted prior.’’
When asked how many closure noticeshad been issued, the council spokesperson said there were no records of any closure notices issued to businesses relating to sex services.
The spokesperson said the council relied on laws under the Environment and Planning Act to issue closure orders, obtained through the court.
The act allows closure orders to be issued for any premises used for ‘‘any related sex use’’ including ‘‘the use of premises for the provision of massage services (other than genuine remedial or therapeutic massage services) in exchange for payment’’.
Councillor Michelle Blicavs suggested a lack of council resources prevented unregistered sex services from being investigated.
‘‘We don’t have the resources, our regulation resources are not as extensive as we would like and we prioritise our thin resources by issue,’’ she said.
Cr Blicavs said the council relied on the community to make it aware of compliance issues at this stage as it didn’t have the resources to seek out businesses doing the wrong thing.
‘‘While we consider the 2015-16 budget, one of the things high up on our list is enforcement and we would like more enforcement and regulation officers put into place to help us face compliance issues,’’ Cr Blicavs said.
Wollongong councillor David Brown said the council needed to revisit measures started years ago to crack down on unregistered sex services.
‘‘Some years ago, there were efforts to make sure providers were approved and it sounds like we need to go back and do a review,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s the same for any number of businesses, there are people who stick to the rules and there are those who try to get around them,’’ Cr Brown said.
The Mercury contacted the businesses allegedly operating without consent but all declined to comment.