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Government QLD

Sex shops disguised as massage expose sector vulnerability to exploitation and abuse

Massage & Myotherapy Australia 3 mins read

In the wake of recent media reports about massage shops used to disguise illegal sex work services, Massage & Myotherapy Australia is calling on the Queensland Government to ensure decriminalisation also protects the rights and safety of massage therapists and the community.

Ann Davey, CEO Massage & Myotherapy Australia said, ‘Massage therapy is not sex work by any definition.

‘While we welcomed the recent findings of the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC), sex work disguised and advertised as massage is rife across the sector with devastating consequences for legitimate massage therapists‘.

Massage therapists deserve the same consideration and protections for their safety, legal and human rights as sex workers.

‘The proposed decriminalisation of sex work in Queensland must include measures to ensure sex work cannot be misrepresented as a massage service if the many serious consequences for massage therapists are to be addressed, Mrs Davey said.’

‘We stress that we are not questioning the legitimacy or morality of sex work. We are simply stating that qualified professional massage therapists are not sex workers, and that the confusion between the two must be addressed alongside decriminalisation of sex work.’

‘Without additional reforms to protect legitimate massage therapists, and prevent massage being used as a camouflage for the human traffickers, the sex trade and their customers, decriminalisation will fail the massage sector and the community.

As a female dominated sector with a ratio of 4:1 women to men, the massage sector is vulnerable to abuse.

The confusion and misunderstanding about the education, competencies and services of legitimate massage therapists will continue, perpetuating the many serious issues for women working in the massage sector.

Numerous studies indicate that confusion around health-related massage contributes to:

  • violence, exploitation and abuse of women, especially migrant women
  • high levels of sexual harassment and abuse from clients in the workplace
  • a lack of recognition of professional massage therapists in legislation
  • inequality of employment, income, career development
  • limited financial access to health-related massage services for women
  • a failure to support the qualifications, skills and contribution of women working as professional massage therapists.

‘Reforms to effectively curb advertising and shop branding as massage, are required to stop reinforcing a community-wide presumption that any woman providing massage is a potential sex worker,’ Mrs Davey said.

Mrs Davey said that the evidence on this is clear.

For example, respondents to a 2022 Pulse Survey, conducted by Massage & Myotherapy Australia which has over 8,600 members, indicated that some professional massage therapists experience sexual harassment from clients in their workplace daily.

  • 56% indicated they were subject to sexual harassment from clients
  • 74% of respondents indicated that they must regularly take steps to protect themselves and their staff from sexual harassment.
  • Nearly 80% indicated that they believe the services of professional massage therapists are devalued or undermined because of the confusion between professional and quasi-massage services which can offer anything from spa style massage experience to sexual services.

The 2020 Project Respect Annual Report, which reported on their work with women subject to trafficking, sexual exploitation, violence, and harm, found that there is a significant population of women on temporary visas in the sex industry, and for the most part, they were ineligible for government support.

Around 50% of respondents also disclosed that themselves or their co-workers have experienced work-based violence such as sexual assault, physical/verbal abuse, or rough customers.

A 2018 study found that most Asian sex workers commenced sex work when they came to Australia.

Mrs Davey said, ‘At this stage it is unclear how the proposed decriminalisation of sex work will protect migrant women from exploitation or address the confusion between sex work promoted as massage and health-related massage therapy.

The evidence also indicates that laws designed to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace and exploitation; as well as advertising laws that should deter sex workers from misrepresenting their services as massage, have little effect.

‘NSW, NT and Victoria have decriminalised sex work, yet a simple Google Search ‘Sexy Massage’ will present thousands of listings using massage as a front for sexual services,’ Mrs Davey said.

‘The experience of our members also indicates that even very visible signage stating that sexual services are not provided and scrutiny of clients does not eliminate the high level of risk or number of incidents of sexual harassment that occur.’

‘While the intent is that decriminalisation will make sex work safer, it remains to be seen if provisions are made in legislation and policy to make the workplace safer for massage therapists.

‘To achieve this, decriminalisation of sex work in Queensland must include reforms to separate massage from sex work, and protect women who work as professional massage therapists,’ Mrs Davey said.




Media inquiry: Glenn Schaube 0439 320 151;

About us:

Massage & Myotherapy Australia is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 2003. As the leading representative body for therapeutic massage therapists, remedial massage therapists and myotherapists nationwide, we currently service over 8,600 professional qualified member therapists. Massage & Myotherapy Australia is the sector leader and driving force towards evidenced-based massage and myotherapy services and integration of massage therapies where appropriate.

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