Massage & Myotherapy Australia has welcomed the second-round consultation on sex work decriminalisation in Queensland, as a responsible approach to implementing these reforms.
‘While we welcomed the recent findings of the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC), they seem to have missed the fact that sex work disguised and advertised as massage has grievous consequences for legitimate massage therapists and migrant women.’
Ann Davey, CEO Massage & Myotherapy Australia said, ‘The second round of consultations have allowed the massage sector to present the many studies completed here and overseas that unequivocally show that massage is used as a camouflage that enables bonded labour and human trafficking to feed into the low skilled end of Australia’s massage sector.
‘Mrs Davey said, ‘We stress that we are not questioning the legitimacy or morality of sex work but sex work is not massage in any form.’
Sex work involves providing sexual stimulation, eroticism and gratification in exchange for financial or other reward.
In contrast, massage therapy is a health service that falls under the Health Award and is used to complement medical and allied health treatments, to improve mobility, and alleviate pain and stress caused by injury, chronic and palliative health conditions.
Massage therapists are subject to the National Code of Conduct for Health Workers, which makes it a crime to engage in sexual activities with a client. Sex workers are not subject to this legislation.
Mrs Davey said, ‘To allow sex work to be misrepresented as a massage service sexually stereotypes massage therapists as sex workers, equates massage services to sex work, and massage to sex. This is deplorable.’
Sex work misrepresented or disguised as massage enables sex workers to exploit formal massage therapy qualifications that are recognised under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF); and supports illicit activities such as pimping.
The evidence also indicates that laws designed to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace and exploitation; as well as advertising laws recommended by the QLRC 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.
‘If sex work is to be decriminalised and accepted as real work in the community then it should be advertised and promoted as sex work, and not as a legitimate health service,’ Mrs Davey said.
As a female dominated small business and sector, with a ratio of close to 4:1 women to men and the sector is vulnerable to exploitation and human rights abuses.
The evidence on this is unequivocal. Numerous studies indicate that the conflation of massage therapy with sex work as a camouflage and the subsequent confusion around health-related massage contributes to:
- unacceptable levels of sexual harassment and stress of massage therapists (see Members’ Pulse Survey 2023 referenced below)
- human trafficking and bonded labour (2020)
- exploitation and abuse of women, especially migrant women (2015)
- most Asian sex workers commencing sex work when they come to Australia (2018)
- a lack of knowledge around the documented real life health benefits for women who access massage therapy (2016)
- limited financial access to health-related massage services for people who depend on them (2023)
- under employment and income, compared to the national average
- pro-active discrimination or irreverence for the qualifications and competencies of massage therapists
‘According to 2022 Pulse Survey of our 8,600 members, and conducted on behalf of Massage & Myotherapy Australia, sexual harassment and abuse of professional massage therapists has reached epidemic proportions,’ Mrs Davey said.
Respondents to the Survey, indicated that some professional massage therapists experience sexual harassment from clients in their workplace daily.
Around 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.
Mrs Davey added, ‘The experience of our members also indicates that even very visible signs 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.’
This experience is also supported in general online advice provided to the community. For example, the Pocket Essential City Guide November 2023: The Gold Coast's Illicit Sex Trade:
It can all be a bit confusing, which is probably one of the reasons why the illicit sex trade accounts for an estimated 90% of the industry in the state, mostly in the form of unlicensed brothels, illegal 'happy ending' massage parlours and independent sex workers who flaunt the rules.
‘We thank the Queensland Attorney General for taking the time to consider these significant issues and hope that the reforms to protect the human rights and safety of sex workers will also protect the human rights and safety of qualified professional massage therapists, and women who migrant to Australia to work in the wider massage sector.
‘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.
Massage & Myotherapy Australia is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 2003 and is the leading representative body for professional massage therapists nationwide, with a membership of over 8,500 therapists.
Glenn Schaube 0439 320 151; email@example.com