Illegal brothels using debt and visas to control sex slaves
Sex slaves are being locked inside illegal Melbourne brothels and forced to work to pay off debts.
A senior Australian Federal Police human-trafficking investigator told the Herald Sun people would be shocked to know the extent of crimes occurring in seedy underground brothels.
There are about 90 legal brothels across the state but hundreds more illegal operations are being run out of massage parlours, apartment buildings and houses.
Police say men are increasingly using illegal brothels because they are cheaper and more discreet.
"There are brothels that we are aware of that they are physically locked in," AFP Detective Superintendent Jayne Crossling said.
"They are not allowed to leave. Or if they are allowed to leave, they have to be escorted at all times by somebody that is an employee. That is a reasonably common scenario."
The AFP investigated nine sexual servitude cases in Victoria last year - almost a third of the total nationwide - and 60 other human trafficking cases were investigated by Victoria Police or referred to the AFP in that time.
Many of the sex slaves came from Southeast Asia.
Det Supt Crossling said many women were held in "debt bondage" situations and had their passports seized by brothel operators.
Some operators pay up to $10,000 for women to come to Australia, mainly from countries including Vietnam, Thailand, China and South Korea.
"(Some) are told they have to work for so many clients to pay off a debt," Det Supt Crossling said.
"They have questionable visa status. They are often tricked into thinking they do have a legitimate visa when they don't. In many instances they are not free to move."
Police estimate illegal brothels operate in every Melbourne suburb, including near schools and childcare centres.
Victoria Police visited more than 150 suspected illegal brothels across the state last year and 33 were issued notices, signed by a magistrate, declaring them illegal brothels.
The Victoria Police Sex Industry Co-ordination Unit recently closed three venues in Mornington, Lalor and Coburg North, which were all run by the same person.
Greater Dandenong, Moonee Valley, Kingston and Shepparton councils are also working to shut down illegal operators.
Inspector Jodie Buckley, head of the SICU, said students and tourists often got caught up working in the brothels to make extra cash. But unregulated venues were dangerous, with most not fitted with duress alarms.
Det Supt Crossling said women were afraid to speak to police but that the AFP's focus was on protecting victims and closing illegal operations.