So where i work and have always worked, sex work is illegal. South Australian laws are really old and confusing and most of us are not entirely sure exactly where we stand. And even when we do know and understand the presice ancient legal word of the law, it’s the policing tactics that have a bigger impact on our daily lives, and they can change without rhyme or reason. Or maybe there is a reason that im just not aware of. Or maybe i have suspicions about possible reasons, but i aint writing it here. Or maybe there is no rhyme or reason. But the changing faces and farces of the South Australian Police is a story for another occasion.
This is the story of my first raid. I was 18. A receptionist in a massage parlour. I used to make $80 for 10 hours plus $2 for every job the business did. Kind of like a commission. It seemed like good money at the time, cash, no experience necessary. I mostly enjoyed my job there. Loved the other workers. Hated the bosses, but even back then i stood up for my rights and that of my colleagues.
It was during an era when brothel raids in Adelaide were insane. It was not uncommon for some brothels to have up to 3 major raids in a night, some workers clocked up to 50 separate charges of “being on premises in a 12 month period. One of my friends now has 84 counts of “being on premises” on her criminal record.
In an attempt to avoid this kind of police harassment this parlour was a very “straight” parlour. It was a health center that offered massages. Well that was the mask we wore. I would quote prices for a “full body massage” to potential clients over the phone or in person. Full body massage is code for massage with a happy ending. But if the potential clients didnt understand the secret language, we were in no position to educate them! We had to be careful, any client could be a cop. Not until the workers had undressed them would we know for a fact that they were not going to bust us.
My job was to answer the phone, greet clients, take money for the services, fold towels and clean spa’s.
I knew how to play it safe. It was drilled into me. My arrogant bosses would sit beside me and listen to every word i said on the phone yelling at me if i said anything they decided was putting us at risk of the cops. One day i even remember him threatening to ‘slit my throat from ear to ear’ if i got us in trouble. I wasnt scared of him, he was just a prick. But i didn’t really think about it much further than that. I was just a receptionist right? And plus our boss promised to look after us with the best lawyers if the worst should happen.
One day a woman came in for a job interview. She hadn’t worked before and my boss interviewed her. She was meant to be interviewed by the other business partner but my hot shot boss wanted to play the hero and interview the new girl, so he came in on his day off. She was the second woman that week who had been interviewed. I remember it well, he was showing off, bragging to her about how busy we were, showing her our booking sheet, telling her all our secrets.
She was a cop.
So was the other woman who came in for an interview.
The cops had been watching to see which bossman worked on what days and sent in undercover cops posing as women looking for work on different days trying to entrap both men. Haha. I still find it amusing that my boss was trying to be the big man and it made him get busted twice. Its the only amusing thing about the situation.
The undercover female cops came for the interviews and left without incident, not revealing they were cops, promising to call for a roster. Two days after the second interview i was showing a client in when there was a pounding on the door. I froze. They banged and hit the doors screaming “THIS IS THE POLICE! OPEN UP! THIS IS A RAID!”
Before i got to the door, they had managed to get the door open themselves and were storming in. Immediately we were all separated and then began a very long, lonely, scary 20 minutes.
They had stormed into all the workrooms, separated clients and workers, leaving workers alone while they bullied the clients into making statements against us. Threats like “you better tell us what you were doing here or we’ll go discuss this at your workplace” would have some clients giving us up in a second. Unfortunately this was one of those clients.
When the police finally got to me, they had one of the clients with them. They gathered us workers in a room. The main cop asked the client “which is the one who took her top off?” the client pointed at Melissa. “which is the one you paid the money too?” The client pointed at me.
It took 6 weeks for me to receive my summons in the mail with a court date to respond to charges of:
“receive money in a brothel”
“be on premises of a brothel”
I never heard form the bosses again, so much for their promises of the best lawyers.
I live with those charges against my name.
But at least i wasn’t arrested and held without bail. That’s a raid for a different story.