The local sex industry has almost doubled in the past 20 years and much of it occurs between the sheets in motel rooms across the New England North West.
Sex workers steer clear of hustling work off the street because in order for them to make money in country areas, they must be discreet.
The claims might startle some but it’s just some of the cold, hard evidence that has landed in front of UNE expert Professor John Scott, who’s been researching the industry for almost 20 years.
“Sex workers don’t want to attract attention to themselves. The clients don’t want anyone to know what they’re doing so they can sneak back out and a lot of the time now this is in local motel rooms,” he said.
“The sex industry exists in regional and rural areas. It’s there in Tamworth, Moree, Armidale, Narrabri. It’s across the whole region and it’s in the city,” Professor Scott told The Northern Daily Leader.
But keeping quiet is the name of the game.
“Locally we know there has been an increase in recent years in escort work. There are brothels but there is an increase in people using escorts because of mobile phones and the internet,” Professor Scott said.
“People know each other in places that are ‘as big as Tamworth’. Familiar faces stick out. Street work doesn’t appear in rural areas for good reason because they don’t make a buck unless it is very discreet.”
But despite this, mystery still surrounds some of the sex industry in regional areas.
Now the UNE professor is delving deeper into it.
Along with research partner Professor Victor Minichiello, they’re trying to find out what goes on behind closed doors between clients and male sex workers, male escorts and even men on the street, wherever they are.
In the country, there is a stigma attached to sex workers and clients. And negotiating all of this can be difficult.
“Where do you go at midnight to buy condoms in Glen Innes, or if you need to go to a chemist after dark in Moree? If you have an issue with STIs, will you feel comfortable seeing a doctor in Tamworth or if you bump into the person in the street?” Professor Sciott said.
“A British study recently found that one in five men will use the services of a sex worker in their lifetime, whether it be male or female. I believe it is pretty similar here.”
Prostitution was decriminalised in 1995 but everyday men and women try to make a dollar out of it.
“We know that there will be people who will exchange alcohol and drugs, and things other than cash, for sex at local truckstops or whatnot, ” he said.
The local research paints a different picture of the sex worker stereotype and it could be the one you least expect.
Evidence reveals that most male sex workers are married or have a family, and some sex workers have extended families in the country areas in which they work.
Those workers in country areas are also traditionally older, professional, experienced and offer a more basic service than their metropolitan colleagues.
But one thing is for sure – technology has changed the way the sex industry operates.
“We see a lot of advertisements for escort work advertised in newspapers, but mobile phones have changed everything, and you don’t have to be living in Armidale or Tamworth or Gunnedah to be working in those regions,” he said.
The evidence they have so far suggests sex workers from other areas come to town for one or two nights before moving onto the next town where there is business.
But the stigma associated with the job has long prevented sex workers from speaking about their experiences.