An industry in decline

WHEN a private escort visited the room of an out-of-town construction company worker in a Traralgon hotel in 2005, he was completely oblivious to her prior whereabouts.

She had already ‘serviced’ no less than four of the man’s colleagues, all staying at the same hotel.

“And it’s more than likely none of them knew I visited all of them that same night,” the sex worker, ‘Sarah’, recollected.

Such was the demand for call girls in the Latrobe Valley during boom times, when it seemed visiting contractors and local workers could not get enough of Sarah’s services.

Eight years later, a unprecedented fall in demand has virtually crippled the local industry.

“We are not even making 10 per cent of what some agencies would make back in the 90s,” Sarah said.

Despite 15 years experience as a sex worker, and 10 years operating her own agency, nothing had prepared her for the “shocking” customer drought; she is now managing appointments for other agencies to make ends meet.

For Sarah, the reason behind the industry’s decline is clear; since the onset of internet dating and social networking sites such as Facebook, “people are getting laid a lot easier these days”.

As recent as 10 years ago, the Valley’s vast portfolio of needy male clients fed a steady and healthy supply of business to five sex work agencies, with a combined total of 13 local private sex workers on the books.

There was even enough work to go around for ‘rogues’ – Melbourne sex workers who ventured into regional hot spots.

Now the region’s single remaining agency and a handful of freelancers, operating off the books, compete for what work remains, and the Valley’s only legalised brothel, Morwell’s McQuade Lodge, closed two years ago.

“Now local jobs are very, very poor; we are responding to about seven jobs per week, whereas 10 years ago it would be anywhere between seven and 11 jobs per night,” Sarah said.

“During the days of the SEC privatisation, work was plenty; especially when workers were getting their Voluntary Departure Packages, there was plenty of work around here.”

But it was Sarah’s chance reading of a Herald Sun newspaper article which served as a foreboding warning for call girls across the state.

“The story was talking about Facebook being the end of the red light district, warning escorts their profit margins were sure to collapse. I didn’t believe it at first, but the prediction was correct,” she said.

“We’re an industry that has always had quiet times, where demand for paid-sex is directly linked with the economy; business quietens during interest rate hikes and election periods, and it traditionally would boom during the Christmas period, just like consumer activity,” Sarah said.

“But what we are seeing now … it’s cold out there some nights.”

To read about Sarah’s personal experiences working in the Latrobe Valley sex industry for 15 years, read next Thursday’s issue of The Express.