A Waikato Times investigation has uncovered Hamilton's thriving illicit sex trade, with at least four black market brothels allegedly offering sex for money outside the law.
Revelations that men are also paying for unprotected sex in unregulated brothels in the city have appalled public and sexual health experts, who are "hugely concerned".
Commercial sex industry sources say city and immigration authorities have failed to stop the sex trade, which they say includes women working here illegally.
One man who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was offered unprotected sex at a Claudelands brothel, with the prostitute prepared to haggle when he refused the deal. He said there were no facilities for clients or sex workers to shower before sex, there were no towels or clean sheets, and workers offered unprotected sex for a premium.
Times' sources – including customers and legal brothel operators – have identified three other black market brothels, two in the central city and a fourth in nearby Frankton.
City council staff have confirmed that in the past year they received complaints alleging seven motels, three commercial buildings and six houses were being used as brothels. They said their powers to investigate were limited and they relied on upfront warnings.
Sexual health specialist Dr Jane Morgan said unprotected sex with prostitutes was a troubling contributor to sexual infection rates in the wider community.
She said that risk to the men and their subsequent sexual partners was even higher if the sex workers came from countries such as China, where HIV and other sexually transmitted infections were far more prevalent, and health care was often inferior.
She said the danger of unregulated brothels was that they were not subject to the safe practice requirements of the Prostitution Reform Act, which ensured that both workers and clients visiting legal brothels were generally well protected from sexual diseases.
The Times' informant said he was motivated to speak out because he knew that men were likely having unprotected sex with the prostitutes, then risking their wives and partners by hiding their risky sexual behaviour.
Legal brothel operators said the illegal brothels were a time bomb, and undermined efforts by legitimate businesses to strictly enforce safe sex obligations.
Under the Prostitution Reform Act, enacted in 2003, prostitutes and their clients who do not adopt safe sex practices can be fined up to $2000. The act also requires the licensing of operators for brothels with more than four workers, but industry sources said staff numbers fluctuated, and nobody was checking anyway.
Medical officer of health Dr Dell Hood, who has powers to act on unsafe sexual practices, urged anyone who knew of such practices to contact her or the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective.
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