Court: Drugged, tattooed, forced into sex slavery
A Brisbane man has been accused of forcing women to work as prostitutes, with police alleging they were branded with tattoos, drugged and not paid.
Matthew James Markcrow, 35, is facing charges of conducting a business involving servitude, conducting a business of unlawful prostitution and making recordings in breach of privacy.
The alleged sexual slavery and prostitution only came to light due to a tip off from a member of the community, police say.
Prostitution Enforcement Taskforce Detective Inspector Juliet Hancock said police had received information from a "concerned community member that at least four young women had [allegedly] been recruited, provided with drugs and illegally prostituted against their own will".
"It's only because a community member has come forward, concerned. So without that information, we may never have been able to uncover what was allegedly going on for these young women," she said.
Legal aid lawyer Madeline Cohburn did not make an application for bail for the accused, who was on a return to prison warrant.
The accused mouthed the words 'I love you' to a young woman in the back of the court and made a heart symbol as he left the courtroom.
Brisbane Magistrate Steve Courtney adjourned the matter to February 24.
Markcrow's co-accused Crystal Marie Sawyer, 23, also appeared in Brisbane Magistrates Court.
She is facing charges of conducting a business of unlawful prostitution and contravene order under the Queensland Criminal Code
The matter was adjourned so she could see a female duty lawyer after first seeing a male legal aid lawyer before dismissing him. She will appear later this afternoon.
Police allege the women involved, all Australian citizens, were approached by the alleged offender via social media.
Insp Hancock said the women were vulnerable due to their young age, and investigators believed several had come from broken family dynamics or had issues within their family unit.
She said in her 30 years of working as an officer, she'd never seen or heard anything that had shocked her as much as this investigation, and the allegation of the tattoo was particularly disturbing.
"It's something that you see happening overseas," Det Insp Hancock said
"It's quite hard to shock police ... I've been a police officer for 30 years and I've not seen this type of allegeationsbefore.
Police allege the women were being transported from a Mt Gravatt East home to an apartment in South Brisbane.
Police allege the apartment was where the young women were forced to work before being taken back to the Mt Gravatt East address.
The women did not have any financial independence and could not keep any of the money they earned, police claim.
According to Det Insp Hancock, some of the women may not have realised the severity of what had allegedly occurred.
"I gathered the opinion they may not know they were [allegedly] exploited," Det Insp Hancock said.
"And a couple of them yesterday were definitely very heavily under the influence of drugs so I don't think they understood yesterday, when I was talking to them."
Det Insp Hancock said this case was different to other prostitution investigations in Brisbane, as evidenced by the sexual servitude charge.
"This isn't prostitution, this is young women [allegedly] being exploited and that is the confronting piece for our group," she said.
"The [alleged] coercion, the control and the lack of not actually getting the financial benefit of wages from the work that's been done."
Investigators are looking into whether there could be more alleged victims.
Insp Hancock pleaded with anyone who has information to come forward immediately.
"Community members need to come forward. Because what could present as being organised prostitution, may be exploitation."
She also encouraged any clients who believe they may be involved to come forward.
The women have been referred to health and wellbeing agencies, while one of the women victims was also referred to the Vulnerable Persons Unit for prior domestic violence related concerns.
Originally published as Drugged, tattooed, forced into sex slavery: Prostitution hell alleged