Wednesday, December 13, 2000

James Norman

Brothel whips up Fitzroy

Mia Zinglust trains her women for a full year before they are ready to service the clientele of The Correction Centre, Victoria's first fully licenced venue offering exclusively bondage and discipline, sado-masochism services.

"We train them here, they are usually assigned to a mistress who they work closely with until they're ready. We specialise in cross dressing, corporal punishment — fetishes mainly, anything kinky," says Zinglust.

The new Fitzroy venue, which was last week issued a Prostitution Service Provider licence, offers clients "fantasy and fetish fulfillment" starting at $125 per half hour. The mainly male patrons are given the opportunity to live out their sexual fantasies, however, the rules of the venue stipulate that no penetrative sex takes place and no blood is ever drawn.

"They come in here for dominance and that's what we give them — it's a consensual thing," says Zinglust.

Taking a wander through The Correction Centre one realises quickly it is equipped very differently to a traditional brothel. In the foyer a steel cage sits in one corner. "We often lock up our clients in there while they wait," she says, shrugging.

I stumble into the Heavy Dungeon at the rear, a large, dark space decked out with all manner of bondage equipment and paraphernalia. This is the epicentre of the action.

Hanging from the roof is "suspension", a set of chains from which patrons get suspended in mid air, upside-down. In the corner is the "electro chair", complete with cuffed bindings capable of sending electronic impulses through the compliant patron.

On the left wall hangs the "Spanish wheel" — about 2.5 metres high, where clients are cuffed by their hands and feet to be whipped. In the "dentists' chair" towards the front of the room, clients can be cling-wrapped from head to feet and left to sit for the entire session. Meanwhile, on the "stretching rack" to the right, clients have their hands and feet chained while their body is stretched until they can't take any more. As a handy addition there is a cage underneath where, Zinglust tells me, "we often blow smoke through the bars into their faces".

A remarkable array of gags, restraints, dog collars, feather dusters, harnesses, leather whips and ropes line the wall.

Zinglust says if men misbehave, they can be banished down to the "humiliation dungeon", a dank room underneath with nothing but a concrete floor and almost no light. A bowl on the floor has presumably been left behind from a previous session.

Upstairs in the "medical room", an assortment of doctors' and nurses' uniforms hang on the wall — a wheelchair, a school desk, baby toys and a crib are also scattered about. Some clients often spend the entire session in the crib — complete with nappies, dummies and baby rattles. "This type of thing is much more common in British brothels, where discipline was a part of the public school system," says Les Posen, Victorian branch secretary of the Australian Psychological Society. Posen describes the drive towards accessing these services as "a combination of sexuality and psychological needs".

"While we see many portrayals of conventional sexuality in the media, we need to come to terms with the reality that there are many variations. We should be careful not to condemn someone who doesn't fit in our own narrow range of sexual expression," he says.

"Whether you legalise it or not, if something exists there is clearly a market for it. By legalising it you have a public vindication and conservative sectors of the community will speak out against it. The question is whether or not there are any victims from this — I think it's unlikely."

However, the licensing of the venue has already drawn venom from feminists and local resident groups who say the legalisation is an outrage.

Associate professor Sheila Jeffreys, from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, decries the licensing as "normalising" deviant activities. "It gives legitimacy to a sexuality of dominance, submission and violence that is dangerous to the interests of all women," she says. "The sex industry creates a demand for more and more exciting and stimulating forms of sexual consumption as men get bored with ordinary forms of pornography and prostitution. The boom in S&M prostitution reflects that."

It would appear that Fitzroy is becoming something of a mecca for S&M culture.

Lucrezia De Sade, the S&M/B&D retailer in Brunswick Street, had been running a bondage and discipline venue upstairs from the shop for 18 months until earlier this year, when an application for a licence was challenged by local business and feminist groups. The hearing to decide the future of the venue will be held in January.

According to Bernadette Steele, the director of Business Affairs Victoria, which is responsible for issuing prostitution service provider licences, such venues are not allowed to operate unlicensed.

"A licence to operate a brothel is required at any premises which provides sexual services as defined under the Prostitution Control Act 1994. Sexual services include penetration and masturbation and permitting a person to view masturbation."

There is also concern among Fitzroy residents about the existence of such establishments in their neighborhood.

"It is a concern for residents and business alike," says Alan Wood, coordinator of Outreach Tenancy Services in Fitzroy. "Why haven't residents been consulted? People are concerned about having this sort of thing close to their living environment. This is a high-density living environment and people will be affected by having this kind of place in our neighborhood. There are a lot of children and other human traffic around here."

Yet, according to Zinglust, the market for venues such as the Correction Centre is growing every day. "People are coming out more with their sexuality. It can take people a year to work up the courage to come in here. Everyone has issues; it's just that these men are courageous enough to experiment. Fetishism is an obsession with something — it's very complex. These guys are very raw," she says. "People think we're satanic witches or something — but you won't hear us and you won't see us unless you want to. It's often Melbourne's elite circles we get in here — doctors, lawyers, barristers — you'd be amazed.

"We're like a community centre — where else can our clients go?"

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Created: January 4, 2001
Last modified: January 4, 2001
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