Melbourne brothel manager who prostituted 16-year-old girl avoids jail time
A Melbourne brothel manager who pleaded guilty to selling a 16-year-old girl for sex has avoided jail time.
Cheng Li, the 35-year-old former manager of the Heidelberg Angels brothel in northeast Melbourne, Australia, walked free without spending a minute behind bars on Monday. Li’s lack of prior criminal history and guilty plea for receiving payments for sexual services provided by a child contributed to his sentencing.
Instead of the maximum 15 years behind bars, County Court Judge Angela Ellis sentenced the man to a three-year community corrections order with 400 hours of unpaid community work and a fine of 1,000 Australian dollars (approximately $631). He will also be logged into the sex offenders register for the next eight years.
Speaking at the County Court of Victoria on Monday, Ellis said Li was obligated to ensure that all of the workers in his brothel were adults, but he “turned a blind eye.”
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“You were the manager … as such you carried with you the considerable responsibility of ensuring that individuals who were employed to provide sexual services were adults," Ellis said. “For whatever reason you chose to ignore that obligation.”
“Putting it generously, you turned a blind eye and in doing so allowed a vulnerable 16-year-old child to participate in sex work for your financial reward."
The girl, who cannot be publicly named due to legal reasons, reportedly answered a Facebook ad looking for a “dominatrix assistant” in 2019. She was eventually hired by a man named “Mike” after submitting an edited learner’s permit in which she claimed she was turning 27.
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The girl ran away from the Department of Human Services residential care unit she lived in before working at the brothel under the name "Pixie." Li was present as the manager on duty when the girl started on her first night on Aug. 27, 2019.
On her first day of working at the Heidelberg Angels, the girl noted to the police that she was not asked to fill out any paperwork and that “It was just sort of, 'Great you're willing to work. In you go.’”
The girl, who would often use whips and other tools on clients, would be ferried by an Uber to and from the brothel. The fare would later be deducted from her pay, which went for as little as 100 Australian dollars (approximately $63), the court heard.
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Although most of her work involved some sort of tools, the court heard that the girl would sometimes get paid to have sex with clients.
After receiving a tip, authorities raided Heidelberg Angels in September 2019 and arrested Li, who was the manager on duty at the time. Li came from China to Melbourne to run the brothel, which was owned by his mother. Charges against Li’s mother, Ying Yang, 51, were dropped in July.
Li told investigators that he could not remember who Pixie was, but Judge Ellis pointed out, “You denied that the brothel employed any workers under the age of 18.”
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Heidelberg Angels claimed that it abides by Victoria's Sex Work Act of 1994.
“We follow every single rule of the Sex Work Act 1994 from Victoria for a legal and licensed environment to both you and our girls,” the brothel claimed.
In court on Monday, Judge Ellis said the incident made an impact on the victim as the events “haunt her, and she experiences flashbacks.”
“[She] describes that the crime has affected her outlook on life and she feels hopeless for the future,” Ellis said. “[She] describes that every aspect of her life has been affected by the offending and fears that she may never heal."
In court, Judge Ellis condemned Li’s lack of remorse for what happened, saying, “I am troubled by the apparent lack of appreciation you have for the seriousness of your offending. The remorse exhibited appears, arguably, to be in relation to the position in which you now find yourself."
Featured Image via 7News Australia