A Melbourne brothel boss 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 to receiving payments for sexual services provided by a child contributed to his sentencing.
Instead of the maximum 15 years behind bars, District Court Judge Angela Ellis judged the man to a three-year community court order with 400 hours of unpaid community work and a fine of A$1,000 (about $631). He will also be logged into the sex offender registry for the next eight years.
Speaking in the County Court of Victoria on Monday, Ellis said Li was obliged to ensure all the workers in his brothel were adults, but he “turned a blind eye.”
“You were the manager … as such you carried with you the significant responsibility to ensure that persons employed to provide sexual services were adults,” Ellis said. “For whatever reason you chose to ignore that obligation.”
“To put it generously, you turned a blind eye and thereby allowed a vulnerable 16-year-old child to participate in sex work for your financial reward.”
The girl, who cannot be named publicly for legal reasons, reportedly responded to a Facebook ad looking for a “dominatrix assistant” in 2019. She was eventually hired by a man named “Mike” after submitting a redacted student permit in which she claimed she turned 27.
The girl ran away from the Department of Human Services she lived at 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 August 27, 2019.
On her first day of work at the Heidelberg Angels, the girl noted to police that she wasn’t asked to fill out any paperwork and that “It was just kind of, ‘Okay, you’re willing to work. Yesterday.’
The girl, who often used whips and other tools on clients, was transported by an Uber to and from the brothel. The ticket would later be deducted from her salary, which went for as little as 100 Australian dollars (about $63), the court heard.
Although most of her work involved some kind of tool, the court heard the girl would sometimes be paid to have sex with clients.
After receiving a tip, authorities raided the 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 owned by his mother. Charges against Li’s mother, Ying Yang, 51, were dropped in July.
Li told investigators he could not remember who Pixie was, but Judge Ellis pointed out: “You denied the brothel employed any workers under the age of 18.”
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Heidelberg Angels claimed it complies with Victoria’s Sex Work Act 1994.
“We follow every rule of the Sex Work Act 1994 of Victoria for a legal and licensed environment for both you and our girls,” the brothel claimed.
In court on Monday, Judge Ellis said the incident had an impact on the victim as the events “haunt her and she experiences flashbacks.”
“[She] describes how the crime has affected her outlook on life and she feels hopeless about the future,” Ellis said. “[She] describes that every aspect of her life has been affected by the abuse and the fear that she will never recover.”
In court, Judge Ellis condemned Li’s lack of remorse for what happened, saying: “I am concerned at the apparent lack of appreciation you have of the seriousness of your offending. The remorse shown appears to be in relation to the position you now you are in.”
Featured image via 7News Australia