“What happened to us was a nightmare. We worked from 11am to 3 or 4am the next morning, and slept only three or four hours. They treated us like animals. We were sexually abused, we were dragged, we were hit.”- Former sex slave
On Monday night ABC Four Corners exposed the stark reality of the trafficking of women into Australia as fodder for Australia’s sex industry. The trade in the bodies of women and girls is growing around the world, and Australia’s role as a destination country is now well established. Anti-trafficking activist Kathleen Maltzahn believes the Federal Police is uncovering only a fraction of the overall problem. “No one’s really looking, no one’s really counting in Australia,” she told Sally Neighbour.
You can watch the program here
Caroline Norma is an expert on trafficking globally, especially from South Korea, which is close to overtaking Thailand as the largest source country for women trafficked into Australia’s sex industry. A Lecturer in the School of Global Studies, Social Science, and Planning at RMIT University, and a member of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia (CATWA), Caroline comments here on the Four Corners program and why Australia’s sex industry is attractive to traffickers bringing women in from Asia. She also makes a case for the Swedish model, which criminalises male buyers of women. And in a second piece, Caroline argues Australia’s position on prostitution is hampering South Korean efforts to tackle the problem of sex trafficking. Kelly Hinton from Project Respect in Melbourne also had a compelling piece in The National Times today which you can read below.
Each week in Victoria, more than 60,000 men buy women in prostitution. (Mark Forbes, ‘Sex city,’ The Age, 1 March 1999, p. 11). Thanks to investigations like those carried out by journalists at The Age and Four Corners in recent months, we know that some of the women they buy have been trafficked.
Sex-trafficking in Australia should not come as a surprise. Sex industry businesses find a burgeoning market here. According to the business research company IBISWorld, the Australian sex industry has ballooned over the last decade. High growth has forced pimps to forge international supply routes to source their ‘product’ which, in the case of the sex industry, is mostly women and children. Asian women in particular are a consumer favourite.
‘Customer review’ websites set up for buyers of women in prostitution reveal just how popular Asian women are in the Victorian sex industry. One forum dedicated to reviews of women in legal brothels contains hundreds of comments about Asian ‘working ladies’ or ‘WLs’. Users complain that these women speak ‘barely intelligible English’. One contributor notes that ‘Korean WLs never look happy’, and another encourages readers to check out the ‘Korean chicks’ at one particular brothel because they are ‘very young’, and ‘work for a matter of months before disappearing’.
Website discussants are mostly unconcerned about the possibility the women they use might be trafficked. The token measure taken by Consumer Affairs Victoria last year to get these men to report trafficking—by putting up warning signs in brothel waiting rooms—doesn’t seem to be working.
Consumer Affairs licenses brothel and escort agency businesses. Prostitution was legalised in Victoria in 1994 to tackle three problems: illegal prostitution and police corruption, harm to women, and street prostitution. More than fifteen years later, these problems have grown worse, not better.
Estimates from the police and the legal brothel industry put the number of illegal brothels at 400 in Victoria, four times the number of legal ones. Nick McKenzie’s reports earlier this year showed that licensed brothels are being used as fronts for illegal operators and criminal activity. Brothel owners have been caught bribing local government officials to warn them of license checks.
Legalised prostitution has not made women safer. A 1998 study found 40 per cent of clients use women without wearing condoms. A woman in a Blackburn brothel this year was threatened by a client with a gun after she refused sex acts without a condom. Three NSW academics who interviewed women in legal brothels in 2011 found that ‘physical safety’ was one of their biggest concerns. One interviewee told researchers she was fearful of drunken and ‘sneaky’ clients locking brothel room doors.
Violence in street prostitution is just as bad, and the author of a 2011 report commissioned by Inner South Health wrote that he collected ’25 pages of short excerpts from interviews’ where 89 people in prostitution in St Kilda described their experiences of ‘violence and rape’. The Attorney-General’s Street Prostitution Advisory Group in 2002 estimated 300-350 people were in prostitution in St Kilda over the twelve-month period. At least two have been murdered—one in 2003 and one in 2004.
If legalising prostitution hasn’t eliminated the problems of the sex industry, what will? We need to look to Sweden for the answer. The Swedish government criticises countries like Australia that allow legal prostitution on the basis they generate demand for the criminal activity of traffickers and organised crime. Swedish bureaucrats have come to understand that prostitution and trafficking are two sides of the same coin. In 1999 they made pimps, traffickers, and prostitution ‘clients’ liable for criminal prosecution.
A detective inspector with Sweden’s National Police Board notes that, since 1999, the country has become an ‘unattractive market’ for traffickers, because they can no longer ‘earn as much money as they want to’. Traffickers themselves no longer want to send women to Sweden because the risk is too great. In a phone-tap recorded by Swedish police, a trafficker tells a pimp he wants to bring 15 young Estonian women to Stockholm for a couple of weeks to make money. The pimp replies: ‘Don’t do that. It’s too expensive for you. Bring the women to…Denmark or even better, Germany or Holland’. Germany and Holland, of course, are (in)famous for their systems of legalised prostitution.
Since 1999, the percentage of Swedish men buying women has dropped from 12.7 to 7.6 per cent. The Swedish government runs public education campaigns against prostitution on the basis that it is a cause of trafficking and a form of violence against women. An officer with the Stockholm Police Trafficking Group has spoken publicly of his view that ‘it’s important for the buyer of sexual services to see the link that he is a sponsor of a huge criminal organisation’.
Sweden has managed to cut the number of women in street-based prostitution by at least half. These women are eligible for state-subsidised housing, legal and medical assistance, counselling, education, and job training. In Victoria, the only agency funded by the government to offer help to prostituted women, RhED, runs brothel ads in its quarterly magazine.
State and federal governments in Australia make a lot of noise about their opposition to trafficking, but continue to provide the sex industry with a very hospitable operating environment. The Victorian government should, at the very least, send its staff on a study tour of Sweden, Norway, South Korea and Iceland to see what serious public policy against the crime of sex trafficking really looks like.
The Koreanisation of Australia’s sex industry
The trafficking of Korean women into Australia’s sex industry has been recognised as a problem by both the Australian Federal Police as well as the Federal Government for more than five years. Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, Brendan O’Connor, last year stated that South Korea was close to overtaking Thailand as the largest source country for women trafficked into Australia’s sex industry. The Australian Federal Police first acknowledged the problem of trafficking from Korea in 2006, though a number of incidents had brought the problem to public attention before this.
In 2004, two people were charged with trafficking offences in relation to five South Korean women; in March 2008, three people were arrested in Sydney for sexually enslaving ten Korean women and in December that year, a Korean woman thought to have been in Sydney’s sex industry was found dead in an apartment. A government report on non-Australian citizens caught working in the sex industry in 2004-2005 showed the top nationality in the category was South Korean.
Australian policymakers tend to place blame on the Korean side for the trafficking problem, and resist seeing the issue as a legislative and policy challenge for Australia. They are generally unaware that Korea now takes a human rights approach to the problems of prostitution and trafficking; in fact, they demonstrate little understanding of Korean society and social policy at all. Read full article here
Sex traffickers exploiting women, and law, as state fails to act
THE sex industry in Victoria has been legal (in some forms) for about 25 years, by legislation brought in to address issues arising in the 1980s. Yet, as The Age has uncovered this year, legalisation has not ended crime in the sex industry. Discussions continue, with the same issues being raised again and again – trafficking, illegal brothels, organised crime, and violence.
Project Respect has worked with women in the sex industry, including women trafficked into the sex industry, since 1998. Trafficking methods have changed somewhat in that time, as awareness about these crimes has increased. However, this abhorrent violation of human rights continues.
We continue to meet women who have been trafficked into the sex industry in Australia, and forced to perform sexual services against their will, for little or no money, and for hours every day. Traffickers continue to profit from those purchasing sexual services from exploited women – who are here on legal visas, often in legal brothels.
The federal government has taken important steps to begin to address trafficking. Now it is time for the state government to step up. Read full article here
Support Change.org Petition: Regulators end sex slavery in Melbourne and Sydney
While I’m not sure why the petition is limited to ending sex slavery in only two Australian cities (and not all of them – trafficking has been documented in Canberra and the Gold Coast for example) it’s still worthwhile adding your support.
See also: ‘Sex slavery prevalent in Australia’