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Erin O’Brien "Legalised prostitution and sex trafficking: evaluating the influence of anti-prostitution activism on the development of human trafficking policy" 2011

In recent policy debates on human trafficking, the relationship between prostitution and sex trafficking has been strongly contested. Many anti-prostitution activists argue that there is a causal relationship between the two. They claim that legalised or decriminalised prostitution leads to increased sex trafficking. This research explores the use of this claim in policy debates, and seeks to measure the impact the advocates of this claim have had on the development of anti-trafficking legislation. The nature of the claim itself, as well as the extent to which the claim has permeated trafficking discourse, is examined. A comparative case study approach is utilised, focusing on key public debates on human trafficking in Australia and the United States during and following the establishment of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children 2000. This research explores the ways in which the claim has been deployed, substantiated and refuted in policy debates, and assesses how influential the advocates of the claim have been in persuading decision-makers and subsequently shaping government policy. The key similarities and differences between the Australian and US debates are also explored with a focus on differing legislative systems and political cultures, the involvement of sex workers and faith-based organisations in debates, and the tactics used by advocates of the claim. This thesis demonstrates that the claim that legalised prostitution leads to increased sex trafficking is derived from a set of key assumptions, arguments and policy proposals that form the ‘anatomy’ of the claim. Aspects of this anatomy, along with the claim itself, are clearly evident in trafficking debates in both Australia and the United States. This thesis argues that advocates of the claim have been more successful in shaping government policy in the United States than in Australia. In the US, decision-makers have explicitly accepted the claim as fact and established it as a basis for US government policy on human trafficking. This is largely the result of the creation of an assumed consensus supportive of the belief that legalised prostitution leads to an increase in sex trafficking. By contrast, decision-makers in Australia attempted to avoid an explicit acceptance or rejection of the claim, though statements and actions indicate both some acceptance and some rejection. This is due, in part, to established systems of legalised prostitution in several states of Australia, differing sexual cultures, a stronger emphasis placed on fact-based evidence by decision-makers, and the active involvement of sex workers and sex workers’ advocates in the decision-making process.
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