Scarlet News:

Scarlet Alliance Media Brief “Australias Anti-Trafficking Responses” 10 April 2008

Apr 8, 2008 | Media release, News

1) Australia leads the world in sex worker health and human rights

Despite some 22,000 diagnoses of HIV infection in Australia, which means some 22,000 cases of HIV transmission, Australia has never recorded a single case of HIV transmission from sex worker to client or client to sex worker. The uniquely Australian response to HIV has included peer education, funded sex worker organisations and progressive law reform to expand sex workers’ labor rights and occupational health and safety in the workplace.

2) Trafficking is not a feature of the Australian sex industry

Human Trafficking and Sexual Slavery are not inherent characteristics of the English speaking or non-English speaking sectors of the Australian Sex Industry. However Australian Anti-Trafficking responses have primarily targeted Asian sex industries in Australia. This has been to the detriment of recognising cases of labour exploitation. Pearson, Elaine “Australia” Collateral Damage Global Alliance Against Trafficking In Women, 2007

3) Legal/Decriminalised Sex Industry Premises are also regulated by anti-trafficking laws

In most cities and states in Australia the sex industry is legal, decriminalised or tolerated. However DIAC, AFP and the ATO make regular contact visits and raids to sex industry workplaces in Australia as a component of the “anti-trafficking” response.

4) The Australian investment in anti-trafficking does not reflect outcomes.

The Australian Government in 2003 committed $ 20 million into prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of incidents of people trafficking and sexual slavery in Australia, accompanied by a victim support program. This has included strengthening laws and setting up a 23 person AFP specialist Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Team (TSETT). A further $38 million was committed to this response in 2007. This is more expensive than the entire regulation of the sex industry in Australia, yet has not resulted in substantial detection of actual cases of trafficking.

5) Migrant sex workers in Australia are not "victims"

The non-English speaking sectors of the Australian sex industry are well connected with sex worker services and highly informed about access to anti-trafficking support if needed. While more peer education resources towards this sector would be welcomed, it is our opinion that non-English speaking background sex workers in Australia are able to access assistance and help, through our organisations and more direct means, if trafficking or sexual slavery are occurring. Sydney Sexual Health research in this area concurs with this view, that non-English speaking background sex workers in Australia successfully access targeted sexual health services, and are well informed about other available services . Preliminary results from national research with Chinese migrant sex workers in Australia (being released on the 16th of April) showed that 57% of the Chinese migrant sex workers interviewed would not hesitate to contact the police if they were the victim of crime, including sexual assault. 67% of Chinese migrant sex workers interviewed stated that they would like to come back to work in Australia again. This evidence is in direct conflict with Australian anti-trafficking policies that treat migrant sex workers as lacking in agency, and as victims in need of rescue. See Demographic, migration status, and work-related changes in Asian female sex workers surveyed in Sydney, 1993 and 2003, Aust N Z J Public Health 2006; 30: pp157-62

6) Howard followed a Bush model of punitive approaches

The Howard Government, closely in line with the Bush regime, has led Australia on an unsuccessful punitive anti-trafficking approach that has been expensive, sought prosecutions rather than prevention, focussed on only one industry, has developed minimal partnership opportunities with sex worker organisations, and is not compliant with ILO conventions that recognise sex work as work.

7) Australian cases show trafficking is an anomaly, not a norm

The R v Wei Tang case (2007) Supreme Court of Victoria Court of Appeal Ruling, 27 June 2007, recognised that being a migrant sex workers in Australia is not the same as being a victim of the federal offense of “sex slavery”, and having a debt contract with your migrant worker staff is not the same as committing the federal offense of “trafficking.” As such it is time for the Australian Anti-Trafficking policy responses reflect this common knowledge that the migrant sex industry in Australia is not a smoking gun.

8) It is time for a realistic rethink of the Australian anti-trafficking approach

Social justice activists, film makers, authors and journalists have carved a niche for themselves by talking up the "rescuing" of migrant sex workers in Australia, however the stereotype of the Asian sex slave is both inaccurate and insulting, and if unchecked will contribute to the ongoing reduction of human rights for all sex workers in Australia. It is time for Australia to get real about stopping trafficking, which means letting go of moralistic views about the sex industry, allowing migrant sex workers to be protected by state and territory sex industry regulations, halting defacto federal regulation of the Asian sex industry, and re-investing anti-trafficking funds into initiatives that expand, rather than reduce, all migrant worker rights in all industries.