Why our Government’s Inquiries into Slavery don’t go far enough

The Australian Federal Government is looking into human trafficking, slavery, orphanage tourism and even organ harvesting, but there is a dark side of the trafficking trade that they are ignoring: exploitation for the purposes of sexual servitude.
According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime 2016 Report on Human Trafficking, about 23,000 victims trafficked for sexual exploitation were detected and reported between 2012 and 2014.

In two years, the population of Australia (or thereabouts) was trafficked for sex across the globe. And that’s just the victims we know about!

Why does this evil trade continue?

Simply put – because of demand. Someone is selling it – and because someone else is buying it.

The report goes on to say that there were 63,251 new trafficking victims detected in 106 countries between 2012 and 2014 , with 70% of the total trafficking victims being women.

Females are mostly trafficked for sexual exploitation, but also for sham or forced marriages, for begging, for domestic servitude, for forced labour in agriculture or catering, in garment factories, and in the cleaning industry and for organ removal.

It is imperative therefore for the Australian Government to acknowledge this reality, and to consider how we as a nation, and as individuals might be creating demand for such international crime and exploitation.
As our Federal Government undertakes several inquiries; including their Inquiry into Human Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism, an Inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia and holding an Orphanage Tourism Briefing, they need to consider that the majority of trafficking victims are women exploited in the sex trade.
The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade considered the offence of Organ Trafficking under division 271 of the Criminal Code in their inquiry, and whether it would be practicable or desirable for the offence to have extraterritorial application; and whether Australia should accede to the 2014 Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs.

At the Orphanage Tourism Briefing, government Officials heard from Ms Sinet Chan, who was exploited and abused in a Cambodian orphanage to attract donations from tourists. Ms Chan shared her harrowing experiences recently at a public hearing for the inquiry into modern slavery on 2 August 2017.

It could become a crime to organise trips for Australians to visit orphanages in countries like Cambodia – as reported by the ABC News last month.

The Sub-Committee invited Ms Chan to discuss how to combat child trafficking and orphanage tourism and raise awareness of the issue in Australia.

Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub‑Committee, Mr Chris Crewther MP, said the Sub-Committee welcomed the opportunity to further discuss the work of organisations to combat orphanage tourism and child exploitation.

In relation to the Inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee of the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade met with Mr Nick Grono, CEO of the Freedom Fund, at a public hearing in Canberra this week.

The Sub-Committee is investigating whether elements of the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 could be introduced in Australia, particularly the UK requirement for businesses and organisations to report on how they ensure their global supply chains are free of slavery and human trafficking.

The Sub-Committee’s interim report, Modern slavery in global supply chains, summarises the evidence heard so far on the issue of global supply chain reporting. The report highlights the strong support from businesses, unions and NGOs for the introduction of supply chain reporting requirements for businesses and organisations operating in Australia. The report also highlights support for an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to coordinate and oversee Australia’s response to combatting modern slavery.

The report recommends that the Australian Government consider introducing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, including supply chain reporting requirements and an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The report also offers in-principle support for a number of proposed elements of a Modern Slavery Act and identifies areas for further consideration in the Sub-Committee’s final report.

The Interim Report is available from the Committee’s website here.

This is a wonderful step forward in relation to awareness, prevention and prosecution of human trafficking, slavery, exploitation and the like. I fully agree with the push for an Anti-Slavery Commissioner – as long as he has enforceable criminal powers under the Commonwealth Attorney-Genral’s Portfolio to ensure the new measures have teeth.

Yet, my concern remains – this Inquiry’s focus on slavery in supply chains forgets the reality of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual servitude, and that statistically – most of the women – who are most of the trafficked and enslaved – experience exploitation through the sex industry.

The solution moving forward is simply to review our prostitution laws, for it is through our legal standards, social norms and consumer demand – that we are creating a market and a demand for trafficked persons and for exploited women in the sex trade.

We know that the criminalisation of prostitution does not work – from examples such as in the USA, where women and girls pimped out by their ‘boyfriends’ are locked up for prostitution charges – if caught.

We also know that the legalisation models of prostitution do not work from the example in Germany, referred to at the “Bordello of Europe” – where it has attracted so much criminality, exploitation and servitude, that the government is considering implementing the Nordic Model.

We know that regulated models such as decriminalisation are failing, and are often fraught with links to criminal gangs (AIC Report 2014).

And we also know from examples such as in Victoria that the industry preys on the vulnerable. One study cites 75% of those working in the brothels of Melbourne as single mothers just trying to feed their babies. This brings up serious human rights issues for those mothers.

Legalisation encourages the growth of the sex industry. There has been a significant increase in the number of brothels in Victoria, Australia, since legalisation, the number of legitimate brothels grew from 40 in 1989 to 94 in 1999 (Raymond 2002).

Legalisation is a ‘pull factor’ for traffickers. Project Respect estimates, “at least seven licensed brothels in Victoria have used trafficked women in the last year”. An Australian Institute of Criminology study estimated that Australian brothels earned $1 million a week from illegal prostitution.

In Victoria estimates from the police and the legal brothel industry put the number of illegal brothels at 400, four times more than the legal ones (Murphy 2002).

Demand for sexual services has been significantly affected by legalisation – there are an estimated 60,000 visits to legal brothels in Victoria every week with spending averaging $7 million (Benbow, 2002).

If we are to curb demand, the sexual entitlement and gender based violence that is prevalent in the industry and the direct affects on it’s communities trough criminality and gender based violence – we need to look to countries such as Ireland, Canada, France and ultimately Sweden for their human right compliant gender equal approach to combating trafficking, exploitation, violence against women and sexual entitlement behaviours through the implementation of the Nordic Model, which protects women who voluntary opt in the industry, but discourages demand and the trade from ‘Johns’ and traffickers.

This lecture by Catherine Mackinnon on Prostitution: Its Harms, Why It Should NOT Be Legalised, and Trafficking Links is full of compelling arguments form a legal, human rights, policy and social perspective.

I call on your support to end the trade, to end demand, to curb gender based violence by supporting the implementation of the Nordic Model through social and legislative reform.

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