2 - The
problem of sexual servitude and trafficking in women
This chapter describes the trade of trafficking in
women, the involvement of the sex industry and sexual servitude. The chapter
then addresses the more complex issue of the size of the trade and the extent
of the problem within Australia.
for the sex trade
The first widely accepted and internationally agreed
definition of trafficking is embodied in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially
Women and Children ('the Trafficking Protocol'). This instrument is one of
three Protocols supplementing the United
Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. As Ms Gallagher,
a former adviser on trafficking to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees,
explains, the Protocol definition is quite complicated but can be broken down
into three key elements:
1. movement (across
or within borders); through
deceptive means; for the purpose of
In the case of trafficking in children, element 2 is
unnecessary. In other words, the movement of children for purposes of
exploitation is considered trafficking, irrespective of whether or not the
child was coerced, deceived or otherwise lured into the situation.
This can therefore be contrasted with 'smuggling',
which is defined as 'the procurement, in order to obtain directly or indirectly
a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a
state party of which the person is not a national or permanent resident.' The two can be
distinguished in that:
people smuggling is usually limited to illegally transporting
person(s) to another country after which the relationship between the smuggler
and smuggled person terminates. This differs from trafficking in persons, where
the person(s) are delivered to organisations or individuals who have paid for
their delivery, after which the trafficked person(s) must repay their debt to
the organisers through prostitution or forced labour.
The trafficking of women for the purposes of sexual
servitude must also be viewed in the wider context of people smuggling and
trafficking generally. Ms Gallagher
points out that:
Trafficking takes place for a variety of end purposes
including domestic service, forced marriage and sweatshop labour. Forced sex
work is the most visible end-result of trafficking especially in developed
countries such as Australia
but there is no hard evidence available that it is the most common.
This fact is evident in a study of trafficked persons
undertaken by Project Respect in 2004, which also found examples in the
construction and hospitality industries. From the
evidence received during this inquiry, there is no evidence to suggest that
males - either adults or children - are victims of trafficking in the sex trade,
with trafficked men tending to end up in other industries.
Ms Gallagher offers several other characteristics of
By definition, a trafficked person ends up in a
situation from which she or he cannot escape. Traffickers and their accomplices
use a variety of methods to prevent escape including threats and use of force,
intimidation, detention and withholding of personal documents.
Most though not all trafficked persons enter
and/or remain in the destination country illegally. Illegal entry increases a
trafficked person’s reliance on traffickers and serves as an effective
deterrent to seeking outside help.
Unlike drug trafficking or human smuggling,
revenues from trafficking are ongoing and potentially long-term, as the benefits
of another person’s ‘labour’ can be appropriated indefinitely.
According to Project Respect, a specialist
non-government organisation working to promote the human rights of women in the
sex industry, most women trafficked to Australia
come from South East Asia and China,
with the majority from Thailand.
However, there are also indications that women are at times trafficked from Europe
and Latin America. Project Respect also has anecdotal
evidence that following the recent publicity about trafficking in Thai women,
fewer Thai women are being brought to Australia,
being replaced with increasing numbers
from South Korea and Malaysia.
This evidence is borne out by statistics from the
Department of Immigration, and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA),
which show that of 257 people detected in 2002-2003 working illegally in the
sex industry, the majority (100) were from Thailand:
People detected working illegally in the sex industry
China, Peoples Republic of
HKSAR of the PRC
Korea, Republic of
States of America
There are three broad categories of women trafficked to
The first group
comprises women who come to Australia
intending to work in the sex industry. The second group come knowingly intending
to work in the sex industry, but are misled by traffickers as to the conditions
under which they will be working. This second group includes women who have
worked in the sex industry previously in and/or abroad, as well as those who
have never engaged in prostitution before. According to Ms
Most traffickers use varying levels of fraud or deception,
rather than outright force, to secure the initial cooperation of the trafficked
person. A commonly reported situation involves a girl or young woman being
deceived about the cost (and repayment conditions) of the migration services
being offered her, the kind of work she will be doing abroad and/or the
conditions under which she is expected to work.
Even for those with experience in the sex industry,
conditions as a sex worker in Australia
may be much worse than in their home countries. Project Respect told the
For example, women may be given the impression that they will be
working in a karaoke bar, will be able to pick and chose who they have sex with
and will only have a small number of prostitution clients.
In these karaoke bars in Thailand
for example, the women may only have one customer per night, and up to ten a
month. In Australia,
by contrast, they will be required to service between seven and ten customers
The third group are totally deceived about the fact
that they will be required to work as prostitutes in Australia.
These women are often told that they will be working in businesses unrelated to
the sex industry, such as restaurants, travel services, or domestic work.
Perhaps the worst aspect of this relates to child trafficking. Ms
Gallagher explains in her submission that:
Traffickers use a variety of recruitment methods. Outright
abduction is only very occasionally reported and often difficult to objectively
verify. Child trafficking generally involves payment to a parent or guardian in
order to achieve cooperation and this is often accompanied by a measure of
deception regarding the nature of the child’s future employment or position.
The death of a Thai sex worker in Villawood Detention
Centre in 2003, brought to light an example of this in Australia.
came from a hill tribe in Chiang
Mai province and was sold by her parents as
a 12 year old, and then smuggled into Australia
on a false Malaysian passport in 1986.
Recruitment of the women is done by spotters in the
home country, often friends or acquaintances of the trafficked women, who are
paid a commission or spotter's-fee. The women are asked if they would like to
work in Australia.
If they agree, they give their passport to the trafficker, and some time later
- often months - they are contacted and told the get ready to leave.
In the case of the increasing number of Korean sex
workers coming to Australia,
the Korean networks reportedly 'use recruiters to find women with debts that
they buy up, promising the women to save them from debtors' prison'.
In all cases, the size of the contract amount is very
large, averaging between $35,000 to $40,000 and sometimes as much as $50,000. However, the
true significance of this sum for a sex worker is the number of clients the
women will need to service to complete the contract. As the Scarlet Alliance
that it is an average of 700 clients for the contracts at
present, but if they work in different sectors of the industry the number might
be greater, because the price of the service is different. If they are working
in what is called massage then the client number might be greater because the
fee per service is lower and the type of service is not penetrative sexual
services, whereas if they are working in what is called a full-service brothel,
where the fee the client is paying is much greater, then those women are on a
lower number of clients per contract.
It is not possible to accurately determine the relative
proportions of these three categories. The evidence presented to this inquiry
agrees that the majority of women coming to Australia
on contract do so willingly. Scarlet Alliance
point to unpublished research from the Sydney Sexual Health Centre, which shows
that while the contract fees are excessive relative to the things that need to
that is the risk ... that they will take in order to have the
opportunity to come here and work and perhaps go back with $5,000, which is
more money than they would ever be able to make in their lives in their home
country. It is the pot of gold at the end of the road. That can be earned by a
very good, very active sex worker in about two weeks, if she wishes to. So if
they are on a three-month tourist visa and they finish their contract they can
make that money.
Similarly, Superintendent Migro
of the WA Police, of their experience of recent instances in which:
several Asian females residing in Australia
illegally have been detained under the provisions of federal legislation. In
all instances, the females were above the age of 18 and they declined to
discuss their situation in any great detail. The females gave the impression
that they had entered Australia
fully understanding the conditions under which they would be employed and none
wished to make any complaint. All appeared to be willing participants in the
prostitution related matters.
Project Respect have a more critical view, and consider
that although the majority of trafficked women are willing participants in the
trade, the majority are also victims of significant deception in relation to
the scale of their debt and the conditions under which they will work.
It is also important to place this evidence in a wider
perspective. The Committee received evidence from the Scarlet Alliance that,
based on a recent unpublished survey, the vast majority of overseas sex workers
came voluntarily with legitimate visas, quite often to study. Thus, 'the fact
that they are working in the sex industry is a secondary activity to their
There were 144 women in that study, and of those only 11 had
indicated that they had some kind of contractual or agent type arranged visit -
so someone assisted them in exchange for money or they were actually on a contract.
That is less than 10 per cent of the interviewees in that survey.
The central challenge for those wishing to enter Australia
is obtaining a visa, and it is at this point that the traffickers play the key
role. The most common basis for entry is either a student or tourist visa. Project
Respect explain that:
Traffickers regularly provide women with false passports and pay
money into women’s bank accounts to temporarily inflate their bank balance
which strengthens their application to Australian immigration authorities for a
representing Project Respect gave further detail of this during the public
hearings, noting that although there are small operators in the business,
consisting of opportunists dabbling and making a bit of money:
there are also very organised syndicates that are making it
work, and they have resources behind them. ... what they will do is something
like put $10,000 in a woman’s account. They will change the person’s name,
manufacture false identity documents, so that the person does not necessarily
look as though they fit the profile of people who DIMIA would stop.
Sometimes traffickers will going so far as to arrange
marriages for trafficked women to strengthen visa applications to Australia.
Traffickers also frequently provide escorts or 'mules' who accompany the women
on their journey to Australia
and through customs, sometimes posing as a partner or family member:
What typically occurs with the trafficking crime is that, in
order to ensure that the woman gets across the border without trouble - and, I
suppose, to protect the asset - the trafficker sends someone to accompany the
trafficked victim across the border, and that person is paid a sum of money to
... So they would get on the plane in Thailand,
help them go through immigration at this end and at the other end, and that
would be the end of their job. They sometimes get paid $2,000, and they head
Several sources of information to the inquiry have also
pointed to the role that corrupt officials, particularly in sending countries,
play in assisting the visa frauds:
Trafficking is sustained and strengthened through public
sector corruption, particularly of police and immigration officials who, in
some countries, play a key role in facilitating illegal entry and providing
protection to trafficking operations.
Committee remains concerned at the ease with which traffickers appear able to
obtain entry visas for hundreds of women they bring into Australia each year for the purpose of sex work. This
contrasts with the personal experience Committee Members have had of the
difficulty encountered by many members of the community in obtaining visas for
their family members to visit Australia for
entirely legitimate purposes.
At face value, this amounts to a serious anomaly, yet
despite raising the issue with departmental officials, the Committee has not
heard any satisfactory explanation for how the traffickers achieve their
successful visa frauds. The matter remains to be answered.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Crime
Commission focus their investigations on the methods by which people
traffickers are able to circumvent Australian immigration barriers through visa
trade in Australia
The most common entry point of trafficked women into Australia
and it is from there that the traffickers farm them out to the brothels, both
legal and illegal.
Detective Senior Sergeant McKinney from the Victoria Police, told the
Committee, there are four or five traffickers in Sydney and two or three in
Melbourne, competing against each other for the brothel business,
And they all know each other. ... You will find that there are
people here in Australia
whose prime business is the recruitment of women. They get them here and then
they disburse them once they are here.
This is borne out by the example of one brothel owner
who was offered trafficked women by four separate suppliers within just two
the model is flexible: sometimes the traffickers both supply the women and
operate the brothels, while more recently there have been examples of:
contract girls being offered to small investors, those investors
then being responsible for finding work for them, getting them to and from work
and making sure they don't run away.
Project Respect gave this description of the trade:
Some traffickers operate organised chains that cover the entire
trafficking process - they recruit women in source countries and prostitute
them in their own brothels (or through escort arrangements) in Australia.
Other traffickers engage in only one part of the trafficking. For example, they
may recruit women and bring them to Australia,
and then sell them to another trafficker. This sale may be based on a
‘pre-order’, or involve traffickers coming to look at women once they are in
Australia and picking the one/s they wish to buy. Some traffickers have many
women, others may be ‘mum and dad’ traffickers who buy a half share in a woman.
The centre for the sex trade using these trafficked
women seems to centre on Sydney -
as the gateway - and Melbourne and Perth,
although other state capitals are certainly involved. Investigators have found
that the trade is highly mobile, with women moved rapidly between premises and
The traffickers themselves tend to dabble in a range of
business interests and are not exclusively people traffickers for the sex
trade. Det Snr Sgt McKinney told the Committee that his experience with the
traffickers was that:
if there is money to be made in trafficking women they will
traffic women. If they can at the same time run a credit card duplicating
scheme they will do that as well. If at the same time they can dabble in
heroin, ecstasy or ice they will do that at the same time.
... It is purely, ‘Where can I make the most money?’ and ‘What is
the least risk to me?’
This view was echoed by a Parliamentary Library
briefing on the trade:
As trans-national crime is organised around profit, a diverse
array of loose knit criminal organisations or individuals may simply work
together opportunitistically motivated by material gain.
Husbands, boyfriends, acquaintances, or family members may
recruit and trade women into the international prostitution industry for profit,
to repay debts or to support a family.
This close linkage between trafficking and organised
crime is of itself a matter of concern. It is also clear that the business is a
very profitable one for the traffickers. The UN estimated in 2003, that trafficking
in the global sex trade was worth US$5-7 billion annually. At a local
level, this can mean a great deal of money for both traffickers and brothel
owners. Det Sen Sgt McKinney related his experience of one brothel owner, to
whom he linked forty women over an 18-month period. Calculated on the basis of $100
per half hour and a contract value of 500 jobs, he would expect to make $50,000
per woman. In this case, he paid around $18,000 to the trafficker for the
So if you work on those base figures alone, without anything
else, he is making $32,000 per woman. If you base that over, say, 40 women, in
18 months there is a profit of $1.2 million - just from the contract period and
nothing else. That does not include the 12 months afterwards or the board that
they pay. It really is a profitable business, with a very low risk.
For women working off these contracts, life can be very
grim. According to Project Respect:
Women are prostituted for many hours a day, frequently seven
days a week. Women report being woken and taken back to the brothel if
customers arrive after they have left. Some women may be given a ‘free’ day
during a quiet period, and will be allowed to keep a portion of this money.
Women typically try to send as much of this money home to parents or children
[as they can], but also use the money to pay for food and other expenses in Australia
as these are often not provided by the trafficker.
Det Snr Sgt McKinney related the conditions he found
during an investigation:
they had to work for six days a week, and Monday was called
their ‘free day’. But their free day was not effectively their free day,
because if they did not work on their free day they did not have any money at
all to survive on. So the deal for them was that if they chose to work on the
Monday, which was the seventh day, they were given a portion of the earnings. ...
They had to work on the Monday just to buy personal items, because all they
were given was a room and board - that was it, nothing else.
The accommodation was also very poor. The women were
housed in an inner city hotel, with a ground floor pub:
upstairs it was typically small, with four or five rooms. There
was no common room or lounge room, as we would call it. There were two
bathrooms but they were antiquated. There were bars on the windows. The outer
windows that faced the street had all been nailed or painted shut - they could
not open. The conditions were grotty. They were stacked in the room. ... I had
trouble walking into the room because there were that many beds in the room
that you had to shuffle and shimmy between the beds to get around.
In the premises there was a public area at the bottom and the
private area was up the stairs. There were very large steel bars up the side of
the stairwell and a big, lockable steel gate. When the girls were brought back
at, say, four, five or six in the morning, depending on how busy it was, they
were put upstairs and the steel gate was locked. 
It is evident that, once the women were inside and the
door locked, there was little chance of their escape if there was a fire.
The effective degree of control and 'imprisonment'
inflicted on the women goes far beyond the physical constraints of locked doors
and someone guarding them. It is reinforced by physical violence, and the extent
of the power the traffickers have over the women in other ways: the women may
not speak English, they have no money or passport, and may not even know where
they are. This is compounded by the women's distrust of authorities and the
fear - deliberately cultivated - that the law enforcement agencies are involved
with the traffickers and misinformation about the consequences of cooperating
Project Respect also describe what they term as the
‘breaking-in’ period for many newly arrived sex workers:
Women who were deceived about the fact that they would be doing
prostitution are usually subject to significant and systematic violence upon
arrival in Australia.
This will frequently involve multiple rapes and threats of harm to the
individual women and their families.
This violence serves two functions, one more obvious than the
other. Firstly, pre-prostitution violence aims to break women’s will and
impress upon them their powerlessness in the face of the traffickers’ demands.
It aims to stop them from running away or seeking help in other ways, such as
by telling customers their situation. Secondly, this rape teaches women how to
do prostitution sex, and impresses on them that they must ‘satisfy’ their
‘customer’ and cannot refuse types of customers or sex (including sex without
This evidence was supported by confidential testimony
given to the Committee, in which a female sex worker related that when she
refused to perform sex work, she was raped by three men, and then starved for
up to a week, before she finally acquiesced.
As noted, a common feature of the sex work performed by
trafficked women is that they have no
right to refuse either clients, or particular sexual acts. Ms
Maltzahn told the Committee that:
Part of what you sell with a trafficked woman is someone to whom
you can do anything you want. It might be that you only want to have a
particular type of sex or it might be that you want to be violent - whatever it
is, fundamentally, at the guts of it, you are able to do that. So I think it is
absolutely true that trafficked women are made to do a whole lot of other
things that other women in the industry may be able to say no to.
As well as the threat of violence from brothel managers
if they refuse a customer or sexual act, these women suffer the further
inducement that if they fail to satisfy a customer, who then complains, that
job does not count towards redeeming their contract.
Generally, the degree of freedom given to the women
increases as they progress through their contract, since they become less
‘valuable’ to traffickers an have paid off much of their contract, they are no
longer ‘new faces’, and 'women have learnt that they will be punished if they
run away, and are scared that the traffickers will hunt them down even if they
There are obvious health implications from this
environment. Women are likely to suffer both psychological ill and physical ill
health due to violence - internal pain, bruising, vaginal and anal bleeding,
and mouth and teeth injuries - as well as drug dependency, inadequate nutrition
and exercise, and forced abortions. They are also at high risk of sexually
transmitted infections stemming from unsafe sex practices.
As detailed above, traffickers perpetrate a range of
frauds to get women into Australia
on legal visas, but their fraud games continue once the women are here and
working. Traffickers, who often hold the passports and travel documents of the
women, will lodge a refugee application on the women's behalf, although often
without their knowledge. The logic behind this is that if a refugee application
is made within 45 days of arrival, the woman is eligible for work rights until
the department of immigration has resolved her protection claim - which is generally
rejected, due to lack of substantiation or effort on the part of the
traffickers - which is then followed by a review by the Refugee Review
Tribunal. By working the system in this way, the traffickers are able to extend
the women's legal stay in Australia,
giving enough time for the women pay back the contract and possibly make some
money of her own.
A major disadvantage for the women though, is that
rejection of the bogus protection visa applications submitted by the
traffickers makes it almost impossible for the women to subsequently make a
'Contract girls' usually come to the attention of
authorities in Australia
in one of three ways: women are detected by DIMIA, women’s contracts end and
they are allowed to leave the traffickers’ control, or they run away.
As noted above, during 2002/2003 DIMIA located 257
persons working illegally in the sex industry. DIMIA has
compliance teams around the country who can act on information received and mount
a raid on a premises within a very short period - sometimes within hours. The
information tends to come from brothel clients who, getting to know some of the
women, and become aware that they have been trafficked, or by
business rivals seeking to close down their opposition (particularly where the
competition are operating illegally).
Tip-offs will also sometimes come from the women
themselves, either directly or through the agency of a friend. Scarlet Alliance
told the Committee that their outreach workers often have ongoing discussions
with sex workers during which information is given to the sex workers about
options they might have if they want to leave:
The reason they are asking is that they may intend to trigger
somehow - through a client or a person in the community that they have made
contact with - a call to DIMIA to raid those premises in order to get them out.
Perhaps the most ironic of the sources of tip-offs to
DIMIA are the traffickers. Project Respect report that: 'at times, traffickers
themselves contact DIMIA and "dob" the woman in, if a woman is close
to finishing her "contract"'. Once the contract is paid off, the
woman is entitled to a percentage of her earnings, which therefore reduces her
profitability to traffickers and brothel owners. At the same time, she may:
'contaminate' new contract women (for example by
telling them how to seek help, by explaining to them what the Australian legal
situation is etc);
operate in competition to the contract women;
This is particularly unfair for the women because it is
only after the contract is paid off that they have the opportunity to make the
money - which is of course the reason they entered into the arrangement in the
first place. This in turn increases the likelihood that they will enter into
further contracts with traffickers and be re-trafficked.
In a final irony, if DIMIA deports the woman, the
traffickers may save on airfare and escort costs.
The third way trafficked women come to the attention of
Australian authorities is when they manage to escape the brothels. Thus for
example, Detective Superintendent Migro,
of the WA Police Service, told the Committee that:
The existence of sexual servitude in this state first came to
the attention of the police service in 1999, when three Thai nationals attended
our crime headquarters in Perth
seeking assistance to return home. All three claimed that they had been
deceptively recruited overseas to work in the sex industry in Australia.
Coincidentally, just such an incident occurred in Sydney
on the day the Committee was taking evidence there. According to media reports,
three women who were allegedly held captive at an inner-city brothel, escaped
when they woke and found that neither of the brothel owners were at home. They
arrived at the Surry Hills Police station and Police subsequently raided the
brothel, leading to the discovery of a further six sex workers and the arrest
of the husband and wife operators of the brothel.
Possibly the more common way out is: 'by establishing a
relationship with an Australian citizen who will either provide refuge to the
woman or attempt to pay off the contract. Sometimes, trafficked women marry
This view was supported by confidential evidence received by the Committee.
The final step in the trafficking cycle for women in Australia is
to be retrafficked under another contract, either to Australia or
another country, especially if their contract is interrupted and they are sent
home before they are able to make any money for themselves. Ms McMahon, of
the Scarlet Alliance, told the Committee that:
We have spoken on the telephone through our services with young
women who are in Villawood, and their first questions are: ‘Will my passport
have a stamp in it that prevents me coming back? Do I have to get a new
passport somehow if I want to come back? How long does it take to get deported
before I can come back?’ They are solely focused on coming back, even though
they are in a contract.
As Mr McMahon,
from DIMIA, noted, the women are also 'stuck with a fundamental problem: they
have a large debt, and there is only one way they can deliver on that debt and
that is to continue with prostitution.'
Thus, women who are returned home are sometimes immediately taken to another
country for the same purpose, or fraudulently trafficked back into Australia.
Ms Moyle, from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission, gave evidence that many
women working on contract in Australia are here are on a second or subsequent
contract and may well have been retrafficked. A major motivating factor in this
is the difficulty that women often have in returning to their homes:
from my contacts in South-East
region particularly, it appears that a lot of the women are not able to be
successfully repatriated on the programs that are available because they do not
really lead to any general increasing acceptance of the women repatriating to
their home communities. So there is really no place for them when they go back.
The extent of the problem
The issue that continues to vex both law enforcers,
observers and the Committee is the real extent of the problem in Australia.
According to the Attorney General's Department, trafficking in persons is a
growing issue worldwide, but there are no universally agreed estimates of its
scale due to:
The differing definitions of trafficking. Many
countries lack specific legislation governing trafficking in persons, and where
it does exist, the absence of consistent definitions makes it difficult to
achieve accurate comparable estimates.
The clandestine and criminal nature of
trafficking and the reluctance of victims to report their experiences to
authorities or to testify in court cases contributes to these difficulties,
ensuring that many instances of trafficking never become known to
Data on trafficking is often more readily
available in industrialised countries than in the developing world. This may be
attributed in part to the greater attention paid to this issue by governments
in such countries, rather than as an indication that trafficking in persons is
necessarily a greater problem in industrialised countries.
This has led the Department to conclude that 'no
consensus has been reached about the size and extent of the problem in Australia'. Ms
Gallagher, a commentator with considerable
experience in trafficking of women at both national and international levels,
also commented on the fundamental problems that underlie attempts to quantify
Much of the current information on trafficking is still anecdotal.
It is typically presented in the form of non-statistical data and indirect
indicators derived from small-scale surveys and single examples presented as
case studies. There is very little quality trend evidence available and almost
no cross-referencing or external verification of data. Where statistics on
trafficking cases do exist, their value has been seriously undermined by the
lack of a consistent definition of trafficking and the absence of uniform
collection procedures. Rather than acknowledging or confronting these
inadequacies, much contemporary trafficking research unquestioningly accepts
and promulgates unverified data.
Recognising these problems, the Committee is cautious
in attempting any definitive conclusions in this respect. The Committee notes
estimates by the Attorney General's Department that estimates of the annual
worldwide traffic vary widely from 700,000 to four million persons.
A recent US Government estimate puts the figure between
approximately 800,000 and 900,000 people and indicates that between 18,000 and
20,000 of these are trafficked into the United
States. Other estimates suggest that around
50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United
States in any one year. In Europe
the figure is estimated between 200,000 and 500,000 women and children. In South
Asia between 200,000 and 225,000 women and children are estimated
to be trafficked to the rest of the world.
Project Respect estimates that there are up to one thousand women in Australia
under contract at any one time, an estimate
they claim is supported by the findings of a six week research period, which
documented the cases of approximately 300 individuals trafficked into Australia
including a large number of women. This accords
with confidential evidence to the Committee suggesting that in Sydney
alone, there are at least thirty trafficked women seeking to escape the sex
Conversely, Scarlet Alliance present a much lower
that there are less than 400 sex workers entering Australia
in any one year on a contract, the majority of whom knowingly consent to the
work. Our organisations have collectively had direct contact with less than ten
women in the last year who have been deceptively recruited.
Similarly, the Australian Federal Police were only able
to provide firm evidence of ten identified victims of slavery and sexual
servitude to date.
The difference between these two estimates may be
partly explained by differing definitions. In particular, it is likely that the
key point of difference lies in the matter of 'informed consent'. As outlined
above, Project Respect consider that the majority of women who entered
contracts, although agreeing to work in the sex industry, were deceived as to
conditions of work and the size of the contractual repayments. As such, they
fit within the UN definition of trafficked women.
The Australian Chapter of the International Commission
of Jurists, implicitly support this view in pointing out that:
the particular vulnerability of women and girls in developing
countries to offers of employment in rich countries like Australia
means that agreements to procure their services in the entertainment or sex
industry can seldom be considered as agreements entered into by equals. Rather,
they are frequently the result of coercion or deception, or even of sheer
The assumption that the majority of contract women are
victims of deceptive recruiting or essentially unable to exercise any
meaningful freedom of choice is disputed by the Scarlet Alliance. Ms
Futol, an outreach worker to the sex industry
argued that in her experience the contract women should be viewed as 'transnational
citizens in a world that is particularly globalised', and that 'it fascinates
me how they are construed as victims'.
While it seems to be generally accepted that
approximately 300 women are trafficked into the country each year for sex work,
the number of these who can be considered to be in servitude is likely to be
relatively small. Whether the figure is as low as Scarlet Alliance's estimate
of ten, or as high as Project Respect's estimate of one thousand, is impossible
to accurately determine. As the Hon Mr Kerr
observed during hearings, contract women who have been trafficked into Australia
represent a continuum of those who enter with full knowledge and consent; those
who enter with consent but are deceived as to conditions; and those who enter Australia
completely deceived as to their work in the sex industry.
However, the Committee agrees with Ms
Maltzahn that, whatever the final
proportions represented in each category:
It is a significant enough problem that we need to take it
seriously. I do not think it is just a few aberrations that we are finding.
In any case, this uncertainty underlines the continuing
importance of the ACC's intelligence gathering and analysis role for informing
the Australian government's response to the problem.
This uncertainty also poses problems for Australian
policy in determining whether a contract woman detained by authorities is an
illegal worker who should be returned to their country of origin, through the
normal operation of the law, or whether they should be treated primarily as a
victim of a particularly unpleasant crime.
A focus on immigration compliance runs the risk that
cases of sexual slavery will be missed, with the tragic results that became
public in 2003. This approach may also indirectly operate more to the detriment
of the trafficked women than the traffickers. Confusing or equating the two categories
- sex workers with sex slaves - can also lead to a disproportionate increase by
authorities of regulation and enforcement of an industry that represents only
0.9 percent of the illegal workers detected each year. As Scarlet Alliance
comment 'this hardly represents a problem of the scale the community might
Resolving this question in many ways comes down to the
fundamental question of the legitimacy of the sex trade, which is discussed
further in chapter 4.