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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 1094

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (19:27): As the opposition spokesperson for the status of women, I rise this evening to address an issue that is unfortunately gaining prominence in Australia. That issue is sex trafficking, the trafficking of women for use as sex slaves. While most decent Australians are appalled at the idea that in 2012 a person can be trafficked for use as a sex slave, the issue of sex trafficking is just not on the radar of most ordinary Australians.

It is however a booming trade, as evidenced by the statement from the director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime who has said:

Human trafficking is a booming international trade, making billions of dollars at the expense of millions of victims, many of them children, who are robbed of their dignity and freedom.

The reality is that Australia is a destination country for this deplorable trade. We are a destination country for women who are trafficked from Asia, in particular from China, Thailand and Korea.

While it is recognised that some of these women travel to Australia under the impression they will be working in the legal sex trade, many come here under a student visa believing that they will be studying and attending college or university classes or working in other professions—as their visa conditions would dictate. It is only when they reach Australia that their fate becomes known to them—that is, they have been trafficked here for use as a sex slave. They are told that now they are in Australia they must work to pay off so-called debts that they have incurred for their successful passage to Australia.

As set out on the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs website, while there is little reliable data about the nature and extent of people trafficking, there is a general consensus that trafficking in persons affects almost every country in the world. Australia is not immune. The nature of people trafficking varies from region to region. Its most visible form involves trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation. But around the world men, women and children are trafficked for a wide range of other purposes, including forced labour in industries such as hospitality, construction, forestry, mining or agriculture, domestic and sweatshop labour, illicit adoption, street begging, forced recruitment into militia or the armed forces, and the harvesting of body organs.

According to the United States Department of State, the women who have been trafficked to Australia for sex are also often exploited as involuntary domestic workers. It was reported in the West Australian last month in an article by Angela Pownall, that Australian Federal Police have launched an operation to rescue people trafficked into Western Australia for sex, forced and servile marriage, and forced labour. And as recently as last month, Federal Police in Sydney arrested a 42-year-old man on suspicion of human trafficking and conducting a business for the purposes of sexual servitude. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in an article by Rachel Olding:

A 42-year-old Chinese-Cantonese man allegedly trafficked the young women from Thailand to work at his brothel in Guildford in Sydney's west. The Australian Federal Police will allege the women were told they were travelling to Australia on student visas but upon arrival had their passports confiscated and were taken to the brothel where they were held against their will.

Sex trafficking is a deplorable crime. In their best-selling 2009 book Half the Sky, Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn outline the horrific reality of life for women who have been trafficked in Asia. An 'essential part of the brothel business model is to break the spirit of girls, through humiliation, rape, threats and violence,' they say. For most girls, the first time they are forced to have sex with a client, they are not compliant and they try to resist. This will result in drugging with alcohol or morphine, with daily beatings, with physical maiming including eye-gouging, and with repeated forced behaviour designed to denigrate and wreck their self-esteem. Children are inevitably born into the brothel environments, and those children are kept by the owners of the brothels as slave labour. The swap to sex slavery occurs for the girls at puberty, while there are cases of boys themselves being forced to have sex with other prostitutes, or receive the same brutal daily beatings the women do.

World-leading medical journal the Lancet has estimated that one million children globally are forced into prostitution every year, and the number may be as high as 10 million. Because of the grey lines between sex working by choice and by force, and the obvious underground nature of the industry, it is difficult to say exactly how many women are kept as sex slaves at any one time. In 1990, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, who developed a gauge for gender inequality, said that at any one time more than 100 million people across the world were 'missing' due to trafficking or other factors.

While the individual cases may not be characterised by the same brutality, whilst the volume of women and children trafficked may not be as high, the ugly reality is that sex trafficking exists in Australia. And as Australians, people who live in what is considered to be the luckiest nation on earth, we have an obligation to do everything within our power to bring a halt to this sickening contravention of human rights.

Whilst there is little reliable data about the extent of people trafficking in Australia, we know that unlike Europe and Asia, where instances of brutality can be far worse and the problem inter-generational and often ingrained, sex trafficking in Australia has not yet got a serious foothold. The Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee has reported that all identified suspected victims of people trafficking, including sex trafficking, have entered Australia on valid visas, with evidence of visa fraud presenting later. We are therefore in a unique position when it comes to human trafficking. Unlike Europe and Asia, Australia's borders are clearly geographically defined and it is difficult to cross to Australian shores without being detected. This is why Australian governments must continue to take action to put an end to sex trafficking in Australia.

The coalition has a strong record in this area. In 2003, when Senator Amanda Vanstone was Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the Howard government announced the national Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons, a major $20 million package of anti-trafficking measures targeting sex trafficking in particular. This work was continued under the leadership of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, with several whole-of-government anti-trafficking measures, including the first National Roundtable on People Trafficking which was held in June 2008.

In 2008, the first person to be found guilty by a jury of holding sex slaves, 44-year-old Melbourne woman Wei Tan, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. In this case, five Thai women were brought into Australia on the basis that they would work legally in the sex trade. However, once they were in the country they were told they had to pay off debts of $45,000 by performing sexual acts for no pay. Statistics in the federal Trafficking in Persons report show that some assistance is getting through to the victims, with 80 clients helped through the Support for Victims of People Trafficking Program. Twenty-nine of these were unfortunately new clients. Australian Federal Police have undertaken 305 investigations into people trafficking since 2004, with 45 of these in the previous financial year. Nearly 70 per cent of these were related to sex trafficking, and $5 million in criminal proceeds have been recovered through these investigations. Twenty-eight suspected victims of people trafficking and 14 of their family members were granted visas by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in the last financial year, which is twice the number of the previous year. So there has been some progress in this area.

I would also like to use this opportunity to highlight a project in my home state of Western Australia which seeks to help women who have been trafficked to Australia as sex slaves. Project Jenny is a not-for-profit which is currently seeking charity status. Once established, it will be the first safe-house in Western Australia for trafficked women. Run by Chanteya Macphail, whose own sister was taken, and presumably trafficked, at a very young age in Thailand, Project Jenny will provide an escape route and support services, including training and advocacy, for victims of trafficking. Ms Macphail is a passionate advocate in the empowerment of women and believes rightly that core issues of poverty and education must be addressed in order to combat trafficking, which is a symptom of these broader problems. I commend Ms Macphail for her work and hope that Project Jenny comes to light and can assist these women who are victims of sex trafficking.